Discussion opens a flow of ideas and permits the participants to draw their own conclusions and learn valuable lessons through verbal sparring. The rationale behind discussion in the classroom is to have students derive the main points or crucial factors underlining a text, oratory, author’s point of view, pivotal period in history, or a foundational concept.
The idea is to awaken the thought and reasoning processes within the student to the ends of discovery. The facilitator’s job is to have the learner search for meaning and reason, and to arouse questions for the sake of finding solutions.
There are several ways that one can conduct a class discussion. Three of the best ways are through open ended dialogue, role play, and student led inquiry.
Open-ended means, “not having fixed limits; unrestricted; and broad.”
Open ended dialogue is a conversation that does not have fixed limits but permits the learner to use broad ideas in exploring concepts. Open ended dialogue permits the student the opportunity to work through the material by re-sounding their own thoughts regarding the material. Essentially, such a method works to ignite the critical thinking process by removing boundaries to ideologies and thereby, rationalizing that there are no such things as perfect solutions. “The highest-order open-ended questions engage students in dynamic thinking and learning, where they must synthesize information, analyze ideas, and draw their own conclusions, preparing them for the larger community, where few issues are black-and-white.”
Such a system works so well because it re-enforces the fundamentals of learning and hits at the heart of knowledge acquisition. Through open dialogue, “Higher order reasoning, such as synthesis and evaluation, is stimulated through the use of open-ended questions. Asking an open-ended question is a way to elicit discussion, brainstorm solutions to a problem, or create opportunities for thinking outside the box.”
Role play is another valuable tool in the instructor’s tool belt. Role play “alters the power ratios in teaching and learning relationships between students and educators, as students learn through their explorations and the viewpoints of the character or personality they are articulating in the environment.”
Role play stimulates imagination through visualization. It permits the student the opportunity to look at a subject through the eyes of the author, historian, political party leader, or the participant in society. It gives the student a first person point of view perspective and this changes how information is absorbed. “In role play students engage in higher order thinking and learn content in a deeper way. Students can transcend and think beyond the confines of the classroom setting. The instructor and students receive immediate feedback with regard to student understanding of the content.”
Student led inquiry is another powerful tool one can use to conduct classroom discussion. “In an inquiry-based classroom, learning grows out of students’ natural inclination to question the world. Building classrooms around inquiry engages students, integrates process and content from all disciplines, and fosters self-directed learning”(p. 6.3).
The best way to initiate student led inquiry is to allow the student to lead the discussion to derive a sense of kinship with the material. Empower them to absolve their curiosity and to discover why those questions were so necessary or important to them. This method gives the student a sense of empowerment and ownership over the material without stifling their innate curiosity. “Inquiry-based learning is founded on students taking the lead in their own learning, but it still requires considerable planning on one’s part. Instructors should emphasize at each stage of the inquiry that the investigation is a journey and that finding new information is exciting, especially when unexpected” (para. 1)