Want Better Discussions? Avoid the Pitfalls and Keep Moving Forward

Three earlier posts in this series provided some proactive ways to invigorate your classroom conversations. We addressed questioning techniques, wait time, verbal and non-verbal response and framing the conversation. This post addresses some common pitfalls as well as some ways to move forward with your engaging classroom discussions.

We’re all human, and teachers can fall victim to some behaviors that sabotage the purpose of student engagement without even being aware of them. Here are some common ones—

  • Feeling the need to chime in after every student talks–authentic student-to-student dialogue is the essence of effective classroom discussions. When a teacher takes over the conversation, especially to make a statement, the flow of the conversation is interrupted. Instead, listen carefully to the conversation and insert timely questions to guide the conversation in a productive direction.
  • Praising students during a class discussion– praise during a discussion can be detrimental, but that doesn’t mean praise should never be employed. Private praise is crucial to an effective classroom environment. Indeed, Brophy (1981) found praise is most effective when it is private, specific, genuine, and focused on students’ efforts. Building a relationship with each student is much more meaningful than praising students during a class discussion.
  • Using a discussion when other approaches would work better–not all content lends itself to discussion. If the content being discussed is facts or skills, authentic discussions may be difficult. So, consider whether students will be able to explore ideas and thoughts without there being one right answer before you engage the classroom in a group discussion.

Turning over more control of class conversations to students can be scary, but I’ve found that as long as I’m doing my part, students don’t disappoint me. One of the best ways to ensure I’m continually improving is to record classroom discussions and listen to how I’m interacting with students. While listening to myself teach is difficult at times, my students are worth my effort.


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