How Do I Get Them to Talk about Literature?
Leading Classroom Discussions of Literature:
- 1. Analyze teacher-student discussions.
Observe and or record (with the teacher’s permission) one classroom discussion of literature in a high school or college. Make a list of all the questions the teacher asks during the discussion, as well as the sequence of the interactions between teacher and student by labeling the teacher question as a “T” and a student response as an “S.” How would you characterize those questions? To what degree are these questions “open” or “closed?” What the “uptake” in response was to questions—students’ response to the questions? What levels or kinds of interpretations are involved in answering these questions? To whom are the questions addressed? How many students participate in the discussion and how often? Are their instances of a string of “S’s” in which students are interacting with each other? What prompt elicited that string of “S’s?” What does the teacher seem to want students to know or learn from the discussion? What was the teacher’s awareness of the students’ “zone of proximal development” in formulating questions? What were some factors that influenced the level of student involvement in the discussion? Repeat this same process with small-group and individual students’ discussions with the teacher. By using pre-determined criteria, an observer/teacher can evaluate which type of discussion is most effective for certain students and classes in eliciting meaningful discussion responses.
- 2. Create pre-discussion activities.
Select a text and develop some pre-discussion free writing, questions, listing, journal writing and/or mapping activities designed to prepare pupils for a discussion of that text based on the learning objections for that discussion. Determine how students will share their writing as a discussion-starter or how you will use their writing to organize the discussion, for example, by listing questions or quotes and sharing those questions or quotes with the students.
- 3. Compare student-versus teacher-led discussions.
Compare two different discussions in which students prepare their own questions for the discussion and use those questions to lead the discussion versus a teacher-led discussion. Compare differences in the level of student engagement, interest, participation, “uptake,” and level of interpretation. What are some reasons for these differences, if any?
- 4. Conduct think-aloud responses.
Working in pairs or small groups, go through a poem or the beginning of a short story or novel and use a “think-aloud” technique to articulate responses.
- 5. Employ facilitative techniques.
In everyday conversation with others, adopt the role of discussion facilitator using various kinds of facilitation techniques.
- 6. Conduct a micro-teaching discussion activity.
Working in groups of four in a methods course, each member of the group develops some discussion questions for a text for a 10-minute audio or video-taped micro-teaching discussion. After each member of the group completes their turn leading the discussion, provide descriptive (versus judgmental) feedback regarding each member’s level of engagement in the discussion, the kinds of questions asked, facilitation techniques, and the degree of mutual interpretation of the text. If using a video-tape, review the discussion in terms of nonverbal cues employed in facilitating the discussion.
- 7. Reflect on the micro-teaching discussion.
Based on the micro-teaching activity in #5, transcribe some or all of the tape and create a narrative description of the discussion. Set the scene for the narrative by describing purposes, agenda, role, and the students in the discussion. Then, describe specific moments in the discussion — questions and answers, as well as students’ level of engagement and involvement in their answers, their willingness to pursue the same topic, and dialogic tensions between students that created further exploration of a topic. Reflect on the following aspects of the teacher’s role:
– The teacher’s thinking in posing questions and/or modeling certain interpretive processes.
– the knowledge drawn by the teacher about the text, critical lenses, personal experiences, related to the students’ own prior knowledge and “zone of proximal development.”
– The nature and level of questions (open-ended versus closed; high-level versus low-level).
– The students’ response or “uptake” to questions.
– The degree or percentage of student versus teacher talk.
– Use of facilitation or modeling techniques.
– Use of nonverbal cues.
– Instances of a string of student-to-student talk and reasons for students interacting with each other.
- 8. Evaluate students’ discussion practices.
- 9. Create some book-club discussions in a classroom.
Setting Up a Book Club Discussion:
*Please note that because literature is a mirror of human experience, some of the texts on the list may portray particular situations or contain language that some parents and students might find objectionable. Please know that your comfort and feelings of safety are of utmost concern to us and that we would be happy to provide you with more information about your choices if you would like.