Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Recitations vs. Authentic Discussions

After today’s class, I spent some time thinking about how my fourth graders interact and communicate with one another through out their school day. Immediately, I thought about the large amount whole class discussion that occurs during the time I spend in my fourth graders’ classroom. After taking the time in class to discuss Chapter 10 from Carol Simon Weinstein’s text, Elementary Classroom Management, I have come to a realization. Initially, I was very impressed at how well my CT handled the class discussions; whether they were during science, math, reading and/or writing. However, I now believe that what I initially viewed as authentic classroom dialogue and discussion, are actually more closely related to an “Initiation-Response-Evaluation” (IRE) recitation. I’ve noticed that my CT asks a question, the students raise their hands, he calls on a specific student, and they give their answer. Once he receives this answer, he usually digs in and forces the student to elaborate and explain his/her thinking. But it typically ends there, and another question is asked, and so on and so forth.

In regards to the aspects of recitation vs. discussion that we talked about in class, there are obviously positives and negatives to each. When my CT initiates a recitation style class dialogue, he uses tongue depressors with each students’ name; therefore, everyone has a turn to talk. That, in itself, is an essential reason for teachers to continue using the recitation method, when appropriate. I think it’s very important that everyone has an opportunity to express themselves and share their thoughts and ideas. This also allows us (the teachers) the opportunity to give informal assessments of our students. Recitations also clip along at a decent pace. This is very evident in my field placement. The school day flies by and there is so much to get through. Obviously, incorporating collaboration and classroom discussion is a priority to many teachers. But how can we incorporate such a time consuming process? That’s where recitations come in; students answer questions, and we move on.

That being said, I believe that authentic classroom discussions are a must throughout the day. The practice of taking a step back and allowing the students take a more active role in their learning is very important, and that is exactly what happens when a real classroom discussion is taking place. Teachers become the facilitators, and then the spectators, and students take the active role of interacting with each other, asking probing questions, participating in meta-cognitive thinking, and encouraging one another to be creative and expressive. Allowing this practice to take place can be really difficult for a teacher. As we talked about in class, teachers are extremely used to being the “benevolent dictator”. Well, it’s time for that role to change.

As I said before…incorporating authentic classroom discussions into our daily teaching practices will be time consuming; especially in the beginning. Students are not used to this sort of dialogue; therefore, its important that we scaffold the process for them. We should have the students participate in role-plays that show the correct process of interacting where there is no right answer. We need to practice the correct ways in which we should interact with each other; i.e., with respect, integrity, empathy, etc.. Students don’t come to class with this knowledge…we have to help them gather it.

One more important thing to consider...authentic classroom discussion does not have to end when the students leave for the day. It is here, that a teacher must consider the benefits that a class blog, (click on the previous link and you'll find 50, must-read, up-and-coming teacher blogs) and/or wiki would offer. A classroom wiki/blog would be a collaborative forum that students could access at any time. They could facilitate their own discussion. Twitter could be used as a way to facilitate classroom discussion. The technology available in the 21st century is astounding and it is expanding our students' horizons for collaboration.


  1. Although I really like your idea of adding technology into your classroom. I begin to think about my students and how we can't send more then two worksheets home...sometimes those don't even come back. But my students don't have computers at home so they have to be introduced to it in the classroom. So how could you have a classroom wiki or blog and have them interact with it throughout the day, in your classroom. Would this be possible? I really like the idea but I think it would have to be tweaked in different cities.

  2. It would definitely have to be tweaked...depending on the district and the classroom. Hopefully, the school you are working at will have a lab, or perhaps one, maybe two computers in some classroom (best case scenario: your classroom). It will be up to you to reserve time either in a computer lab or in a classroom that has a computer. I'm not saying it wouldn't be difficult, it would, but it wouldn't be impossible. Yes, designating time in class to have students take turns working on the class blog/wiki on the class computer can be very disheartening when you have a ton of other things on your plate. But i think making the time to have your students become comfortable and confident using technology is important enough for the students that you make the time and deal with whatever difficulties present themselves.