Monday, October 1, 2012

Building a Shared Discussion

We all know Rome was not built in a day (like the use of an idiom?) and neither are our students' shared discussions. While every grade level gathers students to discuss their lives, books, writing, math, or other content areas teachers still find that supporting students along the way to help them make these conversations more meaningful is important. 

Each fall, students come together with new classmates and have to revisit the purpose and expectations of these shared discussions. Some teachers begin with a lot of partner work, table talk, and small group work. Others jump right in and add the whole group "Share Square"-either in a morning meeting or at the end of a workshop. However you choose to foster this meaningful talk where kids dig for deeper meaning as well as support and challenge one another- all for the sake of reaching a better understanding of the topic- one thing is for sure: vocabulary development through character education is key.

Support from Stems
Our students need the community language and stems which will provide the words to help them dig deeper into their thinking and that of others. To probe and ponder, students need the: "I respectfully disagree with you because______"; "What evidence do you have to support your thinking?; and "___, I noticed you agreed, what were you thinking?". These and the many other stems that you and your students will come up with, will build that sense of community, that sense of trust, that sense of caring about meeting the conversation's purpose- to gain a better understanding.

Signs and Goals
Many classroom teachers find success when they introduce a couple at a time and only introduce new ones when those focused on have  been adopted meaningfully by the students. Often times these stems accompany other goals students set for themselves as they work to enhance and grow their discussions. A quick peek into classrooms will show the impact of students using sign language to further supports this work. Signing allows students to visually see who is agreeing, disagreeing, or wanting to share their thinking. One simple noticing of this silent communication can offer that very quiet classmate a chance to share his/her thinking. These steps and various others you use (anchors*, posted guiding questions, shared texts, etc.) foster the growth of the share. And always keep in mind that just as with doesn't happen in a day, but generated greatness. :)

**Be sure to share your building block ideas with others. It takes a village!**
Comment below.

*anchors are those students who do any of the following jobs to support the share:
  • start the share by asking the guiding question and calling on a peer
  • track data- # of people who share, boys v. girls, types of comments shared
  • reflect- person who sums up the gist of the conversation from that share
  • refocus- person who gets the group back on track when the conversation veers 
  • paraphrase- person who says to the long-winded explanation "so what you're saying is..." so that the most important part is captured for the group
You could use an anchor to do any other job that would promote deeper thinking or a stronger community within your share. When we first saw this method used in Beth Weber's class (teacher at LaGrange elementary) she commented on the importance of not becoming overwhelmed with the number of anchors. She used these jobs as ways to engage more students and promote the growth of the share experience.

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