Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Facilitating group-based discussions

Today we had fantastic group-based discussions. Students presented the ideas contained in an essay that they wrote late last week. This very basic outline produced fruitful, positive conversations. I even asked the class to put their heads down and raise their pinky finger if they felt uncomfortable and no one did. I'm so impressed because they were discussing their personal passions, something that is very touchy for all of us; I think the key was in the listener's responses that I prewrote for them.
Best part: when one of my new students left today she said, "You know, that was actually fun! I'm not used to having fun in school."

Here's the script. I write scripts because it allows me to play out all of the steps of the class before we actually have class; this way, I am much more ready to focus on the students when we do the real thing.

Today, we are going to respectfully discuss each other’s central ideas.
What did we go over for homework?
                -Why does this matter?
                -How is this important?
So this is exactly what each person is going to present to their small group. The listening group members will listen respectfully and silently as the presenter speaks.
Then, one at a time, the listeners will play devil’s advocate. Can someone please elaborate on what that means?
(students respond)
Dictionary definition: “A person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke a debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.”)
Why would I be asking you to do this for each other’s essays?
(students respond: help make arguments stronger, define why we are interested in these topics)
What larger life skills does this activity foster?
(critical thinking, communication, politely expressing difference)
Mmk so how are the listeners going to act as a devil’s advocate without being a jerk?
(solicit student responses, have them role play specific possible scenarios)
If you are sort of stuck on what to do, here are some phrases you can use to help you get started:

I liked ________ but I don’t understand why __________.
I disagree with your point about _____ because _______.
Have you thought about ______ before?
What if _______ happened?
I see that you’re passionate about _______ but I don’t see how it connects with _______.
Oui, mais _______.

As the presenter, you are then allowed ten seconds of silence to think, if you want it. Be very careful to respond directly to the question. IT IS OK IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWER.
If you do not know the answer, you need to write the question down and come back to it after the other listener has asked their question.

The presenter will receive and answer two of these questions from the listeners. Then the presenter will return to answer any questions that they could not answer the first time, and all three participants will work to answer the question together. At this point, you will not need to use the “devil’s advocate” format.

I strongly suggest that you take notes during this process, writing down what you learn even if it doesn’t have to do exactly with your project. Especially if you are the presenter, take careful notes of 1. what they ask you, 2. how you answer and 3. how you FEEL. 

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