The Power of Student Discussion

One of my favorite things to do as a college student was to hang out with my friends and just talk.  We’d discuss everything from politics to bad coffee.  It was so much fun and enlightening.  I loved debating and challenging my friends on certain topics or just adding witty banter to a discussion I didn’t really want to jump into.  To this day, I still love just having a chat with my good friends.  I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about a good discussion that gets me going and keeps me excited.  As a teacher, I try to bring that same enthusiasm for discussion into the classroom.  I’d much rather have my students share ideas and talk than listen to me all period because I rarely have anything good to say anyway.

Today in STEM class, we began the double block with a discussion on astronomy current events.  For homework last evening, the students chose an interesting current event regarding some aspect of astronomy.  They then read the article and prepared some notes mentally or in writing regarding how they wanted to share what they learned with the class.  Each student shared orally his current event with the students.  The boys then had a chance to ask some questions, which usually spurred a short conversation on the topic.  The boys were engaged and excited about the various ideas shared.  They seemed curious about the idea that Pluto might have once contained water.  It was great.  They were inquisitive while thinking critically about the topics shared.  While the entire lesson lasted only about 30 minutes, they easily could have gone for another 30 and been completely enthralled and focused on the discussion.  They questioned their peers and wondered about the world of astronomy.

Now, had I given them this same information in a handout or as a lecture, would they have been as curious or engaged?  Perhaps, but most likely not.  When students take responsibility and ownership over their learning, they are much more focused and engaged.  This engagement, in turn, leads to more learning and the creation of more neurological pathways.  Feeding students information is futile unless they have a chance to process and ponder it through discussion.  As teachers, we need to give the students more opportunities to discuss the knowledge and concepts our curriculum covers.  Rather than cover more content, we need to let students play and explore, orally, with what is being covered.  Let’s allow the students to drive the bus.  The neuroscience of education tells us that students will truly learn much more when they are allowed to choose how and what they learn.  So, to you I say, transfer the power from the teacher to the students and let’s get discussing.

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