Building Community through Discussion

Class Discussion Norms

(In my class, these become our Community Norms and replace any “rules”)

A world community painted on hands with doves
Build a community of empathy and caring in your classroom through academic discussion.
  • Equity of Voice: Monitor your airtime. As a group member you are responsible to be a speaker AND a listener. You are also responsible to invite others to speak. Equal(ish) airtime is the goal. Our community values all voices.
  • Active Listening
: Eye contact, nodding, being sure you respond to a comment with a related question or comment. Build on what others say. Our community believes everyone should feel heard.
  • Respect for All Perspectives
: You will not agree with everyone’s ideas. Work to understand their thinking. Our community values diverse perspectives.
  • Safety to Share: Your language, tone, body language and overall behavior should invite others to share differing opinions. Approach others’ ideas with curiosity and an open mind. The goal is never to be right, it is always to learn. Our community values safety.
  • Self-monitor use of Electronics
: It’s hard to feel like your ideas are important when you are speaking to the top of someone’s head because they are staring at their phone or their laptop screen. Our community values you and your ideas.

*Adapted from the norms used by the New Teacher Center during the best trainings of my life!


How Can We Create A Community that Values these Norms?

I gradually release student responsibility. Here’s how:

  • Sentence Stems & Explicit Instruction. Require their use. Fishbowl small groups. Analyze their discussion as a class. Data collection tip- let observers record tic marks for certain sentence stems or behaviors you’ve agreed are important. Current Events Discussions are a great way to practice these skills within an organized structure!
  • Conduct whole group discussions- focusing on the norms and sentence stems. REALLY focusing on them. With the same vigor you focus on routines and procedure in September. You hate yourself when you relax about them in November and vow you’ll never do that again. Do better with this. They need the structure to feel safe.
  • Pull small groups for discussions (maybe even half the class). Coach them. Invite a few students to be observers/ analyzers with you. Share the highlights with the whole class. Find observation sheets here.
  • When you feel they are ready, divide the class into small groups (4-5 students max). Let them discuss! While you monitor, record excellent phrases and interactions and share them publicly as soon as it’s over! Provide students an opportunity to reflect on paper after discussion. Download my free Discussion Reflection Activity when you subscribe below.
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Current Events Discussions

Current Events. It’s been done to death. And I get that. What I’m going to share with you is not about current events at all. The context just happens to be Current Events- but it could be anything. It’s about academic discussions- conversation. Do kids really know what that is these days? Chances are they do more discussing in school than out of school- but wouldn’t it be nice if there were more conversations happening everywhere? Fewer interactions, with cell phones in hand- and more eye contact, active listening and questioning? Ahhhhh!!! My teacher brain is in heaven just thinking about it! And my mom brain is pretty psyched too.

Rocks on a beach with text in front of them about discussions

A few years back, I was inspired by some AMAZING parents in my classroom. These parents were involved- I’m talking Family Book Club at 7:00AM before school involved. They would do ANYTHING. As a result, I tried to incorporate some type of authentic home school connection in all of our subject areas. These families inspired this series of activities- and it’s been successful with many classes since… even classes without that crazy- involved crop of parents;) What has remained the same though, is that having quality discussions in class- where everyone is set up for success– leads to more discussion at home (and in the lunchroom, and the hallway, and art class). When kids are engaged in a topic- ENGAGED- and have opportunities to discuss it in a safe space (our classrooms), momentum builds… and those discussions continue. And if we take our time, really go slow to go fast… they take those discussion skills and apply them to all of the relationships in their lives. They debate important topics with integrity, challenge one another, and change the world for the better. (No pressure!)

The Making of  Amazing Current Events Discussions

*Interact with an assigned topic. Listen to a podcast, watch a news broadcast, read something.
*Process that new information. (Complete assigned response sheets in Events in Our World)
*Participate in a class discussion focused on the questions that were answered while processing that new information. Check out my tips!
*Engage an adult in your life in a discussion about the topic. (More details in Events in Our World)
*Participate in a short class discussion focused on new perspectives from that discussion with an adult.
*Reflect & Self-Assess your discussion skills (Get my free guide when you subscribe below)

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My Takeaways

All kids participate when they are prepared and encouraged. For me, that meant that when I had some students who would not do homework- I made sure not to assign steps 1 and 2 as homework. Sometimes I assigned all students that work in class. Other times, I found opportunities for a few students to accomplish these tasks during the day. In all cases- those students participated in class discussions and engaged an adult. Also, I use “an adult in your life” very purposefully. For some students that has been a family member, for others a dance teacher and for others- the adult supervising Office Detention. All of those work.

beach scene with quote about discussions
When I worry about the success of a lesson, my inner control freak comes out. Early in the year, when we are beginning the work of discussions- everyone interacts with the same assigned topic and reads the same article or watches the same news broadcast… in front of me. But, guess what? It’s fine!!!! We make our way to the place where lots of differentiation is happening and my blood pressure stays under control. So- know yourself and do what makes you feel comfortable. Go slow to go fast. You are building a community.
I’ve also learned that kids are proud of their grown ups. Even the “too cool for school kids” who hate getting parent signatures. I’m totally shocked by this EVERY YEAR! I always devote way more time than I mean to in the beginning, to that- “how was last night’s conversation at home” discussion. Eventually kids discuss it in groups, so in 10 minutes everyone gets a chance to share and I can get the highlights. In the beginning though- it’s important that Joey and Alison both share about their discussion publicly if their hands are up. And they beam with pride!!!

 

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…”

man crossing arms

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.

Sign up for my newsletter to download your FREE Reflecting on Discussions Activity!

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Using Current Events as the Context for Structured Academic Conversations

Building a Classroom Community through Academic Conversations

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!”

SPIDER Web Discussion Strategy

Whether you teach math, social studies or general music- if you want to facilitate truly student-led inquiry in your classroom discussions, you may want to give Alexis Wiggins’ version of the SPIDER Web Discussion strategy a try. She has been refining this strategy for seven years and shares her experiences and her rubrics!

While students are the ones discussing, the teacher is still the referee and master of knowledge, offering up the right question at the right moment, redirecting the conversation, correcting misunderstandings, and ensuring that students are being civil to one another.

Maybe that lesson you have planned for Tuesday of next week needs a kick… Try adding this strategy to your repertoire, and let us know how it goes!!

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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!

Student Engagement… Strategy #1

Jigsaw it! jigsaw

Regardless of the subject, brain research tells us we need many rehearsals (+20…yikes!) for new learning to stick! Learners rehearse learning when they are actually engaged in it. And, just to be clear… a worksheet with 20 math problems does not equal 20 rehearsals…( awwww, maaaan!) So, let’s consider the value of a jigsaw!

Continue reading “Student Engagement… Strategy #1”

My Favorite Questioning Resource

As I look at many of the available web resources out there on questioning, I just can’t find one clearer or more to the point than this one from the Tulare County Office of Education. The best part is about halfway down the page, and is titled, “ELA CCSS Bookmarks.” The tittle is fitting I think, because just like when you bookmark a page- what you need is right there. All you need to do is click on your grade level and an amazing pdf opens with a Cliffs Notes style version (my favorite) of the English Language Arts Common Core Standards. Among other helpful pieces of information, for each standard two very important things are listed: Continue reading “My Favorite Questioning Resource”

5 Tips to Kickoff this week’s Questioning & Discussion -Apalooza

1. What will you ask? Plan your questions in advance. Know your objective and plan questions that will support students’ deep understanding around that objective.

2. When will you ask? If you plan to ask two questions during a read aloud, sticky note them in the text. Maybe you are interested in students discussing their opinion about a topic you will dig deeply into during class. You may want to ask once in the beginning of class, and again toward the end of class.

3. Encourage thinking. One sure fire way to avoid critical thinking is to ask a question, and immediately begin accepting rapid fire answers from a sea of waving fingertips you’re pretty sure are attached to students in your class. How will you ensure students think before they speak? Will you give them 30 seconds of silent think time? Will you ask them to stop and jot on a sticky?

4. Honor their ideas. So, you’ve created a situation where all 25 of your students have stopped and really thought about how a pink square of chewing gum would change after 10 minutes of saliva rich, horse-like chomping. They thought!! There was smoke coming out of their ears, their sticky-notes are full and their sitting at the edge of their seats! Now what? Which two students will share in the 3 minutes you have? How will your choice impact student motivation the next time you ask a question? Consider a participation structure from the New Teacher Center’s Oral Language Development Website like a Turn and Talk or a Write-Pair-Share, with the idea that those who are doing the talking are doing the learning. (No pressure!!)

5. Encourage Listening. One of the reasons discussion is such an important skill, is because as life-long learners, we seize the opportunity to learn from someone each time we engage in a discussion. If we truly want our students to learn to do the same, we must teach them to listen. (I laugh every the teacher in the the Turn & Talk video describes what turn & talk looked like in September~ she is SO right!!) One way, is to encourage students to share out after they discuss in partnerships or small groups. Here’s the secret, “Boys & Girls, I’d like you to think about what interesting, new ideas your partner shared with you during the conversation you just had. Who heard something they hadn’t yet considered and would like to share with the class?”

I can’t wait to hear how your Monday goes! Remember, we’re thinking about one domain each week. All of this deep thinking around questioning & discussion will take about 5- minutes of actual instructional time… Play with it all week- make it your own- adapt it for your students… I wonder how different if will look by Friday!

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Improving Questioning & Discussion Techniques- 1 week Challenge

Let’s think about where we are starting! If you missed the rubrics I posted yesterday, you may want to check them out.

Level 1: Questions are rapid-fire,and convergent,with single correct answers. All discussion is between teacher and students; students are not invited to speak directly to one another. -> Level 2: The teacher frames some questions designed to promote student thinking, but only a few students are involved. The teacher invites students to respond directly to one another’s ideas, but few students respond. -> Level 3: The teacher uses open-ended questions, inviting students to think and/or have multiple possible answers. Discussions enable students to talk to one another, without ongoing mediation by the teacher.-> Level 4: Students initiate higher-order questions. Students extend the discussion, enriching it. Students invite comments from their classmates during a discussion.
With these descriptors in mind, which level would you say best describes your daily teaching experiences?
Next, consider the difference between your current level and the next level? What is described in the next level that is not in your current level? Knowing this will help you set a goal to make purposeful, explicit change that is directly connected to these indicators.