Sunday, 18 October 2015

Valuing Talk in the Classroom

It's been a great experience working with Estelle on creating our Practical Pedagogies session. We wanted to look at ways that we encourage children to talk that enhance their learning. And, not only that, we wanted to look around and see how other people were doing it.
I'm lucky to have a bunch of colleagues who, despite all the time-pressures and full-on work of just being a teacher, make time to think about how to do it better, and how to share the growth with others.

So from time to time through the year Estelle and I tried things out, visited each other's classrooms, working out what it is that can be shared in a short time that will make the difference. Back in January we sketched a few ideas while we had lunch at BETT:
Some ideas we abandoned (dictation software!); others we focused on in the classroom, making talk routines, and reflecting on talk, a bigger part of our teaching. The journey has been as much, more, than the short session we ran yesterday, and I think, hope, we'll continue to develop it.  Certainly, staff are seeing the benefits of visiting and learning from each other!

Here's Rachel's summary of her Objective, Strategy, Tactics after the two days were up:

The slides from give some idea of what we did in the session;

I like Estelle's Objective, Strategy, Tactics:


  1. My children went to a school in which some teachers used class participation, which especially meant contributing to discussions, as part of their grade metric. Getting A's on tests wasn't enough: children had to speak up. When my children got to college they were comfortable speaking to their professors and taking part in class discussions but were surprised how unfathomable it was for their fellow students to consider voicing opinions. If our children spend their entire childhood learning to keep silent, and that their opinions are not valued by authority, then what kind of
    adults can we expect them to be? I think that this work that you are doing, encouraging the voices of students as sort out their process of understanding, has value far beyond the math classroom.

    1. Thank Paula! I don't think I was very articulate by the time I got to University. Not surprising really, because it had evidently not been something that my two schools had valued or planned into lessons.

      So yes, even beyond the really important function of helping us to understand things, there's the lifelong need for us to be communicators!

      I've taken a lot of my impetus for some of the changes I've made and am still making from great people I've met on Twitter and through their blogs, people who've made number talks, reasoning out loud about mathematics, into a big part of their teaching.

  2. Hello Simon! I am reading through your older posts and I was very intrigued by this post. When you have time, could you share some of your thoughts behind the questions: "What area of your teaching generates the most interesting talk?" and
    "What subject, activity or physical area in your teaching space needs a talk boost?" I am thinking of my own classroom, observing which children talk about which math problem of the day, which students rarely talk, which students are somewhere else mentally, which students talk in Social Studies (the other subject I teach,) versus the ones that talk in math, how can I encourage them to say in whole group what they said in pair-share or wrote on their paper?

    I will be at an NCTM meeting the next 2 days and we were asked to read an article by the late Grant Wiggins entitled "Seven Keys to Effective Feedback" and it has spurred lots of thoughts in my mind about modeling talk and giving effective feedback on talk.

    Any thoughts you have on improving talk are welcome!

  3. We only had time for a few answers to those questions, Nina. As there were quite a few K teachers there we talked about role play areas. There's a slide that shows Estelle's restaurant tables which generated all kinds of talk. All kinds of improvisational drama seem to help.

    I can't say I've found the answer. In maths, working in teams where everyone needs to contribute seems to work well. Routines like counting circles where ss spesk round the circle mean everyone talks a little. But for those who talk least, I'm still searching for answers...

    1. Thanks, Simon! I am not familiar with counting circles so I will check them out. I noticed some ideas, too, on the U of Cambridge "Thinking together" site about analyzing why a talk was productive or why a certain's student's comments were productive. I learned way to late in the life the value of contributing to a conversation both for my growth and the growth of the folks around me. Even at my meeting today, there was a time I decided I need to interject and there was also a time I needed to stop talking. Ha!

      I noticed Estelle's slide but did not look at it in detail. Now that I understand it a little better I am thinking about ways to incorporate that idea into my classroom.

      On a side note, at my NCTM meeting today I brought up the power of teacher-to-teacher conversations that start on Twitter and are enriched on blogs. THIS conversation is the type I had in mind. Like minds clear across the Atlantic ocean! Thanks!!

    2. I describe some counting circles we've used with Year 4 here. Basically, it's a short five to ten minute activity, first counting in a certain size jump, then trying to think ahead, then sharing strategies for doing this. Because it's small and it's a routine it's a fairly secure place for a bit of talking.

      As for Thinking Together, it's another approach that seems worthwhile, to get children reflecting on thinking and talking. I saw a good video recently of a teacher who was emphasising at the beginning of a maths lesson where children were sharing ideas, that it was everyone's responsibility to understand what people were saying. She then went on to elicit lots of ways that the listeners can use to get to understanding if they aren't there on first hearing.

      Recently, I've been enjoying Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz's book Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions, which is full of really respectful discussions between among students, and between elementary students and their teachers. That and Connecting Arithmetic to Algebra I find really encouraging; full of examples of students getting a better understanding through talk.

    3. Thanks Simon for the feedback! I have the Kazemi and Hintz's book but haven't spent time with it yet but I will move it to the top of the list. (I am a book of a book nut and I buy books that I know I will want to read even if I don't have time now! Ha!) I ordered the Conn Arith to Alg so I look forward to reading it too. I will send you my thoughts once I digested the books and implemented ideas in my classroom.

  4. Here is the U of Cambridge link I was referencing above: