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Toward Democratic Discourse: Scaffolding Student-Led Discussions in the Social Studies

by Nora K. Flynn - 2009

Background/Context: Discussion in classrooms has been cited as an activity integral to active participation in a democracy. Much research into classroom practice reveals that recitation, not discussion, is the most common form of classroom discourse. How teachers conceive of discussion, what they actually do when they attempt discussion with students, and how they are taught to implement discussions are all inquiries that uncover the actual workings of discussion within classrooms. This article addresses students’ experiences in discussion and how one teacher scaffolds instruction in discussion in order to achieve a more democratic discourse in her classroom.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article traces one teacher’s research into what students experience during class discussions and how their responses led her to inquire into her own practice of implementing discussion-based activities in a content-area course. She seeks a more “democratic” classroom in which genuine discussion among equal peers is possible because the skills underlying discussion are taught. Scaffolding the teaching of discussion skills throughout a year of a world studies class allowed for students to take a more active and engaged role in discussion and expand their vision of active participation and a “good” discussion while grounding their discussion in historical content.

Setting: A public selective enrollment secondary school in Chicago was the site of this action research.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Eighty-eight students enrolled in ninth-grade Honors World Studies took part in this study.

Research Design: This study uses action research, or teacher inquiry into classroom practices and instructional responses to findings. Its data are qualitative in nature.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected in the form of student reflections after discussions with peers, teacher observations during student-led discussions, and student–teacher debriefings after discussion activities.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 8, 2009, p. 2021-2054
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15510, Date Accessed: 11/27/2020 12:17:53 AM

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About the Author
  • Nora Flynn
    Chicago Public Schools
    E-mail Author
    NORA K. FLYNN has taught history and English in China, Switzerland, and her hometown of Chicago. She completed this research as a Teachers Network Leadership Institute Fellow while teaching history in a Chicago public high school. Nora teaches a course on assessment at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education and develops history curricula at the Academy for Urban School Leadership. She has researched the aims and implementation of civic education programs in the United States, Australia, and China throughout her academic studies, first as an undergraduate at Yale and later as a graduate student at the University of Chicago (the latter degree supported by a James Madison Memorial Fellowship).
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