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, the teacher does not participate in the discussion, unless the students need a point of fact clarified. The teacher does, 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, the teacher could tease out the positive aspects of the discussion and the 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
To grade the students, the teacher could create a grid with each student’s name across the top and a list of these skills along the side. The teacher can then note when individual students exhibit the skills and grade them accordingly. Alternatively, the teacher 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, the teacher 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.
- If students have not been exposed to a scored discussion in the past, a practice scored discussion should be conducted to tease out the critical attributes of a good discussion.
- The teacher should determine an appropriate question for the students to discuss. The question should be open-ended or controversial to ensure a variety of viewpoints.
- One or more readings, or other sources of information, should be selected 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.
- Conduct the discussion. Set a time limit for the discussion; however, if students are still engaged effectively as the time limit approaches, the teacher may want to grant more flexibility. If the class is large, the teacher could use a fishbowl format, whereby half of the students sit in a circle in the center of the class to discuss the controversial issue, while the other half of the students sit on the outside, taking notes on the discussion to help with the debriefing afterwards.
- After the discussion is complete, the teacher should conduct a debriefing. If a fishbowl format was used, the students who did not participate in the discussion should be invited to share their observations about the discussion. Positive aspects of the discussion should be emphasized 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.