raise it up: lifting the level of discourse

the CCSS speaking and listening standards and, for many teachers, danielson domains 3b (using questioning and discussion techniques) and 3c (engaging students in learning), have pushed collaborative discussion to become a much talked about topic in our field and we wholeheartedly agree that the voices heard the most in our classroom should be those of our students; not us. being able to thoughtfully discuss our ideas and opinions with others is a crucial life skill.

when we think back to our own schooling, we  remember more times when we were asked questions designed to check our comprehension of texts we had read than times we were  asked to engage in discussion around a text or issue. it was definitely more inquisition than conversation.

now, it’s common practice to have students turn and talk to each other. “accountable talk stems” seen in classrooms are meant to give students the language they need to engage in discussion with each other. but all too often, we talk to teachers who are disheartened with the level of discourse in their classrooms.

sure, kids are saying “i agree ” or “i disagree” and giving reasons, but conversations often stay at a surface level. more importantly, kids seem to be using those phrases because they think that’s what they’re expected to do rather than because they are genuinely interested in discussing their ideas.

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it’s better together: creating partnerships in a classroom.

we’d do almost anything to avoid the looks of disappointment that kids sometimes give when they’re paired with a classmate with whom they’d rather not work. for this reason, it’s rare that we partner kids in our classroom on the spot, and instead use already established partnerships. established partnerships are important for reasons beyond avoiding hurt feelings, though. if we’re going to ask kids to engage in rigorous and collaborative talk and reflection, to be a part of a community that really knows and respects one another, then well-established partnerships are a non-negotiable.

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writing craft moves chart – a scaffold for talk and writing

one of the biggest challenges when teaching kids to talk well about their writing – or their peers’ writing – is for them to have the knowledge of and the language for what they could notice or discuss. we’re big believers that the more kids are immersed in the work of reading texts like writers and the more this work and talk is modeled for them and they’re guided through it, the more innately they’ll develop the knowledge and language to talk well about writing. we also believe, though, that some direct instruction is necessary for all kids to do this work successfully and confidently.

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peer teachers

if you’re anything like us, you’d be totally ok with cloning yourself in the name of more frequent conferences with students. indeed, regular conferring – keeping a pulse on what the readers and writers are doing in our classroom (no, seriously, what the heck are they doing?!) – is, in our opinion, one of the greatest challenges for the workshop teacher.

enter student teachers. as in, the students in your class become the teachers.

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giving peers feedback that matters

the common core places value on peer feedback as evidenced in writing standard 5. teachers that we’ve talked to sometimes hesitate to spend too much time on peers giving each other feedback, not seeing the benefits of this talk. often, they’re concerned about the productivity of things like peer editing or turn and talks that request feedback.  if students are turning and talking about their after school plans or turning and just having “agreeable talk” then we agree that this isn’t a good use of time. if your students give feedback that sounds like “i like it a lot” or “nice job” , this is agreeable talk and doesn’t really add value besides the temporary good feeling they get from a very non-specific comment. on the other hand, if kids are giving each other specific feedback, this can be a very powerful way to prompt revision.

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