3 Classroom Discussion Musts

Using Sentence Stems and Explicit Instruction for Classroom Discussions

Teaching discussion skills can be daunting! You know you want productive, positive discussions… but how do you get there? Here’s some of what works for me!

  1. Body Language & Politeness Matter
  • Eye Contact: looking directly at the speaker lets them know they have your attention
  • Inviting Posture: Facing your body toward the speaker with an open posture invites them to share. Avoid crossed arms if you can!
  • Use your group member’s name when addressing them.
    Ex. “Dan, can you tell me more about what you thought the author meant by…”

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2. Paraphrasing lets the speaker know you have listened and understand.

  • So,…
  • In other words,
  • …It sounds like…
  • There are some key points you’re bringing up…
  • From what you’re saying,…

3. Clarifying lets the speaker know you have listened but do not fully understand.

  • Would you tell me a little more about…?
  • Let me see if I understand…
  • Can you tell me more about…
  • It would help me understand if you’d give me an example of…
  • So, are you saying/suggesting…?
  • What do you mean by…?
  • How are you feeling about…?

Let students collect data on their use of these important behaviors! Encouraging them to formally reflect on their performance after each and every discussion instills in them the importance this work.

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Using Current Events as the Context for Structured Academic Conversations

Building a Classroom Community through Academic Conversations

Getting Students to Use that Feedback

I used to cringe watching students stuff papers into their folders to be lost in the locker abyss… after I had spent so much time thoughtfully providing feedback on their work!! I spend so much time writing thoughtful questions about their math thinking and comments aimed at pushing their scientific curiosity… It was killing me to know that none of my feedback was likely going anywhere but the bottom of a messy locker!!! The ultimate frustration.

A few years ago I decided to tackle this problem head on. I knew that students could learn and grow if they sat, and really thought about my feedback. So- I made some changes. I decided to protect some time for exactly that. How could I expect students to read my notes, review the content and reflect on their learning if I didn’t show them how? Students needed to see that I valued their interaction with those assignments if I wanted them to value it too. And so began RRR&R. I dedicate a class period every few weeks to this and students and parents alike have seen the benefits.

My Goal: Students will think about the content, their work habits, and their progress.
This work is not about simply giving students time to change their answers and fix mistakes. This is the time when students will reflect upon the better answers they can come up with for the science test they weren’t proud of, and realize the study guide would have helped! Students need time and repetition to make those connections and draw those conclusions. And, they need to do it themselves.

Things that Matter

Oftentimes, I give students a few choices of assignments they may work on during this time. I don’t want anyone revising spelling homework or a math quiz with a score of 98% correct- I want students to dig deep and to grow. There are many times that I will notate right on an assignment (when I am grading it) that I want it revised. Sometimes I do that when I think my feedback is particularly powerful or if I feel a student is on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Home School Connection

These assignments and reflections might go home to families (there’s a Celebrating Success at Home Page), but ultimately end up back in student portfolios in our classroom. These make great conversation starters for student and family conferences. Students are empowered by their growth, and the language they develop as they learn to describe their learning is powerful.

I hope that this serves you and your students and families well!

Messy papers with student worksheets on top

Phew! They’re Chatty!

One of my biggest take aways from a New Teacher Center Mentor Academy last year was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” The focus of that academy was Coaching for Equity, and we spent timing thinking about Conditions that Support Students with Exceptionalities. Early on in that academy, one of my amazing colleagues suggested that all students are exceptional, and that became our platform as a group. We had previously agreed that the strategies that best support students in Advanced Placement classes, provide similarly rich learning experiences for students who might struggle… so this was not a huge leap for us. I spent the rest of the year seeing opportunities everywhere I looked to get kids talking! If I reflected with teachers about one idea last year it was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” We thought hard in kindergarten, third grade and eighth grade about how to make the most of that statement. And we all watched the videos on the NTC Oral Language Development site together.

As I get to know my new community of sixth graders this year, I find myself reflecting on these ideas daily. We often spend a great deal of energy as teachers, doing what we can to diminish students’ chatter. “If not in September, then when?” we rhetorically ask each other as we defend our systems of consequences. This year, a nagging voice in my head keeps reminding me that, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.”

Now, I know that the kids who are talking about what happened in PE instead of setting up their desks for my class, are not (in that moment) doing the learning in my classroom. Believe me, I’m not proposing a ban on silent homeroom (how could I survive?), silent moments or organization, or silence anywhere else that it benefits student learning. I am wondering though… how I can capitalize on the fact that these students like to talk.

What I am proposing is that we take the chatter and grow it into academic conversation. Let’s turn these talkers into active listeners! I recognized on Tuesday that I am sharing a room with some very social 11 year-olds this year. Today, after a 60 second turn and talk responding to the prompt, “what do you know about a seed story or a watermelon story,” I was sure this was the right move.

One student raised his hand and said loudly (in a lunchroom voice), “Zachary suggested that a seed story was a story about one small thing that happened, but was really important.” He then turned and looked at Zachary for approval, who nodded, and added, “and I agree.” Next, I did 3 internal cartwheels and I calmly provided specific feedback about the way he used his partner’s name, and how actively he must have been listening to provide such a response, and smiled. Continue reading “Phew! They’re Chatty!”

Respect & Rapport… starts with us!

What better way to develop an Environment of Respect and Rapport than by developing a 1:1 relationship with each student??Watch Rick connect with students about their reading during conferences. What does he do/ say that develops an environment of respect and rapport? What does Rick communicate to his students with his verbal and non-verbal language? I’ve seen similar successes with Experimental Design Conferences in a middle school science class as well as Think Tank conferences in a high school math class. In each instance, teachers demonstrated great respect for their students’ thinking by honoring scheduled time with everyone. How could you make something like this work in your context? What do you & your students stand to gain?

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Respect & Rapport… Naturally

I’ve been following the release of each week’s #yearatMH video clip since hearing Sam Chaltain speak at this year’s NTC Symposium. These clips are a prime example of the value of respectful relationships within, around and between members of a school community. If you haven’t watched one yet, make today the day. I believe these videos to be powerful on so many levels, not the least of which is shaping our expectations (& those of non-educators) of school culture. Share with a parent and watch how quickly they find themselves able to articulate what they want from their child’s school! Think too as you watch and listen, about what pieces of this experience you can bring into your classroom. What do you notice about the language of learning (both verbal and non verbal)? How do adults and students show respect for each other, the school and learning? Happy viewing! I hope this is your first if many visits to this site!!
~Alicia

Week 3 Challenge: Creating an Environment of Respect & Rapport

‘An Environment of Respect & Rapport’… This is an area I find myself discussing quite often with teachers. At least once a week, I have conversations with teachers about how tricky they find this particular domain/ standard to assess. Recently, I attended a presentation about how some teachers and mentors are tackling this very topic. Before we think about how to improve our practice, let’s think about where we are beginning…

Level 1: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are mostly negative, inappropriate, or insensitive to students’ ages, cultural backgrounds, and developmental levels. Interactions are characterized by sarcasm, put-downs, or conflict. Teacher does not respond to disrespectful behavior. -> Level 2: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are generally appropriate but may reflect occasional inconsistencies, favoritism, and disregard for students’ ages, cultures, and developmental levels. Students rarely demonstrate disrespect for one another. Teacher attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior, with uneven results. The net result of the interactions is neutral: conveying neither warmth nor conflict. -> Level 3: Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the ages, of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher. Interactions among students are generally polite and respectful. Teacher responds successfully to disrespectful behavior among students. The net result of the interactions is polite and respectful, but impersonal. -> Level 4: Classroom interactions among the teacher and individual students are highly respectful, reflecting genuine warmth and caring and sensitivity to students as individuals. Students exhibit respect for the teacher and contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class. The net result of interactions is that of connections with students as individuals.

Level 1-> Level 2

Moving from level 1 to 2 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally appropriate. In level 2 the teachers attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior.

Level 2-> Level 3

Moving from level 2 to 3 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally friendly, caring and respectful. In level 3 the teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior is successful.

Level 3> Level 4

Moving from level 3 to 4 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become highly respectful, genuinely warm and caring. Students contribute to the high levels of civility among members of the class. (Notice that the level 4 refers to student contribution to civility as opposed to teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior. I read: classroom runs like a well-oiled machine or a mini-city between the lines here)

How would you rate your typical daily classroom experiences?

I attended an excellent session at the New Teacher Center’s Symposium last month called, Using Student Perspectives to Enhance Mentoring Conversations. As part of the presentation, teachers of a variety of grades shared how they administered surveys to their students, what they learned from the surveys, and what types of adjustments they made to their teaching as a result. It was incredibly inspiring to hear teachers share the impact of their willingness to be so vulnerable with their students! I can’t wait to use a student perspectives survey in my classroom!

How might you use this survey to guide your work? Do you think it would support your work in this particular domain of the Professional Teaching Standards?

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Dittos & Worksheets & Packets, Oh my!!

So, your school department actually has a manual for you and it’s full of printables… They were designed by educators and statisticians… and people that must know more about teaching this content than you do… so why aren’t you students engaged? Well, I am writing this post to make sure you don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water!” Before you throw away every workbook and ditto in your classroom… let’s put our heads together.

You are right, experts did design these materials, so there’s probably something that works in here…

 Don’t reinvent the wheel- Re-purpose it instead!

Here’s a template for a cube (as well as other amazing ideas- amazing wiki). Why not put the best questions from your packet on the 6 sides of the cube and let students roll and discuss in pairs? Your goal (with the packet) was for students to think about the questions, right? Imagine all the ideas they’ll get from their partner when rolling the cube??!! Two heads are always better than one.

You could listen in on student conversations and assess their Speaking & Listening Skills or their content knowledge. Another idea is to assess student learning with an exit slip at the end of class. When you encourage students to have conversations, arm them with sentence stems and accountable talk to make it as productive as possible.

What will you re-purpose this week? Let us know in the comments & you may inspire someone else to take a similar risk!

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PS… I’m looking to give away a TpT gift certificate to a lucky blog commenter this week! Spread the word- bring a friend!