Using Discussions to Facilitating Learning: Fulcrum Summer Institute

Department of Education

Fulcrum Institute

Gay, Phil


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A discussion takes you into the unknown because you’re not exactly sure what kids are going to be thinking or asking. How do we begin to help them talk to each other and not just back and forth to us? And how do we really shift the norms of the classroom so that discussion really becomes an opportunity for meaning to come together?
Teachers are doing investigations but it’s in the discussion format is where they really can bang ideas around and make sense of what they’ve seen and explain that. The discussions after the investigations, it’s more than just a sum of ideas, that people notice different things.
Participation is encouraged and respectful disagreement is encouraged. The hardest part about the investigations was that you didn’t always get the answer. And that you wanted that, and having the discussion and throwing ideas off all of the people that have also done the investigation we were able to talk things through.
Participants are encouraged to build on contributions and ideas and how the facilitator is really just to steer the conversation a little bit. Are we staying with the topic and digging deeper? Or have we taken a sidetrack and we need to go back? Is everyone participating and can I as a facilitator pull other people into the conversation?
Am I reinforcing those discussion norms? As I think about my classroom practice, I think that maybe I don’t allow enough time for those kind of opportunities for children to talk about what they think they already know and then also giving them the time to have discussions about challenging each other’s ideas about what they know.
A lot of times they’re looking for me to tell them is this the right idea. They’re looking for that validation and I’m trying to get them more away from that and more thinking about what other students have to say rather than just me.
I have made a total shift in the way I think about talking to kids, asking them their ideas, really valuing their opinions before we start a topic. Having these courses and having these scientists and working with everybody has made me feel more confident about teaching science because I feel smarter about it.