at the table

Throughout the year, as a class, we will be unpacking a few major skill sets. Understanding how to listen to and participate in a fruitful, engaging and critical discussion is one of those skills. Miss Guinto and I have been working together to create inviting environment in which you feel confident and comfortable to be yourself and share your thoughts, feels and idea. Miss G has done a great job on her blog Meta, but writing up a list of expectations guidelines on how to do this.


For the most part, I have used her words below to explain the "Round Table" Expectations*.

The majority of our discussions will be conducted this way and it is important that we are all on the same page regarding appropriate behavior at the table.  I am passionate about students learning from each other and constructing meaning together organically but the success of our discussions will be dependent on how prepared and committed we are to listen, wait our turn to speak and how we respond to what each person is saying.

I believe these discussions can provide awesome opportunities for you to develop your voice, formulate sound assertions, share your ideas freely and with an open mind, nurture respect for varying perspectives, develop your active listening skills, help you practice the art of questioning, and ultimately allow us to cultivate a culture of collaborative conversation, not recitation.  The best part is you are totally engaged in the process of  your own learning where I am happy to say less and less as a facilitator (although this is easier said than done) and let you take the inquiry where you will.

Here goes:
  1. Prepare.  Come to the table ready with observations, assertions and questions.
  2. Listen carefully.  Waiting to enter the discussion is not the same as listening.  Keep abreast of the topic at hand.  Let your classmate finish phrasing a question or developing an idea before you jump in.
  3. Don’t address everything to the instructor. Make eye contact with the person whose points you are addressing. Look around the table; let people know that they’re included.
  4. Use names to focus interaction.  Connect your comments to those of others.
  5.  Stick close to the text in discussion. Keep the text open.  When appropriate, be prepared to cite specifics in the language of the text to support, challenge or question. The discussion is not a test of memory.
  6.  Collaborate, don’t compete. It is not a debate, but a discussion. Discussion is collaborative: multiple sides work toward shared understanding. Debate is oppositional: opposing sides try to prove each other wrong.
  7. Don’t raise hands; take turns speaking. It is OK to “pass” occasionally if asked directly to contribute.
  8.  Affirm comments made by other students. Encourage others to clarify or expand ideas that might be foggy. Ask for more information or further explanation. Don’t hesitate to summarize. Discuss ideas rather than one another’s opinions.
  9. Challenge politely if you disagree. Let any student finish phrasing a question or developing an idea before you jump in. Clarify a difference of opinion first.
  10. Be sure that the class is content with the exploration of one topic before heading off into new territory. In moments of silence, determine whether the group is wrestling with an idea or passage, or whether to pursue a new line of inquiry. Ask each other: Can we summarize the discussion so far? Did we take it as far as it could go? Are we content?
  11. Don’t hesitate to summarize a discussion, to understand where you’ve been before you move on.
  12. You are responsible for the success of the discussion. Prepare and participate thoughtfully. Don’t pretend if you don’t know; admit it and move on.  
  13.  If you’re not a reluctant participant, and suspect that you might have a dominant presence at the table, police your own frequency of involvement. Don’t answer every question; don’t jump in at every opportunity. Pull your weight, but not everybody else’s.
  14. Discussion is not always an evaluation of the text.  Topics related to the quality of the text have no place at the table.  It’s not a book group.  Even if a particular writer is not your favorite, it’s still your job to help the class gain a better understanding of his or her work, not to complain.

*Round Table Expectations
adapted from “Some Thoughts About the Harkness Table” by Ralph Sneeden

and Cindy Adams’ guidelines for Socratic Seminar

Basic Round Table Etiquette

  1. Come to the table prepared 
  2. Ask, question or critique, but do not attack or insult
  3. Listen carefully to the comments of your peers, and think about them before reacting
  4. Do not cut people off
  5. Avoid the urge to dominate
  6. Avoid the urge to withdraw
  7. Be open-minded
  8. Admit and acknowledge when someone makes a good point
  9. Avoid comments that might be disruptive or untimely, or that will derail the discussion by changing the topic
  10. Respect everyone at the table and expect the same respect from everyone else.
  11. All students are responsible for the success of the class, and should participate accordingly
  12. Open discussion with a reaction, an interpretation, a question or an observation
  13. Affirm a previous comment
  14. Challenge a previous comment
  15. Connect related comments, observation, assertions
  16. Ask for more information, clarification or explanation (invite completion of thought)
  17. Cite evidence from the text that may support, challenge or question
  18. Test understanding of the text or a previous comment
  19. Define terms
  20. Develop an idea with new material
  21. Clarify differences of opinion
  22. Transition to a new or old topic
  23. Summarize a new line of inquiry
  24. Return to “lost points” or points made previously
  25. Synthesize seemingly disparate points
  26. Introduce a new line of inquiry
  27. Create closure
We made a series of playing card with images to match each of these protocols. You can access them as .jpgs on Flickr. All images found by students.

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