By Jackie A. Walsh How would you rate the quality of student talk in your classroom? Does it help your kids dig down deeper and learn more? Or do you sometimes feel that it’s not the best investment of class time? Student skills are the means and ends of productive classroom discussions. When students engage in meaningful academic conversation, they are intentional in their use of important social, cognitive, and use-of-knowledge skills. In turn, when students are deliberate in the use of these skills, they are enhancing their ability to engage in thoughtful discourse in academic settings and beyond—in the workplace and in our democratic society. We can all agree these are important goals, but we also know that most students do not arrive in our classrooms with a high level of proficiency in these skills. It’s up to us, and we must be explicit in teaching them and in scaffolding their use over time. In this article I want to look at some ways we can do that. What are the most important skills for good classroom talk? Improving student skills requires focus and intentionality. So where can teachers turn as they think about which skills to spotlight for their students? My colleague Beth Sattes and I have identified a menu of skills, the framework for which looks like this: Capacities Associated with Skilled Discussion (p. 39, Questioning for Classroom Discussion – ASCD, 2015) The skills probably look very familiar to you as they mirror the requirements of CCSS and other new state and content standards. Consider social skills, for example, which essentially determine the quality of student interactions one with another. What connections can you make between the examples listed below and the ELA Speaking and Listening standards embodied in CCSS? Speaking Skills Speaks at length so that thinking is visible. . . . Paraphrases portions of a text. . . . Listening Skills Waits before adding one’s own ideas. . . . Looks at the speaking student & gives nonverbal response. . . . Collaborating Skills “Piggybacks” and elaborates on classmates’ comments. Actively seeks to include classmates who are not participating. One of the primary instructional purposes of a discussion is to afford students the opportunity to think more deeply about content, to make personal meaning through individual and collaborative inquiry. The use of cognitive skills moves student talk from a simple exchange of information to dialogue involving more complex reasoning or generative thinking. Use of the kinds of cognitive skills featured below engage students in the levels of thinking associated with levels 2 and 3 of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge: Connection-Making Skills Identifies similarities and differences. . . . Offers reasons and textual evidence. . . . Questioning Skills Poses questions to clarify and better understand. . . . Asks questions to identify a speaker’s assumptions. Creating Skills Draws inferences from other speakers’ ideas. . . . Integrates information from multiple sources. . . . Attending to discussion timing and preparation One key to the success of discussions relates to timing—the point in an instructional cycle when they occur. Most productive discussions take place only after students have had the opportunity to build or access the knowledge base required for an informed exchange. If this condition is not met, then the discussion may devolve into an “exchange of ignorance.” Not only do we need to position discussions strategically, we should also afford students the opportunity to get ready. Preparing oftentimes engages students in the close reading of a text or the careful review of data generated by an experiment or reflection on a solution path to a problem. When teachers attend to timing and student preparation as they plan a discussion, they pave the way for students’ thoughtful use of knowledge during the discourse. However, as with social and cognitive skills, students need to know teacher expectations in this area. Three categories of knowledge can contribute meaningfully to a classroom discussion: Text-based knowledge is central because it focuses on the topic or issue under consideration. This, of course, is not limited to textbooks, but can include supplemental information accessed online or through relevant print sources—both primary and secondary. Prior academic knowledge can also serve as important fodder for discussion as teachers strive to encourage students to make connections across the curriculum. Finally, the meaningfulness of a discussion increases as students incorporate relevant experiential knowledge gleaned from out-of-school learning. In our own work, we identify specific skills for each of these three sub-categories, but associate the following with all three. Working on discussion skills at Hibbett Middle School, Florence AL Using knowledge to deepen discussion How many of us have had the experience of planning a classroom discussion that ended up feeling like a mere exchange of opinions or, worse yet, a “sharing of ignorance.” Students must understand that the purpose of discussions is to deepen their understanding of content—and that they will be accountable for using knowledge to substantiate their thinking. Use-of-Knowledge Strives for accuracy in presentation of facts. Cites information sources. Evaluates the credibility of information sources. Relates comments to the subject or question for discussion; does not get off topic. Scaffolding the development of skills In our ASCD book Questioning for Classroom Discussion, Beth Sattes and I offer a framework of discussion skills – a total of 47 spanning the three categories – as a resource. We imagine that teachers will scan the list to identify those most appropriate to their students given student age and developmental level and the content or discipline under consideration. It is not enough to present the skills of discussion to students; teachers need to actively scaffold student development of these skills. Teachers can scaffold directly – through modeling and coaching – or indirectly, by selecting structures and protocols that will shape and guide student interactions. The goal is to nurture and support student learning of the skills to the point that students are able to use them independent of the teacher’s intervention. In our book, we refer to these different settings for discussions as “forms” and present three identified forms on a continuum—moving from more teacher control to more student responsibility. The teacher-guided discussion comes first In teacher-guided discussion, teachers assume the role of a “master” discussant who models and coaches student apprentices. As a model, the teacher intentionally spotlights selected skills, thinking aloud to students about what she is doing and why. For example, pausing when a speaker stops talking is particularly important in a discussion. This “talk-free zone” allows the speaker time to reflect and add to a statement. At an appropriate point following this type of pause, the teacher might say: “You probably noticed the few seconds of quiet following Jeremy’s comment. This allowed him time to think about what he had said and to decide if he wanted to say more. And he did! During a discussion each of us needs to use this pause to think about what a speaker has said and decide what we think about it. Do we agree? Or disagree? Do we have something to add?” Teachers can strategically use think-alouds to explain what they are doing as they model key discussion skills. Teachers also use coaching to actively scaffold student thinking and skill development during a discussion. This often takes the form of offering comments or posing follow-up questions to students. Comments may be simple positive reinforcements of desired behaviors. For example, following a student’s request to hear from a classmate who had not previously spoken, the teacher might comment: “I really appreciate Alice’s asking for Marie’s perspective. Everyone else had been talking so much that Marie hadn’t had a chance to say what she was thinking.” During the early stages of students’ learning about skillful discussion, a teacher may need to: request that a student offer evidence to support a statement if a classmate does not; invite a student who has not been engaged to pose a question or make a comment; encourage students to make connections between text-based knowledge and prior learning, and so forth. During teacher-guided discussion, the teacher is alert to opportunities to provide these kinds of scaffolds in unobtrusive ways that do not interfere with the flow of the discussion. Teacher-guided discussions can occur as a whole class or in small groups, depending upon instructional purposes. Students at Florence (AL) Middle School using the Ink Think protocol Then we move to structured small groups As we move along the continuum, structured small groups are an ideal setting for scaffolding student discussion skills through the intentional use of protocols for this purpose. Protocols provide rules, and sometimes step-by-step procedures, to govern who talks when and for how long. In our book we provide examples of student discussions using 15 different structured small group formats. Many of these protocols will be familiar to you: Think-Pair-Share, Ink Think, Think-Puzzle-Explore, and so forth. The key to their use in developing student discussion skills and processes is to: (1) be strategic – selecting a structure that is appropriate both for scaffolding desired skills and for deepening student understanding of content; and (2) be explicit with students as to the the specific skills the structures are intended to develop. Additionally, teachers need to actively monitor students as they interact in small group settings and intervene with personal scaffolding when students are confused or fail to follow the protocol. Following engagement in a discussion scaffolded by small group structures, students should be afforded the opportunity to reflect on their use of intended skills and the ways in which the structure supported this practice. And ultimately to student-driven discussion Student-driven discussion requires the highest level of student skill. Students are required to interact independent of teacher guidance and encouraged to scaffold one another. Socratic Seminars are a well-known form of student-driven discussion if they occur with the teacher seated outside the circle of discussants. There are numerous similar structures for student-driven discussion. Most place a limited number of students (5-9) in an inside circle and position other students on the outside as observers with specific observation tasks. Teachers as designers of classroom discussion Discussion can be a powerful learning strategy for all students—K-12 (and beyond) in all content areas. It does, however, look and sound different at different grade levels and in different content areas. There is no recipe that fits all situations. There is also no way to summarize all the teaching techniques associated with effective academic conversations in a single blog post. In Questioning for Classroom Discussion, we provide resources and strategies that teachers can access and use to plan discussions appropriate for their students. We also incorporate multiple examples of focus questions and strategies in use to serve as models, including QR codes that take readers to videotaped classroom discussions. Our hope is that what I’ve shared here will lead you to consider using the book in your professional work. We believe it will serve as a useful manual of practice for individuals and teams of teachers who commit to more intentional planning and facilitation of discussions. A carefully conceived, well-planned discussion has the potential of engaging the minds and hearts of students, increasing their interest in their studies, and promoting a desire for deeper understanding of issues and topics consequential to their learning and being. Feature image: Jen Roberts, Creative Commons Dr. Jackie Walsh is the co-author, with Beth D. Sattes, of Questioning for Classroom Discussion: Purposeful Speaking, Engaged Listening, Deep Thinking (ASCD, 2015) and three earlier books on Quality Questioning published by Corwin Press. She is also lead consultant to the Alabama Best Practices Center where she designs and facilitates professional learning for ABPC’s statewide educator collaboratives and for the Alabama Instructional Partners Network. She lives in Montgomery, AL. Contact Jackie at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @Question2Think.
The Language of Identity Ritchhart raises the question of roles students take, depending on how we, as teachers, introduce a lesson/topic. Do we tell them what they will learn about or should teac… Source: Ritchhart Part 4: The Languages of Identity and Initiative
In this week's challenge, designers shared creative ideas for depicting conversations and dialogue in e-learning courses. Examples included comic book designs, parallax effects, branching scenarios, and much more!
In the last blog post that focused on Ritchhart’s book on Creating Cultures of Thinking, I commented on Chapter 3 (Language: Appreciating Its Subtle Yet Profound Power and ended that post with the following comments: The next post in this series will explore the “Language of Thinking.” It will be interesting to see how these…
There's an angry divisive tension in the air that threatens to make modern politics impossible. Elizabeth Lesser explores the two sides of human nature within us (call them "the mystic" and "the warrior”) that can be harnessed to elevate the way we treat each other. She shares a simple way to begin real dialogue -- by going to lunch with someone who doesn't agree with you, and asking them three questions to find out what's really in their hearts.
Why should we keep reading aloud to kids even when they can already "read on their own?" This talk demonstrates the magic of read aloud and reminds us all why reading aloud is so essential- at school and at home.
Hearing and understanding someone else's point of view is a learned skill that requires effort. But it's one we all need to make. Because poor listening leads to misunderstandings, errors, bad decisions, loss of team cohesion and costly mistakes.
“I encourage people to tell an ‘opportunity story.’ How might this topic come up later in students’ lives?” — David Perkins Our world is getting increasingly complex; so how do we know what is worth teaching and learning? I watched David Perkins’ presentation on this timely topic at the IB Heads World Conference this year and I am delighted to welcome him today to The Global Search for Education. David is interested in how we ought to adapt our curriculums in light of an ever-changing world. He asserts that what is conventionally taught in our schools is not necessarily meant to produce the kinds of community members we want and need. Perkins believes that only by reimagining what we teach our children can we lead students down the road to learning that results in a flourishing life. David Perkins is the Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. Research Professor of Teaching and Learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a founding member of the Harvard Project Zero, a research project investigating human symbolic capacities and their development. He has participated in curriculum projects addressing thinking, understanding and learning in Colombia, Israel, Venezuela, South Africa, Sweden, Holland, Australia and the United States. David’s latest book, Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World, is a toolkit for helping educators and parents think through the all-important question: “What’s really worth learning?” What do you think students need to be taught in order to prepare them for life? This is perhaps the most important question in education for today’s complex world! Let me respond not by declaring a curriculum but exploring how we ought to think about it. From teachers to school leaders to makers of national policy, we should be asking, “What topics are truly likely to matter in the lives today’s students will live?” For any candidate topic, I encourage people to tell an “opportunity story.” How might this topic come up later in students’ lives? With what frequency, what importance, offering what insights, empowering what actions in the world, informing the ethics of their decisions and the policies they support? Traditional curricula are stuffed with topics that resist a good opportunity story, topics just “there because they are there.” What are examples of “big understandings,” as I call topics with a strong opportunity story? For instance, understanding democracy not just as an ideal but in its complexities and shortcomings around the world; or energy – its physics, economics, politics. Or basic statistics and probability… which come up frequently in medical decisions, insurance decisions, gambling, policies that impact the poor or international conflict. Also, many powerful works of art, literature, and music that resonate with the human condition. “What’s needed here is a rich conversation within and across schools, including school boards, parents, and even students. Much of that conversation involves sketching and critiquing opportunity stories.” — David Perkins What steps should schools take to ensure they are constructing a curriculum which prepares their students for the future? What’s needed here is a rich conversation within and across schools, including school boards, parents, and even students. Much of that conversation involves sketching and critiquing opportunity stories. It’s hard to tell a sound opportunity story solo. One needs the rich critical conversation! How should schools identify the key aspects of the curriculum they need to focus on in the classroom to ensure that students develop the key competencies they need in life? One place to look is the traditional disciplines – mathematics, history, etc. I grumbled earlier about the clutter of limited topics, but any discipline also contains abundant “big understandings.” Another place to look is outside those disciplines. Based on comparative study of curriculum innovations, I can point out six “beyonds,” where educators are venturing beyond the traditional disciplines, in brief: beyond content, infusing 21st century skills, competences, etc.; beyond local, embracing global perspectives, problems, and studies; beyond topics, transforming topics into tools of broad understanding; beyond the traditional disciplines, renewing and extending those disciplines; beyond discrete disciplines, embracing interdisciplinary topics and problems; beyond academic engagement, fostering personal significance, commitment, and passion. “What to do with topics lacking a good opportunity story is a tough problem for educators. It’s always harder to take something out than put something in.” — David Perkins You stressed that many topics can be rich with learning opportunity – much depends on how teachers help students to develop insight about how some aspect of the world works, see potential for action, ponder ethical issues and generally see opportunities to build relevant links to their worlds. You state that topics that don’t have this potential should be removed from the curriculum. Based on your research, what are the top 5 strategies you would recommend to teachers to help them with this? What to do with topics lacking a good opportunity story is a tough problem for educators. It’s always harder to take something out than put something in. Here are some suggestions for how to do it. Don’t take the topic out. Shrink it! Make it an object of “acquaintance knowledge” so that students have some orientation to it. Don’t take the topic out. Expand it! Many topics are thin only because they are thinly treated, but one can greatly increase their reach by looking for big generalizations and making connections to other areas. For instance, don’t just teach the French Revolution as about the French Revolution – teach it quite explicitly as a source of big themes that touch many other revolutions and various social innovations not only in the past but today. And pursue those connections as part of the instruction! Don’t start by planning what to remove but what big understandings to get in. With a positive agenda defined, it’s much easier to decide what to. Don’t start by redesigning your whole curriculum. Start with a manageable unit or two. Make the entire transformation a project of two or three years. With all that said, of course sometimes just take the weak topic out! “Take a dispositional approach. Don’t just foster the skill’s development but also enthusiasm, commitment, sensitivity to occasions. Make such expectations part of the classroom culture.” — David Perkins Based on your research, what top 5 strategies would you recommend to teachers to help them nurture the 4 C’s (creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration) in classrooms? First, let me note that there are many frameworks offering versions of 21st century skills. The 4 C’s is just one and not the only reasonable choice. However, I do think it’s quite a good one – broad enough to touch on important learner needs, compact enough to be manageable. I’d encourage teachers to address the 4 C’s (or in fact almost any 21st century skills framework) as follows: Approach the C’s through “infusion,” weaving them into the teaching and learning of content. Be explicit about strategies. Research shows that students learn such skills better through making good practices explicit rather than just exercising them tacitly. Take a dispositional approach. Don’t just foster the skill’s development but also enthusiasm, commitment, sensitivity to occasions. Make such expectations part of the classroom culture. Teach for transfer. Declare an expectation for transfer, invite students to consider where else the C’s might apply within and beyond school, ask students to log stories of application. Coordinate across the subject matters. Use the same C approach in multiple subject matters yourself or by coordinating with teachers who teach the other subject matters. This reinforces the C and fosters transfer. Thank you for your questions. I’m much more hopeful today than I was 20 years ago that we will see some fundamental changes in education. And I’m delighted to be part of the dialogue. For more information. About the Author Author: C. M. RubinWebsite: http://www.cmrubinworld.com/ The Global Search for Education (GSE) is a regular contributor to EdTechReview. Authored by C. M Rubin GSE brings together distinguished thought leaders in education and innovation from around the world to explore the key learning issues faced by today's nations. The series has become a highly visible platform for global discourse on 21st century education. LIKE WHAT WE DO? The Latest EdTech News To Your Inbox Follow us:
Perkins always offer good suggestions that are readily applicable
Book Review:Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, Ron Ritchhart, Jossey-Bass, 2015 This is a book for teachers, focusing on many forces that have the power to change our classrooms and schools so that students can become more successful learners. The 8 forces are: Purpose and Promise,…
A group of researchers has developed a cognitive model, made up of two million interconnected artificial neurons, able to learn to communicate using human language starting from a state of 'tabula rasa', only through communication with a human interlocutor. This research sheds light on the neural processes that underlie the development of language.
Learning How to Knit I’ve been a knitter since my best friend in college first gave me a set of needles and taught me the basic stitches. This was back in 2002. When I first started out, I needed a lot
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