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How to Encourage Open Discussion and Debate in Your Classroom

Open Discussion in the Classroom

One of our recent blogs talked about how to set up and host a successful debate in your classroom. But even before you set the debate rules, it’s important to establish a respectful and inclusive classroom culture.

Setting up a classroom that encourages active participation and honest discussion is essential to creating an inclusive culture, but it’s not always easy. Students often come to your class expecting to sit quietly and to only speak when you call on them, or they may be afraid to participate because they don’t want to misspeak or make a mistake.

In order to change the classroom culture to one that not only encourages active participation but also thrives on it, it’s important to build trust. Building trust will allow you to engage in honest and open discussions and debates with your class, and it will lead to robust participation. See below for tips to build trust and improve communication in your classroom.

The Online Classroom: if and when you’re in a situation that requires Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI), these rules still apply. We’ve provided gateways to a few helpful tools throughout the remainder of the piece.

Set up a Safe Classroom Environment and Culture

Make sure your students know that you value honesty and fairness by setting up classroom rules that demonstrate these values. Check out this article from Scholastic for great ideas on how to do this.When discussing sensitive topics, you should review the classroom rules before the discussion and brainstorm ideas to encourage students to actively listen to each other. Your brainstorm might include avoiding making generalizations, avoiding using a harsh tone or language, and focusing on the idea, not the person, when making a critical statement.

Online Classroom Tool: Backchannel Chat enables your students to communicate with each other, while reaching out to you privately if they feel the need.

Get to Know Your Students

Building a classroom based on trust requires that you know your students’ interests and goals. Take time early and regularly throughout the year to get to know your students’ personal interests and goals. Here are some great activities from TeacherVision that you can use your in your classroom as icebreakers and as a way to creatively learn more about your class.

Online Classroom Tool: Kialo enables deeper class discussions that allow you to meet your students in their own headspace.

Confront Offensive Comments and Jokes Immediately

If you hear a student (or fellow colleague) make a disparaging remark or comment, say something immediately. It’s vital that our students know that we will not allow anyone to hurt them while they are within our purview. It’s also an opportunity to discuss what was said and its impact on others. Check out Teaching Tolerance for ideas on what to say and how best to phrase it.

Online Classroom Tool: the Internet is not always sunshine and rainbows. But nevertheless, the classroom must always be a place of tolerance and understanding. Campus Pride offers an online course in this matter.

Be Aware of Implicit Bias

Implicit bias, or subtle unconscious beliefs, impacts our behavior in the classroom and can negatively impact student performance. A recent Yale study found that even preschool teachers hold preconceived implicit biases about student behavior based on race and gender. Since we all have implicit biases, it’s important that we not only acknowledge them, but that we also take concrete steps to overcome them. An article from neaToday provides examples of how implicit bias impacts our classroom. The article also lays out concrete ways we can begin to overcome these obstacles.

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