Archived Information

State of the Art: Reading - November 1993

image omitted 7. Children who engage in daily discussions about what they read are more likely to become critical readers and learners.


I, too, have learned many things about talk from my work in the classroom and from examining the talk of students. This research has informed my practice; I can never again hold a monopoly on talk in the classroom as did the teachers of my educational experience. My voice is one among the many teachers, many students, many learners in the room. We are creating a new legacy, one of voice, empowerment, and interaction. Through our talk, we get together, get along, and get to the business of teaching and learning.
                                             (Cintorino 1993, p. 32)

Students' discussion in classrooms is important to their learning. Research shows that students' verbal exchanges about content improve learning and increase their level of thinking (Marzano 1991). The social nature of learning implies that, because each context is different, participants must always evaluate what to say, when and how, consider options, and make choices. Learning rests on taking these actions. (Hansen and Graves 1991).

Using discussion to connect literature and other texts with a variety of experiences and the prior knowledge of the reader maximizes students' learning, given that they critically discuss topics worth talking about. This interactive approach is based on the knowledge that, on the one hand, simply acquiring information like names and dates DOES NOT amount to significant learning. On the other hand, discussion among students, at any age, in which they hear different points of view and collaborate to solve problems, serves as a catalyst for the development of logical reasoning skills.

Traditionally, discussion in classrooms has not been common. As students advance through the grades, opportunities for discussion in the classroom appear to decrease. This situation has been so prevalent that in her study of secondary English classes, Alvermann (1986) called discussion the "forgotten language art." Nevertheless, when students are given opportunities to talk and listen, they can and do converse in productive ways to learn in all areas of the curriculum (Berrill 1988). Questions, rethinking, and refined understandings result when students discuss their understandings of themes or concepts that appear in text (Langer 1991; 1992).

Given the importance of discussion for effective learning, effective teaching involves providing students with ample opportunities to engage in daily discussions with one another. Small group and peer-to-peer interaction are valuable in promoting academic and social learning. Children who rely on each other for help learn more than children who work alone (Cazden 1988). Instruction can be organized in a variety of ways to facilitate discussion. One way is to form a cooperative learning group of students with varying abilities to read, discuss, or respond to a piece of text. Another way is to pair students with a "buddy" to interact and problem solve. The more students work in groups or pairs, the more productive their discussions will become, especially as their social skills become more refined.
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[Responding to literature helps students construct their own meaning which may not always be the same for all readers.] [Table of Contents] [Expert readers have strategies that they use to construct meaning before, during, and after reading.]