Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 14/14.6.2

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Using Classroom Discussion for Assessment
by Megan Lee

Learning Targets[edit]

  • 1. To understand the importance of classroom discussions as an assessment FOR learning.
  • 2. To know the benefits and downfalls of classroom discussion.
  • 3. Tips to Leading a Discussion.


Teachers use a variety of techniques to measure or assess the progress of their students. Most teachers rely on the selected response method. This method is made up of multiple choice, true and false, matching, and fill in the blank questioning. There is also extended written response which isn’t used as frequently. Extended written response is an essay or “Show all of your work” math problems. The performance assessment reflects the ability to perform tasks. However, a form of assessment that is slowly fading away from classroom practices is personal communication. Personal communication consists of questioning, oral exams, and most importantly, classroom discussions.


Classroom discussions can be used as a tool of measuring assessment just the same as a selected response test. Classroom discussions give students that do not perform well on selected response tests to have a chance at proving their knowledge on the subject at hand. For an effective discussion to take place the teacher will ask the class a question, usually start the discussion, and let the students take over from there. The teacher will step in if the topic seems to be falling by the wayside. Classroom discussion functions best when students are talking to students (Facilitating Effective Classroom Discussions).


Classroom discussion can be used as both an informal and formal assessment. For example, as a teacher you have assigned the class to read an English book outside of the classroom on their own time. Instead of giving the students a selected response test testing only the factual aspect to what they read, turn it into a classroom discussion. Give the students a handout saying what they should know for the upcoming discussion. State how they will be graded based on their discussion performance. This would be an example of a formal assessment. On the other hand, if you as the teacher were going over a certain chapter of the English book the students were reading then incorporate a mini classroom discussion on the students’ thoughts and feelings about what the particular chapter covered into the lecture already being given. This is an example of informal assessment because it can easily be incorporated into the classroom routine without interfering.


Classroom discussions offer both positive and negative aspects. Classroom discussions offer a nice change of pace from the regular everyday lecture. They open the door for active student participation. They allow students to challenge one another and the teacher can see if what he/she taught was comprehended correctly. Classroom discussions not only benefit the students but the teachers as well. Teachers can use the classroom discussion to see how many students understand the material that was presented and if any further classroom time needs to be dedicated to reinforcing the material. Students are empowered to be responsible for the discussion while the instructor provides learning outcomes, a text for the discussion (Using Discussion in the Classroom, 2007). The downfalls to classroom discussion are just as important for the teacher as the benefits. Some students have a difficult time engaging in discussion because they tend to be shy. Techniques such as starting out with pairs of students talking together, followed by rotating these partners, followed by a full group discussion are a means to begin establish comfort levels for students who tend to remain quiet (Using Discussion in the Classroom, 2007). Students are well practiced in how to talk to and listen to teachers, in how to address and look to authority figures for answers. But they are not well versed in how to talk to and listen to each other (Facilitating Effective Classroom Discussions). Students are taught to listen and learn from their teachers not how to listen and learn from their peers. Another downfall to classroom discussion is that some students may feel less knowledgeable than their peers, or a competition of who gets to say the last word could possibly occur.


1. Communicate clear expectation at the start of the course, possibly in the syllabus. 2. Define the purpose of discussion. Where will you lead your students? 3. Plan the session. 4. Conduct the discussion. 5. Evaluate the discussion and plan next steps. (Cavanaugh, Leading a Discussion 2006).


1. A Classroom discussion is considered what type of assessment:
A. Selected Response
B. Personal Communication
C. Performance Assessment
D. Extended Written Response
2. Classroom Discussion benefits whom:
A. Student
B. Teacher
C. Student and Teacher
D. Neither; it is an useless form of assessment
3. Ms. Thompson poses a few questions to her class related to a book they were to read outside of the classroom. She notices only a few of the really outgoing students are participating. What should she do to allow all students to actively participate?
A. Tell the shy students if they don’t start voicing their thoughts/opinions she’ll fail them for this particular assignment.
B. Incorporate the use of small groups to answer questions at first, then rotate partners, and finally have a full class discussion.
C. Let it slide, they’ll start talking eventually if they want a decent grade.
D. Tell them to write a paper on the subject if they do not start speaking up during the discussion.
4. Mr. Jones has started a preliminary discussion as an example of the main discussion that will take place on Friday, but after a few minutes he realizes that the discussion is fading off faster than it should. He takes note of the puzzled looks on student’s faces. What should he do before the formal, graded assessment takes place at the end of the week?
A. Reteach the material that he will be formally assessing them on at the week’s end.
B. Tell the students they should study hard for Friday.
C. Ignore what he has noticed and continue on to the next set of lesson plans.
D. Fail all students and tell them they need to do better the next time.


Barton J., Heilker P., Rutkowski D., Facilitating Effective Classroom Discussions. Retrieved March 22, 2009.

Cavanaugh. Leading a Discussion. 2006. Retrieved March 22, 2009. .

Using Discussion in the Classroom. 2007. Retrieved March 22, 2009. .


1. B

2. C

3. B

4. A

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