Topic 1: Framing a Discussion. Recognising and engaging multiple perspectives

In this topic we investigate ways in which we can frame a discussion. Discussions are an ordinary component of educational activities, whether the latter may be formal, informal or non-formal. There are also pedagogical approaches that have explored discussions as in themselves a way of teaching (Brookfield & Preskill, 1999; Smith et al., 2009).

However, to set up a discussion often requires our attention and effort. This is especially the case if our broader aim goes beyond a single discussion and extends to creating an environment wherein critical thinking and dialogue can thrive, and where the exchange of conflicting ideas can be held in a constructive and creative manner. Emphasis is usually placed on certain technical steps which are understood to help facilitate a discusion succesfully. These steps include actions such as:

1. Setting the scope of the discussion (i.e. the precise topic/questions of discussions)

2. Making sure that the discussion is objective-driven

3. Regulating the flow of the discussion (balancing and pacing)

4. Inviting students to participate in equitable manner

5. Making ideas visible by writing them on a board or screen

6. Invite voices that challenge the dominant narrative

7. Adjust preparatory notes and lesson plans as the discussion progresses.

8. Asking for elaboration of reasoning and refinement of claims.

9. Encouraging students to voice their disagreement.

10. Link discussion to relevant broader issues

Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has developed a series of short videos (3-5 minutes each) on different aspects of facilitating discussion. These resources are categorized thematically and can be a useful resource for looking at some of the nuances of organizing collaborative discussions.

Please find the links for the websites containing the videos below:

The table below combines the process of critical reflection we explored in the previous Unit with the technical steps for facilitating a discussion, to offer a few guiding points on how we can create the conditions for creative and critical thinking to emerge through creative dialogue.

Table 2.1. Guiding Points for enabling critical dialogue