Friday, July 5, 2013

Are Your Kids Talking?

Over the course of my career, I've noticed a subtle change in my classroom.  When I first started teaching, I was a traditional teacher.  The giver of knowledge.  Students were quiet while I instructed.  However, I quickly learned that he who does the most talking is the one who does the most learning.  So, I've relinquished most of the talking to my students.  I encourage group dialogue and verbalizing thinking.  Everyone can benefit from each other's thinking processes in my opinion.  My classroom is not quiet - maybe during a test, but even then, I have a few verbal processors that need to speak their thinking before responding.  State testing is a bear for my students because they have to be quiet for so long.

I started this transition slowly by simply using a Think-Pair-Share model.  Students think independently, pair up with someone near them, and share their thoughts.  Most times, these responses are quick short sentences - not deep thinking.  But there are many times where I wanted to hear more and would continually ask, "Why?" to challenge my kids to go deeper.

I would use conversation starters to help students frame their thoughts and try to get to deeper ideas, but honestly, that is hard when you are working with 2nd graders and even 4th and 5th graders.

With Common Core State Standards being implemented, the speaking and listening in my classroom needs to be transformed once again.  My kiddos are good at sharing their own thoughts, but not so good at expanding the thoughts of others or digging deeper and making connections.  With students spending more and more time on social media, those conversation skills are lacking.  Texting only gets you so far and so deep.  I needed a resource to help me teach "academic" conversation.

Enter Jeff Zwiers' Academic Conversations.  I'm not very far into the book, but Zwiers & Crawford are changing the way my students will be talking next year.

Both authors have spent years in coaching roles observing academic conversations in classrooms and have identified 5 crucial types of "talking" to foster critical thinking and content understandings.  The five types of conversations that he addresses are:

1. Elaborating, Clarifying, and Questioning
2. Supporting Ideas with Examples and Evidence
3. Building on Ideas
4. Paraphrasing
5. Synthesizing Key Ideas of the Conversations

So far, I love what I'm reading!  The authors introduce images and hand motions to help students visualize what they are doing in each type of conversation.  The book is divided into chapters that address each type of conversation in detail and give ideas to help incorporate this type of discussion into classrooms. I can't wait for school to start to give this a try.

As I read, I plan on discussing each conversation in detail here on The Loop.  If I'm able to do it, I want to create visuals to use and tools that will help me and other teachers develop these conversations on a daily basis.  Check out Jeff's website for more information as well.


  1. I need to read this. I have a hard time letting go of talking and keeping their talking on topic!

    1. Rachel,
      It is AMAZING! I have absolutely loved every chapter of it. I've been out of town for the week, but plan to get busy on those chapter postings this weekend :)


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