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.

Continue reading

getting to know words, getting to know all about them- thoughts on explicit vocabulary instruction

“now that i’ve looked up the definitions and used these ten weekly vocabulary words in meaningful sentences, i know them really well and could use them when i write, speak and read, ” said no student ever that we know.

vocabulary is highly correlated to our success as readers, according to all the research that we’ve read, and while much vocabulary develops as we listen to the language around us in conversations and books, there are some words that we as teachers will choose to explicitly teach. just how explicit does our vocabulary instruction need to be?

Continue reading