Discussion Norms


We know discussions are important to learning.  Communicating your ideas to others, hearing them accept and build upon them is tantamount to building self-esteem.  It helps us know we're accepted.  Making connections between ideas and expressing them in unique ways showcases learning.  Learners love talking, and it is important to their academic development, so why do we not always allow them the opportunity?

I'll tell you why, because...chaos.  It's true.  I've seen it.  I've been there.  I had it all planned out in my head.  It was going to be great.  All the learners would sit in a large circle and freely express themselves.  We would dig into extremely emotional issues and all would emerge unscathed.  We would understand each other completely and no feelings would be hurt.  Bonds would form.  Unbreakable bonds.  We would unite as one.  I'll tell you right now, and I learned it the hard way, this kind of conversation, does not just happen.  It takes time.  It takes building community and trust.  It takes setting expectations.

Without laying the groundwork for discussions, feelings get hurt.  Learners refuse to talk.  Other learners dominate the conversation and make it near impossible for us as leaders to reestablish control.  It makes us tremble.  It makes us avoid trying again.  It makes us believe that conversations are simply a waste of precious learning time.  Deep down though, you know it's not true.

When I think of some of my deepest learning moments, it was when someone challenged my beliefs.  When they shook the core of what I thought was absolutely true.  And, this happened through discussion.  So many valuable learning experiences happen through discussion.  We really are putting our learners at a loss when we do not provide opportunities for them to hone their conversational skills in a moderated, safe environment.

We would love to assist you in meeting this goal.  We would love to give you the nudge toward hosting more conversations with your learners.  And, to help you set the stage for meaningful, respectful, and productive conversations, we created for you a set of discussion norms.

Some of you may already be using them.  They made their first appearance in our Orphaned World Citizen Pack (Meet Silas Series).  Others of you may already be moderating amazing discussions among your learners.  If that's you, we're all ears.  We would love to hear what effectively works for you.  Also, we would love to learn what did not work for you.  Your experience can help shape us.  After all, we really are all learners too, aren't we?

Kudos to you leaders who are already there.  Who already lead conversations with your learners.  If you need that nudge though.  We're here for you!  We believe in you!  You can do it!  And we're here to help.

In this Wolfe Pack, we created for you two different sets of discussion norms.  One geared toward primary learners, the other toward secondary.  Each set appears in three different styles, so choose the one that works best for you and yours!  Check them out:

Three primary versions plus three secondary versions equals six total versions for your convenience.
Click picture or here for your posters!

To use them, first discuss each norm with your learners.  Discuss why it is important to follow that norm in a conversation.  Brainstorm what meeting that norm would look like and sound like. Then, start your conversations with shallow topics and dig down to deeper ones.  But, no matter the subject or number of participants, consistently refer back to the norms when you feel they aren't being followed.

At times, it is hard for me to pinpoint exactly what norm isn't being followed. Bring it up for discussion.  Saying something along the lines of, "Something is off here, but I can't exactly tell what it is.  This conversation just doesn't feel right to me.  Does anyone else feel it?  Let's look at the norms and see if there are any we can work on."  Furthermore, make sure you point out when you're not following the norms.  You're bound not to follow all of them all the time, let's be honest.  It will be good for your learners to see that following the norms is a process and that even leaders may get off track from time to time.

Perhaps using a premade set of discussion norms is just not your style.  You prefer working with your learners to create your own set of discussion norms.  This process intrigues us.  If it intrigues you too, go for it!  We only suggest you have in mind an idea of what is important before you begin establishing the norms with your learners, otherwise you might find yourself with a list of norms that do not really meet all the needs of discussions.  If this does happen though, even with your carefully planned out norm-building discussion, always allow yourself room to change them.  Nothing is, or should ever be, set in stone.  Especially when we're dealing with discussions, which should always be fluid.

One final item for discussion: reluctant participants.  In an ideal discussion every participant wants to, and does, contribute when they have something to say.  But, you and I both know this isn't always true.  Some learners need a little nudge.  We have a couple suggestions to help these learners find their voice.  First, consider creating optional sentence frames and make them visible to everyone.  Sentence frames may help our reluctant speakers formulate a response.  Sometimes all we need is help getting started.  Other learners may need a bigger push.  Meet with these learners before the conversation.  Tell them you want them to contribute.  Give them the topic ahead of time (perhaps even the day before) and allow them to prepare their contributions in a low pressure setting.   It is important to enforce that every voice matters.  Keep communicating that you want to hear from everyone.  Don't give up!  It is vital that everyone feels comfortable and has opportunities to share their thoughts.  By doing so, you facilitate the creation of a solid idea network generated and built upon by every learner.  A network stronger and broader than any independently-produced thought.

You're ready!  You know discussions are important.  You're equipped with the tools to commence building trustworthy and respectful communities. You're swimming in discussion topics surrounded by learners who long to develop their voice.  So, dive on in.  You've got this!

With Love from the Kitchen,
Offering samplings of life by a husband and wife

Interested in even more educational resources?  Then stop by our Learning Lab.  It's here where we store all the educational resources we've cooked up to date.  


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