Monday, May 24, 2010

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion As A Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques For Democratic Classrooms (2nd Edition ed.). San Franc

Brookfield and Preskill share their passion for using discussion in the classroom by laying out a thoughtful rationale for using discussion, as well as by offering several configurations of its use in the classroom. They acknowledge the difficulties that can arise in leading students through discussions, and offer solutions to those issues. The book leads with fifteen claims of how discussion can help learning and enliven classrooms. They offer insights in how to set up discussions by instituting guidelines for behavior and discussion, and give great examples of exercises that work when starting class discussions. Once the groundwork has been laid, they offer suggestions and exercises for keeping the discussions going and furthering student’s abilities by working in small and large group discussions. They go on to discuss how race, class and gender affect what happens in discussions, and how the very act of learning to honor and respect each other’s differences can be one of the greatest lessons of all. Further along in the book, Brookfield and Preskill focus on keeping balance in the discussions so that certain students and even teachers don’t take up too much of the discussion. The ending chapters discuss the use of discussion in online courses.
This book is laid out so functionally that it feels like a very useful tool for all levels of teachers wishing to use discussion in their classrooms. Brookfield and Preskill have done in-depth research in to the foundational aspects of class discussions and their abilities to promote democratic classroom. Their research has served as a great foundation for my own understanding of the need for and impact of classroom discussions. The middle chapters take you from setting up and beginning uses of discussion, and go on to clearly lay out exercises that will challenge every level of teacher and student in terms of their use of class discussions.

Relevant Quotes
Rorty, (1989), quoted in Discussion As A Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques For Democratic Classrooms, says that conversation is extends our sense of “’we” to people we have previously thought of as ‘they’” (5).
“Discussion discloses the ways in which different linguistic, cultural, and philosophical traditions can silence voices. A critical posture leads people to analyze these traditions to understand how they have kept entire groups out of the conversation. Teachers and students probe their own taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions and uncover the ways these serve dominant interests. This kind of critical discussion helps people see how their choices can either perpetuate injustice and continue silence or contribute to growth and even emancipation” (7-8).
“By reinterpreting personal difficulties as dimensions of broader social and political trends, we realize that our problems are not always idiosyncratic and due to our personal failings” (8).
“For Giroux (1988), critical discussion depends on giving voice to participants; social, racial, and gender-situated experience and on finding spaces where they can come together freely and openly “to struggle together within social relations that strengthen rather than weaken possibilities for active citizenship” (p. 201).”
“[Discussion] improves our thinking, sharpens our awareness, increases our sensitivity, and heightens our appreciation for ambiguity and complexity” (p. 20)
“What implications regarding the conduct of discussions can discussion-based teachers take from structuralist analysis? First, it is clear that they can explore ways to decrease the negative effects caused by the disproportionate distribution of cultural capital among students. … emphasize instead that good discussion participation involves strong elements of showing appreciation, drawing others out, and making synthesizing and integrative observations” (p. 251).
“Yet true collaboration—people combining their efforts to help each other learn and to create something that is greater than the sum of their individual energies—is rare” (Brookfield & Preskill, 2005, p. 33).

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