Guiding Student Discussion

The current work with my fellowship involves looking at ways to foster richer in class discussions that guide students towards accepted scientific understandings.  We are reading a book called 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Task-Based Discussions in Science and I find the ideas very exciting.  The main point is to plan and facilitate student discussions that are selected and sequenced towards important understandings, rather than having everyone just share what they did.  I’m still working through the book, but I really like the idea.

Yesterday we started circuits in my physics classes and for the first couple classes we had a discovery based portion of class followed by a mini-lecture that referenced the discovery work and organized main ideas.  In my first two classes I felt like the mini-lecture dragged on.  It wasn’t long (about 15 min with a short Think/Pair/Share around the 10 min mark) but the energy was low and it didn’t feel engaging.  For my last class I decided to try to use the discovery portion of the class to generate notes as we went.  This is not at all what the 5 Practices recommends (there is considerable planning to increase effectiveness) but I just needed to try something different.  It worked pretty well and I reflected and re-sequenced some things for my classes today.

Today my classes work much better and I really enjoyed talking with students in small group discussions and then calling back on them later in my determined order.  My first class today was also my one Formal Observation for the year (trying something completely new was a bit of a gamble here) and it was great.  My principal happily told one of the Education Specialists about how a student who has very few examples of productive behavior and contribution to the class spoke on point and added to our discussion.  This led to my biggest takeaway, which was how effective this practice was at differentiating and pulling in students with lower than average confidence. 

Overall I’m amazed at how much more engages students were today.  While they aren’t that engaged when someone else is presenting (how do we get students to want to listen to each other?) they has their moments of engagement in the topic and explored with the mind of a scientist.  I’m excited to finish the book and actually plan a lesson with this practice in mind, rather than just wing it out of necessity.

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