Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing a series of blog posts on improving student discussion. This is in response to all of the great feedback I received from my post on 7 strategies for getting quiet students to talk in discussions and 3 ways to get your students talking.

**I’ll be covering:**

### Measuring Discussion Quick Glance

- -Why Measure Discussion?
- -What To Measure?
- -How To Measure: Paper Method
- -How To Measure: Tech Tools
- Conclusions

#### Why Measure Discussion?

Remember back in the old days when classrooms were silent? Students were all quietly working on solving a page of math problems or completing a book report? Principals would walk through and compliment the teacher on their superb control of the classroom. In other words, we educators used to be, and I’m sure that some still are, measured by the silence of our students.

Fast forward to today when research and experience has shown us that the one who does the talking, does the learning. In our digital age so many students struggle with carrying on a conversation and listening. Survey a group of students about what their parents are doing while they talk to them and many will say that they are looking at a phone or tablet. Without that strong speaking and listening model at home, the load is more and more on us as educators. Teaching communication and conversational skills is essential for our students’ future success.

Now why measure? If you don’t measure it, you don’t improve it. Period. You want to improve your students’ reading? Regularly measure their reading level. Want to improve your students’ computational fluency? Regularly measure their proficiency with math facts. Want your students to eat all of their fruits and vegetables? Grade them on their eating. Think I’m joking? When I taught in Spain, my students literally got report cards on their eating in the lunchroom.

Does measuring discussion directly improve it? No. It really doesn’t, but focusing on it, you will notice trends and seek out ways to improve it whether it’s by increasing student talk, improving discussion quality, or decreasing teacher talk.

#### What to Measure?

**Quantity **– If you are just getting started with measuring discussion, you will likely get started with measuring the quantity of discussion, how much your students are participating in discussion.

This includes:

- How many (and which) students are participating
- How many times each student participates

**Quality **– Once you know how much your students are participating, you will want to look at the quality of their discussion – what they are saying.

This includes

- Hand signals (to show agreement, disagreement, etc.)
- Contributing a new idea
- Adding an irrelevant comment
- Adding/Building on to an idea
- Restating an idea
- Agreeing/Disagreeing
- Asking for clarification

#### How To Measure: Paper Method

***Disclaimer: I have only successfully been able to consistently measure my students’ discussion data in whole groups when students talk one at a time. That is, students are usually sitting in a circle, and one student speaks and then another student responds, and then another, etc. I have not found a good way to measure student discussion if more than one student is speaking at once (ie: partner talk).***

There are two ways that I have tried measuring discussion both in whole group. With paper and with tech tools. If you’re not very techie and prefer your paper and your binders, this method is for you.

If you are engaging your students in a whole group discussion, you can simply print out a class list and create a notation system that best works for you. For example: P for participated, B for built on an idea, R for restate, A for agree, etc. As discussion occurs, mark on your class list the way that students participated.

**Class List Method**

Advantages:

- Easy to locate students based on alphabetical order
- Can track quantity and quality

Disadvantages:

- Cannot track flow of the conversation
- Difficult to track student participation by subject and over time

**Circle Discussion Method** – students sit in a circle and you draw a circle on paper and mark where students are seated in the circle on the paper.

Advantages:

- Easy to locate students based on position
- Can track quantity and quality
- Can track the flow of the conversation from student to student

Disadvantages:

- Difficult to track student participation by subject and over time
- Need to create the circle drawing each time

####

How To Measure: Tech Tools

I have experimented with 2 different tech tools, one free and one paid. I despise paper, so this is preferred for me because tech tools also allow me to compile and desegregate data easier. For example, if I want to easily see how often a certain student participated in literacy discussions vs. math discussions, I could easily see that using tech tools. With paper, this is far more difficult. Let’s get to my tech tools:

**Google Forms** – This is very similar to the class list method where you create a Google Form with a class list and decide what you want to measure (ie: Building on an idea, agree, disagree, irrelevant idea, etc.). You can get your own FREE sample Google Form for measuring student discussion below!

Advantages:

- Easy to find students alphabetically
- can track quality and quantity (to a point)
- Can track student participation by subject and over time
- Easy to create and reusable
- FREE

Disadvantages:

- cannot track number of times a student participated
- cannot track the flow of conversation

**Equity Maps** – A paid app with a lot of premium functionality that may make the price worth it for you.

Advantages:

- Can track flow of conversation + record the conversation
- Track quantity and quality of discussion
- Can track TYPE of discussion including whole group, partner talk and teacher talk
- Track data over time and by subject, length of discussion and gender

Disadvantages:

- Paid app

### Conclusions

Start measuring your students’ participation in discussion both quantity and quality. I outlined 4 ways to track it. Make a goal for yourself to try out one of these methods ONCE this week. Try it out. If you try to measure student discussion once, you will already have done more than you had done before and be one step closer to improving your student discussion both in terms of quality and quantity.

**Get a link to an example Google Form** for measuring your student discussion below. It’s really easy to use. Just add in your students’ names, change any of the conversation categories, and you’re ready to start measuring student discussion!

[…] which students are sharing. I go into great detail what this looks like in another post about measuring student participation in discussion. With how important it is to have all students participating, knowing which students are and are […]