NAGC members find the Teacher's Corner each and every month in the electronic pages of Compass Points.
In an effort to increase your understanding about specific subject areas or themes, I will provide related book titles, websites, professional papers, and other relevant resources related to these. I welcome your ideas, opinions, and suggestions as well. It is only through communication that we can continue to build and solidify our understanding of Gifted and Talented vocabulary and resources.
March 2013 Corner
Sometimes It’s All About Discussion
There is nothing like a great classroom discussion to get everyone in gear. In the 14 years I have been in the profession I have yet to find one teaching style that I enjoy over the others. In fact, mixing it up regularly ensures that I am catering to the wide variety of learning styles and preferences of my students. For more on student learning styles and intelligences please see the forthcoming issue of Connecting For High Potential, March 2013, which looks at this topic in depth. Susan Dulong Langley and I have greatly enjoyed writing this unique co-authored column. For this installment of The Teacher's Corner though, I’d like to focus on one of many exciting instructional strategies, classroom discussion.
I’m not one to stand at the board and lecture, in monotone type and speech, while the students busily take neat and orderly notes in their notebooks, although I do enjoy it once and a while. Standing in the front of the room posing quiz questions, while the same five students tirelessly raise their hands after each query isn't really my cup of tea, but it is effective when preparing for quizzes and tests. Short and long term simulations are wonderful for the creative and imaginative students, who certainly urge the disinterested into playing along, but too much fun becomes just that, too much fun. Games are good, but should be short-lived. Interest or ability group work allows the students to figure and work things out for themselves, both educationally and emotionally; however, I like to be involved at some point. Plus, group activity does have a half-life. I’m all for “the ships”: mentor, intern, and apprentice, as they provide the specialized knowledge that can’t be supplied by me, but the student must eventually return to the classroom, where my favorite strategy, classroom discussion, can be found on the menu.
I use the word menu to describe the strategy because I learned all that I know about curriculum planning and delivery through the lens of The Multiple Menu Model, a comprehensive guide developed by Joe Renzulli, Jann Leppein, and Thomas Hays that melded research and theory with time-tested examples of outstanding curriculum delivery. The term "menu" was used to connote choice, in this case, options within six main menus. The Instructional Strategies "Menu" is where you can find the choices of teaching methods described above. To read more about The Multiple Menu Model, visit the overview website. Curriculum will look different after a short read.
For me, there is a method to utilizing class discussion. I've found that this strategy works best at the start, halfway point, or conclusion of a unit of instruction. I usually start with an overview of the topic, offering some cool and random facts, and then I revisit what we have learned so far, and continue by posing a series of questions relating to the topic, many off-the-cuff as the discussion moves along. I find myself sitting on the desk, or the back of a chair, moving around from the front to the back of the room. I like to point directly at my students, use my hands when I talk, sometimes clapping in approval. Phrases and odd terms become lyrics for short songs, anecdotes shared by me and the students are treasured, and while there are times when we stray from the topic a little, it is important to recognize that the students are directing the discussion. Knowing when to end, or move the conversation along in a particular direction comes with time and practice. Energy is the key to a great class discussion, where a one-hour period flies by, for the student and the teacher.
During class discussion, students are not concerned about "wrong" answers, comfortable in offering strong opinions, and as the discussion builds, the educator too feels a strong sense of learning as the content covered, coupled with the questions asked, leads to a new synthesis. I'm usually the first one to utter, “I don't know” and “Let’s find out” or “That's a great question” and “Wow, I hadn’t heard that.” Class discussion, in my eyes, involves speaking and listening, answering and uncovering, thanking and praising. I have always believed that every student deserves the opportunity to share what they know and what they want to know. Utilizing classroom discussion as a strategy ensures that every student has the occasion to do so!
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