Saturday, July 11, 2009

Let's Have A Chat

Do you realize the power you have to influence and engage learners of any age with conversation? Whether it's a book or content area discussion, a debate about current events, a prediction, a sympathetic ear, or a "heart-to-heart" with a student everyone else has given up on -- you are in a position of great power.

I've been thinking a lot about what conversations look like in classrooms and would love to hear from real teachers. Here are a few thoughts of mine:

In his book, Life in a Crowded Place: Making a Learning Community, author and researcher Dr. Ralph Peterson points out that “in everyday life, talk is the primary medium for learning, and for that reason, talk is an essential part of a learning community’s life.” For it is when we move beyond the rudimentary layers of thinking, from knowledge to comprehension, to application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesizing (Bloom, 1956). If you want to do more than shuffle papers, record test scores, and push kids on to the next level, you must make space (both literally and figuratively) for conversation in your classroom.

Are you talking at students or talking with them? The distinction reflects on your abilities as a teacher. Yes, we must all "correct and direct" but strong, interesting conversations raise the percentage of time students are actively engaged in learning. Carefully crafted words can open doors for students in understanding and peer conversations can build background knowledge.

A big part of effective conversations is vocabulary. Do you use the same dull, everyday words when you talk with students or are your conversations purposefully embedded with key vocabulary from content area learning, new words introduced in writing, spelling or read aloud times? A version of Reader's Digest's Word Power is a quick way to reinforce and grow your students volume of words. Did you know that only 10-17% of students' vocabulary comes from direct instruction. The rest comes from incidental learning and conversations are a great place to accomplish that.

I'll be back next week after visiting the AL Kindergarten Conference. Steven Layne is keynote speaker. If any of you are close to Huntsville, AL, I believe there is still time to register. This is a great regional conference (we had Mem Fox last year!).

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