Increasing Class Discussions

A great body of research (Chapin et al, 2009; Daniels, 2002; Duff, 2002; Flynn, 2009; Mason, 1996; and Spiegel, 2005) has focused on classroom discussions. I began experimenting with this technique in January. I spent two weeks mapping and analyzing data from student-led discussions in five 9th and 10th grade World History classes (N=197). A sample of the students was divided into two categories “frequent participants” and “non-frequent participants.” Over the course of a semester, they would be given a series of assessments. This data would be analyzed to see if increasing classroom discussions has an effect on increasing student achievement.


After two weeks, I asked students to conduct a self-assessment and give themselves a grade on their participation in the classroom discussions. I provided direct instruction and a handout (based on Teaching the Core) that helped identify seven ways to participate in classroom discussions. Students were asked to reflect on their participation and give themselves a grade between 1-10 on the quality of their work. The following 48 comments offer insight into what motivates students to participate, or not participate in class discussions.

  1. I did not participate in class discussion because I had not watched the lecture yesterday therefore I could not talk about it.
  2. I didn’t participate because I raised my hand, but I never got picked.
  3. During the class discussion, I was listening to what they said and I was taking notes. I was going to say something but I guess someone beat me by saying what I wanted to say first.
  4. I wasn’t able to participate in class because I went to the restroom and by the time I came back they were talking to the inner circle. But I had a lot to talk about. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance.
  5. I was not able to participate because I was having trouble understanding the discussion.
  6. I didn’t participate until I became the one to ask questions. I had notes but my notes weren’t very detailed and I couldn’t answer the questions.
  7. I did not participate because I am uncomfortable with public speaking.
  8. I didn’t participate in the class discussion because I always participate and I want others to participate too.
  9. I did not participate because I had no information and I did not watch the lecture notes.
  10. I didn’t participate in the discussion because I cannot talk I’ve been sick and I have a bad cold. Although I wasn’t talking I was listening.
  11. I did not participate in this discussion because I did not have anything to say as I was not prepared with information.
  12. I am able to detect bad reasoning and distorted evidence. Some people might read something that you know is not true and you look for the true statement to see if they are correct or wrong.
  13. I didn’t participate in the class discussion because first of all I did have information for some topics but the host would pick someone else with that information that I had.
  14. I did not participate because I have not watched the video last night. I went to go watch it and it wouldn’t load. It would open then shut down. I was not able to watch it or get the notes from someone else.
  15. I did qualify my own views. I got my peers closer to the answer even though I got some wrong.
  16. I participated, but I kind of winged it. I saw/put myself in the other countries shoes to see what I would do, so when I did that, it made more sense.
  17. I did justify my own ideas and make connections to the topic because I talked about Japan’s invasion.
  18. During our class discussion I wasn’t called on but I helped explain what Staffon was trying to say about the treaty of Versailles and Germany.
  19. In response to Ruben’s question, I answered about one of Hitler’s points in the book he wrote.
  20. I had some notes to use during the discussion. I asked questions to clarify or restated the questions. I didn’t really get others into it, but I let others have a chance to answer.
  21. I read the questions for the inner circle.
  22. I need to speak a little more loudly and explain more what I’m trying to say. I also add more when people state their question or opinion.
  23. I participated in the Socratic seminar by announcing the questions to the outer circle. I also helped the inner circle on a question. I gave my opinion as well.
  24. I didn’t really answer anything but it was a learning experience for the things I did not know.
  25. I always ask questions to shorten down the answer.
  26. I participated by talking about it and answering the questions. Daniela asked and I finished answering.
  27. I wouldn’t get any points because I didn’t participate or answer any questions.
  28. I didn’t participate at all, well I mentioned something about the big four but it wasn’t noticed.
  29. I didn’t participate in the class discussion I should try to participate. I didn’t refer to evidence. I didn’t make a conversation.
  30. I used my knowledge for other discussions to answer the questions. I just answered the questions I knew and went from there. I should get a 7 or 8 out of 10.
  31. According to the lecture, I got evidence from the video lecture. In other words, I listened to the video and what the teacher says. In response to arguments question, I took notes from what people say. I think you should pass one by one and ask us questions to the students. I think you should grade us as helping each other by answering your complete question
  32. I won’t be able to participate in this class discussion since I had computer problems though now I will be able to look at lectures 1 and 2 and take notes.
  33. In this class discussion, I distributed a lot in the topic of the Treaty of Versailles. I told the class the four major problems of the Versailles treaty. I incorporated Jamilet into the conversation. I feel like I was well-prepared. I feel like I deserve a B due to my cooperation.
  34. This class discussion I did okay. I feel like I could have participated more than I did. I think I deserve a C for this class discussion because I participated and answered questions. I know I can do better for our next class discussion.
  35. I refer to evidence from the text under discussion and/or the research pertaining to the subject by using the notes. I’ve written down from the lecture and the knowledge I had. I move conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate to the broader themes or larger ideas by adding on to someone else’s comment.
  36. According to the Lecture 01 video, stated in my notes the causes of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was the greater downfall to the treaty; their ships were at the bottom of the ocean after not agreeing to give it away. Their air force and submarines were delayed.
  37. According to the video lecture, I referred to the Versailles Treaty and how the DMZ (de-militarized zone) at the west of Rhineland is one of the things that would be a reason to start WW11.
  38. I didn’t participate, but I did pay attention to what others were saying.
  39. I didn’t participate in this class discussion because I didn’t have enough time to watch the whole video.
  40. I participated two times to the discussion, but I think I could have participated more. In the next discussion I will have written better notes and try and answer most of the questions or at least some.
  41. In this class discussion, I honestly didn’t contribute as much as I should have. But it is only because I did not watch the lecture last night so I didn’t really understand. I did listen and kind of understand now. I will go home tonight and watch 1st and 2nd lecture and will come tomorrow ready.
  42. According to the discussion I used my notes to help respond. And take notes of discussion. I asked some questions and responded to some. I do not actively import.
  43. I participated enough times in the conversation. I rephrased Jazmin’s quote and I should be graded with a B+. I didn’t talk during the conversation and I didn’t distract anyone.
  44. I responded to the question about the Treaty of Versailles. I said that the German army was forbidden to have tanks, an air force, and submarines.
  45. I hardly contributed in today’s discussion because all of the questions I knew were for the outer circle.
  46. I think I did a poor job. I could have contributed more and stated more points. I will use the common starters tomorrow during the discussion. I will take better notes and make sure everything is good and correct.
  47. I didn’t contribute in the class discussion but I will take notes on Lecture 2. I got you Dr. Petri. I promise. And I won’t be on my phone tomorrow.
  48. I was not participating today. But I did listen to how others talked and brought their knowledge and clarified others information into the Socratic circle. Now, I have more of an idea how to incorporate my ideas into the discussion.

Students Discussing

More analysis to follow.