1. Remember the Introverts
Although I agree with much of what is presented in the three resources, I’m concerned about the “either/or” mentality of some of these documents: The premise seems to be that either the students are listening passively to the teacher, or they are engaged in accountable talk, constructing knowledge. (eg. “ Research on the impact of accountable talk on student
Noel (not his real name) in my class, for example, likes to just sit and think about things for an extended period of time. He is not being passive during these times, as I am coming to understand. He is thinking deeply about how things work, how things fit together. Forcing a learner like Noel to have all sorts of conversations with his peers would in fact impede his learning, not enhance it.
As the monograph notes, listening is an active, meaning-making process. If this is the case, then I believe we must --in addition to teaching the associated skills -- allow time for thinking about and reflection on what is heard. That means no speaking sometimes.
2. Time, Time, Never Enough Time!
A recurring theme throughout the readings is time. It is critical that opportunities for accountable talk be not only frequent, but that they also not be rushed. I am reminded of the old “30 second wait time” rule – waiting before taking answers significantly increases the number of students who volunteer to respond, and improves the quality of their responses. Think time is important, as is time for the extraverts to “think aloud”, as we do, which cannot be rushed or hurried. 3 minutes at the end of a lesson is not enough time for a rich dialogue, no matter how “small” the topic.
3. Classroom Climate/Learning Environment
The Monograph closes with a section entitled, "five principals for creating a listening classroom", suggesting that a good oral language program is a hallmark of a more holistically healthy classroom, as opposed to just one part of the curriculum.
As the Peel TP points out, “Making meaning of what is heard is not a natural but rather a learned, complex process that requires the use of a wide range of supporting skills and habits of mind.” Teachers who are themselves practitioners of effective communication (for example, through regular involvement in TLCs or other authentic professional learning opportunities with colleagues) can better teach their students the skills required to be good listeners and effective speakers. Indeed, the monograph on listening underscores the importance of teachers modelling "an open-minded attitude and curiosity, especially in response to student thinking and ideas" (page 4.)
An important aspect of being an effective listener as a teacher – I think – is offering our students choices, and listening to those choices. One of the things the two teachers in the GC Conference Handout do is offer a choice of five books to the class, and the class selects three of those books for the teachers to read aloud. So, the teachers have still preselected the rich mentor texts, but the students have engaged in choosing which of these books are ultimately read and discussed in class. Such an example illustrates the quality of interaction that would transpire between a teacher and her students in the type of learning environment we hope to foster.
Equally important is the development of a classroom culture that values diversity of opinion and risk-taking across the curriculum. It seems to me that if students can have a Grand Conversation about a shared text during a literacy period, or a speech they have collectively listened to during a Social Studies class, then they would be more likely to engage in rich talk about different ways one might approach a challenging math problem. To quote one of the resources, “builds a classroom culture in which students are expected to explain and expand on their thinking and view both successes and failures as learning opportunities”.
Dale and I hope to begin creating such a climate the moment students walk through the door, and we plan to consciously teach the necessary skills and habits of mind beginning the first day of school, so that we can equip students with the tools they will need as we embark on our math explorations together.
4. Integration of Multiple Strategies
All three resources underscore the importance of framing oral language lessons. Multiple instructional strategies, organizers, tools and tactcs are integrated before, during, after to effectively structure the oral language experience. While several such strategies and organizers were mentioned explicitly (e.g., placemat, inside/outside circles, etc.), one that stands out is the role of questioning as a strategy, rich questioning, effective questioning. A monograph exists... I will read it soon... and perhaps also revisit the chapter on Framing Questions in Bennett and Rolhieser's Beyond Monet!