Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Makes For A Good Discussion

From the Field
by Fred Hang
What makes for a good discussion? A lively exchange of different ideas. A topic or text worth talking about. Enough ambiguity in that topic or text to encourage us to plumb its depths. Comfortable chairs. No doubt we all have our own notions to add to the list.
Printed on the name cards used in Great Books training sessions, you'll find this quote, “A good discussion . . . is known by the skill with which participants listen to one another.” I would say it this way, “The best part of any discussion is not what you say, but what you hear.” Let's consider the role of listening in discussion for a moment.
Listening is difficult. I'd argue that it is the most important of human communication skills. Sadly, it is also often the least practiced. “Listen to each another,” is one of the most common refrains in any classroom, but the “how to” often goes untaught. Unfortunately there are few good role models for listening in contemporary media. Turn on almost any talk show or cable news network and you can witness heated exchanges of ideas, but how much listening is going on? The exchange of many words far outweighs the silent pauses that are so necessary for understanding.
Shared Inquiry™ discussions offer a rich opportunity to practice listening. By listening to one another before reacting, we move toward understanding divergent ideas. We begin to let go of the notion that there must be a certain point of view to agree upon or that there is a foregone conclusion we should have seen all along—notions that can block effective listening.
When I make the effort to pause and listen to someone whose ideas and point of view are different than mine, I begin to understand the person. This is one of the most valuable lessons Shared Inquiry offers—that in the end, I don't have to agree with you to understand you.

Fred Hang is a Senior Training Instructor for the Great Books Foundation.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Join Fellow Educators at the 2011 Advanced Shared Inquiry Institute!

2011 Advanced Shared Inquiry Institute
Once a year, the Great Books Foundation hosts the premier professional development event for educators committed to Shared Inquiry™: the Great Books 2011 Advanced Shared Inquiry Institute. This year's Advanced Institute takes place in Chicago, from Friday, April 29, through Sunday, May 1, 2011. Register online now! The fee is only $350 and includes full participation in the Great Books Chicago weekend events. This intellectually exciting weekend engages K–16 educators with the big ideas and essential questions of lifelong learning. Join fellow educators at the 2011 Advanced Institute and you will:
  • Enjoy intellectual stimulation and interaction with people who love learning
  • Participate in Shared Inquiry discussions of great literature led by master leaders
  • Learn to plan powerful activities to guide all students to fuller engagement with challenging longer works of literature, using Aldous Huxley's Brave New World as an example
  • Explore and think about how to tap fun cultural resources, such as Chicago's theater and museum riches
  • Exchange ideas with senior Great Books training staff and other K–16 educators
  • Qualify for available graduate continuing education credit
Be sure to visit our website or call 800-222-5870 for full details!Great Books Chicago is produced with the generous support of Harrison Middleton University, Penguin Books, and Encyclopædia Britannica.

Shared Inquiry is a trademark of the Great Books Foundation.
Great Books Foundation

Thursday, March 3, 2011


This is the official blog of the Great Books Foundation.  We promote the thoughtful, respectful exchange of ideas.

We value literature, great literature, literature that has the capacity to inspire and thrill generations of readers. Each year, thousands of teachers make high-quality literature and Shared Inquiry™  discussion a part of the K-12 curriculum. An estimated one million students improve their reading comprehension and critical thinking skills in thousands of Great Books classrooms.

In colleges and continuing education classrooms, as well as in book groups, we foster communities of readers who value intellectual growth and civic discourse among friends. The great conversation—talking about the books and ideas that matter—continues well beyond the page, transforming the lives of all who participate.

This blog will be a catalyst for thinking about educational policy, for reflecting on the best teaching practices and discovering good reads and grand ideas.

Welcome to the Great Books community.