So, I’ve been thinking about graded discussions all school year. It’s been a success overall.
When I surveyed my first semester group about it, some of them did not like it, but for the most part they were positive. Plus, I think it’s more reasonable to say “today I’m grading your participation” rather than have it be a vague overall sense of participation for the semester. This way, it’s about your participation in this event, which is legitimately hard for some students, but also legitimately assessable. It doesn’t become a grade that supposedly reflects your performance all week/month/semester, when I as the teacher have not been taking notes on that and am going to give an impressionistic grade that is not necessarily very objective.
So, back to the new semester. I have started my YA Literature class. This section is still small, but we are now at 14 students, 3 of whom were in my Truth and Fiction class last semester. We had our first graded discussion a week or so ago. As usual, I gave out the topic to be discussed in advance (although I do wonder about who is looking at the online assignment sheet), set up the room to be one big table, got my note page ready, and we started.
This group moved at a statelier pace, which allowed for a bigger variety of voices to be included right away. There weren’t really students who dominated. Two of the quieter students from last semester joined in more this time. I am wondering about this. Was the pace better for them? Did they like feeling like they knew the ropes? What should I learn from this?
In this discussion, there were three students who had not participated after 20 minutes or so. I was sitting next to one of them and had already nudged him a time or two with no luck. Once the conversation seemed to have pretty much played itself out, I asked if anyone who had not spoken up had anything to say. The other two quiet students added a brief something; my neighbor did not.
Some students want/need/expect that teacher response to their comments, and I got the sense that there were a few sitting around the table who were not sure what to make of this exercise. Therefore, at the end of the discussion, I gave some overall thoughts and reiterated my reasons for not participating. I reminded them that I wanted this to be a discussion that was not dominated by me and was not about responding to me. I also stressed that it was not that I was not interested, rather there were many times I would have loved to join in, but bit my tongue on purpose. I got the feeling that some students needed to hear this again. I saw several nods after I explained.
Again, I would say that for most students this was a successful experience. One of my returning students guided the discussion back to our stated topic when it wandered too far. I don’t think he would have done this had he not been familiar to the format. I appreciated it. I think it speaks to the fact that he internalized some of what I was pushing the students to do last semester. And, it was a great model for others of taking ownership of the level of discussion. Those who did not participate were not as ready as some of my previous quiet people in terms of having notes ready etc. I think with this group I will have to continue to remind them to look at the assignment sheet for the topic and to come prepared with some things to share.
Many of the topics for these discussions have been fairly big picture. One of my goals for this semester is to have these discussions be on more specific topics so that we can get to more detailed references to the text.
Onward and upward!