Reflections of Blending English and Technology in the Classroom

Archive for August 2012

Classroom Discussion Strategies

with 2 comments

Classroom Discussions play an important role in student learning. It engages students, allows them to practice important life skills and is also a form of assessment. I rely on these interactions to help me gauge student understanding of topics we are studying. The following are a few of my favorite, and more unique, discussion strategies. Many of these ideas have been borrowed and modified for my own classroom.

First Things First – 

Establish classroom guidelines for discussions. Ask students for input; they always have great ideas. Limit guidelines  to 5 or fewer and use accessible language for all students. Here are my guidelines, along with brief explanations:

1. No Hands – when discussing, students must negotiate their own time and not speak over each other. They are speaking to EVERYONE in the classroom, not just to me.

2. Stay on Topic – although I love when discussions grow organically, if Ophelia’s death quickly turns to school gossip I step in and refocus the group if a student hasn’t already.

3. Disagree with the Comment, DO NOT attack the person – Differing opinions makes life interesting and classroom discussions fruitful.. One of the most difficult things for students to understand is another student’s TRUTH is just as right and as strong as their own TRUTH.

4. No yelling, swearing, throwing chairs, etc. – I teach AP Literature. Our discussions often lead to religion, politics, gender, etc. and can get heated. These rules are necessary for the safety and climate of the classroom.

5. Ends at the Bell – nothing excites me more than when students are still talking about the class as they walk out the door, toppling  into lunchroom conversations or is brought up at home with parents; but, students are not to use anything that was said in the discussion in a negative way, wether in a different class or on the athletic field.  We all agree to disagree.


1. Fishbowl Tap-out   

*4 chairs placed in the middle of the room, while all students form an outside circle around the center group, thus forming a “fishbowl” effect.

*The 4 students sitting in the middle are the only ones allowed to speak. They are having a discussion with each other about topics at hand or what they read.

*If an outside circle student wishes to speak they must “tap-out” (on the shoulder) one of the 4 people. That person must stand and move to the outside circle. There is no refusing to leave once tapped-out.

*Students on the outside can be listening, backchanneling on a TodaysMeet, or taking notes on paper.

TIPS – Students should try to be in the “hot seat” at least once during the discussion, allow students 2 min. minimum before being tapped out, teacher may have to ask a question if discussion is stalling (otherwise they are a silent observer as well)

2. Body Voting   

*Provide students with a list of statements. Have them silently go through each one marking if they “Agree” or “Disagree”.

*Designate opposite areas in the classroom as “Agree” and “Disagree” zones

*Teacher reads the statement and students move to the area that represents their response.

*Discussion can ensue in a team-like fashion.

TIPS – This strategy takes up a lot of time, have students mark on their paper the top 3 or 4 statements they would like to discuss. Give students one minute to organize thoughts and points as a group before starting discussion. Make students choose a side, there is no neutral.

3. SSC (Small Silent Collaboration)

*Divide students into small groups – no more than 4 per group works best.

*Have one student create a gdoc or typewithme and share with the group members AND the teacher.

*Students silently type important topics from their reading, questions they had, surprises from the passage, etc.

*Teacher monitors all group writing noting important discussion topics found in each.

*After a designated time, students discuss as a large group. The teacher has all the student- driven discussion topics in hand.

TIPS – Typewithme allows students to join under any name, be careful in large groups. This strategy allows every student to have a “voice” which is unique for the teacher to see.

These strategies are a few of the more “unique” ones I use in my classroom. They are also the most effective in engaging students and encouraging participation!

Written by sfarnsworth

August 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Our “Edventure” into Standard Based Grading

with one comment

Last year a couple teachers at BCLUW decided to implement Standard Based Grading (or a version of it)  in their classrooms. Over the past year and throughout the summer, a small group of staff members, including myself, continued the learning. During one of the early PD days this year, a meeting was held for all those interested in Standard Based Grading. The following is a glimpse into the information gained at the meeting in the form a of an email sent to all staff…

“Last Friday a group of us met in the library to discuss Standard Based Grading. Many of us are at different levels of implementation, some are implementing in multiple classes while others are considering a unit to try it out on. What we all agreed upon was that Standard Based Grading made sense to us as teachers and as parents. I am sure we will form some sort of weekly or biweekly meeting in the near future, but in the meantime, we wanted to share some information that we agreed upon.

1. It is beneficial for students and parents to have a uniformed marking system throughout the classes.. This is what was decided upon, but can be reconsidered and changed in the future.
Four marking phrases:
Below                      Progressing                          Proficient                         Exceptional
1                                      2                                             3                                          4

2. We also felt it was important for high school students to have “Behavior Expectations” that would be reported, not necessarily graded. From the visit with Fisher last year and our own large group discussions at faculty meetings, it is clear that our students need to refine certain skills and characteristics to be productive adults and succeed in future schooling and work. While you may not even be considering Standard Based Grading, some staff members wanted to use and post the same expectations in their classroom. We thought we would share with the whole staff for your consideration. 

BCLUW Behavior Expectations

Student will:
Arrive to class on time
Come to class prepared
Complete work by due date
Consistently show effort
Use class time efficiently
Work well with others
Show respect to others and the school environment

3. Let us know if you have any questions. We will send out an email about our next meeting. Working together will help make these growing pains manageable. Plus, Standard Based Grading fits beautifully with PLCs, as it gives specific areas to address! “

I will update this blog with our progress. I would also like to mention, along with a dedicated staff and supporting administration, Matt Townsley and Russ Goerrend have been tremendous supports throughout this learning!

Written by sfarnsworth

August 20, 2012 at 3:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized