In order to make sure that we have a lively discussion, I start by asking the students to tell me if they think the ghost cat is real or imagined. I form my groups on the spot trying to keep equal amounts of ghost cat believers/non believers and girls/boys. I do try to make groups that have a student leader in them who will spark the discussion, but it doesn't always work that way. I group my gifted students a little bit differently as I feel that it is important for the gifted readers to have their higher level discussions with their gifted peers.
Since my largest class is 29 students, I am able to run 3 discussion groups of 10 or less. It typically takes around 10-15 minutes to complete a discussion.
When I call a discussion group, I have them sit in a circle around the round table in the back of my room. Before I received my beloved round table, I had the students bring their chairs and sit in a circle in the back of the room. They need to bring their story and their half multi-flow map to the discussion.
I remind the students that today they are going to be talking to each other and asking each other questions. They need to look at each other when they speak, not at me. I will ask the initial question, and then the discussion in theirs.
I make a seating discussion chart for myself of student names where I track their comments and questions. This helps me remember what they said in case I want to ask follow up questions. I also like to look back on the discussions afterwards, and use it as a formative tool. I will eventually begin grading these discussions, and the chart helps me see student strengths and weaknesses. After this round of discussions, I noticed that most students did not ask questions of their peers. This is a skill we will work on before I begin formally grading the discussions.
Once I pose the key question, "Do you believe that Jodi invented the ghost cat? Why or why not?" I let the students take turn sharing their opinions and evidence. Groups that were willing to ask questions and respond to other people's answers had much more interesting discussions.
I had several other questions up my sleeve in case the discussions hit a stand still.
Once the discussion starts to lull, I generally wrap it up and move on to the next group.
Once a group is finished discussing, I have them go back to their seats and reflect on what happened. Right there on the half multi-flow paper that they brought to the discussion, I ask the students to tell me something new that they learned during the discussion. This can be as simple as a comment that someone made that they had never thought of before the discussion. Some students completely change their point of view after the discussion. After that, they write something they did well and something to work on next time. I call this star, plus, delta (star being the new learning that took place).
Shared Inquiry embodies the heart CCSS. Students must state an opinion that is based and supported by textual evidence. They listen, speak, and question each other in an organized, intellectual manner. It pushes the students to be thinkers and active participants in their learning.
There is something about participating in the discussion that really leads to brilliant ideas. Each discussion is unique, and the students process their ideas in different ways. I've read this story many times and participated in dozens of shared inquiry discussions over it, but each year, a student comes up with a new insight that I've never even considered. This is why I love teaching literature. It's those moments where a student's ideas give me chills, and I begin to look at a tiny piece of the world differently. Shared Inquiry is such an awesome way to take literature out of the dusty old library and make it living and exciting!
Tight management is crucial during this process otherwise you won't be able to run a successful discussion without interruptions.
I always give the students who are not discussing an assignment where they can work independently. Sometimes I give a creative writing assignment, but in this case, I want to review elements of the plot. I still need to close out my learning cycle goal on plot, so I want to do a quick check to see where the are without my help. I am mostly concerned with whether or not they can identify the climax of a story.
I am asking my students to work on 2 different questions while they are out of the discussion.
First they will create a plot map over the story including the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
Next, I will have them explore an alternative ending and discuss what the story would be like if the author hadn't included the detail about Jodi having the bell at the end. I ask them to predict the ending of the story, and discuss why the author included that detail.
While I am running the discussion group, the rest of the students are supposed to work quietly on this assignment. It usually is a little rough at the beginning and I do have to remind and redirect students. After a couple of discussions, the students manage themselves better because they WANT to get to the discussion. I assign a student to answer any questions that might arise while I am running the group. I don't let anyone interrupt us while we are talking. If students need to use the bathroom while I am discussing (and for some reason everyone does!), I ask them to write their name on the board to show they are out of the room. One person is allowed out at a time.
The toughest part about running the small group is keeping the rest of the class working quietly. It does take practice and persistence, but by the third discussion, they usually have it down! Hang in there and keep at it because the outcome is worth it. There have been days where I had to stop in the middle of the discussion and cancel it because the class couldn't handle it. It is all a learning experience for the teachers and the students.