Discuss Amongst Yourselves

Linda Richman was right. Throw out an open question and get the talk going.

Author collectionIn our fourth grade classroom we’ve taken accountable talk to another level. We use many of the prompts that programs like Making Meaning explicitly teach, so outside of insisting on speaking patterns that first use and then play off of these stems, there were just a few new talk moves to initiate.

So this year, I have taken myself out of the discussion leading role and thrown that back to students.  When we have a whole class discussion, we gather on the carpet and – this is important – face each other by sitting on the perimeter just like we do for Morning Meeting.  Why is this important? Because students can see each other and that is part of the active listening that is required in group discussions.

Students must talk to each other and not to me. I throw out the question. I sometimes have to be the traffic cop when discussions go off-topic or when students in their enthusiasm forget about talking over each other. But basically, I’m out. If someone has a follow-up point, it’s up to the person initiating to recognize them. And me? I get to observe students and their thought processes.

Oh we’ve used “talking sticks”, but mainly my students have gotten used to talking with each other using polite and focused discussion questions, perhaps challenging each other’s thinking. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the talking heads on TV could learn some of these same skills?

No one has to be the sage on the stage. The students can do this. And the benefits are endless for both of us.

Beginning student led discussions

“I can” statements are part of our lesson planning. I craft these statements for each segment of our day, direct student attention to them before, sometimes during, and after a lesson.

One of the mini lessons I planned this week was to introduce students to an FQR organizer (Facts-Questions-Response). Of course that included a link to the Common Core AND and “I can” statement.

After the mini lesson, students were directed to work in partnerships to read a nonfiction text found in our Reading Street books (not a fan of basals, but a great way to find multiple copies of a text) and with the partner jot on the FQR. Mindful of the role that academic language plays, I planned for students to collaborate in partnerships to complete the FQR and then use Turn and Talk to encourage discussion with another partnership.

I usually go into discussion-based activities expecting glitches and expecting that I may need to reteach and redirect students who enjoy social language a lot more than academic language 🙂  This time, however, as I moved from group to group, I heard…. actual discussion of what facts were learned, wonderings, questions, and reactions to the text.

Mindful attention to the “I can” helped me to think about what my students would need to become successful. We not only worked on the process for an FQR, we reviewed our norms for discussion. And that allowed me to be an observer on the sidelines.206Books

I can turn and talk about facts, questions and responses to a nonfiction text. YES!