Student-Centered Discussion Series: Discussion 1 & Pre-Work for Discussion #2

We read the first chapter of The Teacher’s Guide to Leading Student Centered Discussions for our first discussion.  Nfishbowlext week, we’ll read and respond to the 2nd chapter.


You can access all of the resources for our Reading & Discussion Series here.

8 responses to “Student-Centered Discussion Series: Discussion 1 & Pre-Work for Discussion #2

  1. I love how this reading helps facilitators address issues during discussion. I think this is where people struggle the most and it actually has a huge impact on how successful the discussion is. Once an issue is identified and you’re aware of the cause, you can match it to one of the fulcrums, apply the strategies below, and determine how effective the correction is. The strategies for the fulcrums that challenged me to think differently are as follows:

    1. Safety-maintaining lack of respect creates an environment where students tiptoe around each other (7). This can be corrected by using the timeout procedure to behavior narrate discussion procedure (7). Feedback should be mainly focused on the procedure rather than content, which should be more student led.
    2. Authentic Participation-This fulcrum revolves around the balance of “mere talking” and silence (11). Silence is ok so long as it is being used properly, as a way to reflect and think deeply about the discussion (13). In order to make sure students are fully engaged when they DO speak, facilitators should ask students to support answers by using the text (12) and make sure it is a student-focused discussion rather than the facilitator asking questions and students responding (CONVERSATION) (14).
    3. Challenge-This fulcrum addresses rigor throughout the discussion and how to balance it for the lower-level students (so they don’t get left out of the conversation when it’s over their heads) and higher-level students (so it still challenges and pushes their growth) (17). Texts should already be rated on a scale evaluating their rigor, so pushing students to remain connected to the text should address rigor issues (18). Students should also avoid repetition of ideas if the quality of discussion is not progressing the depth of conversation about it (19). This will prevent “idea hopping” as well since students will be focused on developing an idea as much as possible before moving to the next (20).
    4. Ownership-this fulcrum focuses on balancing teacher interactions with student discussions and determining when it is appropriate to offer guidance in a manner that FACILITATES discussion rather than leads it (22-24). Student centerdness is key!!

    • On Page 32 under “Facilitator is Not the Focus” I thought the guidance about eye contact was really interesting. Tracking the speaker is part of every day expectations and I try to encourage my students to do that by modeling it myself and keeping my eyes on the student sharing. I also make a lot of eye contact to give non-verbal redirection. Honestly, just thinking about not making eye contact is giving me anxiety. The article suggests looking at another student or at your notes but I think that would be very challenging for me. I do understand the purpose of tis strategy and I think I would need to use it for sure I might just have to practice or figure out my own way of making it work.

  2. I’m not sure the reading made me think any differently but it certainly made me reflective of my own teaching style as well as my own experience participating in seminars.

    One of my biggest take aways from the reading is how balancing all the fulcrums will take time. I know that I am an extremely impatient person when it comes to changing. This is going to be one of the areas that i have to put the most effort in on my part.

    Another area I’m going to have to work on is not trying to insert my own agenda or opinion into the discussion. The section on ownership gives an account of a teacher who dominated the text because he had such a highinterest/high-stake relationship with the text and wanted the conversation to cover his points. I am so passionate and excited about literature, but I need to learn how to convey that excitement without dominating the conversation.

    From the safety section I think I’m going to implement a class contract so the classs can take ownership of their environment. We discussed something similar in Facing History and Ourselves, and I think it’s a very productive and positive way to start off the discussion of seminar mechanics.

    From the participation section, I predict that many of my classes will fall under the superficial participation side of the fulcrum. They generally have no problem speaking in class, however its a matter of getting them below the surface level. I think one of the biggest ways this has to change is giving them that silent think time.that’s going to have to come back around to me being patient.

    From the challenge section, i think helping students see when they are repeating the same argument in different words will also lead to more authentic participation. It will also help teach logical fallacies, which is real world application.

    In the ownership section on pg 43 under the subsection “Student-Driven Discussion” it discusses the idea that a seminar is not looking for a particular interpretation and if the conversation goes in a productive unplanned direction then that’s fine. I would agreed with this. I think any interpretations or ideas that are essential to the story should be hashed out before. Seminar should be about student discovery and perspective.

  3. This excerpt definitely made me feel differently about how I facilitate discussions right now, as well as how I feel about what the expectations for students and their peers (as well as myself) during these types of seminars.

    With the very easy-to-follow format the author used, I realized there are several different categories necessary for successful seminar. The one that stuck out to me the most, however, is the the section about safety, I am going to be vulnerable and honest and admit that most of my classes are still in the phase of creating a safe environment where students feel safe to share their ideas and thoughts, so this section was particularly helpful to me. On page 24 the author says that many of us work with students in secondary settings where they still mask their personal insecurities with laughter at the expense of others’ ideas. This really hits home with my classroom because so many students go into giggle fits, and I know it is because they feel insecure about what they’ve just said and need a way to hide it. If I can create an environment where students feel OK to made mistakes, say silly things, misunderstand ideas but still be respected and loved, I think these seminars will be extremely successful for my students.

    Further, I loved the section about teacher confirmation. I am particularly guilty of giving my students affirmation when they do something well, especially if they share a magnificently insightful idea about a text, I am the FIRST one to jump up and down and celebrate them. I do this because I feel like it encourages them to do it more often, but after reading this text, I realize that me doing that will be harmful for them in this setting. Students seem to need to gain a since of ownership in their discussions- and also learn to gain independence in their thinking. “The facilitator is not the focus” as the author says, really sums up this point by elaborating on the idea that students, not the teacher, should be the focus, and the teacher should intentionally separate themselves from being the one to whom students are speaking.

    While I feel like most of my classes have not gotten past the stage of feeling safe, the classes that do feel safe have moved on to the next issue: staying on topic and getting too stuck on specific ideas, instead of naturally moving along from one idea to another. Reading this text helped me realize that I do, in fact, get too excited that students are actually talking about the text in a nice and respectful way that I forget that their ideas and thoughts are not exactly where I envisioned the discussion heading. I will definitely work on this!

  4. “To create and maintain an atmosphere of emotional safety and respect,you as a facilitator must be aware of how both you and your students act…”(23).

    This evidence showed me think differently because it made me to understand that it is not only how the students act that is important, but as a teacher there are certain things that I may do in the classroom that can shift the atmosphere in the classroom. Often times teachers are too focused on what another student is doing or not doing, we may forget to question what we, as teachers, are doing.

  5. This is Katy Morgan’s contribution to the discussion:

    I don’t know how to rubric rate based on the fulcrums unless I was supposed to make a rubric for the fulcrums. I considered the fulcrums in my rubric-rating above. I guess on a scale of 1-4, 1 being lowest and 4 being highest, this is where I would place myself in terms of each fulcrum:

    Safety: Lots of variation between classes for this one. Some classes safety is a 1, others it is definitely a 4.
    Authentic Participation: 2 in most classes, 4 in my accelerated class only.
    Challenge: 3
    Ownership: 3

    Authentic participation

    I think one of my biggest problems at this point is authentic participation. I have a lot of students who are seeking attention through participation and I am not doing a good job yet at redirecting the attention seekers and getting them to cite textual evidence when they start rambling about the topic we are discussing. These questions listed in the authentic participation chapter resonated with me, I need to be doing a better job at asking myself these questions during discussion:
    Are students participating primarily to seek attention?
    Is the conversation text-focused?
    Are students jumping from comment to comment without exploring them in depth?
    Is the talking merely a sharing of ideas, or are students responding to one another?

  6. The part that really challenged me to think differently was the section titled, “Ownership.” I believe this is mostly because I am so worried about students getting off task and not discussing the prioritized items. The text states on page 42, “Facilitators may have trouble with any activity in which they are not the primary focus or facilitators may be wedded to a particular line of inquiry for students to explore.” I felt that this line described me perfectly. I purposefully plan and I really have set things that I want my students to notice.

  7. This is Liz’s reflection:

    I recently led a discussion with my 2nd graders analyzing the lyrics from “Let It Go.” I thought it would be familiar to them, so they would be more confident diving in and speaking on the topic, and some of them were. Overall I would give the discussion itself a 75. Students listened respectfully and asked some questions, but the participation was not always authentic. Some of my students were thinking only about the comment that they wanted to make and not about the comment that the person before them had just made. I found that, much like the scenario in the book, my students felt safe, but we hadn’t quite established that authentic participation fulcrum yet.

    Of the four fulcrums my students from this discussion would score:
    safety: 80
    authentic participation: 65
    challenge: 60
    ownership: 65

    My students are comfortable with one another, in part because it is a small group and they are pretty young. They all accept that the other people are smart or they wouldn’t be in my class, and they are all friendly. The trouble comes in with deeper level thinking. I have no doubt that they are capable of this, but they have never really been asked to do something like this before, which is part of what is tripping me up with students so young. I am having trouble balancing my role as a facilitator (not speaking a lot) with my desire to question them and push them to get to that deeper level of thinking where they are challenging each other, the writers, and me.

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