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Hosting Meaningful Discussions in the Secondary Classroom

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

It's possible - I promise!

Education over time has looked a lot like a teacher lecturing at the front of the room and students quietly taking notes and then working independently on assignments. However, the game is changing, and rightfully and beautifully so. From a lot more collaborative work, to engaging games, to countless digital incorporations, many classrooms are shifting to student-led learning, and classroom discussions are a great tool in continuing this trend. Especially given the pandemic, discussions are also a useful resource for reigniting students’ social skills, which many of them have lost over the past few years.

I currently teach at a Paideia school, which advocates for critical and creative thinking through Paideia Socratic Seminars. These seminars are defined as “collaborative intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text” and include “multiple close readings of a chosen text prior to discussion, formal speaking and listening during the seminar itself, and [a] post-seminar writing process” (Paideia National Center).

I have had my students complete this process in the middle of a novel or unit and at the end. Most recently, my students completed a seminar on the first half of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with chapter 15 of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy as a supplementary text. To access the resources I provided for my students with for this process which took 4 days total - 1 for chapter 15 reading + annotation, 1 for pre-seminar prep, 1 for the actual seminar day, and 1 for the writing task - CLICK HERE.

However, even if the format is not Paideia, I advocate that any type of collaborative discussion that can be completed in classes is sufficient and necessary. The prep work should be intentional and can be a little time-consuming, but the impactful outcome makes it worthwhile. Have students come up with individual and group goals for each discussion, and set them up with some reflection questions after. The first time or two a class engages in a discussion/seminar may be quite awkward and unnerving, but as with anything, they will get better with time.

Lastly, last school year I discovered Parlay - a fantastic digital tool for seminars. This platform is free to join, houses space for discussion questions and student notes, and tracks individual and whole-class participation throughout the discussion. At the end, the teacher is provided with exportable analytics and can share the feedback with the class and/or use it for grading and reflection purposes.


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