Encouraging student discourse and deepen their understanding by setting the tone, relinquishing control in the classroom, and by asking questions that meet students where they are

by Alison Grizzle

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


I think that engaging students in discourse in the classroom is critical for them to reach deep sustained learning and to meet many of today’s new standards. If students don’t have a way to make their thinking visible, they may not even recognize when they’ve reached a point of genuine understanding.

What does discourse in the classroom look like? I look at it from three pillars of application:

-Social and emotional learning where the teacher sets the tone in the classroom, including establishing the hook that grabs the student’s attention;

-Relinquishing control and letting students be in charge of their own learning to construct knowledge; and

-Creating questions that help students take their learning to a new level.

We all love to say that student are more engaged when they are part of the learning process. And nothing is more true. When they are constructing knowledge and owning their own learning, they are inside it and more apt to be with you.


What I did well….

In the overview video, I was successful in clearly describing the connection between the mathematical practice standards/ literacy anchor standards and the instructional strategy of student discourse. I was able to clearly describe the overall goal and complexity of the practice in a simple organized process. I was very happy with the real-world statistics example from one of my classes that I was able to give to paint the picture for creating the “hook” for the lesson. In addition, I was happy with the overall description of the process of relinquishing control of the lesson as well as the description of responsive questioning. Overall, the introduction video gives a clear description of the process.

During the professional development session, I was able to engage participants because of the design. The design clearly modeled the strategy and created a pathway for discussing the three pillars of discourse. The conversation was structured in a manner that elicited thought and created an understanding of the overall process while being able to avoid a lecture and a “how to.” The design honored the participants as experts in their crafts.

What I would have done differently….

In the workshop, I regret choosing such a long modeling activity for a short learning experience. I was trying to model the stages of the instructional strategy but struggled to clearly wrap up the learning because of time constraints. In reflection, I missed the opportunity to create clarity around the three pillars of discourse because I became rushed. Watching the training reminded me of the importance of a strong closure activity. I handed out the resource at the very end of the experience, which was intended, but I did the overall experience a disservice by not having time to walk through the resource and reinforce the learning in context.  This is a great reminder of the importance of planning within the time that a class period allows and not within the allotted time that I wish that a class period allowed.

In what ways would I like to grow in this process…

Though I understand the theory of the strategy, I still struggle with relinquishing control of the learning process. It is very easy to fall to the pressures of “not enough time.” Though this process helps to create a deeper conceptual understanding of the content, I find it very easy to steal the learning from the students by trying to speed the learning up by becoming the disseminator of information. Inevitably, mastery decreases, but I still fall into the trap of feeling a pressure to finish the material and adhere to the pacing guide. I must remember to breathe and allow the students to construct knowledge.


About Alison Grizzle

Dr. Alison Grizzle, 2014 Alabama Teacher of the Year, serves as an Education Administrator with the Alabama State Department of Education in the De...

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