Discussions on the Wall
By: Avrohom Wagshul
Stepping into my new CoLab, I was excited to use the dry erase wall. After all, this was an opportunity to do what my mother always forbid me to do as a child: write on the wall! I was confident that my students would feel the same way. Of course, the kid in me convinced the adult educator that there would be a pedagogical benefit from allowing students to express their knowledge using this highly visual medium, allowing others to collaborate and feed off each other.
For the first few weeks, I made a point of getting my students out of their chairs and “hit the walls” for all kinds of tasks, from brainstorming facts and reviewing the laws of the holidays, to answering essential questions in the lesson and even drawing comics to show grasp of a concept learned.
At first, I had hoped that the ability for everyone to write at the same time would save a lot of time, since we didn’t all have to sit quietly and wait for each one to share in turn. However, I soon realized that while I could technically finish having everyone share something very quickly, that did not necessarily mean that each student’s opinion or contribution was heard or understood by their peers. This problem was occurring for a variety of reasons: firstly, not every student took the time to read all his or her peers’ comments. Even though this could be solved in theory by asking the students to walk through the room and look at each other’s writing, the second issue was neatness and clarity. Especially in fourth grade, my students have not yet mastered the fine art of penmanship. And, even if they did understand each other’s comments, perhaps it would make more of an impression to hear each other’s voice and body language as they expressed their ideas, after all.
Therefore, I found that I ended up debriefing with them in-depth, traveling around the wall and reading the comments – and inevitably ended up taking the same amount of time, if not longer, as a round robin-style discussion.
When I mentioned this issue to our principal, Mr. Jason Ablin, he pointed out and rightly so, that I may have been missing the point of writing on the walls. What I should be focusing on is the quality of the discussion. Perhaps the lack of inhibition created by allowing students to simply write on the wall for others to read their ideas would elicit their true feelings and thoughts, allowing for a more robust and honest discussion than if they felt they had to weigh every word in front of an audience of their teacher and peers.
As we discussed this hypothesis, we realized that we could put it to the test in the CoLab by observing and analyzing discussions on the same topic among children of the same age group each using one of the two methods. With one of my classes I would use group discussion, and with the other I would use the wall as a comment board, followed by a discussion. We would then analyze the student submissions, both written and oral, to gauge which appeared to be using higher-order thinking and problem solving, and which had more diversity and clarity.
Since I teach two parallel fourth grade Chumash classes, I could put this to the test in a weekly planned discussion I prepare on the enduring understanding of the unit we are studying. Before I introduce the enduring understanding, and before students write a journal entry about it, I ask the class an essential question designed to pushed them to discover the desired enduring understanding. This would be my testing ground to gauge the two discussion methods.
I hope to update this blog with my findings including evidence of student engagement levels and present an analysis both from my perspective as a teacher, and from the students’ points of view. My students will have their voice heard through polls taken after both groups had experienced each style of discussion.