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The Campanile

Discussion-based curriculum benefits learning experiences

In recent years, some Palo Alto High School teachers have chosen to restructure their classes, deviating from typical note-taking and instead emphasizing project-based learning, while others have strictly upheld traditional lecture-style teaching. Teachers who incorporate project based learning in their classrooms require students to work with a hands-on approach, gaining valuable real-world experience. Conversely, teachers who utilize more traditional teaching styles typically have students absorb information from oral lectures and visual presentations.

While both teaching methods have its benefits, The Campanile believes that the introduction of discussion-based learning in more classrooms will be the most beneficial in helping students learn the course material and developing critical thinking skills. Additionally, implementation of this method prepares students who plan to pursue higher education after high school for the environment of larger college classes, which tend to be discussion-based.

Discussion-based learning, which can either include entire classrooms or a select group of students, emphasizes deeper understanding of given material and requires students to not only memorize, but also understand the content of a topic. When contributing to a discussion, a student will have drawn insight from the material, which develops analytical skills and encourages engagement.

Implementation of class discussions also requires students to complete appropriate assignments prior to class, ensuring that students come to class prepared with a comprehensive understanding of the material.

Currently, most English classes, such as English 10, American Literature Honors and Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition, use Socratic seminars, in which a small group of students are selected to discuss a text in front of the class in order to identify key themes and elements. In doing so, students are able to expand upon one another’s ideas, allowing a student to contribute their own ideas and receive direct feedback or support. This further develops a student’s skills in communication with peers as well as independent analysis skills.

However, in courses such as math and the hard sciences, these small group discussions in the class would be inefficient — such courses require skilled guidance from a teacher rather than input from students. Instead, in order to continue to foster an environment of collaboration, such classes should include an element of small-group problem-solving, in addition to  traditional lecture-style teaching.

By introducing discussion-based learning in other courses, such as U.S. History, U.S. Foreign Policy or Humanities, students would be able to better understand given information, rather than simply memorize names and events. For example, a Socratic seminar in a history class could prompt students to explore the various factors and causes that led to a key event, or discuss whether a historic court ruling was justified.

Additionally, many institutes of higher education, regardless of size, offer courses or discussion sections with a small number of students, and tend to utilize Socratic seminars as their primary teaching method. By partaking in discussions in high school classes, students are better prepared for these courses in college, should they choose to take them.

The Campanile believes that such discussions are an extremely effective method of learning for students, and should be implemented in more classrooms in order to encourage improvement in critical thinking and analysis skills.

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