3.06 – The Roundtable Discussion (English Lesson)

Roundtables are formal discussions where students discuss a variety of topics, relating them to their text. Connections should be made using extremely specific examples, as well as direct quotations from their readings.

During Roundtable Discussions students should take out their previously provided Roundtable Discussion Sheet. They will have used this sheet to collect a variety of ideas, examples, and quotations that they can use during the discussion.

The teacher will not participate in the discussion. They will simply pose the question, and evaluate the responses. The teacher will take detailed notes as to who has spoken, the strength of the ideas they put forward, as well as their communication skills during the discussion.

Students should be evaluated not only on how they act while speaking, but also how they act as a listener. Are they being respectful of the singular voice at the center of the conversation? Are they directly responding to presented ideas, building on them to enhance classroom understanding? Are they ensuring to avoid responding to people by name, commenting, instead on the ideas?

The questions for the roundtables should directly correspond to the essay topics that will be presented in the final essay. Through this process, students will already have collected a number of ideas preparing them for the essay, before they even encounter it.

English Course Pack: Unit Three – Literature Circles

This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit Three: Literature Circles, which focuses on reading a selected text in small groups. Student engagement with the text will revolve around topic journals, roundtable discussions, and the application of literacy skills.

If you would like to say thanks, consider buying me a coffee. But that is neither required, nor expected.

3.06 – The Roundtable Discussion

Step One: Sustained Reading / Last Minute Efforts (20 minutes)

Once again, just like during the Literature Circle meetings, I recommend providing twenty minutes to practice sustained reading, or to finish completing the roundtable planning pages (that were provided in advance). After students have read their text, or focused on collecting their thoughts on the graphic organizers, you can move onto the roundtable discussions.

Before the Class

Rather than surprising students with a full-class discussion, they should be provided time to collect their thoughts before beginning. There are a number of ways to do this. You can let your students know that they will be focusing on a variety of questions and question types in an upcoming class, you can provide themes that they will be discussing, or you can provide them one of the graphic organizers with thematic questions already present.

Another successful idea is, after the first roundtable discussion in your class, provide students with an opportunity to come up with their own thematic questions that they believe are relevant to their self-selected texts. This way there is an even greater amount of agency around the discussions, increasing ownership and participation.

Students perform best when provided with the questions, and a graphic organizers to collect their thoughts, ahead of time. They should be encouraged to find supporting quotations for their responses, connected to their texts or alternate sources.

Step Two: Running the Roundtable (45 minutes)

This is a student-driven class. They should be well aware of the rubric for the discussion. For a strong performance, they will want to speak authoritatively on at least three of the different questions, providing strong support for each response.

During the discussion, you – as the teacher – will simply let them know when it is time to move onto the next question. You should do your best to remove yourself from the conversation, and resist the temptation to provide your own feedback. You are building ownership in learning, and proving that you trust your students in a de-fronted classroom environment.

The only time you should involve yourself is if students break the rules of a thoughtful and meaningful discussion.

Beyond that, the class will run itself. And, if there is dead air, then there is dead air. Don’t feel pressured to move onto the next question. Silence can provide an opportunity for others to consolidate their thoughts before speaking.

The Rules for Discussion

It is incredibly important that student are aware of the rules for a successful discussion prior to the first roundtable. They will need to understand that they are being evaluated not only based on what they say, but how they say it, and how they act when others are speaking.

You are free to set your own rules, but some that I suggest are:

  1. You can criticize an idea, but never the speaker. For example, on can say “I disagree with the fact that people should be allowed to…” versus “I disagree with what Sean said. People should not be allowed to…”
  2. You should not be speaking unless your voice in in the centre of the conversation. Do not speak over others.
  3. Remain respectful, and do not use triggering, or inappropriate language.
  4. Once you have spoken, allow three other speakers an opportunity to center themselves in the discussion before you speak again. This one is important because it also prevents back and forth dialogues that can get heated, and lead away from the focus.

Holding One’s Self Accountable

We have accepted that each speaker should be looking to provide three points during the discussion. Students can be left to their own devices to track their discussion points, or you can provide them with a way to visually track their speaking – that way they can have an extra reminder that, perhaps, it’s time for them to engage in the discussion.

Some possible ways to achieve this are:

  1. Provide three check boxes on the graphic organizers, that way they can check one off each time they speak.
  2. Provide each student with three poker chips that they can move when they provide a new point.
  3. Provide students with three sticky notes. That way they can draw a smiley face on each one after they contribute

The only time you may wish to involve yourself in the discussion is, when half the questions have been asked, inviting students who have not yet talked into the discussion. For example, is Sean has not spoken and there are only two questions left, you may say “We are moving on to Question 7 now. Sean, I’d like to invite you to the centre of the discussion to speak on this. Do you have anything you want to say on this point?”

That way, you will have provided an opportunity for all students, even if the opportunities are not acted upon.

Step Three: Bring it to a Close (5 minutes)

If time allows for it, it’s always helpful to provide students with a chance to speak on additional thoughts. Allowing a free flowing discussion can bring everything to a close, and let people provide their final points – which allows you with additional opportunities for assessment and evaluation.

In the remaining time, students should be provided one sticky note to write something that they had not considered, or were reconsidering based on the roundtable discussion. Those should then be stuck on the board at the front of the class for students to look at on their way out, or during the next class.

The Impact

Students have been provided an opportunity to orally express their ideas, which checks off a number of boxes in the curricular expectations. Even those who didn’t speak could be encouraged to take notes, connecting with key oral expectations based on listening with meaning.

It’s important to remember that these discussions will take time for some students, as comfort and safety levels need to be built up. These should not be a one-off, but rather there should be multiple occasions for students to demonstrate their learning, with their most recent and/or consistent demonstration of skills being recorded as a final evaluation.

Next up? Bringing the literature circles to a close, and considering if the self-selected texts were valuable.

English – Unit Three: Literature Circles

English Course Packs: Full Units

Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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