One of the things that I’m getting my brain around as I continue to study the Common Core Standards is how critical discussion and oral response to text-dependent questions is.  I mean, it’s CENTRAL to the mastering of the standards for every grade level!  On the flip side, I know how hard we’ve worked to get kids to respond, let alone discuss…so it feels like a bit of an uphill battle for some.  It IS an uphill battle!  But it’s definitely an uphill battle that we can win – and it’s an uphill battle that is necessary for us to work through and to!

I think the most important place to start is this: responding does not equal discussion.

We need to recognize that discussion is different than uttering an answer in response to a question – it’s back and forth, connected discourse between 2 or more people that involves active speaking and active listening.  (I have a real problem with active listening…it’s my life’s work to be better at it – really!  Ahem…)

We also need to come to grips with the fact that EVERY student can discuss…they just need to be taught how.  You know, it’s the ol’ teach/model/ practice/apply/assess.

Yawn…here I go again talking about explicit teaching.  I know, I know, I’m a broken record, but it’s TRUE!

So, I’m going to give you something to teach/model/practice/apply/assess around teaching discussion and conversation…five steps, actually!

Step 1: Have student explain positions and reasoning

A simple follow-up question like, “Tell me more about how you got that idea” or “What made you think that?” will train students to support and explain their ideas.

Step 2: Model reasoning by thinking out loud

A simple model like, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to show you how my brain is thinking when I am trying to put together my ideas for my discussion…”…and then show them!

Step 3: Propose counter arguments or positions

A simple statement such as, “Have you ever thought about ________________?” or “Let’s flip this around for a second and consider this angle…” can help students lead the discussion and explore alternate ideas.

Step 4: Acknowledge good reasoning

Simple feedback like, “Wow Josh, you gave us 3 solid reasons why you disagreed with the author – I can tell that you really thought that through because you connected back to examples in the text we read!”

Step 5: Summarize discussion as it closes

A simple summary is enough: “So, I’d like to close our discussion by highlighting the four main points that I heard during the discussion…”

Bonus thought: If every student agrees with every other student that’s a problem!

We WANT kids to learn that disagreement is part of a discussion and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong!  (In fact, a little disagreement livens up the place!)

So what’s the big idea about teaching discussion explicitly?  It must be simple.

Simple sticks.