When you navigate the halls in your school, what sounds do you hear? Is it quiet? Do you hear students or teachers? What about in the classrooms? Are classes generally quiet, loud, or a mix? I encourage you to listen closely to the sounds in your school.
When I started off as an administrator, my thoughts of a productive classroom were narrow. I assumed quiet classrooms were always effective environments. I also thought classrooms that were noisy, loose, and less structured were a bit chaotic. I admit my vision was distorted and inaccurate. Over the years, my understanding of a highly engaged classroom has developed.
Surely at times it’s important to have quiet, voice level zero, classrooms. Such classroom settings would be optimal when kids are taking an assessment, for example. But when kids aren’t deeply concentrating on a test, classrooms should be somewhat noisy and ladled with student talk. The student chatter may very well contribute learning.
Student talk that is relevant, positive, and academic in nature increases learning. This talk, supported by teacher modeling of explicit collaboration protocols, is a recipe for effective discourse. For example, when students use Accountable Talk stems like the picture above, the classroom dialogue is structured and designed to engage students in a safe, productive way. With Accountable Talk, kids share ideas, reference texts, and agree and/or respectfully disagree with their peers. Teachers sustain this positive classroom environment by facilitating student discussions and encouraging kids to keep talking. Teaching these communication skills and allowing kids to practice in a safe environment will surely strengthen the learning in the classroom. It also shifts the focus of ownership from the teacher to the students.
How are kids communicating in your classroom? Have you set some parameters for student talk? I encourage you to create, model, and incorporate a set of classroom discussion bubbles. These prompts will help all students organize their thoughts and communicate effectively and respectfully. Students will learn that these talking prompts are also applicable to situations outside of the classroom.