Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
A roundtable discussion is a debate in which students take on the roles of people involved in a political crisis. Students imaginatively project themselves into political or historical situations they've studied, and debate each other about the correct action to take.
One key element of the roundtable discussion is that the students control the flow of the conversation; instead of having the teacher guide discussion or pose questions, students control the decision-making process. In order to help students guide themselves in this way, teachers can ask the group to choose one student to act as a recorder (writing down the arguments that have been made) and one student to act as a facilitator (making sure participants speak one at a time). By assuming these roles, students are further trained in taking responsibility for their own decision-making processes. It's important for teachers to explain to students that they will have to guide the conversation themselves, and will be responsible for keeping the debate grounded and civilized. Every student should have a chance to speak at least once.
Roundtable discussions are best used after students have been thoroughly introduced to a political situation. Once students understand the issues at stake, teachers may ask them to imagine themselves in the position of the people affected by a situation. Students need to be reminded of the social, political, and cultural context of the activity before any substantive discussion can take place. Then, students should sit down together to decide how best to resolve the situation. This process works well when students are asked to come to conclusions about a fairly specific problem. For example, teacher Sandra Childs sets her students the task of deciding whether or not they would voluntarily move to internment camps if they were Japanese Americans during WWII. Before concluding the debate, students should vote on the issue to see whether or not they convinced others with their arguments.
Following the debate, it is crucial that teachers process the experience with the students and provide time to reflect on the discussion. Sandra Childs uses this time with her class to highlight important historical events, cultural differences, and political positions within the Japanese American community. Teachers should also provide opportunities for students to examine the personal experiences of those who were actually involved in the situation debated. For example, students could learn more about those interned during WWII through resources such as films, historical documents, or interaction with Japanese American citizens.
By debating each other in a roundtable format, students learn a number of important skills. First, they learn to empathize -- to imagine the situations of people in unfamiliar circumstances. Second, they learn to make cogent arguments based on the materials, both historical and literary, available to them. And finally, they learn to compromise and work together to solve problems. Each of these skills motivates students to act more responsibly, both in the classroom and in the community.