Setting up Rules for Discussions
Lesson 7 of 9
Objective: Students will be able to create norms for a class discussion by identifying common parts of discussions and debates, and writing questions that they wish to promote during the discussion.
Sometimes I have no idea what journal topic to assign. No idea. That's when I go to some of the students' FAVORITE PROMPT EVER and some students' WORST PROMPT EVER--author's choice. Author's choice means that they get to write about whatever they want. Some students struggle with coming up with ideas on their own, so I give them random ideas or point them to a writing suggestion book.
I thought students were progressing well with understanding the difference between common and proper nouns until we got to "federal Government" today. Since 'government' was incorrectly capitalized, they assumed that federal was also capitalized. They explained that it referred to a specific type of government. I explained that they were wrong. Government is never a proper noun, unless you're in a dystopian novel. We'll keep working on that. Sigh.
Sentence 3 gives us an opportunity to build our classroom community. What, you ask? Let me explain. I teach middle school. Middle schoolers love exclamation marks more than life itself. They love them more than a good, juicy rumor. They will use exclamation marks at the end of any sentence that is even remotely interesting, and since they wrote it and are excited about it, they think that EVERYTHING gets an exclamation mark.
I reject this wholeheartedly. I limit them to five exclamation marks a year. I tell them that when they use too may exclamation marks, it's like reading something written by one of those tiny barking dogs that constantly jump up and down and up and down all while barking. Don't be like that dog. Be aware of your exclamation mark usage.
It's adorable that they think I actually check on how many they've used. So when we we get to a sentence that actually is exclamatory, they always want to know if it counts against their personal five exclamation marks. It doesn't. I also don't keep track, but they think I do. I love them.
We also practiced homonyms today. Fourth vs. fourth, passed vs. past, and of course, the infamous their/they're/there.
Let me tell you about how first hour and fourth hour did the vocabulary. The method we used for fourth hour was much better.
We did vocabulary carousels with vocabulary. We split the students up into groups two and assigned them a word, just like first hour. The difference was how the students shared the vocabulary with each other.
After each group was finished with their definition, we formed groups of four. The group that had the word 'radiant' combined with the group that had 'violently.' They shared their definitions with each other. Then one person with 'radiant' and one person with 'violently' got up and rotated to a new group. Two people from other groups, with two different words, joined the group. Now there's a group where there are four new definitions, and the four people share their definitions with everyone before rotating again.
This was so much better. What was I thinking Tuesday night? Oh wait, I wasn't.
This? Was awesome. So far, students have participated in Socratic discussion, fishbowl style. At this point, I'm not intending to fishbowl them with an inner and outer circle. I'm going to try a full class discussion. Not a debate, but a discussion. Sometimes students don't see the difference, and in fourth hour particularly, we need clear lines between the two.
Fourth hour is slightly behind, so they didn't get to this part. It's partly due to vocabulary debate, not discussion. This discussion will be important for them.
I asked for two students to be our scribes. Jaimee was our discussion scribe and Kayce was our debate scribe. Their responsibility was to record our thoughts on the dry erase board.
Here's what we came up with:
I prompted them with the following questions:
- What's the difference between discussions and debates?
- How do you feel during a discussion versus a debate?
- How do people act during discussions and debates?
- What do people say during discussions and debates?
- How do people handle disagreements in discussions and debates?
After we created our list of norms, I asked students which one they would rather hand. It was pretty much unanimous that they'd rather have a discussion, not a debate, and they thought debates were actually annoying. Mostly because, as they reiterated through the discussion, one or two people are always trying to prove a point in a debate, whereas, in a discussion, everyone's voice is heard.
I told students that in a discussion it is very important that everyone's voice is heard. I told them that some of the best ideas are the ones that aren't shared because sometimes we're afraid. Sometimes we're talked over. Sometimes we don't believe that our thoughts are good enough. Sometimes the best thoughts come from the quietest people. (I did some pointed eye-catching at this point.)
The handout has three columns: parking, pruning, and promoting.
I asked for volunteers to read each section and explained what gets written in each column prior to and during a discussion. The parking column is for ideas that are good, but unrelated. You want to write ideas down here so they don't drift away and get forgotten. The pruning column is for ideas that were already mentioned, are distracting, lead to a dead end, or are not logical or relevant. The promoting column is for ideas that absolutely should be shared. They are relevant, and can provide fodder for much discussion.
To provide additional explanation, I asked students what they thought pruning meant. Zoe said it meant old and wrinkly, like when you get old. She was thinking of the dried prunes, which of course, are wrinkly. I said, "Okay. That is one definition of prune. That's not the one that this sheet is referencing, though. Anyone else have another definition of pruning?" Someone else suggested cutting a tree. That's the definition we're looking for. Why would someone need to cut, or prune, a tree? To get rid of dead branches or branches that are dangerous. That's exactly what the pruning column is for--to get rid of dead ideas or ideas that are dead ends.
What's the difference between the parking and pruning columns? Pruning is for thoughts that get us nowhere, perhaps because we've already gone down that road. Parking is for thoughts that aren't relevant right now, but will be.
For closure, I asked the students to write down one thought about "The White Umbrella" that would belong in the promoting column. This thought could be from the first read when we wrote down questions on sticky notes, the vocabulary discussion, the questions I'd sorted and created slides for and shown them today, from comments they wrote on their second read, or anything else that's come up since. We would be using those comments to start our discussion on Monday.