In recent years, I’ve been very intentional about integrating student discussion strategies along with the hard academic skills and soft social skills inherent in student conversations for learning.  Our state 8th grade English Language Arts standards also value speaking and listening as well as comprehension and collaboration:

ELAGSE8SL1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
a. Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
b. Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
c. Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and elicit elaboration and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.
d. Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding in light of the evidence presented.

In early November, we utilized a discussion strategy I first learned in Dr. Bob Fecho’s class way back in the fall of 2002 at the University of Georgia:  speed dating.  I’ve used it over the years with middle and high schoolers for a variety of topics and texts, and I’ve done assorted variations of it with great success–it is always a student favorite.  This year I decided to provide my students some scaffolding by using these resources to facilitate discussion and reflection.

The biggest challenge for my 8th graders was understanding to pass their discussion ticket to the left while moving their bodies to the next seat to the right during our rotations.  For my team taught class, I eliminated the discussion tickets and just projected a common discussion topic on the board for each rotation.  Texts for discussion included the story “Fish Cheeks” and the poems “I Ask My Mother to Sing” and “Peaches.”  I was able to modify the prompts with this template, and I then printed them out on colored paper before cutting into strips.

Depending on how many texts we were discussing per class (again, I differentiated for each class period), we either completed one day or two days of speed dating chats with roughly 3-4 minutes of discussion per rotation.

For my smaller team taught class discussion group, we did a variation by spreading out discussion partners around the room.  This method of “speed dating” (we still did rotations!) worked great for this class because it was not so overwhelming and students weren’t distracted by conversations of people sitting right next to them.  This class, like my others, showed effort and growth with their discussion skills as well as their listening skills.

For all classes, students jotted down their notes in a 3 minute “pause” period I provided at the end of each discussion round.  Otherwise, I found 8th graders were focusing too much on writing down notes and not really listening or engaging in discussion with their partner.

At the end of the speed dating experience, students provided feedback on the speed dating chats and engaged in self-assessment of themselves with a Google Form.  Overall, the responses was very positive even from students who were reluctant to chat.  My 8th graders overwhelmingly shared they wanted to do more discussion opportunities like speed dating chats!  They also provided feedback on the timing of each discussion round as well as any suggestions for future speed dating chats with this form.

How do you scaffold student discussions, and how do you help them reflect on their discussion skills and interactions with others?

In my next few blog posts, I’ll share some additional discussion strategies we’ve used this fall, including Pop-Up Discussions (hat tip to Dave Stuart, Jr.) and Socratic Seminars.