The word “facilitator” is related to the word “facile” which means “easy” or “to make something easy.” Making something complicated easier for someone else to understand is part of what a teacher does.
However, in our society the term facilitator has other meanings, many of them linked to the business world or to a discussion conducted by a chat show host. Often the idea of facilitation is linked to someone who is neutral about content and someone whose role is to bring about consensus in a group or to get everyone present to contribute.
When a teacher orchestrates a discussion in a class, the teacher’s role is not content-neutral. If a discussion is to bring about learning, the discussion needs to move in a definite direction, even if some detours are made to accommodate children’s understandings.
Classroom discussions can be orchestrated effectively using strategies identified by Stein and Smith in their book 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. The strategies are
• Anticipating responses, including misconceptions, children will give;
• Monitoring how children work on a task in advance of a class discussion
• Selecting which ideas from individual children will contribute most to all children’s learning
• Sequencing the order in which children’s contributions will be made to ensure optimal learning
• Connecting the ideas contributed to each other, to previous learning and to big ideas in the subject.
That is what it takes to bring about learning through discussion. But to an uninitiated observer, a teacher conducting a discussion could look like a chat show host encouraging discussion or someone chairing a business meeting.