Website Wednesday is a (mostly) weekly feature in which we highlight one (or a couple) of sites from the Billions floating around the Intertoobz that just might help you with your Herculean task of educating inquiring minds. Any and all suggestions for future editions are welcome.
Over the years I’ve been teaching, I’ve had a number of colleagues ask about or ask for ideas related to discussions and active learning. For a long time, my primary recommendations was Stephen Brookfield’s Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. It’s a great book, but maybe a little wonky and philosophical (in the sense of being really thorough in its consideration and discussion of discussion), which maybe not everyone is as enthusiastic about as I am.
Happily, this summer I read a book called Discussion in the Classroom by Jay Howard, and it is my new first recommendation. Howard is a sociologist and so the book features his findings on the sociology of the college classroom (with a nice overview of others’ research, too) and makes a few critical, simple points about a couple of classroom culture obstacles (e.g., norms like “civil attention” and “consolidation of responsibility”) to good discussion. The book also integrates multiple various, easy, effective (in my experience) remedies to address them. Some of the ideas I knew from my own trial and error, some I learned from other sources, including colleagues, books, and (mostly) my personal teaching hero (to whom I’m married). For me the book was less helpful in terms of providing new strategies than it was helpful in clarifying why some of my favorite approaches turn out to be effective (and why some others that I liked before trying them didn’t work so well). It also includes chapters on grading participation and online participation, among others, and it’s short and easy to read.
But maybe you don’t want a book to read. Fair enough.
Lucky for you, some of my favorite strategies are published in slightly different form on a website dedicated to Common Core-related teaching resources. They are published in the form of “protocols” which are basically recipes for action. The site describes them as practices for elementary and middle-schoolers (3rd to 8th grade), but they are easily adaptable to our classrooms given the similarities in size and set-up. In truth, the protocols could be used with first graders as well as college students–the complexity of the task derives from the complexity of the text, not the protocol (though, the protocols can be adjusted in that regard, too, just by taking the basic structure and altering the specific task or questions as appropriate. Favorites for processing text (and, in the process, learning to effectively summarize/analyze/compare texts) include: “Concentric Circles,” “Jigsaw,” “Say Something,” “Written Conversation,” “Rank, Talk, Write,” “Popcorn Read,” “Tea Party,” and “Take a Stand.” Check ’em out.