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What’s the Best Piece of Advice You’ve Gotten About Classroom Conversations? (Something to Talk About)

Posted by admin on Sep 23, 2021 10:30:00 AM


About the Episode

Welcome back 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 2, Stenhouse editor and author, Kassia Wedekind asks:

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten about classroom conversations?

You’ll hear from literacy coach Christy Thompson, high school teacher Matthew Kay, first grade teacher Santasha Dhoot and math education professors Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz.

And we’d love to hear from you! Let us know what piece of advice about classroom conversations has stuck with you. Leave a comment here on the blog, or connect with us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


Meet the Educators in this Episode

Thompson_Christy 2019Christy Thompson is a literacy coach in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. She has spent her teaching and coaching career particularly focused on listening to and learning from the talk of our youngest students. Christy is the co-author of Hands Down Speak Out: Listening and Talking Across Literacy and Math and tweets at @teacherthomp.


MatthewKay2018_160x167Matthew R. Kay is a proud product of Philadelphia’s public schools and a founding teacher at Science Leadership Academy (SLA). He is a graduate of West Chester University and holds a Masters in Educational Leadership with a Principals’ Certificate from California University of Pennsylvania. Matthew is the author of Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom and tweets at @mattrkay.


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 2

Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Minds

Hands Down, Speak Out: Listening and Talking Across Math and Literacy

Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom

Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions


Read the transcript

Kassia: Welcome back 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 a math coach. As you may remember from episode one, here on the Something to Talk About mini podcast, we ask just one juicy question about classroom discourse and hear the unique responses and perspectives of several educators. And in today's episode, we're asking educators about the best piece of advice they've gotten about facilitating classroom conversations.

Kassia: When I first thought about asking this question, I thought about this idea of advice in a pretty traditional way, as something that one teacher would explicitly suggest to another. But not surprisingly, the educators I talked to in this episode had much more interesting ways of thinking about advice and how we learn from one another about classroom conversations. Some learned from the words of their colleagues, but others talked about professional books as mentors in their learning, observing other teachers in action, or even learning from others observations of their own teaching. Christy Thompson, a literacy coach in Virginia, and the coauthor of Hands Down, Speak Out, joins us first in thinking about the best advice she's gotten about classroom conversations.

Christy Thompson: If I think to when I really started thinking about classroom conversation in a big way, it was because I was reading at the time, Peter Johnston's books, like Choice Words and Opening Minds. And I think that he started me on this journey in just thinking about trusting children and trusting what they bring to school with them, rather than thinking of what we need to do to them or put into them. And I think that that really is at the heart of all classroom conversations that I try to hold. And that's probably the best, most impactful piece of advice that I've been reflecting on over many years.

Kassia: Yeah, that sounds like a particularly important message to take into this year where we're getting so many outside messages about learning loss and making up lost time and fixing things that are "wrong" with children in quotes. And that we could probably use some further trust in children, in conversations and beyond in schools. Matthew Kay, a high school teacher in Philadelphia and the author of Not Light, But Fire, talked about an observation he received from his principal on his stance in classroom conversations.

Matthew Kay: My boss, Chris, my first couple years, it wasn't as much advice as it was an observation that he said and then I took it as advice. First couple years, I was archetypical 22 year old jumping up on table type teacher. I was doing all that stuff. And around the time when I crossed to 30, around year seven or eight or something like that, he walked in and I was sitting at my desk, but the kids was talking. I was just chilling and I remember he said, he noted that. He noted how it became from me center to them center and how turned up. And he was joking about, "Your career's going to be longer now. You're not going to wear yourself out."

Matthew Kay: And it's one of those. And I think I took that as advice. I took that as "You ain't got to do all that. You don't have to do all that, all that performing." And I'm performing it, so I don't have to suppress it either. If I feel like being a fool, I'm going to be a fool. I get a chance, but I think we're conditioned sometimes to think that the only way to grab kids' attention in a conversation is to be that, and it's not. And that's partially actually why it came down to the book, because I'm like, people feel the same thing about race conversations in a space where like, "Well, I can only lead it if I am this type." And I'm like, "No, everybody can."

Matthew Kay: You don't have to be a jokester. You don't have to be the jump on table, cut type teacher to do it. My mom taught for 36 years and because of some health issues, she did most of it sitting down in front of her kids on her stool, just sat there. You don't have to do all that. You just have to love kids and be very purposeful about your craft. And so I think that was the biggest piece of advice I got. It was just he said that observation and I took it as advice.

Kassia: Santasha Dhoot, a first grade teacher in the Seattle area, shares two practical pieces of advice she's gotten and implemented in her first few years of teaching.

Santasha Dhoot: I've gotten two pieces of advice that I've taken throughout my couple of years of teaching. I think first is the valuing multiple ways of participating in multiple ways of talk. I think that helps ground me in not feeling really anxious when I have a student not orally sharing, but finding multiple different ways for students to participate. I think that's been my first big, "Whoa." That's really true because I think as adults, I think we value different ways that we can share and sometimes it's not always orally or we don't feel the most comfortable with oral talk. So why are we pushing that down on our students? So I think it's been really fun to try and think of different ways for my students to participate that it's not just producing talk or producing written work. So I think that's been my first piece of great advice.

Santasha Dhoot: And then my second piece of advice that someone gave me was the having students orally practice or orally share in smaller processing groups before sharing to a big group. And I think it seems so small and seems like, "Yeah, of course, that makes a lot of sense." But I think in a school day where you're always running out of time, it's just something that can be so easily cut. But I think it makes for so much richer and deeper conversations when we come back to the whole group and sometimes I might cut the whole group and it might not all come back together if we're short on time. But not cutting that smaller group processing because it's just so valuable to be able to talk in a smaller group of people.

Santasha Dhoot: And for all of my students, not just my MLLs, but just to be able to orally rehearse or just hear other students' ideas before going onto a different task or coming back together as a whole group. And then for myself as a teacher, I think that time, that think pair share time, gives me the chance to be walking around and hearing from so many more students than I would be if it was just a whole group conversation. So I think that making sure that I'm not ever cutting that out, just reminds me to slow down and that we all appreciate just going a little bit slower and that makes the learning so much more meaningful and intentional as well.

Kassia: And math education professors and co-authors of Intentional Talk, Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz talk about what they learned from the words and actions of a principal colleague. Elham speaks first.

Elham Kazemi: I was thinking of Jessica Granger, Alison, who we both know and adore. She's a principal that we worked with for a long time. And she would always say, "You can't look good and get better at the same time." And we're not sure if she'd made that up or if she got it from somewhere, but that's our mantra. You got to roll up your sleeves and try.

Kassia: That is a good mantra and a painful one at times.

Elham Kazemi: At first you want to say, "Sure, I can look good," but the sentiment of it is important I think.

Allison Hintz: It was freeing when she'd say that because-

Kassia: That's true.

Allison Hintz: It helped us remember to be brave and try new things and that we can be clunky together. And that's all part of us getting better.

Kassia: Yeah and I'm being part of a community of teachers that's getting better together and being willing to see that clunkiness and be clunky in front of each other as you're working together to get better.

Allison Hintz: Yeah, I think it worked to interrupt this idea that teaching's a performance that we were going to know just what to say, but that our work is to hear children's ideas and so we might have ideas about what's coming, but we're going to be surprised and so there's not a perfect script. You're going to do the best you can to try to think together and respond to what they're telling us they do know.

Allison Hintz: I think my best piece of advice didn't happen through spoken words, but it was through observation and I've learned so much by being in the presence of math educators as they work with young mathematicians. And when I was thinking about this question, I was really thinking about what it feels like to observe Megan Franke or Elham, you. As you listen with curiosity to children's ideas and the joy that you find and the brilliance that children and their families bring to our communities.

Allison Hintz: And it's been such helpful observation because it's free to believe that our work is to stick your children's brilliance and to keep asking questions to uncover what they do understand and watching you live into that, I think has freed me to believe that instead of worrying that I needed to know what I was going to say or say the perfect thing or understand the mathematics myself, that I could set those worries aside and just head into discussions with a lot of curiosity and know that students are going to surprise me today and I can't wait to find out what they tell me.

Kassia: Listening to our guests in this episode reminded me of a piece of advice about classroom conversations that I learned in my first few years of teaching and that I still remember and use many years later. It was my first year at a new school, the wonderful Bailey's Elementary School in Fairfax County Virginia. And I had a math coach for the very first time. Her name was Jessica Shumway. And some of you may know her from her Number Sense Routines books. And it was September and I really did not know a whole lot about teaching math yet. And I remember I was sitting with Jessica in my second grade classroom and I was watching her work with a small group of students on a story problem. And several students had already shared their strategies for the problem, which they had all solved correctly, but there was one student Emmy who was convinced the answer was something else. She was wrong, but she had a really interesting strategy that did make a lot of sense.

Kassia: And it was the first time that I really got to see another teacher handle a wrong answer in math. Jessica listened closely to Emmy and helped the other students engage with her idea. And at the end of the small group time, we still hadn't gotten to a resolution. And I remember that Jessica said with a proud smile, "Emmy still isn't convinced. We're going to have to think about this some more." And what I learned from that experience is that not every conversation needs to come to a neat resolution. That's not how classroom talk works and that's not how learning works. Understanding happens over many conversations, many learning experiences, and we can be okay with and celebrate it, thinking, and progress and students who are skeptical and really demand to make sense of something themselves, rather than being convinced because a teacher tells us or because a peer tells us that something is the right answer. This moment, watching Jessica teach passed by in just a moment, but it's something that I remember now, 15 years later. And I still use that turn of phrase, "It sounds like you're not convinced yet."

Kassia: So we're wondering what is the best piece of advice about classroom conversations that you've gotten? Did it come from something a colleague said or from watching another teacher at work or maybe it came from a favorite professional book? We'd love to hear from you on our Stenhouse blog, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. And we'll see you back here in a couple of weeks for another mini podcast episode of Something to Talk About.

Topics: Something to Talk About