Classroom Discussion and Debate & Teacher Observation

Chamber of the United States House of Representatives during the 2011 State of the Union Address delivered by President Barack Obama

Classroom Discussion and Debate

This week I’ll be reviewing the chapter on classroom discussion and debate from Larson and Keiper’s book Instructional Strategies for Middle and Secondary Social Studies.

Just like debates in the United States House of Representatives, classroom discussion requires students and teachers to create a back and forth dialogue at highly effective and intellectual levels. Discussion should not be centered on teacher questions with student responses to that question and teacher input about those responses. Instead discussion should be mostly student centered. Though teachers might find it hard to have discussion and debate in class, the rewards of this instructional strategy include the development of higher cognitive abilities, development of positive student attitudes, and the development of aptitudes for civil discourse.

Just like there are different kinds of votes in the House of Representatives, there are also different types of models for classroom discussion. Larson and Keiper focus on six main types of discussion:

  1. Taking a Stand
  2. Issues/Values Continuum
  3. The Future’s Wheel Discussion
  4. The Fishbowl Discussion
  5. The Structured Academic Controversy
  6. The Electronic Threaded Discussion

Regardless of how teachers structure discussion, they should keep in mind logistical concerns before introducing a discussion to their students. The first thing to consider the layout of your room and if the classroom is conducive to discussion. The House of Representatives chamber is arranged in a semicircle that allows all members to be able to see one another and direct their attention to the floor. For some classes and discussions teachers might want to arrange students into a semicircle, others may want to make a full circle, and for others you could have students arrange desks in small clusters for smaller group discussions. The arrangements will depend on the type of discussion and the size of the class.

Teachers should also ensure that their students have enough knowledge about the topic at hand in order to discuss a particular topic. This will facilitate discussion and ensure that students can fully articulate positions and ideas. In addition to having knowledge about the topic, there should also be clear guidelines for expected behaviors during discussion. While the House of Representatives have their own rules for debate, teachers can make their own rules for discussion simply by creating a poster to be displayed in class or on the board that lists proper behavior or prompts students to monitor their own behavior.

The House of Representatives have multiple sub-committees through which legislation is introduced, discussed, and voted upon. Most bills die in committee, those that are deemed worthy make it on to the House floor for debate. Teachers must become their own House sub-committee by asking whether or not discussion is an appropriate strategy for the content of a particular lesson. Will the discussion help students learn about this topic? Can students discuss the issues, are they equipped with the knowledge to do so? What types of interactions do you want to come out of the discussion? Classroom discussion and debate is a valuable and formative strategy; but like every other strategy, it must be planned, effective, and goal oriented.

Teacher Observation

For the second part of this blog, I observed a lesson given by my cooperating teacher on the Foundation of Islam in our World History 1 Honors Class. This class is one of my favorite classes because it is smaller, only 19 students, and allows for more teacher/student interactions than our other classes which have over 31 students. The lesson’s objectives were 1) Identify the founder of Islam, 2) Locate where Islam was founded and spread on a map, and 3) Identify the Seven Pillars of Islam.

The main way my teacher helped our students reach the objectives were through the structure of the lesson. First, he started the day with a Warm-Up on Google Classroom that asked them to ask a variety of review questions to keep content fresh in their minds for their upcoming SOL. After the warm-up students were asked to complete a map activity using a map from their textbook. On their own paper map they used colored pencils to label the locations of important places to Islam and to shade in areas where Islam spread. After this map activity, the teacher transitioned into a lecture on Islam during which students completed their slot notes. As a bonus, the teacher used multiple multimedia clips within the lecture to highlight the history of Islam and characteristics of it. After the lecture, students completed an online webquest about Islam that highlighted many of the same things that were in the lecture like its foundation and the Seven Pillars of the Faith. Finally, before class was over, my teacher asked the students to complete a 3-2-1 on a sheet of paper. He asked them to write 3 things they learned, 2 things they found interesting, and 1 thing they didn’t understand or found confusing.

During the lesson I noticed that most students consistently paid attention and were engaged in activities. Three students, who have had problems paying attention in class throughout the semester, had to be prompted by my teacher to focus on a few separate occasions. Usually this was a subtle tap on the shoulder or my teacher would move towards the student and ask if they needed any help. Overall, I think the lesson was successful largely because the activities my teacher used during the lesson were applied to support content that was going to be learned and reinforced what they already learned (here I think about the webquest completed after the lecture). Evidence of student learning came through the two activities which were graded, the mapping activity and the webquest. Student learning was also demonstrated the next day during the Google classroom warm-up that asked students to recall information from the previous day’s lesson.


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