Getting the discussion started.

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McKeown, M. &  Beck, I. (November 1999). “Getting the discussion started.” Educational Leadership.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

An Annotation by Laurie Walsh

I read an article on the constructivist approach to teaching literature, which involves a classroom where “students must construct their own knowledge and teachers must orient their instructional practices toward teaching for understanding” in order for meaningful learning to occur (25).  The article acknowledges the practical difficulties with organizing this type of classroom environment.  Next, the article explains the approach called “Questioning the Author.”  In this approach, teachers ask students questions such as “What is the author trying to say?” and “What do you think the author means by that?” (25).  Through the use of this type of questioning, the teacher-dominated discussion becomes “shared between students and teachers, questions and answers become centered on meaning and ideas, teacher responses extend conversations and develop ideas, and students begin initiating their own questions and responding directly to their peers’ contributions” (25).  The article continues with an explanation of the need for teachers to realize how much they do the talking in their classrooms.  It essentially equates talking with thinking; therefore, we want the students to talk more.  Their answers may not be polished and fluent, but we should expect that because they are exploring their ideas verbally.  There are three techniques discussed for handling student responses: marking, which “spotlights a student’s response and uses it to set a useful direction for further discussion,” turning back, which “reflects thinking back to the students,” and revoicing, which is paraphrasing the students’ response while she “transforms the language, perhaps making it more general or more sophisticated so that it is richer grist for the discussion mill” (27).  The teacher’s work in a constructivist classroom is different from other teaching styles, but it is equally as rigorous.

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