Sunday, October 06, 2013

A True Student-Led Discussion

Last week, I spent some time getting to know the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, which is the default model for evaluating teachers in the state in which I teach.  Beginning this year, my district will be using the Danielson Framework to evaluate teachers, and even though I am not on the evaluation cycle this year, I still feel that it is my responsibility to get comfortable with this valuable tool.

The Danielson's framework has four domains of teaching responsibilities including planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities. I dove right into Domain 3 (Instruction) to see where I felt I could make some improvements in my teaching practice.  I had an "Aha!" moment when I investigated component 3b which is "Questioning and Discussion," and read what the Danielson Framework suggests.

"Some teachers confuse discussion with explanation of content; as important as that is, it’s not discussion. Rather, in a true discussion, a teacher poses a question and invites all students’ views to be heard, enabling students to engage in discussion directly with one another, not always mediated by the teacher." - The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument 2011 Edition by Charlotte Danielson

That first part was me. I often said those exact words: "Yesterday we discussed..." But the truth is that we never discussed anything. I would talk, my students would respond, and that was that.  After reading the critical attributes of a distinguished teacher in this particular component of the Danielson Framework, I realized that my students were not having discussions at all, and I needed to make a change immediately.

I decided to begin with one of my classes that was already participating in literature circles.  The students had been practicing their discussion skills in a small group setting, so I simply asked students to apply their experience from the discussions in their literature circles and bring it to the large group.

"Today, let's try to have a discussion about how to improve our literature circles," I explained. "Don't worry about raising your hands. You know what is expected in order to have a meaningful discussion. Listen to each other. Take turns talking. Respond thoughtfully. Let's see how it goes."

What I witnessed was amazing. The students truly discussed how to have effective literature circles. They talked about what works and what doesn't. They shared strategies, gave suggestions, and offered ideas for improvement.  They listed to each other and responded back respectfully, and I was not mediating at all. It was exactly what my students had been missing.

After observing a true student-led discussion, I am eager to find more opportunities like this one where I can hand over the reins to my students, letting them lead discussions and make decisions about their own learning. Danielson's model shows teachers that to be a truly student-centered classroom, it is the students who must own the learning and not the teacher.

If you are familiar with Danielson's model, please share what are you doing to help students take a central role in the discussions being held in your classroom. How are you putting the learning in your students' hands?

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