the STRUGGLE: I often have trouble determining how engaged students are in discussion. There was a point (long ago) when I tried to use some kind of graded discussion as evidence of participation and engagement. Largely, all I ended up with was something that felt more like compliance and 30 kids trying to get points instead of listening, responding, thinking, caring about the conversation.

the TRY: So, I’ve been on a mission for a long time to find new ways to create engagement in discussion without undermining my own hopes for class discussion. Using these paint chips are one way! Here’s what happens.

    • Before discussion starts I ask everyone to take between 3-5 minutes to get back into their texts and find 3 talking points that can come from any combination of these entry points: 1) a question, 2) a passage from the text they are curious about, compelled by, just don’t get, etc or 3) an insight.
    • Then they turn one of those into their personal question for discussion (on the top of the paint chip). Then we discuss and dig based on their talking points.
    • About 10-15 minutes into the discussion we pause and I ask them to “deepen their thinking” on the next color of their paint chip by trying to answer their own question. I ask for any new insights. Then we continue discussing based on their talking points.
    • A little while later, we pause again. I ask them to deepen their responses by including a new idea, by incorporating language from the text into their thinking or analyzing the text more carefully.


  • With a few minutes left of class, I ask them to go to the last color (the darkest one) and ask them what the
    y learned from discussion. I want to learn about their thinking, their analysis, their new questions. Sometimes I even ask them to write thesis statement about their analysis before they leave.
    Then I read and use these to formatively plan for the next day!

the LEARN:

Ultimately, I learned how important it is to pause throughout discussion. We can’t just keep talking and talking without giving learners a chance to collect their thoughts. Some students process while they’re talking. Others can’t process that way and they need time to think about their thinking before they’re willing to participate. I get a lot of authentic participation from the pauses.

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