Classroom Conversation: The Use Of Discussion-Based Strategy In The History Classroom, pp. 9 of 10

Dispositions for communication and discussion

Before discussion can be used in the classroom, an open and communicative culture has to be established first. Using ground rules and reinforcing them with classroom practices will allow students to start being sensitive to how they behave. Students learn more effectively when they are aware of lesson expectations. Teachers can facilitate learning by role-modelling behaviours they expect from their students. If we want to create a positive classroom culture that facilitates open discussion, teachers must conduct themselves in ways that support respectful and communicative dispositions for students to follow.

Students must be given time to think

Students must be given time to consider questions that require them to weigh different causal factors and make logical conclusion based on arguments and evidence. In order to get our students to think more deeply and broadly about issues, teachers will need to give students time to respond. Sometimes the “wait time” provided in the classroom may not be enough. The initiate-respond-follow-up (IRF) or feedback chain may be a good starting point when considering discussion strategies. At the same time, the teacher facilitator must check that the questions asked are not just factual recall or “factors-based” questions where students need only short response time to recall or construct arguments. For students to issues broadly and deeply, more open-ended questions need to be asked in class. These questions should require students to be more reflective in their thinking, and ones that will allow them to reconsider their own opinions, make or change their stances, within a reasonable time period. Typically, the one-hour lesson period may not be sufficient for students to reflect, review and reconsider. It is necessary then to encourage students to use their “homework time” to consider some thinking questions, come up with their opinions, and develop preliminary positions. The idea is to create some dissonance at the end of the lesson so that students will be intrigued enough to want to think more and be motivated to draw up some initial conclusions before the next class. When done right, students may surprise with conclusions or opinions that their teachers may not have considered.

Conclusion

Using discussion-based strategy in the classroom has helped me resolve some of the learning difficulties that my students faced, such as the ability to read, analyze and synthesize information to form an opinion about the past. As a pedagogical approach, classroom conversation and discussions can potentially help students overcome some of the challenges that they face when dealing with the past. It was also a learning process for me as I learnt how to ask better questions to help students think deeper about topics and issues, and had become more aware of the importance of giving students space and time to think. Thinking about history is not easy because of the need to recreate the past using our imagination. However, students may find it more difficult to imagine the past as accurately as possible. This process cannot be rushed. Through the use of discussion-based strategy, the process can be facilitated because it allows for a collective imagination and verbal description to reconstruct aspects of the past. For some students, this may be immediately helpful. Others may need further scaffolding and guidance, but they will benefit from more effective ways of participating in discussion-based activities designed to help them learn better.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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