Pros and Cons of Classroom Group Discussions
I taught special education for 17 years and ESL for another 10 years. Some of my best teaching opportunities have stemmed from whole classroom discussions. The number of students in the class helps to determine their success, but more importantly, the ability of the facilitator will be the determining factor. The facilitator should be well prepared and aware that conversations can go in an entirely different direction than originally planned. In my experience, those have been some of the most memorable classroom experiences that I have had. But, if there is a specific direction/conclusion that you are hoping to get to, you must know how to lead them there.
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.— Benjamin Franklin
- It is interactive.
- It enables students to pay attention and be involved.
- It teaches students to speak in a group.
- It helps students articulate ideas.
- It is a change from traditional learning methods.
- They will learn to evaluate and respond to their classmates' opinions.
- Encourages all students to have a voice
- It is easy to get side-tracked.
- It can cause conflict within the class if opposing opinions are given.
- This will be harder for the non auditory learners to absorb.
- Note taking can be more difficult, especially when trying to follow the thread of conversation.
- Some students will dominate the conversation.
- Insecure students may have a difficult time speaking up.
Applying Learning Styles to Classroom Discussions
By now, we probably all know that there are 3 different types of learners:
- Auditory. They learn best by hearing. They would rather listen to an explanation.
- Visual/Reading. They learn best by seeing. They would rather look at an explanation through books or charts.
- Kinesthetic. They learn best through touch. They would rather "do" something "hands-on."
Most people are a combination of the 3 types. You are probably wondering what this has to do with group conversations. It actually has quite a bit to do with it. Generally, a classroom discussion is conducted without many other tools than the moderator's questions. It helps if there are some visuals for the students to get a "picture" of what they are discussing. It is also a good idea to provide a summary afterward so the "note takers" won't feel a compulsive need to write the entire conversation down and miss participating in it.
VARK Learning Syles
Although this article's main focus is classroom discussion, they are only a part of the learning process. Please check out Vark, a comprehensive website to get more insight on the different learning styles of your students.
Do you know which type of learner you are?
A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.— Brad Henry
Recognizing and Teaching to Learning Styles
When my daughter finished kindergarten, I attended a mandatory parent meeting. The team of first and second-grade teachers were all there, and all had an opportunity to speak. Their excitement while illustrating the 3 different ways to learn was as big an influence on the decision process as the offerings themselves.
- The traditional classroom style.
- The combined first and second-grade classroom.
- The traditional style but the homeroom teacher moves up with them to the next two levels.
There are advantages and disadvantages in each of these methods and as each child is an individual so should your choice be. My takeaway was that the school was meeting the individual needs of their students and families. There was a learning style for everyone. That being said, I think this holds true with classroom lectures and discussions, both in small and large groups. It is good and important to mix it up in the classroom. It promotes critical thinking and analytical skills. It also prepares them to operate in different types of environments.
There are many good books that can help you moderate good classroom discussions. This is a college level book. It includes methods that encourage critical thinking through discussion and debate. I found this especially useful while preparing 12th grade students for university. It was successful enough that I incorporated the ideas for my younger students, as well. I was also able to apply this in my adult continuing education classes. I found they were much more engaged when the discussion was flowing.
© 2013 Randi Benlulu