From ORID to ORIT: Focused Conversations in the Classroom

It’s difficult times, perhaps especially for those of us teaching politics. Colleagues are debating how to approach situations like Charlottesville in their classrooms. Perhaps a trick I learned in my previous life as a facilitator could help (it’s worked for me in the classroom at least). It acknowledges how students feel, while keeping the focus on the facts, and honing critical thinking abilities.

As a facilitator, I worked with representatives from government, industry, and NGOs to develop consensus recommendations for the government on air quality issues in Alberta, at the Clean Air Strategic Alliance. Consensus among this diverse group was not easy. Team members arrived with varying levels of background knowledge, types of expertise, and communication abilities.

In many ways, these teams were very much like classrooms of students. Students come to the classroom – even if in an imaginary world they’ve all done the readings – with different levels of understanding and abilities to communicate that understanding. Some students have background knowledge and experience that provide a wider foundation to draw upon in class conversations.

I’ve adapted a facilitation technique called the “ORID Method.” ORID is an acronym for four stages of the discussion: Objective, Reflective, Interpretative, and Decisional. There are many good guides out there: like here (pdf), and here (Slideshare).

In facilitations like the ones I led, the ultimate goal was a consensus decision. We rarely expect our students to make decisions about the course content. Instead, I focus this stage on takeaway lessons, either on the course content, or on learning in general.

CaptureHere is a rundown of the ORIT Method:

Each stage can be done as a larger group, or in a series of small group or think-pair-share scenarios.

Stage one: Objective: The goals are to break the ice, and get everyone to the same level of basic understanding. It’s the “just the facts, ma’am” stage. Think what, when, where questions, not why or how questions.

Sample questions:

  1. What does the author state is the main argument of the article?
  2. What is the concept that the author(s) define? What is their definition?
  3. What is the issue / case in the article?
  4. Where/when/what events happened?
  5. What are the statistics of the case / issue?

I’ve found students bring their own facts here and that’s great. Sometimes, there might be some investigation required if a fact is accurate.

Stage Two: Reflective: With the foundation set and shared by all, it’s time to reflect on these facts. This is a great opportunity for students to relate course content to other issues, and their own lives. I’ve found this to be a useful chance for all students to contribute, and to ground abstract material in real world events.

Sample questions:

  1. What was one thing – a stat, an idea, a phrase – that resonated for you? Because you liked it, disliked it, or because it worried or surprised you?
  2. Does xx event or statistic remind of anyone of anything from the class?
  3. Does xx event or trend remind you of something from your lives? Or the news?
  4. Did any slogans or taglines come in your mind when you reading this?

Stage Three: Interpretive: This is when analytical thinking kicks in, and why or how questions emerge.

Sample questions:

  1. What are maybe three things in the discussion that stand out? Let’s brainstorm a list, then we can rank the top three. (Usually, there is overlap in responses and ranking isn’t necessary)
  2. What are the implications of this argument? (for an issue, for the students’ learning, for other ideas in the class)
  3. What are the challenges when studying this issue?

Stage Four: Takeaways: Time to bring it home and identifying the key threads in the discussion for the students to remember. Students may not get here – especially first and second year students. That’s OK. You could ask them to write one sentence on what they learned in class for an online assignment, or you could try to summarize yourself.

Sample questions:

  1. If we were to do a study on this issue, how would be go about it? What would we change (how would we overcome the challenges cited earlier)?
  2. What other issue/event could we study with these ideas?
  3. What exam question would you write based on this class?
  4. So, do you find the argument convincing? How so? In what ways are you skeptical?
  5. What do you think you’ll remember from today’s class in two weeks/months and why?

With practice, the stages flow seamlessly in sequential order. The first question in a stage picks up on an idea from the last stage.

Students will jump ahead or behind. If several students are reverting to a previous stage, it’s time to step back. The goal is to bring the bulk of students through the conversation together. Their pace dictates how quickly you move through. That said, when repetition seeps in, or silence ensues, it’s time to try to move on to the next stage. If students jump ahead – as the keeners always will – acknowledge that point, and said “remind me to ask you in a few minutes to say that again.”

This has been useful for me to break through the facts (and falsities) and emotions around issues such as climate change and environmental justice. I hope it’s helpful for others. I’d love to hear your experience.

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