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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Speaking and Listening Strategies

A friend on Facebook recently posted a link to "The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies," an article at the Cult of Pedagogy.

It offers "15 formats for structuring a class discussion to make it more engaging, more organized, more equitable, and more academically challenging." They include "higher-prep strategies, formats that require teachers to do some planning or gathering of materials ahead of time," "low-prep strategies," and "ongoing strategies" ("smaller techniques that can be integrated with other instructional strategies and don’t really stand alone.")  It's well worth a read and includes links to videos to show how these strategies work in the classroom.

We've incorporated some of these strategies into our lesson plans, most notably Gallery Walks (See, for example, "Russell on Indians" and "Picturing the Past: Understanding Cultural Change and Continuity among Montana's Indians through Historic Photographs") and that oldie-but-goodie, "think-pair-share" (see Ordinary People Do Extraordinary Things, for example). But I was intrigued by several of the other techniques the author discusses. Specifically:

Affinity Mapping: "Give students a broad question or problem that is likely to result in lots of different ideas, such as “What were the impacts of the Great Depresssion?” or “What literary works should every person read?” Have students generate responses by writing ideas on post-it notes (one idea per note) and placing them in no particular arrangement on a wall, whiteboard, or chart paper. Once lots of ideas have been generated, have students begin grouping them into similar categories, then label the categories and discuss why the ideas fit within them, how the categories relate to one another, and so on." This seemed to me to have great potential at the end of a unit to sum up--by asking about most important turning points/significant events or  most influential people during a specific period, for example.

Concentric Circles/Speed Dating: "Students form two circles, one inside circle and one outside circle. Each student on the inside is paired with a student on the outside; they face each other. The teacher poses a question to the whole group and pairs discuss their responses with each other. Then the teacher signals students to rotate: Students on the outside circle move one space to the right so they are standing in front of a new person (or sitting, as they are in the video). Now the teacher poses a new question, and the process is repeated."

I first learned about this from MSU education professor Christine Rogers Stanton, when she presented at the 2015 Montana History Conference Educator Workshop in Bozeman. The topic was Indian Leaders--with the goals of "learning who are/were native leaders and "How leadership is/was defined within tribal communities past and present?" Professor Stanton placed us into groups and assigned us short primary source texts about various Indian leaders. After analyzing our brief quote, we discussed in our small groups "What makes a great leader?" using evidence from our source document (for example, Plenty  Coups--the leader I was assigned--was very conscious about building consensus). We ran out of time, but the next step in the exercise was to have been speed dating: everyone was to put on a name tag with the name of his or her leader (Plenty Coups, in my case) and "speed date" other leaders, talking about our own leadership qualities and learning about others' before coming up with our own list of important leadership qualities.)

What are your favorite strategies for structuring meaningful class discussion--either on Cult of Pedagogy's list or others? Many teachers I respect (including  Arlee English and history teacher Anna Baldwin, 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year) think highly of Socratic circles. And I still think Structured Academic Controversies are worth a look. Find links to more information on both techniques here.

And let me know what works in your classroom. If you do, I'll share!


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