Class Discussion Methods

"Let us hold our discussion together in our own persons, making trial of the truth and of ourselves."   Protagoras

Vertexts - projecting singular quotes that prompt student discussion

A vertext (I think I came up with the name) is a way to discuss a Literary Text using direct quotes from the work in a  Power Point Presentation.  The quotes should be invoke discussion and should evolve - often coming from students' own findings as they do the readings.  Each quote is given its own slide in the presentation - I start at one end of the room and the student reads the quote (which is projected in the front of the room).  At that point - as the teacher - you have a choice and I have done it both ways - you can ask that the student who just read the quote say something (anything really) about the quote OR you after the student reads the quote, any student in the class can comment on it.  And really the comment can be anything - an observation, a question, a connection.  As long as it is directly related to the quote.  It puts the critical thinking in the students' hands (minds) rather than having the teacher direct the conversation (though of course you have a little by choosing the quotes - and by directing the questions and conversations that erupt from the quote.   The term Vertext comes from Verbatum Text.

Students also frequently comment on the comment that the first student made - and one quote can lead to an entire discussion.  The great thing about this approach is that the teacher is not asking pointed questions (though they are putting up pointed quotes...).  The majority of the critical thinking comes from the students.  

Divided Reading Discussion - dividing the reading disc among rows

In this method, the class is divided into rows (what is usually called columns) and each row is assigned a section of that day's reading.  For their given section, each student is to come up with THREE separate things for three different parts of their reading.   The first two are either a comment or a question (ie or two comments or two questions).  The third thing they are to come up with is a quote from their reading that they thought was "cool", "interesting", "puzzling" etc.  These three things will change as the year progresses.  For instance, as the year progresses - one of the things may be a VERY SPECIFIC connection to something else we've studied.  Another of the three things might be specific to the the book - for instance, while reading Song of Solomon, I may ask that one of the things (in a later discussion) links to something that was specifically (always) alluded to earlier in the text.

Each of their three things should be significant (Ah - here's were taking notes while they read comes in handy) and should potentially lead to discussion.  They are to write these three things down (that's really important).

The cool part of having Three separate things to find is that if another student who came before them in their row picked one of theirs - they still have two more. 

You give the class about 5-10 minutes to find their three things - then begin with the first student in the first row and go through the entire class.  The great thing about this method is that it is completely student-centered (I hate that term).  The student comes up with the question or comment - other students comment or reply to what they had to say.  The teacher is merely a facilitator.

After I had been doing this for a while - I realized that sometimes there were ideas that are SO important to a text - that they need to be brought up - either by the students (preferrably) or the teacher.  With that in mind, I created a blank template (or wrote on the one already created for the students - where I would jot down important ideas that I felt should be covered (or that I simply thought were pretty neat or cool).  Most of the time - and I do mean that - the students would bring these up themself when they had a chance to talk - but just in case, at the end of each "row", if we didn't get to that point - I would bring it up myself - usually in the form of a question that would help get them to see it for themselves.  Here is an example (from The History of Love) of a Row reading assignment with my notes of what we need to cover by the end of each row filled in.

Ring-Master Teacher - the teacher facilitates a discussion with questions

This method, for me anyhow, begins with having a very detailed "battleplan" - I know the things that I want to cover - I know how to get there - so I will have detailed notes that take me there.  This is, without a doubt, the students' favorite method of discussion - but I think, sadly, a big part of that has to do with how passive they can be during such a discussion.  I try to give the students as much control as possible - bringing up new ideas, quotes, etc - and the ideas of one class will get added to my notes and make it into the notes the following year (or period for that matter). 

The plan for the opening lesson is to have a teacher-led discussion where I talk as little as possible and let the students bring up anything they want in their reading while at the same time having a plan for where the discussion is going - and like all classes, I see every discussion as a "chapter in a book".  It has a plot, a theme, a link to things that came before and a preview of what is to come.  I have attached my notes for the discussion as well as a sample page of my reading notes.  It is important, I believe, to not only build the students' interest - but to help them see information (and to bring it from them) that will make them appreciate and enjoy the book even more.
  There are so many great connections in this book - and it is a fine line that the teacher walks in 1) Not giving anything away  2) helping students see and find the wonder in those connections.  I have never "winged" a lesson - and here it becomes even more important to have detailed notes - to make sure you give no spoilers.  And there are some wonderful twists in The History of Love - that you simply want the students to discover (and fall in love with) themselves.
  The notes that I do include below are my battleplan for this lesson.  The questions - the links - the quotes - and sometimes even the answers that will lead to other wonderful questions and discussion.  Of course you also have to be ready to let the discussion go somewhere else - and it often does.  This, then, gets put into my notes and incorporated into the next year's (sometimes the next period's) class.  Every class lives on - every class  helps build the knowledge of the next one.  This is just one of the many reasons that I repeat so many works as a teacher.  Until nothing new is discovered - and then you know its time to move on).  As always, it is imperative to keep your eye on the clock so that you get as far as you want to get with this by the end of the period.

The Discrepant Event - an activity occurs that sets the scene for the discussion

I remember telling my wonderful department Joe Korner about this idea when I was a student teacher interviewing for a job at my school.  He asked me "What's a decrepit event?" Ha!  It's actually very simple:  There is an activity which is not directly linked to the discussion but instead lays the mental groundwork for students making a bigger connection.  This is followed by one of the three discussion types from above.  The activity might be something like marching in the hall to Green Eggs and Ham or forming concentric circles and whispering words of  emotion they experienced while reading "Indian Camp".