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Hopes for Our Students as Talkers & Listeners & How to Get There (Something to Talk About)

Posted by admin on Sep 9, 2021 10:00:00 AM


About the Episode

Welcome to Something To Talk About, a podcast and blog series about all things classroom discourse!

In each episode of the Something to Talk About mini podcast we ask just one juicy question about classroom discourse to a group of educators.

In Episode 1, Stenhouse editor and author, Kassia Wedekind asks:

What are some of your greatest hopes for your students as talkers and listeners? And what kind of practical routines will you set up at the beginning of the year to help build that community?

Take a listen to hear from third grade teacher, Jennifer Orr, first grade teacher, Santasha Dhoot, and authors of Intentional Talk, Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz.


Meet the Educators in this Episode

Orr photo 2-1Jennifer Orr has spent more than twenty years teaching and learning with elementary students from kindergarten through fifth grade. She currently teaches third graders at Fort Belvoir Upper School in Fairfax County, Virginia. She tweets @jenorr and blogs at


Elham Kazemi 2013 & 2018_480x600Elham Kazemi is the co-author of Intentional Talk and the co-editor of Choral Counting and Counting Collections. She is a professor of mathematics education at the University of Washington. Elham works alongside teachers to create thriving mathematical classrooms centered on children’s mathematical thinking. She is deeply committed to building university-school partnerships that tackle social and academic inequities and create strong professional learning communities for teachers to learn from and with their students. Elham tweets @ekazemi.


Hintz Bio Photo 2 (2)Allison Hintz is the co-author Intentional Talk and the co-author of the upcoming Mathematizing Children’s Literature. She is an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Washington, Bothell. She studies teaching and learning alongside educators to create experiences where children are heard, understood, and inspired as mathematical sense makers. Allison tweets @AllisonHintz124.


Dhoot Headshot 1-1Santasha Dhoot (She/Her/Hers) is a Punjabi Sikh first-grade teacher in the Greater Seattle Area. She graduated from the University of Washington with a Masters in Teaching. She has a passion for educational justice and aspires to be a part of building an education system in which all students thrive. She loves learning alongside our youngest students and believes our future is bright because of them. You can follow Santasha on Twitter @tashadhoot.


Resources Mentioned in Episode 1

Catalyzing Change in Early Childhood and Elementary Mathematics

Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had

Which One Doesn’t Belong?

How Many?

Intentional Talk 


Read the transcript

Kassia Wedekind: Welcome to Something to Talk About, a podcast and blog series from Stenhouse Publishers. I'm Kassia Wedekind. And I'm an editor here at Stenhouse and I'm also a Stenhouse author and math coach. I'm excited to launch this new blog and podcast series about all things, classroom discourse. As both a teacher and a writer, one of the things I find most fascinating is listening to the ways that teachers and students co-construct communities through talk. How do social conversation and academic conversation build on each other? How do we make spaces for talk in which we all feel a sense of belonging? And how do we build strong content area understandings through talking and listening? There are endless questions to think about with classroom discourse, and we're going to dive into some of them in this podcast and blog series.

Kassia Wedekind: In each episode of the, Something to Talk About mini podcasts, we'll ask just one juicy question and hear the unique responses and perspectives of several educators. In today's episode, we're thinking about classroom talk at the beginning of the school year as teachers and students all over the country are returning to the classroom. We're talking about our hopes for our communities of talkers and listeners in the classroom. And we're also talking about the nitty gritty of what practical beginning of the year routines we put in place to build these strong discourse communities. Jennifer Orr, a third grade teacher from Fairfax County, Virginia joins us first in thinking about building communities of both talkers and listeners.

Jennifer Orr: Wow. It's so exciting at the start of a year, and also so overwhelming to think about those big goals. A big piece, I think gets back to that idea of who we are as talkers and listeners, getting kids to really build their listening skills. I think that's a challenge for us as people in general, but I think it's an added challenge in the classroom because we teach kids really to listen to the adult, but less to listen to each other. And so to build that idea and understanding in the community, that listening to each other is hugely valuable and can make a difference for us all in our learning, myself included. And so I think one of my biggest goals at the start of every year is thinking about wanting my kids to be really strong listeners. And then a piece of that then is to find that balance for those kids who tend to talk a lot, to make space for others.

Jennifer Orr: And for those who tend to be hesitant about speaking, to find kind of some confidence to join in and share so that we really are learning as an entire community. And when it comes to the routines to build that, I think a big part of that is making sure that I am balancing, and this is one of my challenges partner talk, small group talk, whole class talk, giving kids the opportunity to really build those talking and listening skills in different settings, because it may be easier with just a partner or it may be easier in a whole group, depending on what skill you're working on. And just giving them lots of time to talk. It's so easy in a school year to get caught up in all the boxes that need to be checked and to not slow down enough to really let kids talk things through. And so to ensure from day one that I'm building in time for that.

Kassia Wedekind: Yeah. It's easy to like, especially if you have some particular academic focus, at least for me, it's easy to pay attention to the talking and the things kids are saying to move that along and not slow down to give some practice or some attention to how we're listening to each other. For me, it's like I have to be really deliberate about slowing it down and planning for that.

Jennifer Orr: Yes, yes. Slowing it down is hard.

Kassia Wedekind: I also asked the same question to Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz, the coauthors of Intentional Talk, how to structure and lead productive mathematical discussions and professors of math education and got their perspectives on building discourse communities in the math classroom.

Allison Hintz: I think across contexts, I would just hope that people in communities feel joy and belonging and that communities can be and become a place where mathematicians try on new ideas and can be authentic, and brave, and bold. The catalyzing change series and NCTM is really helping me think about how to cultivate joy and belonging. And I think one way to try to do that from the get-go is to draw in some routines that we have in math education. I think of Christopher Danielson's How Many? And Which One Doesn't Belong? And how these open-ended accessible routines can let us really quickly become people who can share our different ideas and engage with each other's reasoning, and justifications, and listen to understand people's arguments and get some good lively argumentation going.

Elham Kazemi: I love what Allison just said about trying to cultivate communities of joy and belonging. I think you have to create a community that is worth belonging to, that people feel like they want to belong to. And one of the things I think about a lot as I'm getting to know a new group of teachers or a new group of students, is how they're entering the learning space. What experiences have they had themselves in the past in talking communities or listening communities and what supports their learning? What are they worried about? Whenever you're teaching math, there is a whole lot of worries that come along with it. I think Tracy Zegers book very nicely, and some of her talks very nicely capture how a lot of elementary teachers feel about their own experiences with mathematics as it's still fairly negative, or dry, or boring, or whatever it is.

Elham Kazemi: They're not usually lively words. So I think whatever routines we use at the beginning is to help people share how they feel and how do they want to feel different. And what does that mean about our individual responsibilities, our collective responsibilities. And then to try to pick those routines, all of those open-ended tasks that we have in mathematics that then allow you to bring those principles or those ideas to life, kind of the hopes that people have. Then you have to have a way of trying to create that space and really check in with one another, a lot. So we debrief a lot about how are you doing, how are you feeling? What worked, what didn't work. I think as routine questions, those can be really helpful.

Kassia Wedekind: And finally, Santasha Dhoot, a first grade teacher in the Seattle area, share some of her ideas about a culture of appreciation and respect as well as her experiences as a teacher of multi-lingual students.

Santasha Dhoot: Within my class, one of the most important things is that building a culture of appreciation and respect within my class. The community that I teach in, we have a very large number of multilingual learners. And so oftentimes in my class I have very few native English speakers and many of my students are emerging MLLs so they're just beginning their journey of learning English. And I think that community of respect is huge when it comes to speaking, talking, and listening because we have so many friends who are just beginning to learn and that anxiety and hesitancy to speak is really huge. Or on the other hand, I think we also have, I have a lot of speakers and listeners who are speaking in different languages, and I can have a student who is speaking in Japanese to one friend and then the listener is an English speaker and they're just listening to each other and talking to each other and it's working out just fine.

Santasha Dhoot: So I think that dynamic is really interesting and just really awesome. But I think on day one, building a culture of appreciation and respect, and that looks like we right from the start of the school year, all the way to the end, we have lots of opportunities where my students are complimenting each other, noticing other students who they notice are working hard, or had some awesome ideas, or were showing teamwork. And for speaking, we right off the bat, we have something called peanut butter and jelly partners. And because I have a huge community of MLLs and I think in any classroom, but we do a lot of like think, pair, share like in teams of two, two or three. And I really appreciate the smaller group processing time for my class. And I think they do as well and getting opportunities to orally practice before they're going to share to the whole group is something I really value in my classroom. And I think also builds a sense of community because they're getting time to talk to someone they may not talk to always.

Kassia Wedekind: All four educators in this episode spoke about the kind of culture they hope to build with their students. One of joy, belonging, respect, and appreciation. And they all talked about finding strategies at the beginning of the year, that align with the kind of culture they want to build. I also noticed that all four of the educators spoke about appreciating the many ways that students participate in classroom conversations, especially ways that might not traditionally be the ones that are most valued in schools. Being more of a keen listener than a talker, valuing the different languages students speak in our classroom conversations. And then as teachers, asking students for feedback on how they feel the conversations are going.

Kassia Wedekind: We'll be back in a couple of weeks with another podcast episode of Something to Talk About. But in the meantime, we're wondering how you'd answer the question we talked about today. What are your hopes for your classroom community of talkers and listeners? And what are some of the practical routines you put in place at the beginning of the year to get you there? We'd love to hear from you on social media. You can look for a post on our blog and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and let us know what you think.

Topics: Something to Talk About