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ERIC Number: EJ1174902
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2018
Pages: 14
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1536-3031
The Distortion of Discussion
Backer, David
Issues in Teacher Education, v27 n1 p3-16 Spr 2018
Classroom discussion is an essential pedagogy for teachers across grade levels and age groups. But what is a discussion, exactly? Are teachers really using discussion when they say they are? Recent research has examined this question and the results are unsettling. Martin Nystrand et al's (2001) massive study of classroom discourse (hereafter "the Nystrand Report") found that, out of 872 observations in 200 eighth and ninth grade classrooms in the Midwestern United States, "less than 7% of 1,151 instructional English and Social Studies" had even one discussion. Where the word "discussion" is uttered, either by teachers vocally, in their syllabi, school-generated standards, or state-mandated standards, Nystrand et al's data demonstrate two things: first, that there is very little discussion happening in the observed classrooms, and second that this dearth occurs in spaces where the word "discussion" is uttered. Are educators fulfilling their promises of discussion in United States schools? This article interprets the Nystrand Report's findings and these questions they generate. The claim is somewhat modest: discussion in the United States is distorted. To make that claim the article first defines the term distortion as an inconsistency between the meaning of a word and what goes by its name. Next the paper surveys the meaning of the word "discussion," the generally-articulated idea of discussion, arguing that it denotes a certain kind of interactional pattern in educational contexts and connotes participation, dialogue, openness, equality and freedom, as well as other values associated with democracy. Third, the paper presents Nystrand et al's understanding of discussion as "in-depth exchanges of ideas in the absence of either questions or teacher evaluation" (p.36) following a "dialogical spell," summarizing the authors' empirical conclusions. Finally, the paper recommends concrete teaching techniques from the literature on educational discussion to promote (rather than distort) classroom discussion.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Grade 8; Junior High Schools; Middle Schools; Elementary Education; Secondary Education; Grade 9; High Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A