2.1 Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques. This component of program standard 2, Instruction, highlights the importance of the teacher utilizing a variety of questioning strategies and discussion methods to engage students in learning. Conversations are an imperative part of learning process: by discussing concepts and beliefs with others and using feedback from others to refine those concepts and beliefs students are able to cement their understanding and learn more than they would in the absence of conversations. The teacher is responsible for creating an instructional environment that utilizes conversation and provides students with the opportunity to inquire about and discuss what they are learning amongst their peers and with the teacher. Internship has introduced effective ways to enhance questioning and discussion techniques in the classroom.
A curriculum the Social Studies department uses at my school is the Choices Program created in partnership by Brown University and Watson Institute for International Studies. Not only is this curriculum excellent because of it’s design to connect historical events with contemporary issues, it also provides students the platform to discuss history, participate in historical issues, consider multiple viewpoints, and formulate arguments to express their views on those issues (Brown & Watson). My mentor teacher had the class participate in a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) during their Imperialism unit. An SAC is exactly as it sounds; it provides students with a controversial topic from history, in this case King Leopold of Belgium’s treatment of the people of the Congo, to discuss within a structured conversation aided by academic primary and secondary sources from that period of time. The students are each assigned a perspective that they are to defend and are then grouped with students from differing viewpoints to discuss the issue as members of British Parliament. Together, the students are to come up with a consensus but only after presenting their stance and preparing questions to ask their opponents. In this learning task students are actively questioning and discussing history while learning about the various values, interests, and priorities that impact both the past and present (Brown & Watson).
While the students participated in the SAC, I was able to circulate around the room to each group and listen to their conversations. I was so impressed with how engaged they were in the discussion, how thoroughly they argued their stance, as well as how high quality their questions were that they prepared for their classmates. They were also glad to respond to the questions I posed while I visited each group as I aided them in considering a different perspective.
A few other questioning and discussion strategies I observed and used during internship include gallery walk, conver-stations, and Socratic seminar.
- Gallery walks encourage questioning and discussion in small groups as students walk around the classroom to view the various pictures or prompts displayed around the room and respond to them. Responses will vary from emotions to clarifying questions and require the student to formulate their own ideas about what they are seeing or reading. Sometimes, if the image or prompt is particularly difficult, students discuss it and collaborate to develop some sort of understanding. Each text that is provided to them in the gallery walk will begin a discourse that will be drawn upon during the rest of the learning segment and will continue to aid them in their understanding of the central focus. I have used this to introduce a unit and also used it as an opportunity for students to explore the lasting effects of Imperialism.
- Conver-stations are a strategy similar to a jigsaw as students discuss a question in a group and, after having time to discuss the question, are moved into another group to discuss a different but related question. This provides the opportunity for students to have a deeper conversation about a given topic and brings a wide variety of perspectives into the conversation because of the movement of students from one group to another. This is not only a great way to get students talking, but it is also easy way to help students to generate ideas for essays.
- Socratic seminar is one of my favorite methods for discussions and questioning. When preparing for a seminar, I provide my students with a reading and reflection questions, but I also require them to develop their own question(s) to bring into the conversation. Providing them with questions to consider ahead of time, and requiring them to prepare their own questions, gives the seminar a starting point and from there students have meaningful conversations about the topic. Even more student generated questions are brought up throughout the discussion as it is the nature of seminar. During my time teaching World History, my students had a very meaningful conversation about the atrocities of WWII as they considered who should be held responsible for the Holocaust and other crimes from that period of history. Students were able to bring what they learned during the unit into the conversation, articulate their opinions, consider varying perspectives, and determine their understanding of responsibly in their community, country, and world.
One thing I truly enjoy about education is the opportunity to discourse with students as they seek to understand the world. I cannot imagine a classroom without conversations and I would like to continue to utilize discussion and questioning techniques in my lessons. I made questioning and discussion techniques my goal for the 2nd semester of the school year. My administrator, who had a similar goal, shared with me some of the strategies she uses (like conver-stations) and I tried them out knowing that the more I use them the better I will get at employing them. One area in particular that I would like to improve is selecting more controversial readings for seminars as I tend to avoid conflict, particularly in my religion classes as faith can be such a sensitive topic for students. I don’t want my fear of conflict to take away from my student’s faith journey and their need to grapple with challenging issues in light of their faith. But on the topic of controversies in faith, I am looking forward to developing a curriculum similar to the Choices Program for the Religion department at my school. Religion is such a rich content area with such a complex history that students can engage with meaningfully through conversations and I look forward to making those conversations the center of my instruction in years to come.
Brown University & Watson Institute for International Studies. (n.d.). About the Choices Program. Retrieved May 23, 2016, from The Choices Program website: http://www.choices.edu/about/