Sam* an eighth grade student in Tammy’s* class, looks forward to her class each day. He knows that he will have time to talk with other students to process what he’s learning which helps him clarify his thinking. Tammy has a rule that she needs to get the students talking within the first five minutes of her class period. This takes different forms: sometimes Tammy writes one or two words from the previous class period on the board and students pair up and talk about what they remember; other days, students generate questions that they have related to their reading and discuss their impressions.
When asked why this works for him Sam says, “When I have to talk about what I was thinking it helps me to understand it better. I also like hearing what other people think about things that I might not have thought about.”
We’ve all heard the adage, “More student talk, less teacher talk,” but why is this so critical in learning? Vygotsky (1962) suggested that thinking develops into words in a number of phases moving from images to inner speech to inner speaking to speech. Following this theory, talk is really the representation of thinking. We want our classrooms to be filled with talking because this means they are filled with thinking.
So, how can we build purposeful talk into the classroom and ensure that it really is deepening thinking and not just a recap of Friday’s football game?
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- Every student is engaged – even the shy ones. It is easier to read and discuss what someone else has written.
- It provides the opportunity to think, write, and discuss open-ended questions. The instructional dialogue that ensues leads to higher levels of analysis and inquiry.
- It validates and affirms sociocentric, cooperative, and relational cultural behaviors.
- Finally, it is very versatile. You can have each group grapple with the same question or prompt for 10 minutes and move on with another aspect of the lesson. Several teachers have assigned each group a different question or prompt, and then had groups get up and move to a new campfire. This adds the element of movement as well as diverse perspectives.
Stop and Scribble
- Every student is engaged in answering the questions.
- Students can choose to answer the questions they feel confident about.
- The anonymity of the answers on a student’s sheet makes it easier to discuss and pose questions about whether or not it is correct.
- This activity addresses multiple cultural behaviors: (1) sense of immediacy, (2) spontaneity, (3) dynamic attention span, (4) musicality, (5) sociocentric, and (6) communalism.
As always, if you want to try one of these, or any new activity, just ask an Instructional Coach or an Implementation Associate to come and help. Together you can make it work for your students’ benefit.
Connect with Ellen via email or by calling 507.328.5376
Hollie, Sharroky. Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning. Shell Education. 2015.
The following process was used:
- Each student was assigned a color and a number (i.e. "Blue 1").
- Students joined groups by color, and each group was assigned a skill.
- Each student's number was used to assign their rotation (i.e. "Blue 1" was assigned as a "CNA" for "Skill A").
- As the "CNA" performed the task on the "Patient" the third student acted as the "Tester". The "Tester" then used a checklist/rubric to track the steps needed for "Skill A".
- The "Tester" and "Patient" then gave formative feedback to the "CNA" and the students jotted down notes on their performance.
- They rotated. The student who played the "CNA" moves into the "Tester" role for the next round while the other two stray (or move on) to the "Skill B" and perform a new role.
- In the end, each student had the opportunity to perform each role and was given an opportunity to be formatively assessed as a "CNA".
If you are wondering why she did not apply an actual grade to the assessment, you may wish to read the previous blog post "Grading for Learning". By using peer assessment, the teacher reduced her own workload while still providing quality feedback for the students. There are many ways to give feedback to students while helping them review at the end of the semester; for more ideas see the blog post "Quality Feedback Structures that Save Teachers Time and Keep Students Learning".
The power in this classroom is that everyone in class is expected to do everything. All students write, all students share, and all students give feedback to each other. No one is able to opt out and all are engaged.
In many classrooms, this same scenario often happens but with one change. After students write or respond, one or two students are chosen to share. Typically, these end up being the same students each day, while the same students remain silent. This silence turns into apathy. Eventually, disengagement.
In 2014, Alexis Wiggins, a fifteen year teaching veteran and daughter of Grant Wiggins wrote a blog post about what she experienced after shadowing two students before beginning as an instructional coach. This is a summary of her first two key takeaways:
Key Takeaway #1:
Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
Key Takeaway #2:
High school students are sitting passively and listening
during approximately 90 percent of their classes.
- Ask all students to answer any question you pose. You may want to first give them a bit of time to write and then ask them to share their answer with a partner or in a group.
- Use Hold Up Cards. Make a set of cards that say ‘agree’, ‘disagree’, ‘agree with reservations’, and ‘disagree with reservations’. Create statements that students have to respond to; then, after they’ve chosen their response, have them discuss and defend their answers.
- Use Triads. One of my favorite strategies comes from Rick Wormeli’s book Summarization in Any Subject. Begin by asking a question in the typical fashion. The person who answers becomes the first person in the triad. After they’ve responded stay silent as a teacher and ask another student to refute or support what the first person said. The third person in the trio is now called upon to discuss the merits of the second person’s argument. Finally, the first person gets the last word and can add anything they want to their original answer. (Want more details—find them here by clicking on “Instructional Dialogue”.)
- Use Numbered Heads. Place students in table groups and have them number off 1-6. Ask students to discuss any questions you would have normally asked but after they’ve had time to discuss roll a virtual die and ask the student with that number to share from their group. This keeps all students engaged in the discussion but they have the support of their group members before they answer. (Want more details—find them here by clicking on “Instructional Dialogue”.)
- Don’t Let Students Opt Out. If you’ve asked a question and a student doesn’t know the answer be sure to come back to them and have them summarize what they’ve learned or heard from other classmates.
If you’d like to explore more on this topic, some great books to read include Total Participation Techniques by Himmele and Summarization in Any Subject by Rick Wormeli. Also, if you’d like help implementing any of these ideas, please reach out to your Instructional Coach, an Implementation Associate, or me.
For this reason, I am always looking out for new, easy-to-implement, instructional dialogue strategies that can be applied in any classroom. Strategies that I can weave into my own instruction—strategies that I can share with you. So, this past week, when I was lucky enough to attend the ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership, I kept my eyes peeled. Even though the foci of the conference were instructional leadership, leveraging resources, and supporting staff and students—and not on instructional best practices—I lucked out. I experienced two new-to-me structures that assist students (and teachers) in peer-to-peer instructional conversations.
A | B Partner Pyramid
- Have students find a partner, labeling one ‘A’ and the other ‘B’
- Have them stand or sit shoulder to shoulder, ‘A’ facing the board/screen and ‘B’ facing the opposite wall
- One the board/screen, place images/terms/etc. that only ‘A’ can see
- Have ‘A’ describe each image/term/etc. (provide limitations, such as not being able to use any part or form of the word in the description) and ‘B’ guesses—they do not go on to the next image/term/etc. until ‘B’ lands on the correct response
- Once done with that set of images/terms/etc. have them switch roles and put up new images/terms/etc. for a second round of guessing
Suggestions & Modifications:
- Have the option of passing X-number of times
- Have the images/terms/etc. flash up on the screen when you click by animating them on the slides: that way you control the pacing
- If having one student face away is logistically difficult, have partner ‘B’ simply put their head down, cover his/her eyes, or hold a folder in front of his/her face
- Create a 4-square graphic organizer like the one shown below, adjusting the questions to fit your content
- Have students complete it on their own, with a minimum of one item per square
- Put students in groups of 2-4 and have them share each of their 4 quadrants—during this time, students answer each other’s questions, add to their own quadrants based off of other students’ contributions, etc.: let students know that one of them, selected at random, will be sharing out later
- Have students share out full class: try doing this by having them number off 1 to 4 and then randomly selecting the number (or using virtual dice to keep it truly random) for who will share, plus mixing up each time which quadrant s/he shares (this process really helps foster engagement, because if you’re choosing at random who and what will be shared, then all students must remain engaged throughout)
Suggestions & Modifications:
- Save paper by projecting this on your screen and having students sketch it out in their notebooks
- Ensure that each quadrant reaches a different level of Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Since synthesis helps the brain store information longer, before they are called on to share out have each group summarize what it is they want to share about each quadrant—then have them trim each of those ideas into 4 words or fewer (fictional bonus points for alliteration and/or rhyme)
Waack, Sebastian. “Hattie Ranking: 195 Influences and Effect Sizes Related to Student Achievement.” Visible Learning. 1 Nov. 2017.
Wiggins, Grant. “What Works in Education—Hattie’s List of the Greatest Effects and Why it Matters.” Granted, And… 7 Jan. 2012.
Here is an example of a lesson that I learned a lot from:
For the first ten minutes of our math block, my co-teacher and I introduced polygons to our students. Ten minutes into the lesson, it occurred to me that we, the teachers, had been doing all the talking. We decided to have students do a quick Turn and Talk.
I told the students, “Tell your elbow partner the characteristics of polygons.”
Things started to go awry immediately. Immediately, we had students asking to go to the bathroom, some were looking at their iPads, other partner sets said one or two words to each other and then nothing more, while other students didn’t say anything at all but instead just looked at each other. My first thought was, I guess we need to keep teaching about polygons because they don’t seem to understand polygons yet. Instead, I should have thought, Did I teach our students how to Turn and Talk? That's where I went wrong: I had assumed our students knew how to speak in an academic manner to each other. I was very wrong!
So, here are some eight steps to help you not make the same mistake by instead creating an environment that teaches students how to build the skills needed to interact with one another and to use academic language (Echevarría and Short).
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Teach students how to listen to each other.
If we want students to talk, we need to teach them also how to listen. What does listening to each other look like? Model for students what active listening looks like. Have students practice listening skills using social conversations first (i.e. tell each other about their favorite TV show) and then move into more content-rich conversations.
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What types of respectful words or phrases do you hear (I agree with you because…, I don't know that I can agree with you, and here's why...)? Provide sentence frames and model how to use them. Hang them up or write them on the board for students as a reference or to keep in a journal.
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Make sure students know the goal of the lesson. That way they know if their academic conversations are on-topic or on-target. If they are not on-topic, remind them of the target or objective to help get them back on track.
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If you want students to increase their academic language, then make sure questions lend themselves to higher-order thinking skills. Questions should make students think, clarify, predict, or explain. A question such as “Tell your partner one fact about the Gettysburg Address” could be changed to “What do you think the reaction of the crowd was after President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address and why would he have reacted that way?”
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Students often need to be taught how to keep a conversation going. Put question and sentence frames around the room that expand discussions, such as Tell me more about …, Why do you think… I heard you say…, That made me think of …, Do you think that …, or That idea connects to the story by …. These frames allow students to build on each other’s thoughts and create engaging conversations.
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Academic speaking and listening are deeply tied to reading and writing. Student discussions that are linked to text bring forth deeper academic discussions.
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Think about how long it will take students to talk to each other. Don’t let a turn and talk that lasts 1-2 minutes turn into 10 minutes. This creates wasted academic time and often leads to off-task behavior.
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Let students know that you are listening to them. Walk around and listen to what they are saying. Have a clipboard and write down what students say. Them, when the class is brought back together, talk about the great conversations you heard. Provide examples and discuss why these conversations were so powerful. This will motivate students moving forward because they know you are listening and sharing out their examples and ideas.
And, of course, feel free to connect with me directly. I would love to help you increase the academic talk in your classroom.
- Echevarría , Jana and Deborah Short. Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners: the SIOP Model, fourth ed., 2017.
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