Thursday, June 2, 2016

Game Changer: Classroom Discussion

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Mark Barnes on the #hacklearning podcast. I shared with him my story about using a “backchannel” in my classroom over 15 years ago (although it wasn’t called backchannel then) and some examples of how I’ve seen backchannels used in classrooms today. 

The power in using backchannels is for the reluctant participator. Notice I didn’t call the student a “reluctant learner.” Great teachers know the importance of participation and collaboration for maximizing learning, they know who does and who doesn’t participate and how much, and they find ways to insure that all students participate.

I understand first-hand how empowering providing a backchannel can be, because I WAS the reluctant participator for many years in school. I believe that having been that type of student makes me more aware of the need for strategies to capture and hear student voice.  

When I read that Classroom discussion (equal parts talking by students and teachers) has an effect size of .82 on learning outcomes according to Hattie’s research (.40 is the hinge point, where scores above impact learning and scores below have little impact), I knew that I wanted our teachers to learn more about student-centered classroom discussion that maximizes student participation.


Backchannels aren’t the only way to increase participation in classroom discussions. There are ways to break down the class so that it’s not the typical “popcorn” questioning and answers. 

I created an online course called “Game-changer: Classroom Discussion” as part of the online professional learning course menu for our teachers this summer. Today I want to share three resources I used in creating the course. 

Strategies for Student-Centered Discussion (from the Teaching Channel)
The Teaching Channel provides guiding questions to consider while/after watching their videos. 

The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies, by Jennifer Gonzalez,
Jennifer divides her list into higher-prep strategies, low-prep strategies, and ongoing strategies, and there is a video of each strategy in action.

Never Assume!
In the following video, the teacher is working with ELL students on participating in classroom discussions.
For all students, we need to be explicit about and model our expectations for for academic discussions. How could “talk moves” could be adapted to your classroom or a classroom in your building?

If you have other strategies or resources for classroom discussion, I would love for you to share in the comments. 

Were you ever a reluctant participator?


  1. I love this post because it reminds me how different every one of our learners and that each of us learn differently. So often we make the mistake of teaching "how we learn best" when in fact all learning styles need to be honored. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I was definitely a reluctant participator! Great ideas to encourage everyone to be heard! :-)

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