Celebrate Democracy: Hold Collaborative Conversations


At last year’s International Reading Association (IRA) convention, Doug Fisher spoke about using “collaborative conversations” to transform teaching and learning. Collaborative conversations sound like well-run town hall meetings and the marketplace of ideas that sustains democracies.  Learn about Collaborative Conversations from the Speaking and Listening Standards on the Common Core website.

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Examples show that collaborative conversations serve classrooms and careers after schooling.
Patrick Vernon, the 20-year veteran classroom teacher and recipient of the Dave Jones award, involves his students in a study of elections. He makes sure parents and administrators know his plans. He discusses any questions that students and parents bring up. Vernon’s activities allow 6th grade students to reflect on their own political philosophy. They read candidates’ statements and review their choices. As citizens do, students disagree over who should be elected but find ways to address their differences. /dave-jones-award/
At the North Carolina Reading conference in March, the principal and 3rd grade teachers from a Bladen County school described Socratic or Paideia seminars they hold once a week in their K-5 school.  The rules offer a guide for getting along in and out of the classroom and include the following words and phrases: Be courteous, Listen, Disagree with the idea rather than attack the person, Locate facts and examples, Identify evidence in text. Exhibit patience and self-control. According to the principal and teachers from Bladen County, K-5 students deal with topics appropriate for their age group/ grade level and apply the rules laid out for their seminars. Teachers choose the subjects discussed during the seminars. They have found ways to deal with disagreements that may arise in their classrooms. After the seminar, students assess their classmates and their own participation in the seminar. Teachers say students look forward to the seminars. Having the seminars helps them get along with each other and makes them better able to listen to their classmates when working on other activities. https://paideiaseminarforthecommoncore.wikispaces.com On a TV show about the history of the Big East conference, speakers paid tribute to Providence basketball coach and one-time Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt. Those interviewed for the show spoke of Gavitt’s skills at bringing people together to work out disagreements and settle conflicts. Collaborative conversations enabled the coaches to look beyond differences and form a conference that served them well for many years.
Collaborative conversations work in elementary or middle schools and real-life situations. Effective teachers, coaches and others bring together young and old people to deal with controversies, calling on their own and others’ patience and self-control to analyze issues and solve problems. Find news stories about collaborative conversations in and out of government that enable those involved to solve problems and resolve conflicts.
  • Who are the people who bring people together?
  • How do they demonstrate the attributes, such as fact-finding, close listening, courtesy, patience and self-control, practiced by K-5 students in the Bladen County elementary school?
  • What do they do that aligns with Standard One, Speaking & Listening in the Common Core?

Use the News:

News reports, relevant to students, provide text for conversations in and out of classrooms and offer reasons to read informational text. Digital newspapers (electronic-editions and some websites) provide archives that allow readers to locate, email, print and/or collect past stories about a chosen topic or controversial subject. Archives allow students to read stories published in the past that are part of a developing story as well as follow current and future reports. Whether in print or online, when students read headlines, photos, pull-out quotes, charts, graphs and/or maps, they use text features common to informational text that enable students to read deeper and understand more before, during and after they read a chunk of or the complete story. Organize your class to deal with controversy and foster collaborative conversations. Students must conclude first that some issues are not controversial. Reasonable people agree that child abuse is wrong, for example, so that is not “controversial.” After understanding “controversy” and the rules required to discuss the issues, students search news reports for facts and verify what they learn, which becomes the evidence to support the positions they take. Links to each title below take you to a lesson about dealing with controversy. The introduction aligns activities with the Common Core State Standards:


  1. What does controversy mean?
  2. What’s the “should” question? Answer yes or no; explain why.
  3. Active Listening
  4. What are the best reasons or evidence?
  5. Mediator, Arbiter, Judge and Jury
  6. Where do you stand?
  7. Mediation Case Study
posted March 27, 2014