Reflection: Rigor Refracting Telescopes: Day 2 - Section 4: Designing Refracting Telescopes


At this point in the year, my students have practiced engaging in group discourse numerous occasions.  In addition, they have participated in lessons that aid in building the protocols and strategies for effective group communication.  

Here are some strategies you can use with your students to promote group discourse:

1.  Fishbowl:  Have a group engage in a group conversation at a table in your classroom with the remainder of the class surrounding that table.  The group discussing are like fish in a fishbowl with the class looking in.  Then, have the "audience" share what strategies they saw that were effective in the group's discourse.  Be careful here!  Students will struggle with how to provide criticism appropriately.  I like to use "3 stars and a wish" in which students giving feedback provide 3 successful strategies they notice and 1 wish they have.  Providing them with the sentence starter, "I wish..." helps students communicate the areas for improvement more professionally.  Two key elements that I find are helpful to add to this strategy are:

              A.  You should be in the fishbowl! You have the knowledge of effective and ineffective discourse.  You should "act" out both effective and ineffective strategies as you engage with the group.  The more authentic you are in the way you speak and act (sound like your students!), the more effective you will be! 

              B.  Prep the students that are in the group.  Give them roles.  For example, you could tell a student that they are to "play" with all the materials at the lab station while the group discusses.  You could tell another to make sure that they touch the text when they cite evidence from it.  Whatever the key qualities you are focusing on, ask students to show them.  This strategy can be pulled out of your hat at any time!  If you see your students having a need in an area, have them fishbowl it!

2.  Be explicit!  Let students know what you expect and provide them with sentence starters that might help them achieve discourse.  Here are some I use with my students:

Everyone participates. Have an awareness of your group members.  Not everyone will feel comfortable in speaking.  If you notice a member that hasn't spoken, ask them their opinion.  If you notice a member that is shy or in the process of building confidence, ask them questions they can give immediate feedback to and let them know what you liked about what they said.  For example, you might say, "I like how you....." and follow it with "I would love to hear more of your ideas."

Ask follow up questions.  Even if you agree with a classmate's opinion, if they haven't provided evidence say, "That's an interesting idea.  What evidence lead you to that opinion?"

Point to the text when you are referencing textual evidence.  If a group member shares an idea and says it came from the text, say "I'd like to read more.  Can you show me where the text says that?".

Leave your ideas open to feedback and suggestions.  When offering ideas, let your group members know that you want their feedback.  You might start by saying, "Correct me if I'm wrong....".

Always back up your ideas with evidence.  When providing an opinion, you might state your idea and then say "The evidence that supports this idea can be found in the....(data, text, etc.)"

Use science vocabulary!  When speaking, sound like a scientist!  Keep text and notes handy so that as you speak, you can look up words if you need to!  If a student in your group is not using science vocabulary, you might say, "What do you mean by ________?  Is there another word for that?"

At some point you are going to feel as if you are not quite sure what the answer is.  You might be confused. You might not understand.  This does not mean that you can't be an effective group member.  Asking questions can promote group discourse.  Ask questions like, "Do we have any data that can help us?", "What does the text say about this concept?", or "What evidence have you seen in your life that relates to this topic?".

Disagree based on evidence.  Instead of saying, "You're wrong." or "I don't agree.", say something that shows you have evidence to the contrary and you are looking for your own feedback.  That will allow your group member to not get defensive.  You might say, "I notice in the text it says _________________.  How will that effect what you are proposing?", "The data states ____________________.  Does this support what you are saying?", or "What qualitative observations did you make that showed you this?".

There are so many more!  I add to my list every year!

3.  Model and provide feedback.  Your interaction with groups is the biggest key to group discourse.  As you listen to groups, allow them to finish their thoughts and then provide specific feedback on ways they could have improved their discourse.  Holding students accountable and having them practice is crucial.  Students need to know that you are actively listening to what they are talking about.  Be a part of the conversation!  Simply be speaking and participating in the group, students can learn from you!

4.  Establish a culture for risk taking.  Celebrate scientific discourse!  Anytime you notice scientific discourse, show your own enthusiasm and encourage your students to do the same.  When I see discourse done well, I literally fist pump.  I encourage students to do the same.  In whole group discussion, students know when a student has "sounded like a scientist".  In my room, we stop to appreciate it.  We get so excited that we have been known to break out into applause when someone uses evidence to back up their ideas.  Students give a fist bump to their table mate after they share a compelling question.  I know that may corny, silly even.  But, I am telling you, scientific discourse is scary for middle school students.  They welcome the feedback and the celebration of discourse!

  Strategies for Promoting Group Discourse
  Rigor: Strategies for Promoting Group Discourse
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Refracting Telescopes: Day 2

Unit 2: Waves and Engineering: Using Waves To Meet Societal Needs and Wants
Lesson 2 of 7

Objective: Students will be able to engage in scientific discourse about characteristic properties of waves (refraction) to design a solution to a problem.

Big Idea: Students use text to engage in scientific discourse and then use their knowledge of refraction to design a telescope!

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