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It's How You Say It: Improving Student Discussion Skills

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Slides for TESOL 2018 presentation on teaching discussion skills.

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It's How You Say It: Improving Student Discussion Skills

  1. 1. It’s How You Say It: Improving Student Discussion Skills Cameron Romney Doshisha University Michael Stout University of Tsukuba March 28, 2018
  2. 2. Agenda • What do we mean by discussion • Why are discussion activities difficult? • Example textbook discussion activities • Example activities we have created
  3. 3. What do we mean by ‘discussion’?
  4. 4. LL Discussion Activities • “Discussions are probably the most commonly used activity in the oral skills class.” (p. 106) Lazaraton, 2001 • Any activity that has a “verbal exchange of ideas” (p. 2) Ur, 1981
  5. 5. Conversation Activities vs. Discussion Activities
  6. 6. What did you do this weekend? vs. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your generation today?
  7. 7. Definition of Discussion • “An act or instance of discussing” Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/discussion • “A conversation or debate about a specific topic.” Oxford Online Dictionary https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/discussion • “[about discussion method]…a goal focused group conversation…” Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics, p. 177
  8. 8. A Proposed Definition “A discussion activity for language learning is a speaking activity with an outer-focused topic that requires students to integrate external information into their personal experience, in order to inform, express or share their opinions, beliefs and/or judgements on the topic.” Romney, 2017
  9. 9. Conversation vs. Discussion Conversation Activities • Self-focused topics • About personal experience, opinions, preferences, etc. • No outside information is required Discussion Activities • Outer-focused topics • Integrate personal experience, opinions, preferences, to external information • Additional information is required
  10. 10. Why are discussions difficult?
  11. 11. Discussion Issues • Discussion skills are ‘undeveloped’ in EL classrooms • Because of negative experiences many teachers skip discussions • Negative experiences: large class size, students’ level of proficiency, time constraints, etc. (Green, Christopher & Lam, 2002)
  12. 12. Discussion Issues • Lack of background knowledge in the topic (Han, 2007) • Lack of interest in the topic (Han, 2007) • Having nothing to say, i.e. having no reason to participate (Ur, 1981) • Cultural differences in educational and communication styles (Kim, 2011; Stroud, 2017) • Lack of language ability, e.g. vocabulary (Ferris, 1998)
  13. 13. The real reason? Lack of pragmatic/interpersonal/interactional skills for successful discussions: • how to express agreement • how to politely disagree • how to hedge/soften strong statements • how to ask for other’s opinions • how to build consensus • how to avoid face threatening acts
  14. 14. “The first aspect of group work that the teacher must consider is whether or not the students have the interactional skills necessary for task completion. That is, an earlier lesson should be devoted to working with the functional language required for stating opinions, agreeing and disagreeing, interrupting and clarifying. Promoting competence in these metaskills, rather than assuming they are already there, can go a long way toward ensuring successful group work.” (p. 112) Lazaraton, 2014
  15. 15. “As a final comment, discussions will work much better if learners are equipped with a repertoire of expressions for voicing strong agreement, strong disagreement, and all the shades of opinion in between. These could be be available on posters around the room and regularly reviewed and topped up” (p. 105). Thornbury, 2005
  16. 16. Our Judgement • The ‘real negative’ experience is students can’t successfully engage in discussion • Teachers and materials writers assume students have the interactive skills to engage in discussions; therefore, they are not taught, or not taught in a meaningful way • Students need to learn how to engage in discussions
  17. 17. Textbook Examples
  18. 18. From Inspire 2 (1st Ed) p. 15, 2014, by Pamela Hartman, Nancy Douglas & Andrew Boon. Boston: Cengage Learning. Copyright 2014 by Cengage Learning Image removed on copyright grounds
  19. 19. Issues with this lesson • Mostly uses Lower Order Thinking Skills Understand and Remember • Limited scaffolding Assumes that students already have discussion skills • Does not adequately prepare students to engage in discussion
  20. 20. From Contemporary Topics 2 (3rd Ed.), p. 18, by E. Kisslinger, 2009, White Plains, NY: Pearson Education. Copyright 2009 by Pearson Education. Image removed on copyright grounds
  21. 21. From Contemporary Topics 2 (3rd Ed.), p. 18, by E. Kisslinger, 2009, White Plains, NY: Pearson Education. Copyright 2009 by Pearson Education. Model Discussion Direct Instruction Discussion Practice Image removed on copyright grounds
  22. 22. From Contemporary Topics 2 (3rd Ed.), p. 18, by E. Kisslinger, 2009, White Plains, NY: Pearson Education. Copyright 2009 by Pearson Education. Image removed on copyright grounds
  23. 23. “Discussion Strategy: In most conversations, expressing disagreement without seeming to be too disagreeable is key! One way to do so is to first acknowledge the other person’s point: ‘I see what you are saying, but…’ Or you can be direct: ‘I simply disagree.’ Some people like to soften their position with an apology: ‘I’m sorry, but...’ And of course, body language and tone can further ‘shape’ your message.” (p. 18) Kisslinger, E. (2009). Contemporary Topics 2 (3rd Ed.)
  24. 24. Issues with this lesson • Mostly uses Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) Understand and Remember • Limited scaffolding Assumes that students already have discussion skills • Does not adequately prepare students to engage in discussion
  25. 25. Example Activities
  26. 26. A bridge from conversation to discussion
  27. 27. Learning Outcomes • Direct Outcomes • Getting experience with discussion • Using discussion strategies • Indirect Outcomes • Reflective learning • Using Higher-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)
  28. 28. • Schema Activation Get the students thinking about disagreeing Recognize situations in which disagreeing can occur • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) Analysis Evaluating
  29. 29. • Model Dialogue Contextualize disagreement Provide an example for students to emulate • Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) Comprehension Identify • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) Analysis Propose
  30. 30. • Language Box • Provide Examples • Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) • Understand • Remember
  31. 31. • Language Box • Providing categories of expressions • Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) • Matching • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) • Analysis
  32. 32. • Language Box • Checklist for task completion • Guide for discussion • Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) • Remember • Performance • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) • Applying • Synthesis (creating)
  33. 33. • Topics List • Low stake practice • Promotes student autonomy • Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) • Understanding • Recognizing • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) • Applying • Evaluating
  34. 34. • Discussion Activity • Low stake practice • Promotes student autonomy • Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) • Remembering • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) • Applying • Synthesis (creating)
  35. 35. • Reflection Activity • Metacognition • Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) • Remembering • Understanding • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) • Evaluating • Metacognition
  36. 36. Learning Outcomes • Direct Outcomes • Learn how to disagree during a discussion • Practice discussions • Indirect Outcomes • Makes use of student-centered learning activities • Practice with Higher-Order Thinking Skills
  37. 37. Conclusion • Many students struggle with discussions • Most textbook inadequately prepare students to engage in discussions • Students need exposure and practice with the interactional skills (see Lam & Wong, 2000).
  38. 38. Thank You!

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