October 26, 2022
My years of facilitating discussion in middle and high school Humanities classrooms taught me to wince at the phrase: “I have a quote.” Just as bad? “My quote is on …”
Why? As veteran teachers know: nine times out of ten what follows was wince-worthy, indeed … an earnest student re-reading a quote from the text and then looking up at the class (as if to say: there! My point is made!) and then at me (as if to say: Did you hear me use that textual evidence? Do I get points for it?).
The worst part? Often, students don’t even add any editorial of their own, so “their” contribution to the conversation is actually just re-reading a text we have already all read. As with most Humanities teachers, I love an evidence-based argument, but the phrases “I have a quote” and “My quote is on…” always seemed to be harbingers for evidence without an argument. Enter today’s Discussion Dilemma: Quote-Dropping.
Phenomena like Quote Dropping ultimately inspired me to spend nearly a decade studying classroom discussion and why it matters in our tech-centric, polarized world. At its best, class discussions where every student feels heard and challenged—and in which students learn how to articulate evidence-based arguments—cultivate communication skills students need for learning and life. My hope is that in solving what may feel like micro discussion dilemmas—like quote-dropping—teachers can feel better equipped to prepare students to address macro challenges in today’s world.
Today’s discussion dilemma
How can teachers minimize “quote dropping” during discussions?
My answer: A Three-Pronged Approach
The first step to minimizing quote-dropping is to scaffold students in their preparation for discussion—and grade what at R.E.A.L. we refer to as “Quotes and Notes” independently from their discussion participation. This allows each student to rest assured that s/he will “get credit” for “having great quotes” even if s/he doesn’t say every single one during a discussion. I know one teacher who names this tendency before the start of every class conversation, reminding students that
“you don’t have to say everything you wrote down—I will read that and grade it separately, and the process of revisiting the text prepared you to participate today. Your job today is to show up and engage with each other, not just try to show me you did your homework!”
Having a specific method for and…