Purpose

In a scored discussion, students participate in a formal dialogue on a controversial issue, or open question, and are graded for their efforts. This is different than a debate, because students are not necessarily expected to take fixed positions. In fact, changing one’s mind in light of the evidence that emerges in the discussion is encouraged.

Students are marked according to the quality of their participation, with regard to behavior as well as content. Generally, teachers do not participate in the discussion, unless the students need a point of fact clarified. You should, however, guide a debriefing after the discussion.

For a scored discussion to work properly, students must be well prepared. This may include doing a practice discussion with students so that they understand the criteria for their grades. A practice discussion could ask students to spontaneously discuss a controversial issue within the school, such as whether the school should have a dress code. After the discussion, tease out the positive and negative aspects of the discussion, to come to a consensus as to what constitutes a good discussion and how the students will be marked.

For example, students might receive positive marks for demonstrating skills such as:

  • Stating a position
  • Providing evidence for a position
  • Challenging another student’s use of evidence
  • Linking the discussion to the course material
  • Inviting others into the discussion
  • Asking a question
  • Appearing to listen attentively
  • Responding to the comments of others
  • Building on the comments of others
  • Playing devil’s advocate

Students might receive negative marks for demonstrating the following:

  • Disruptive interrupting
  • Monopolizing the discussion
  • Personal criticism
  • Irrelevant or distracting statements
  • Making claims without providing reasoning or supporting evidence

You may want to create a grid with students’ names on one axis and a list of these skills along the other axis. Use this chart to note when and how well students demonstrate these skills in their discussions. Alternatively, you might want to take notes on the discussion as a whole and give students a group grade depending on how well they worked together, exhibiting the skills above to address the question. In this case, you would have to create a narrative rubric that explains to students how they would be marked. The rubric can also be adapted to work with individual students.

Procedures

  1. Before class, choose an appropriate question for the students to discuss. The question should be open-ended or controversial to ensure a variety of viewpoints. You should also select one or more readings, or other sources of information, for students to complete before attending the discussion. The readings should provide students with enough information that they can pull evidence for multiple perspectives from them. Students should be given adequate time to complete the readings or other preparatory work before the discussion occurs. Teachers should also prepare and distribute to students a rubric indicating how students will be assessed. See notes above for examples.
  2. When class begins, if students have not been exposed to a scored discussion in the past, facilitate a practice discussion. This will help illustrate critical attributes of a good discussion. It will also help you clarify procedures for students.
  3. Conduct the discussion. Set a time limit for the discussion; however, if students are still engaged as the time limit approaches, you may want to grant more flexibility. If the class is large, you could use the Fish Bowl Tag strategy.
  4. After the discussion is complete, conduct a debriefing. Ask students to comment on the content of the discussion as well as the process. Emphasize positive aspects of the discussion process so that students can build on the experience to improve their performance next time around. A follow-up written assignment may help students process what they have heard and read.