I’m sharing this idea from Powerful Techniques for Teaching Adults, by Stephen Brookfield.
According to Brookfield, discussion as an activity in the adult classroom is often a blood sport” where “The usual extroverted suspects, who are often from the dominant culture and possess the cultural capital of an academic vocabulary, move front and center to shape the conversation while others lapse into a familiar silence.” (p.63) As I reflect back to engaging in discussions in class I can definitely see how this can happen even when I’ve tried to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Brookfield confesses that instead of approaching discussions following lectures with an off-the-cuff attitude he has begun to “plan, prepare, and create conversational protocols.” (p.65)
One of those protocols he calls “Circle of Voices” and works like this:
- Form participants into groups of five
- Pose the question to be discussed and give everyone “three minutes of silent time to organize their thoughts and to come up with responses to the question.” (p.74)
- After the silent period, each person within the group has up to one minute of uninterrupted time to present their answer to the question.
- After the initial circle of responses, the discussion opens up with this caveat, “Participants are only allowed to talk about another person’s ideas that have already been shared in the opening circle of voices.” (p. 74)
Optionally, each group can present a summary of their discussion for the entire class. This protocol allows everyone to share and participate and allows a synergy of ideas which can lead to better answers and more importantly better critical thought directed toward the question.
What do you think? Have you ever thought about classroom discussions as a “blood sport” where those who “brought the appropriate cultural capital to the occasion – a wide-ranging vocabulary, a confident manner, an ease at speaking in public, and an expectation of being listened to and taken seriously.” (p.65) dominated the conversation? What ideas or protocols have you put into place to address this concern?