About the Site Discussions
Download the Overview Materials in PDF
Structure to Fit the Purpose
A list of Site Discussion
questions is included in the material for each workshop. You and your
colleagues are encouraged to spend 60 minutes discussing these questions
after viewing the workshop video. The questions could simply be used
in a traditional group discussion format, but better yet, they can (and
we hope will) be used with the Structures described below. Fitting the
appropriate Structure to the purpose and specific needs of your group
is a step that will make the entire process more valuable and meaningful.
One of the most important aspects of the Structures is that they allow
you to make the most of the time you have. They also encourage a democratic
process, as each is designed to maximize all voices and points of view
(not always possible in a discussion left to chance). Furthermore, the
Structures are good models for you to practice and bring back to your
described below can be used with any of the sets of Site Discussions
questionsbut that does not mean they are "mix and match."
The facilitator should give some thought to the purpose of the discussion
session and choose the Structure that will best lead to the desired
outcome(s), given the size and composition of the group. Attention
should also be paid to having some variety so that the participants
are not always doing the same kind of activity. It is also useful,
as part of the debriefing process in each case, to ask, "Would
you use this activity in your school?" This will encourage the
expansion of the principals' professional development repertoiries.
and discussions should include debriefing. If you consider this an
analytic process, it will seem less "touchy-feely" and more
like critical thinking. If an activity is carried out but not reflected
upon, a lot is lost. The meta-cognitive thinking that you want to
take place cannot be taken for granted.
(to be done after each of the Structures described below)
To reflect on the"why" of having done the activity, and
on the learning, both individual and collective, that took place.
In addition, this will reinforce the idea that these activities are
meant as models and are hoped to inspire their use in schools and
other local settings.
What? What new learning, if any, came upeither individually,
or as a group?
What meaning did it have for you?
How did this activity work for you and your group? Would you use it
in your school/other setting? How would you modify it?
To build consensus among members of the group.
Begin with pairsagree upon an answer; then two pairs join and
agree upon an answer. Depending upon numbers, the two pairs can also
have fours join to form a group of eight. Discuss how answers changed
with the added inputwas it an improvement or did it lose something?
encourage individual thinking before discussion.
Ask members of the group to write individually for 5-8 minutes.
Writing can then be shared in pairs who then report the issues/common
themes which have emerged.
maximize opportunity for sharing thinking before a large group discussion.
Have pairs talk before opening up the discussion to the group. It
is sometimes useful to ask members of the group to pair up with those
they don't usually get to talk to.
Schedule appointments with three other people. Share ideas with the
first appointment for 5 minutes, move on to the next appointment,
etc. (We see an example of this Structure in the Whittier High School
Math Department professional development meeting in Workshop 6.) Follow
with a large group discussion.
Form two large circles, one on the inside of the other. Ask the group
on the inside to face the outside group. Converse with the person
opposite you. After 5 minutes the outside group rotates clockwise.
Talk with a second person, etc.
To build answers for difficult questions.
Form groups of five; each member has a number from 1 to 5. Each group
answers the question, the facilitator calls a number and that number
in each group gives the group's answer (which means each member of
the group has to be prepared to answer). A different number is called
on each time.
To elicit everyone's input and ensure that all voices are heard. A
simple, but powerful tool.
Simply say, "Let's go aroundwe can start anywhere, but
then we'll go in turn." Model the idea that there will be no
interruptions and no responses until the round is over. This can be
called in the middle of a discussion when there are some dominant
voices and/or some pithy arguments ensuing.
respond to many questions when time is short. To provide an opening
on a subject. To get closure on a conversation.
Form three'seither by counting off, or just forming them
where people are sitting. Ask the triads to sit "knee-to-knee"
and tell them they will have three minutes to answer a question, which
means one minute each. When it is someone's minute, the other two
are not to talk but actively listen, and nod encouragingly. You can
either tell them each time a minute is up or ask them to try to mind
their own time. It is optional whether or not you want the triads
to share with the whole group at the end.
To develop a shared context when time is short.
In groups of 810, in turn respond to questions posed by the
facilitator. One question is posedeach person speaks for 30 seconds.
Then the next question is posed. There is no dialog, just each person
speaking in turn. This is especially useful in introducing a topic
and getting participants to share their points of view. There may
or may not be open discussion around these questions in the large
groupit depends on time.
To look at and appreciate the different positions on a controversial
One half of the group is assigned one "side" of the question
and the other half, the other. They give their arguments. Then the
groups reverse their positions and give new arguments. After this,
all participants are asked to formulate a response to the question
that incorporates the best thinking they've heard.
a variation of this Structure in Workshop 8)
To get a quick read of the group on values-related questions.
Give the group a values-related question and ask them to line up from
one side of the room to the other with one wall representing "strongly
agree" and the other "strongly disagree." Once in place, ask
a sampling of the group to explain why they chose their positions.
This can be done with a series of questions.
To share information and determine the true attitudes and feelings
of the larger group.
Set up several groups, each with 6, 8 or 10 people, arranged in
two equal rows facing one another. There is a set of questions. The
first row has the questions in order, the second has the same set
of questions in reverse order. To begin, the participants interview
each other in pairs. They ask each other their questions and gather
as much information as possible. Each answer should take 3 minutes.
one row moves over one chair and the process continues until every
person has answered all the questions.
The large group
is then regrouped so that those who were asking the same questions
share their data and analyze it.
Each group should
prepare a list of Truths, Trends, and Unique ideas. The information
is shared with the larger group.
enlarge understanding of a specific text, not achieve some particular
Determine a facilitator and a well-thought through question about
the text. In a group of 1220, discuss the text. The conversation
should focus on the text using references and not related opinions
or experience. Participants should be actively listening and building
on what's just been said. There should be an emphasis on clarification,
amplification, and implication. There is no need to go through the
facilitator, no hand raising, but lots of direct conversation.
To gain a better understanding of other ideas and develop observational
and listening skills.
Four to six participants gather together and have a conversation about
a particular topic. The other participants circle around the group
of four to six. When one or more participants in the center feel they
have exhausted their ideas, they leave the group by tapping a person
in the outside group. The person tapped joins the conversation. When
the discussion is completed, debrief what was said and what was heard.
become acquainted with each other's ideas before a discussion.
Write a beginning statement, such as "Peer observation is . .
."and post it on chart paper. As participants enter the room,
ask them to complete the sentence on a strip of paper or a Post-It
and place it under the sentences. As the session begins, ask participants
if they wish to explain the meaning of their sentences. Follow with
a full discussion on the topic.