Accelerating Student Dialogue with Speed Dating Discussions

In recent years, I’ve been very intentional about integrating student discussion strategies along with the hard academic skills and soft social skills inherent in student conversations for learning.  Our state 8th grade English Language Arts standards also value speaking and listening as well as comprehension and collaboration:

ELAGSE8SL1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
a. Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
b. Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
c. Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and elicit elaboration and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.
d. Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding in light of the evidence presented.

In early November, we utilized a discussion strategy I first learned in Dr. Bob Fecho’s class way back in the fall of 2002 at the University of Georgia:  speed dating.  I’ve used it over the years with middle and high schoolers for a variety of topics and texts, and I’ve done assorted variations of it with great success–it is always a student favorite.  This year I decided to provide my students some scaffolding by using these resources to facilitate discussion and reflection.

The biggest challenge for my 8th graders was understanding to pass their discussion ticket to the left while moving their bodies to the next seat to the right during our rotations.  For my team taught class, I eliminated the discussion tickets and just projected a common discussion topic on the board for each rotation.  Texts for discussion included the story “Fish Cheeks” and the poems “I Ask My Mother to Sing” and “Peaches.”  I was able to modify the prompts with this template, and I then printed them out on colored paper before cutting into strips.

Depending on how many texts we were discussing per class (again, I differentiated for each class period), we either completed one day or two days of speed dating chats with roughly 3-4 minutes of discussion per rotation.

For my smaller team taught class discussion group, we did a variation by spreading out discussion partners around the room.  This method of “speed dating” (we still did rotations!) worked great for this class because it was not so overwhelming and students weren’t distracted by conversations of people sitting right next to them.  This class, like my others, showed effort and growth with their discussion skills as well as their listening skills.

For all classes, students jotted down their notes in a 3 minute “pause” period I provided at the end of each discussion round.  Otherwise, I found 8th graders were focusing too much on writing down notes and not really listening or engaging in discussion with their partner.

At the end of the speed dating experience, students provided feedback on the speed dating chats and engaged in self-assessment of themselves with a Google Form.  Overall, the responses was very positive even from students who were reluctant to chat.  My 8th graders overwhelmingly shared they wanted to do more discussion opportunities like speed dating chats!  They also provided feedback on the timing of each discussion round as well as any suggestions for future speed dating chats with this form.

How do you scaffold student discussions, and how do you help them reflect on their discussion skills and interactions with others?

In my next few blog posts, I’ll share some additional discussion strategies we’ve used this fall, including Pop-Up Discussions (hat tip to Dave Stuart, Jr.) and Socratic Seminars.

Welcome to the Hot Seat: Philosophical Chairs for Participatory Discussions

As we move forward with our inquiry into the future of work, students have formed birds of feather interest groups this week.  Since roughly half the class is interested in artificial intelligence as well as robotics, and other groups have topic areas impacted by these technologies, I thought it would be helpful to have students engage in a discussion around the pros and cons of the ethics of artificial intelligence.

We began by using Cris Tovani’s annotation strategies (I have slightly modified her version—see Chapter 5 of her book to learn more about annotations as an assessment tool) to mark up five articles.

Students had two articles from NewsELA and three news articles from the open web.  Students took about 30 minutes to read and annotate their articles with a focus on thinking about evidence and talking points that would support or refute the ethics of artificial intelligence.   A few students took up my offer to use colored mini-sticky notes to flag their “pros” and “cons” they had noted.

After this 30 minute period of reading, annotating, and thinking, each student then received an index card and was asked to write one of the following to describe his/her feelings on this statement along with his/her name:

  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral

We then reviewed the procedures for participation in the philosophical chairs discussion and the purpose of it:

We then moved to the project room 400 across the hallway; students formed a squared off “horseshoe” with one side representing agree, one side representing disagree, and then the back or horizontal row representing neutral.  I was a bit surprised to discover roughly 85% of the class fell into the neutral zone, but I rolled with it.

At first, the students were struggling with a couple of points:

  • Articulating their talking point clearly in 60 seconds
  • Articulating a clear pro or con; many wanted to present both sides (I suspect this is why so many fell into the neutral zone?)

As moderator, I did gently remind the first few students in the “hot seat” to focus on a pro or con instead of explaining why they were neutral.  After a few rounds, they got stronger and stronger with their responses and began asking more thoughtful questions of the person in the hot seat and moving with their feet to another position when they heard a good point or compelling example to change their thinking.  Only once did I have to redirect a few students to show respect as listeners.

Overall, everyone did a great job following the rules of participation, and every person present got a chance to speak.  I do think strong articles and students annotating well are critical to helping students come prepared with relevant information and strong/specific evidence to share with the group.  My only regret is not budgeting more time for the activity—somehow, 45 minutes did not feel long enough!     We did not have enough time left to complete the essential post-activity reflection, but students jotted notes during the activity and will complete the reflection in class on Monday.

The ticket out the door was to write on the original index card whether your position had changed or not, and if so, what was the new position.  Nine students did change positions by the end of class, and 14 remained the same.  On Monday, we’ll do some reflections on the discussion as well as self-assessment.  Students will also meet in their birds of feather groups and finish their compass points discussion.  Bravo to Period 1B for a great job with first ever Philosophical Chairs discussion today, and I’m looking forward to more like this one!

Many thanks to the creators of these resources for inspiring me to try Philosophical Chairs!