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 4, Stenhouse editor and author, Kassia Wedekind asks:
What’s hard about facilitating classroom talk?
(And how are you working at getting better?)
You’ll hear from third grade teacher Jennifer Orr, kindergarten teacher Dawnavyn James, and first grade teachers Lauren Carr and Santasha Dhoot.
And we’d love to hear from you! Let us know how you’re rethinking participation in classroom conversations. Leave a comment here on the blog, or connect with us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Meet the Educators in this Episode
Lauren Carr is a first-grade grade teacher in Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a Masters in Education. She is passionate about social justice and understanding students’ mathematical thinking. Follow Lauren on Twitter @__Laurencarr.
Santasha 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.
Blog Posts By Our By Our Episode 4 Guests
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 and author here at Stenhouse, and a math coach. 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 talking with educators about what's hard about facilitating classroom talk and how we can get better at it.
Kassia: When I thought about how I'd answer this question, my first thought was everything. Everything's challenging in classroom discourse in some ways. And I don't mean that in a negative way. I just mean that creating a classroom discourse community is something that's an ongoing practice, something that you can continually work at and learn about forever. And something I've been thinking about in recent years is how I respond to children's physical bodies during classroom conversations.
Kassia: When I first started teaching, I absolutely thought it was my job to make sure kids were sitting criss-cross applesauce on the rug, looking at each other in the eyes when they talked and being still. And now when I'm facilitating classroom conversations and I see a kid moving their body or not always looking at other kids when they're talking and I'm tempted to offer some correction, I'm practicing asking myself, is this really a problem? Is this interfering with us making meaning through conversation? Or is this more about my own discomfort? And if it's not really causing an issue in the conversation, I'm practicing letting it go, letting those kids just be. There's so much policing of kids' bodies in schools so I'm trying to work on letting kids be who they are in classroom conversations. And that includes learning to break with some of my more traditional understandings of how children's physical bodies should be when we meet together for conversation.
Kassia: So today we're talking with four brilliant educators who give us a peek into what's still hard for them in classroom conversations. And I have to admit that I felt both relief and inspiration hearing from folks whose work I admire as they talked about what they're working on getting better at. Let's hear first from Jennifer Orr, a third grade teacher in Virginia.
Jennifer Orr: Okay. There's a lot of things that are hard still, and I kind of love that for all that it's frustrating to do. Why is this all still hard? It means that there's still a lot of learning to do. And that's one of the things that's kept me in the classroom for more than 20 years, is that there's always more to be learning. But when it comes to talk, the thing that I feel like I really need to do better is to balance partner talk, small group talk, whole class talk. I have a tendency, I think, to kind of get in a rut, and for a while, will do lots of partner talk. And then I'll get really focused on some whole class conversations and I'll be really thinking about that and coming up with some really great thought provoking questions or ideas for us to talk about, and we'll do some great whole group conversations for a few weeks, and then we won't do them again for a while.
Jennifer Orr: And so trying to really balance small group, partner, whole class, and making sure that we're doing all of those kind of regularly. Partner talk happens a lot, but the others are harder. And there's a lot of learning that happens in each of those settings, both around talking and listening and around content, in ways that I think is really important. And so I have to figure out how to make sure. And I don't know if I literally need to just set up a checklist for myself and each week look at, what kinds of talk did we do this week? Or what kinds of talk do I plan for us this week? Am I missing something? It may need to be that formal, at least for a little while until it sort of becomes routine for me, because I feel like that's a real challenge for me. And it frustrates me when I look back over a unit or something and realize, wow, we didn't do any whole class conversations in the last three weeks, or, oh my gosh, we did some really great whole class conversations and never did they get to talk in a small group. So figuring out that balance is one of my goals.
Kassia: Dawnavyn James, a kindergarten teacher in Missouri, shares what she's been learning about how children participate in read alouds and how she responds to children processing their reading experience out loud through talk.
Dawnavyn James: Something I've been practicing it really hard this year, I've just always, I guess, observed or sometimes our curriculum kind of says, let's say I'm reading a book and kids are talking out or saying things like, "Oh, look at that," or getting up and pointing at the book. And years ago, I'd be like, "Okay, you need to sit down or raise your hand if you have something to say." That's not natural. When I'm at home or right now talking to you, I don't have to raise my hand to answer your question. So this year I've really worked hard on just allowing them to talk without having to raise their hand because we want them to be these natural readers who are able to question and talk about what they see in the illustrations and why the author wrote that or why does that character look like that?
Dawnavyn James: And so when I'm forcing them to wait, raise your hand if you have something to say, then they lose it or it's just not as authentic. So I was just trying to get out of that. I'm not going to force you to raise your hand if you're going to say something about the book. And so it's just been really interesting. We read a book today about Gustavo, the Shy Ghost and I mean, they were like, "Oh, look at his mom." I mean, and then sometimes they're talking amongst themselves. They're not talking to me all the time. I think teachers forget that. They're not always talking to you. Some of their conversation's not for you. It's either for themselves or for people around them. And so just allowing them to talk about the books and then they'll ask a question, sometimes it's directed at me, but sometimes it's not, and so that allows other kids to answer or agree or disagree or wonder. And just allowing them to come up and they'll touch the book, like, "Oh, right here." And I'm like, "Oh, okay." But years ago, I would've been like, "Sit down. Raise your hand. Don't get up." So that's been something I've really worked on.
Kassia: That's such a great example of the experience of reading to young children. They want to participate and join in on repeated lines or touch things or make their ahas out loud. And you were saying, it's not necessarily they're talking to you. They're just having the experience. And I totally hear you on when in my early years of teaching, I worried about losing control more so I'd be like, "Don't touch anything. Don't sit anywhere." But if you think about how we read to kids in our own family or our lives, you're right there and they're touching and processing. So we don't want to shut those things down at school either.
Dawnavyn James: Like raising your hand, like, oh girl, well I forgot or I don't want to do it now. So I feel like the conversations about books has been more authentic. Because in curriculum, you want them to question. Like, "Have them..." No, they do it anyway. So I just let them do it. So that's been really interesting to kind of hear their thinking about their books and I'm just like, "Oh, good job reader. That's a really good question. A really good observation." So it's been really cool.
Kassia: Lauren Carr, a first grade teacher in Los Angeles, shares her thoughts on the challenges of balancing voices in conversations.
Lauren Carr: For me, it's when we are having conversations or discussions, there are some voices that are always talking or always sharing. And sometimes I automatically go to that student and stay there for a little bit and kind of everybody else falls to the ... I don't know. I kind of tune them out a little bit because I'm just like, okay, I hear this. They are getting it. Let me get them to where I want them to be. And then when I kind of snap out of it, I look around and I'm like, oh no, we're all on the same page at this moment. And so I am working on hearing that one voice and also bringing in everybody else into that conversation so that everybody can get what that student is trying to share. And most of the time when I'm with that one student trying to get them, it's a big idea that I'm so excited about that I want everybody to hear. So I'm like, we're going to talk this through. And I think that just everyone else kind of loses.
Kassia: That's a hard thing to work on. I hear you.
Lauren Carr: Yeah. And so I've been working on it by just reflecting. I feel like I journal every day after school. Who did I hear from today? Who did I not hear to from today? How can I encourage the one I didn't hear? Or how can I partner someone that was talking a lot with someone that might not so that they can get what that person was trying to say? So I do a lot of reflecting that usually helps for my planning and my day to day.
Kassia: And finally, Santasha Dhoot, a first grade teacher in the Seattle area, shares some aspects of classroom conversation and community she's working on and reminds us that all of our classroom work is an ongoing learning process.
Santasha Dhoot: I think learning more ways for students to participate in talk and listening that are not just oral language, I think is something I'm still experimenting with, seeing what works, what doesn't work. And I think too, I'm still learning on what translanguaging means for our classroom and what that means for speaking and listening, especially as listeners. I think it's so interesting when I have two students who do not speak the same language are speaking to each other and what does that mean for their listening and what are they comprehending from their conversations? I think I'm still working on what that means for our teaching and how I can bring that in more and make it accessible for everyone. I think for my teaching itself, I think I'm still growing and experimenting on making my teaching and our lessons accessible for all different types of speakers and listeners. So still thinking about that.
Kassia: It's an ongoing practice of learning things and relearning them and unlearning them.
Santasha Dhoot: Yeah. I think the unlearning piece is huge because it's so easy to just go back to what feels comfortable or how you were taught. And like I said before, I think we have so many pressures and expectations as teachers of things that we have to meet and evidence that we have to show. And I think while you're also trying to create a culturally responsive community where all your students are thriving, you're also trying to dismantle all of those expectations and things that are being put on you. So I think lots of unlearning and then also lots of grace in that it's okay to have something completely blow up and that whoa, that strategy really didn't work. Let me try something else. And that it's okay if it's messy, because I think if someone had it all figured out, then we wouldn't be having these conversations. But yeah, we're all still trying to figure out and all trying to just dismantle that traditional classroom and make sure that all of our students feel valued and heard and that they feel seen.
Kassia: So we're wondering, what are you working on getting better at as you facilitate classroom conversations? 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.