Discussion Analysis

At the center of good teaching are good discussions. To analyze discussions and to find ways to improve discussion leading you need to be a careful observer. This page provides forty-nine aspects of discussions that you can observe and about which you can gather concrete and specific data. Following each aspect listed below are suggestions in brackets for how to gather data. I also suggest three additional methods of data gathering beyond observation.

Observation can be direct or from video or audio recordings. You can only collect data on a small number of aspects of a discussion at any one time--select the focus for your data collection carefully. Prepare to observe discussions by drawing a classroom map on which you can record information, such as tally marks on boxes that represent student desks and lines and arrows showing movement or direction or people or comments, and have at hand several lined pages for notes and a watch. Word-for-word transcripts may be very important for the analysis. Frequently recording the time and noting events can create a useful record.

Good classroom observation is a complex art that requires study and practice, but even carefully observing, gathering data, and writing an analysis of a single discussion can teach you a great deal about how to create a good discussion. (For more information on discussion data collecting and analysis, see Looking in Classrooms by Good and Brophy.)

Physical Setting Suitable for Discussion

1. organization of students, seating, position of teacher
draw maps, arrows
2. classroom environment
make observations, notes

Clear Purposes for Discussion

3. goal statement
4. benchmark comments, links within the discussion,³mini-summaries²
5. links to previous / future learning
6. closure statements, activities
transcribe / record

Teacher Caring / Affect / Interest / Enthusiasm

7. statements
8. body motions, expression
note / record / count

Discussion Support Activities

9. writing, drawing record event
10. small groups, dyads record event
11. note taking record / time sample
12. reading silently, aloud, by teacher, by students record event / time
13. use of blackboard, overhead record event
14. integration of homework with discussion transcribe / interview
15. metacognitive reflection on discussion/activity itself transcribe

Questioning Strategies

16. total number of questions count
17. clarity of questions transcribe
18. intellectual level of questions transcribe / code
19. teacher repeats questions transcribe / count
20. teacher repeats student answers count
21. wait time count seconds
22. calls on volunteers vs. non-volunteers count / map
23. naming students before or after asking questions count / transcribe
24. pattern of responses (t-s-t-s, t-s-s-s, etc.) record
25. probing (individual or group) transcribe
26. ratio of teacher talk to student talk record with watch

Feedback to Students

27. information about accuracy transcribe code
28. praise / censure transcribe / code
29. to individuals, groups, or whole class transcribe / code

Discussion Equity

30. distribution of questions, responses by gender, race, etc.  

Student Behavior

31. frequency of participation map / code
32. length of discussion responses record by counting
33. talk to teacher, talk to other students note eye contact
34. ask questions, of teacher, of other students transcribe / code
35. connections to previous learning transcribe / count
36. connections to own experience transcribe / count


37. intellectual / academic level of discussion transcribe / code (eg. Bloom's taxonomy)

Discussion Content

38. topic balance note time when topic changes

Assessment of Student Learning from Discussion

39. monitoring of student responses interview teacher
40. teacher surveys (raise hands, fingers of five, etc.) record event
41. written assignments assigned based on the discussion record / interview
42. student self-assessment record / transcribe

Discussion Management

43. students on task time sampling
44. behavior / language appropriate record event
45. clarity of teacherıs instructions transcribe
46. appropriate academic level record student responses
47. teacher tone transcribe / notes
48. naming or calling on students to control behavior count
49. teacher response to disruption transcribe / notes

Other Methods

create questionnaire, for students and/or teacher
interview teacher and/or students
write a classroom ethnography

Created by: careywebb@wmich.edu
Revised Date: 7/02