The Dual Channel Round Table

Ever noticed the connection between student engagement/achievement and the authenticity of the learning experience? Let’s agree for a moment that students are motivated to learn when they recognize the real-world significance of the content. How might the authenticity of the learning structure itself impact engagement and achievement? There are barriers within traditional education structures that inhibit us from realizing the true potential of learning experiences - teachers and students alike. These include, but are not limited to, class size, report card deadlines, curriculum obligations and schedules/timetables. How can we modernize the learning experience by engage students in legitimate structures that are modeled on the real-world? We can begin to explore this question by integrating risk-taking and flexibility within existing structures in the classroom.

The Dual Channel Round Table (DCRT) is one such instructional strategy that we can use to integrate authentic learning structures into classroom practice.

Here is the basic set-up:
  • Students and teacher sit together in one large circle.
  • The teacher guides the discussion with a variety carefully crafted questions that scaffold students’ thinking and developing understanding.
  • Students are provided with various access points through which they can contribute to the ongoing discussion:
    • orally in a large group setting
    • orally in small group/partners
    • digitally (ex. Google Docs, TodaysMeet) (projected throughout the discussions)
    • sticky notes
    • co-created anchor charts
  • Thinking is shared and captured in two simultaneously active channels:
    • orally / anchor charts
    • digitally
  • Once students have achieved the desired outcome or achieved the intended deep understanding, students take over the direction of their own learning.
    • This involves providing students choice on how to apply their developing understanding through self-selected tasks, projects, or inquiries.

Here is what it looks like in action:
Our class recently engaged in a DCRT to jump start our Space unit in Science. At the time, we were exploring Point of View in Language. Seemed like the perfect opportunity for some cross-curricular integration! The design and planning of this particular DCRT allowed me to intentionally target the following expectations from the Ontario Curriculum Documents provided by our Ministry of Education:

I was quite selective when identifying the above Specific Expectations from the Science curriculum. There were many additional expectations that were relevant to the learning at hand. However, there are times when the sheer number of curriculum expectations can become a barrier to meaningful and authentic learning. Flexibility to the rescue! In addition to the multitudes of Specific Expectations, Ontario’s curriculum documents provide comprehensive Overall Expectations, and in the case of the most recently updated documents, Big Ideas as intended academic outcomes. For example, in the Science curriculum document, the Big Ideas in the Space strand are:
  • Earth is a part of a large interrelated system.
  • Technological and scientific advances that enable humans to study space affect our lives.
By intentionally planning in light of these outcomes, rather than Specific Expectations, the direction of individual student learning is flexible, the journey different for each student. By allowing students to choose what they want to learn about, within a given framework, learning becomes personalized and there is a noticeable increase in engagement. Different students will engage with different Specific Expectations. In a thoughtfully and deliberately designed unit, students will arrive at a shared understanding connected to the Overall Expectations and Big Ideas. The DCRT is an ideal strategy in which to provide students with the necessary context to begin and support student-directed learning.

The following took place over a few consecutive Science periods.  In planning for the DCRT, I generated the questions below to guide student thinking towards the above Big Ideas and Specific Expectations in the Science curriculum:
But first, a brief word about access to information: Our students are growing up in a world with an abundance of information at their fingertips. The answer to a question is a quick online search away. Rather than prevent students from efficiently answering questions by Googling it, let's try recognize and make the most of such situations, and teach students how to access reputable information in a responsible way. For that reason, students were encouraged to support their responses to the questions below by accessing information online and sharing with the class through the dual channels.
  1. What makes one person more reputable/trustworthy/an expert than another?
  2. Who is Stephen Hawking?
  3. What is his area of expertise?
  4. Would you consider him to be reputable/trustworthy/an expert? Why?
  5. Google Search:  Stephen Hawking the future of humanity
  6. What is your first emotional reaction to the idea of the need to colonize the Universe?
  7. Do you believe humankind is presently capable of this feat?
  8. Will humankind ever be able to leave Earth and live elsewhere in the Universe?
  9. What barriers/obstacles do you envision us encountering in this endeavour?
  1. What threatens the Earth to such a degree that it threatens the very existence of humanity?
  2. Consider the dinosaurs. What else poses a significant threat to humanity?
  3. What is the difference between a comet, asteroid, meteor, meteorite, and a meteoroid?

Each of the above questions was followed by a dual channel discussion. Some students choose to share with the class as a whole. Others engaged in sidebar conversations with the students with whom they sat. Students also shared their thinking in a co-created Google Doc. Many students chose to engage in a combination of the above. Regardless of how students chose to make their thinking visible and contribute, we all adhered to the following expectations:
  • Actively attend to the contributions of others
  • Contribute to the discussion by:
    • Rephrasing what others say
    • Extending what others say
    • Challenging what others say
    • Asking questions
    • Answering questions
  • Engage others with respect
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Facilitating a dual channel discussion promotes student voice, and provides equitable access to collaborative learning. Students are able to further develop their thinking by making connections between the ideas of others. At various point throughout the discussion, students were asked to review the contributions of others, consolidate their own thinking, and document it on co-created anchor charts.
What's the point of it all?:
The most amazing part of a DCRT is the natural evolution of the conversation, and the consequential casual feeling of the discourse. Students are keenly aware of the fact that they are controlling the direction of the conversation within the framework of the guiding questions. More than a few students remarked on how the experience didn't feel like a typical school lesson. Intentional planning is key to such success. As this particular DCRT wrapped up, students had identified asteroids as a potential threat to humanity. Clearly, asteroids are of importance to humans for this reason. But is this the only perspective we can take on the importance of asteroids? And so the DCRT paved the way for student-directed research projects, based on additional POV's that arose in this final part of the discussion:
Students were excited to continue the discussion initiated by the DCRT, in self-selected directions, that allowed them to further develop and apply their understanding of asteroids and their importance to humans. And we will return to and continue this conversation as the unit continues. We began by acknowledging Stephen Hawking as a reputable professional. His notion, that humankind's survival depends upon colonizing the stars, has the potential to kickstart many engaging conversations. Different students will access the curriculum through different expectations, based on interest, allowing the learning experience to be truly personalized.

Flexibility is required for a DCRT to succeed, but this does not mean that it should be improvised. Students' interest should be embraced. Their responses need to be anticipated and then strategically maneuvered in the intended direction. This is accomplished through the calculated design of the questions and prompts used throughout the DCRT.

If we intend to modernize learning, we need to embrace flexible structures. By doing so, we enable authentic student-directed learning. As we can't anticipate the minutiae involved in such an undertaking, risk taking becomes necessary. We won't have the answer to many questions from the students. If we acknowledge this, and adopt a "we teach - we learn" mentality, we empower our students to take responsibility for their own learning. In my opinion, the rich and inclusive co-learning is worth the risk!

The DCRT is very much a work in progress. If you try it out in your classroom, share some feedback, questions, or suggestions with us @inquireinspire #modernlearning - we'd love to hear from you!

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