Classroom discussions are one of my favorite activities for students. I went to high school in a discussion and project based program and I feel as if it significantly impacted the way that I will teach as well as the way I think critically. Discussions are incredibly difficult to pull off completely successfully however. There are so many variables that can come into play that no two discussions are ever exactly alike. There will always be something to tweak or change for the next class which may or may not work for them.
I just completed a large discussion project in my classroom. After studying WWI, I set up a simulation of a war panel that was inspecting the causes of the war and how they could stop those causes from causing another war. They only had enough funding to attempt to stop 3 of the 5 designated causes. The students could self select into two groups, either the war panel or a sub-group that would defend their cause as important to be funded to be stopped as well as give ideas as to how to stop it. We had never done anything like this in class before so the research faze where the groups were organizing themselves was clunky at times and they needed much more time than I expected but with individual guidance they were able to reach a place to be ready for the panel.
Each group did a wonderful job presenting why they thought their cause was important and the ways that they could attempt to prevent it. The trouble at first came from the war panel not being able to think of questions for the groups. I went to people who had not talked yet and quietly brainstormed with them until they felt they needed clarification from the group or had a question the group had to answer. After the first cause group the questioning became much smoother. The biggest difficulty I experienced was how to get everyone to participate. I had two members of the war panel who would not ask questions and it was often one or two people in the groups who did most of the talking. I think I would like to add a writing portion throughout the simulation so that students who are too nervous to talk could participate.
Overall it went wonderfully and I think the students were able to think about the ways that the people at this time could react to the war. After this the students will look at what actually happened after the war and how it was different than what they decided. I think that through the discussion the students were able to create an understanding for themselves as a class and were not relying on me which I think is so important. I don’t think the students could have gained the understanding and confidence that they did through this discussion through another activity. An added bonus was practicing their public speaking which I think is a skill poorly lacking for my class. I will continue to add discussion into my classroom for all of these reasons.