The NUMBER 1 thing that teachers tell me about their class is….they talk TOO much. They say, “my students talk all the time. I’ve tried everything and they still want to talk. I don’t know what to do.” I hear this from new teachers as well as those who have taught for years. Now, I totally understand new teachers not knowing how to control the excessive talking. It’s part of classroom management and they are still learning.
But this teacher also knows – this is a losing battle with kids. You can bribe them, threaten them, shame them, punish them – but they are still going to talk. You know why? It’s how they learn. Not just the academic stuff either. All kinds of things. They actually NEED to talk in order to learn social skills, social norms, making friends, testing boundaries, and also math, science, etc.
If you are skeptical, just listen and watch them. You will see it.
Then, sit down and figure out how you are going to live with it as a teacher – because they are going to talk.
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Harness That Talk
Once you accept it – here’s what I want you to do. Learn how to harness that talk into your classroom instruction and your students will LEARN so much more – plus you will get to talk less. Now you may see that as an advantage, but some teachers will think it means they aren’t teaching. I know, because I was one of those teachers. I thought that if admin came into my classroom and I wasn’t the center of the show – I wasn’t doing my job. Well, that was the old days. We know now that teachers need to talk less, and students need to talk more.
So, how do we do it? Plan for it. Literally write in your plans “students will talk to a partner” here. Turn and talks are the quickest, easiest way to start. However, if you want your kiddos to really get the most bang for their buck with turn and talks, you will strategically pair students and you will intentionally plan what they are going to talk about. This is still the easiest way to start and that’s all you need to do at first. Just start.
Still skeptical? Afraid you will lose control of your class if you allow them to talk? You are probably the teacher who has very specific classroom rules and procedures. You take the time to teach them explicitly and are very consistent with expecting students to follow them. OR you are the teacher who is a little more relaxed and not concerned with strict rules and procedures. Guess what? Both of you can learn how to let go and let them talk about their learning.
Introducing Accountable Talk
Here is the way I introduce accountable talk in my classroom.
Strategically place partners together.
*This can be different depending on the academic subject area.
According to the Kagan method, Highs should be partnered with Medium Lows; and Medium Highs should be paired with Lows. This will not work exactly perfectly, so don’t worry – just make pairings as close as possible.
For me, making A/B partners worked best.
In a pairing, I always made the A’s the High or Medium High and the B partner the Medium Low or Low. That way, if I need to address a much more difficult question, I can call on the A’s. Conversely, if I know the question is manageable for my B’s, I can call on them. I also ask the A’s to share first when the content is new. This gives my B’s time to think before they need to discuss.
Decide in advance what they will discuss and plan to give explicit instructions.
“In just a minute, I will ask you talk with your partner about ____________. I want the A’s to talk first, and the B’s will listen. When I say switch, the B’s will respond or ask A’s a question about their response.”
Then we practice how that will work. If you teach the procedure first and practice, your students will know exactly what your expectations are and the discussion will be worthwhile.
Once I see that my students have learned the procedure, I add more depth and difficulty.
I want them to ask questions of each other to deepen their understanding. Most students need help in this area. Giving them suggested question stems based on the subject and skill you are working on will really help them open up and learn how to communicate.
Give them a resource to guide their questions.
I created these accountable talk cards so that my students would have a resource to use when I asked them to talk about their learning.
I made a set for each pair of students and put them on a ring so they were easy to use. Each of my table groups would have two sets to share. They loved them – and better than that – they USED them! They loved looking for the perfect question stem to ask their partner.
Improving Learning with Accountable Talk
What I really loved was how much talking helped students improve their understanding of the content and how talking helped them master the standards we were working on. Many times, students who struggle to learn difficult concepts can talk through it with another student and “ta-da” they get it! Just verbalizing their thinking and asking questions helps them acquire the standards they previously struggled with.
Do you already use accountable talk in your classroom? Leave a comment and share!