There are some ideas that sound good on paper, but when you actually implement them, they kinda fall to pieces.
This is NOT one of those.
When my coffeehouse class idea was born, it was largely about aesthetics. But I quickly recognized if I was going to do this, it was going to have to be more. A culture shift, if you will. If it was just comfy couches and mood lighting, my students would respond with "Why so many notes?" just like they always had.
No, this needed to be fundamental in change. EVERYTHING I had done was up for discussion and potential change. It had to be, because I wanted to make an impact on my students' education.
Pretty early on, I identified Bell Work as something that needed to be addressed. I do not like it. It is bland, and it is boring, but it is necessary to kick start our students' thinking. But if it is bland and boring- does it even fulfill its purpose?
I thought it did not, so I looked to what my students had most enjoyed and benefited from in my classes past. It always came back to discussion. Discussion allows for students to verbalize thoughts, to bounce ideas off each other, and to address each other's ideas. It can often lead to depths unplanned, or rabbit-trails unseen, but neither of those are bad, in my opinion. Or they do not have to be.
So, I began thinking about OPENING class with discussion. We could talk current events in my debate class, we could talk over what the lesson from the day before had been about. I was already loving the idea because it meant student engagement, but then I had THE idea.
What if students led the discussions?
That's right, what if I turned my classroom over to a 14-18 year old to talk about whatever current event or aspect of the previous days lesson they wanted, and let them come up with questions for their peers. And I decided to start my class, the foundation of the day, by doing this.
Except, it works.
My Debate 1 and my stacked Debate 1,3, and Independent Study classes could teach a master course on it. My Sociology classes have been a bit more hit or miss, but the core of the idea is sound. Even when the discussion is pure review based, we usually have at least one student make a new connection, or interpret the topic in a fresh way. They have been respectful, if occasionally intense (yeah, that's the debate classes there). The truth is, is it not better to let students have the hard conversations when we as teachers are there to guide and safeguard them?
So, how does it work?
Each day, as I close class, I try to remember to ask for a Coffee Talk volunteer. (I don't always, by the way. I need to work on that.) For the debate classes, I ask them to choose a current event to discuss, and that way the class has time to research their opinions, if they choose. For Sociology, they mostly stick to the content of the day, but sometimes they do take the discussion in new directions. A talk about folkways, mores and laws went in some creative and fun directions the other day. The students who facilitate are asked to prepare a 30 second intro, setting up the discussion, and to prepare 5-6 questions to guide the discussion. Facilitating students get a major grade for their part, which encourages them to take it seriously. All students must contribute at least 10 days each Six Weeks for a daily grade, basically 10 points a day. They must also offer a contribution that has some depth or manner of pushing the conversation forward to get credit.
I got them to do it by modeling the process for a couple days before handing it off to them. This was a great way to ease them into it.
Okay, so I know my math and science friends are thinking, "That's great, but how could I do this?" How about having a student develop a problem or an equation, and then walk the class through the manner of solving it. It pushes learning for the facilitator and the participants, and even if the leading student messes up, it is a teachable moment. I can see students standing by the markerboard or Smart Board, writing utensil in hand, trying to challenge their peers to "Figure it out!"
I love this process. I do not know if there is any other instructional technique I have used that has more potential to impact my students' learning than this. They OWN their own instruction. They are proud of their discussion.
And they things they can think of when we let them run with their ideas?
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.