Student Talk: The Use of Dialogue and Discussion

This summer a group of Oregon teachers prepared to launch the Oregon Science Project, which focuses on professional development for rural teachers around NGSS. During our 3-day facilitator’s training we focused on dialogue not discussion.  As a group, this distinction was new to us. What we found was we were spending most of our time on dialoguing not discussing. When in dialogue the purpose is to gain and share information, listening deeply to the information others provide. When in discussion, the purpose is to present different viewpoints and come to a decision.

As I began this new year of teaching the NGSS and using new curriculum this new idea was at the forefront of my mind. The new curriculum also encourages these processes.  Scientists engage in dialogue as they share their ideas and look for perspectives from others. Students also need to practice both dialogue and discussion. As they gather information they need to dialogue and when they are using evidence to decide on a claim, they need to use discussion.

During one a lesson last week the importance and the engagement that occurs when students talk became quite evident.  The curriculum we are using has structured lessons to be 45 minutes long.  We had not been in-sync since we started the curriculum (starting with a warmup, doing the lesson, and ending with the homework).  That day we actually started with the warm up for the lesson.  I was determined to see if I could accomplish the lesson within the 45 minutes.  My evaluator happened to come in during one of my class periods to observe.  In my attempt to complete the lesson within the time period I rushed the students during their dialogue.  The evaluator overheard several students exclaim that they were disappointed because they didn’t get to share their information.

Needless to say, I was not able to finish the lesson in the allotted time and I had cut off students in the middle of their dialogue.  I was excited by the fact that they were disappointed that they didn’t have time to finish sharing.

Since that brief time ago, I have worked at being sure to give students adequate time to dialogue and discuss. But I have also learned that they need to have a very clear purpose.  The students have been gathering evidence over the past week or so and this last week they had to decide which claim their evidence was supporting and how well it supported the claim. They needed to come to a decision about their evidence, hence they were involved in discussion. But the students had trouble with discussion.  They could come to a decision but when quizzed about why they ranked the evidence where they did, they couldn’t explain why they didn’t rank the strength of the evidence higher or lower than they did. So, I explained in greater detail that they needed to be able to say why it was ranked the way it was and why they didn’t rank it higher or lower.  I asked them to discuss the evidence again with this in mind. About a third of the students had changed their rankings and could explain in much greater detail why it was placed there.

These processes are new to most students.  They can’t just go with their “gut” but need to be able to clearly explain how strong the evidence is.  This is an important step to being able to write an argument to support a claim. Both aspects of talk, dialogue and discussion, are important steps along the way.  It is important to be purposeful in what we want the talk to be, do they need to be gaining and sharing information or coming to a decision.  The more students have opportunities to practice talk the better they will become and the better their arguments to support a claim will be.

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  1. Kierra Green
    Posted October 31, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I have never thought about a dialogue and a discussion being that different, but I like the way they are both described here. I agree that students need to have a clear purpose for discussion and must have evidence to back up their arguments.

  2. Valerie
    Posted March 6, 2018 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking for videos or scripts of students engaged in good and bad dialogue to model for students. Are there any resources you could recommend?

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