About Discourse: Part 1

This past school year, I thought a lot about discourse in the classroom – especially in my 9th-grade chemistry classes.  I use the Modeling Instruction approach to teaching and student discourse is a large part of that pedagogy.  One class was full of students who had managed to hold on to their natural curiosity about the world around them, and discourse happened naturally.  Another class struggled to talk to each other and I had to figure out what moves I needed to make in order for discourse to be productive.  To make a long story short, in February I held space for teachers in all 3 divisions to talk and strategize.  All I did was post a few prompts to get the discussion started.  Over the next few posts, I’m going to share those prompts.  Feel free to respond and get a discussion going!

Prompt 1:  What do you think productive discourse looks like?

As a teacher, sometimes discourse can be scary. Productive discourse can be loud and messy.  It requires an observer to have an idea of what to look (and listen) for.  There’s only 1 of me, and 18 (or 24, or 32, or…) of them.  If I put them into small groups, how can I be sure that everyone is on task and talking productively?  Looking at the picture I posted above, I notice that all 3 students are engaged in dialogue.  One is actively speaking.  Another has a finger on the problem for reference as she listens.  The third is actively looking at her own copy of the problem as she listens.  All three have writing utensils in hand, ready to write notes or change their work, depending on how the conversation goes.  This isn’t the “be all end all” of what productive discourse looks like, but it makes it easier for me to scan the classroom and determine which groups I need to listen in on first.

In a whole class situation, I would hope to hear only one voice at a time.  That being said, I would hope to hear multiple voices throughout the discussion.  I might expect to hear moments of silence as everyone processes what was just said.  I would hope to not hear my own voice very often – I want to only ask occasional questions to give a little jump-start if needed.

These are just a couple of thoughts I had in response to this prompt.  I hope you will add more.

A note about my blog:  I’m terrible about following through on blogging, but I am really good at getting ideas from other people’s blogs.  So this is my attempt (once again) to give back.  I think my SO created this site for me a year before I posted my one (and only) blog post.  It’s been two years since I posted that one blog post.  I am going to work on not taking two years to post again, which is why I’m splitting this discussion into multiple posts.  I hope that will provide me with motivation to keep going and to give back to the science ed community.  If you find that it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, feel free to call me out on it.  🙂

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