Remember Computer Labs? Today’s kids need Conversation Labs.

“From the Founder” posts offer monthly musings by Liza Garonzik, the Founder of R.E.A.L. Discussion.

When I was growing up, in the nineties, schools had computer labs: rooms tricked out with candy-colored machines where teachers sent us weekly to learn how to use computers. We played Oregon Trail – which taught a little history and a lot of eye-hand-mouse coordination – and drilled on Typing Tutor – which modeled hand-keyboard placement and measured Words Per Minute. Computer Lab was fun – and actually useful. Even as kids, we understood these were skills that we would use in school and real life.

Today’s students are digital natives; they no longer need Computer Labs. In fact, Gen-Z seems to need the opposite. What if, instead of Computer Labs, schools had Conversation Labs? Imagine: screen-free spaces, furnished with tables and chairs, where students are taught how to talk – and actually listen – to each other.

Creating Conversation Labs would require a phase shift in how we think about discussion in schools. Traditionally, teachers use discussion as a means to an end – a learning activity that achieves content objectives, like untangling the events leading up to a world war or tracking character growth through a novel. But in today’s world, discussion skills need to be a learning objective. Conversation Labs would approach Discussion as a Discipline: a set of skills that students can name, practice, and use in school and for life. 

Conversation Labs would approach Discussion as a Discipline: a set of skills that students can name, practice, and use in school and for life. 

This is easier said than done. We need to create curriculum, empower teachers, and regain trust from stakeholders. We need to establish Conversation Labs as spaces where all students will feel heard. But the starting point is clear: let’s commit to using a part of the school day to help young people discover the discipline, power, and joy of challenging discussion. Let’s take the long view that even (perhaps especially) in our tech-centric society, today’s students need human skills – like discussion – to build deep relationships and generate great ideas that can change the world for the better. 

We know that kids today are growing up amidst a national, if not global, conversation crisis. We also know that our future will be Gen-Z led … and, how they lead will be a reflection of what they learn in school. At R.E.A.L. we give schools a research-based method to safely and effectively teach, practice, and assess discussion skills in core academic classes to kids who desperately need them.

Put differently: we’re on a mission to design “software” for Conversation Lab! 

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