Welcome to Part 3 of my improving student discussion mini-series: Increasing Quality. If you’re at a point where your students are having discussions and everyone is talking, but the level of the conversation is really low-level. That is, maybe they’re not building off of each other’s ideas. Perhaps they’re repeating the same ideas that someone else said just so that they could have an opportunity to talk. Maybe they’re essentially just having a hand-raising style share out because it’s all answers in isolation. If this sounds like your students’ discussions, then this post is for you.
Increasing Quality of Student Talk Quick Glance
- Setting the Stage: Explicit Teaching
- Conversation Supports that Increase Quality
- Post-Discussion Reflection
Setting the Stage: Explicit Teaching
In the first part of this series when I talked about measuring discussion, the main focus was on quantity: how many students are talking. Then in part 2 we talked about ways to get even your quietest, most timid students talking during discussions.
But how do we improve QUALITY of the discussion? You gotta teach it! Your students need to see what a high quality discussion looks like and what low quality discussion looks like.
High Quality Discussion: Building on and connecting ideas, expressing agreement or disagreement, providing evidence for their thinking, asking clarifying questions to understand thinking, many students participating and adding ideas
Low Quality Discussion: Disconnected ideas, repeated ideas with nothing new added, no evidence to support their thinking is provided, not asking clarifying questions to understand the thinking of their classmates, few students participating
How I teach this: Fishbowl. Fishbowl is a strategy where a teacher and a small group of students model a task or activity while the other students forma circle around them to observe. Thus the teacher and the small group of students are the fish while the rest of the group form the fishbowl. The students I select are my students who already demonstrate high quality discussion. The students’ job is to do just that. The teacher, though, needs to demonstrate low quality discussion characteristics.
After modeling a discussion with both high quality and low quality characteristics. Create an anchor chart with students noting both high and low quality discussion characteristics to make students aware.
Conversation Supports that Increase Quality
Now, you’ve modeled discussion with your students and they’ve seen the difference between high quality and low quality discussion. What supports can you provide to your students to help them use quality discussion techniques as they participate in discussion?
Sentence Frames: In part 2 when I talked about increasing student discussion, I talked about using sentence frames or sentence stems as a way to help students begin answering a question. They are equally, if not more important, to help students in increasing quality of their discussions. Frames that increase quality:
- I agree/disagree with____ because______
- I’d like to add on to what____ said because_____
- I have a connection to what____ was saying because_____
- It sounds like ____ was saying____ and I’d like to add_____
- Could you explain what you meant when you said______?
- What evidence do you have that______?
- I’d like to hear what _____thinks
To help I made these quick references for my students to use during discussion. You can download it in English and Spanish too! Sign up below
Partner and Small Group Practice: Even with adults, practicing something for the first time in front of a large group can cause a lot of anxiety. Providing students with practice in a small group or with a partner can certainly help bring confidence and can allow you to check in with students or groups who may need more support. It would also allow a greater number of students to participate more often as they practice.
Wait Time: What? How does wait time improve discussion quality? As teachers, we don’t have a lot of time. So when discussions seem to go cold, we jump in to try to “save” them. I promise you, though, that your discussions will improve the longer you wait. This one is still hard for me, but when discussions go quiet, I start to count in my head to 15. It will feel really uncomfortable. You will want to say something. Fight it. Your students need to know that you will not jump in or they will expect it.
At the beginning of each discussion, we set a goal for the discussion as a class. If we are focusing on quantity, we may say that we want to include everyone in the discussion. Whereas if the goal is on quality we may say that we are focusing on agreeing or disagreeing with each other’s ideas or building on ideas. If your students are not listening to each other and not actually building on each other’s ideas, your goal may be to paraphrase each person’s idea before adding your own idea.
Setting the expectations and goals for what a successful discussion will look like provides students with a clear idea of what they need to do. Sometimes, especially with the primary grades, creating an incentive around the goal either that is either individual or as a class can help promote and keep your focus on the goal.
In part 1 of my series when I talked about measuring discussion, I talked about how knowing about the quantity and quality of your discussion was essential for improving it. This is where measuring your discussion even if it is just student perception is essential.
After each discussion, reflect on your discussion. How did you do with your discussion goal? If you were using a measurement tool, show the results to your students. If you don’t have a measurement tool, take a look at my measuring discussion post and get the tool that I use! Showing your students that you hold them accountable for their speaking and listening can be very motivating and helps inform your goal-setting for your next discussion.
So, you’ve read about measuring discussion and hopefully you have a system that you’re comfortable with. You know how to get your students talking more, even your quiet ones. Now, you know how to increase the quality of your discussions through goal-setting, reflecting, explicit teaching and providing conversation supports. If you’d like my student sentence frame quick reference sheets that they can have with them in discussions, sign up below.