Whole class discussion is the most frequently used teaching strategy by our public school teachers. It is also the most detested teaching strategy by students because it is boring.

Most teachers engage their students in a one-sided conversation by posing trivial question. Students are aware that this chitchat is about filling time and not about learning.  They know that their instructors already have a single answer in mind and know who in the class can answer their question and who cannot. If no one volunteers a reply to their question, the instructors will either reveal the answer and move on, or compel an unwilling student to attempt a response.

A common mistake made by instructors is to equate whole-class discussions with recitation. This is when a student is required to give an “instant” play by-play account of the teacher’s lecture. It is a low-level conversation with no educational purpose.

If educators want to take the “boring” out of their classroom, they have to be skilled in designing a high-level conversation. A true whole-classroom discussion is used to deepen students’ understanding; to practice communicating verbally; to use vocabulary words in context, and to create connections between concepts or events.  In well-led classroom conversation, the teacher is not waiting for the right answer.  Instead, the instructor is trying to get students to develop and practice their critical and creative thinking skills. They frame discussion questions that encourage students to form a hypothesis, make a connection, or challenge previously held view.  In this type of discussion, the perspectives of all students are sought; all voices are heard.

Students’ motivation and interest will dramatically shift when they are part of the conversation and allowed to exercise their cognitive muscles.  In the words of my student, Zuleima:

I can’t even begin to explain how much more interested I am in class when a teacher really cares what I think [and] listens to my opinion. It makes me like the class even more.

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