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 7, Stenhouse editor and author, Kassia Wedekind asks:
What’s a small but powerful move for facilitating classroom talk?
You’ll hear from first-grade teacher Lauren Carr, English teacher Matthew Kay, kindergarten teacher Dawnavyn James, and literacy coach Caroline Sweet.
And we’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment here on the blog, or connect with us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Meet the Educators in this Episode
Dawnavyn James is an early childhood and elementary educator. She has taught kindergarten, fifth grade, and all the grades in between. She graduated from Stephens College with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She currently teaches kindergarten for the Columbia Public School District and this is her sixth year of teaching. Dawnavyn also is the creator of The Black History Club and is passionate about embedding Black histories into curriculum. Dawnavyn’s recent publications include Motivating Writers Through Blogging and A Recipe for Young Historians of Black History. You can connect with Dawnavyn on Twitter @queedomteachin and on Instagram @queendomteaching.
Books & Blog Posts By Our By Our Episode 7 Guests
Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom
One Thing You Might Try: Motivating Writers Through Blogging
Patterns of Power en español: Inviting Bilingual Writers into the Conventions of Spanish
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 asking educators about teacher facilitation moves that seem small, but can have a powerful impact on classroom conversations. When we interviewed educators for of this podcast series, the idea that came up most frequently with this question of small, but powerful moves, was wait time. But as you'll hear, everyone thought about wait time, a little differently. Let's hear first from Lauren Carr, a first grade teacher in Los Angeles, as she shares about the importance of wait time, and how she's grown in this practice.
Lauren Carr: I think giving students wait time... I think that is a huge one that I've gotten a lot better at as I've been teaching. And it... When we're doing math... Specifically, math lessons, we... I set in time for us to wait and it's, kind of, just silent. And the kids are just thinking and they might be thinking put... Pointing their index finger to their brain or scratching their head or showing that we're waiting, we're thinking and gathering our thoughts so that we're ready to share.
Lauren Carr: And even if we're having a class conversation like a community circle and someone is stuck on what they want to say, just waiting. And in the beginning of this... Beginning of the year we, kind of... The kids are always jumping in like, "Oh, what are you going to say? What are you going to say? What are you going to say?" And then that's when I, kind of, talk about wait time for everyone. Just give them time to process, wait. And then the students can see that everybody's, kind of, listening and hearing them and waiting for them. And they're always excited after they share. And so, you could see kids like, "Oh, they're..." They'll give them little thumbs up for sharing after that long period of wait time. And so, I think that has been something that's been a really great tool that I've used in my classroom.
Kassia: And it seems they have to... The students also have to, kind of, learn that at as a norm, whereas maybe their inclination is to jump in and-
Lauren Carr: Yeah.
Kassia: -get started right away. But you teach them that as a norm. How have you gotten better at that? Through your years of teaching, how have you taught yourself about wait time?
Lauren Carr: I think because I'm so used to just... With the little ones, just jumping in saying, "All right, you pause for two seconds. All right. Let's get the next." But I think after... I think, just little moments where I've just stepped back and waited after I posed a question and seeing kids think in that time, I could actually see them thinking. And then, I was like, "Let me sit here. Let me wait and see what comes out of this." And it was... They had a little revelation. And so, then after that, I was like, "You know what? Let's give them more wait time, more space to think, more time to reflect." And it also came back to how I am, I need time to, kind of, wait and process. So I'm like, "Why shouldn't I give this to my students?"
Kassia: Matthew Kay, a high school teacher in Philadelphia and the author of Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom, also talked about wait time. But what I found really interesting about Matt's response was that he talked about giving wait time, not after a teacher asks a question, but rather between student responses.
Matthew Kay: That's number one, is making sure after a kid speaks, you're not just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You sit with kids' comments and kids are being centered, you sit with them even more, but everyone gets their comments sat with and chewed on. So, kids feel important. You know what I mean? Even if you've heard the kids say the same thing... Sometimes I tease them at the end of the year. I'm like... It's fifth period. I teach on fifth period. I had teach two other sophomore classes. We read the same passage. I had the same conversation four times in a row times, three times in a row. Sometimes... And they're like, "Well, that means you've heard." I'm like, "Yeah." Sometimes they say things and you've heard it three times by the time they get to you. But I try to tell them, but either way they don't feel that. After they speak, you chew on it and you think on it. That's the biggest thing to me.
Kassia: In thinking about small but powerful moves, Dawnavyn James, a kindergarten teacher in Missouri, describes her practice of engaging students in social conversations and how that builds robust talk over time with her young learners.
Dawnavyn James: One thing that just stands out is... In our math, I will ask them a would you rather question. So, one day it was, "Would you rather have a slice of pizza with spiders or cockroaches" Or something. I always make it really gross, so then it can catch their attention. And so, in the first stages of that, I just let them answer. And so, starting a couple of weeks ago, I was like, "Well, why? What's your what and why?" And so, they're, kind of, thinking like, "Okay, I got to be ready. She's going to ask me why." And it's very interesting to hear them, kind of, say why. And I never say, "Well, could you explain more?" I just want to hear their why. So, sometimes it's like, "Well, I don't like cockroaches." Okay. That's a why. That's why you don't want to eat pizza with cockroach on it.
Dawnavyn James: And so, it's just allowing them to talk without not, necessarily, attacking them without correcting them or saying, "Well, could you tell me a little more?" Because I feel with younger kids, sometimes they, kind of, shy away once you either ask a question again or try to pull more out of them. So, I think asking them the why, kind of, helps them to start thinking with explaining things, not just in math, but in their writing and their reading and science and social studies. So, just calling it, "Remember, you're going to tell me your what and your why this time." Is really cool for those littles.
Kassia: Yeah. That seems nice. To have a short prompt or question like that, where you, kind of, ask it and step back, instead of, like you were saying, if I'm like on top of you asking a million questions, you might be thinking like, "Am I wrong? Like, what is this person want"?
Dawnavyn James: Right. They never... Because sometimes you'll have those kids that will just, kind of, repeat what the other person said, but it's... I get to see like, well you knew you're supposed to say something, maybe that's not your why, but you're, kind of, observing like, "Okay, I have to say something." So, I never say, "Well, someone..." And sometimes your teachers are like, "Well, that was already said." Well, maybe it is the same thing, I don't know. So, I try not to say like, "Well, let's hear something new." Because sometimes they're like, "I don't know." So, just getting them, kind of, acclimated with that explaining the thinking.
Kassia: And finally, Caroline Sweet, a literacy coach and the author of Patterns of Power en español. Brings up the point that we, as teachers, must consider whether what we ask students to talk about is really worthy of discussion.
Caroline Sweet: Kassia, I was thinking about this one a while, right? Because you sent me this question and I'm like, "One thing? Just say one thing." And so, I'm like, "Well, what is... What's the thing?" What is the one thing? And I thought of a lot of small things, right? But I think the thing is, being very deliberate about planning what we talk about. Because when our content is engaging, feels important, feels connected. Then the generation of conversation, of sharing of ideas, occurs really naturally. And at times it's quite unbridled. You can't reel it in, right? So, I work with language arts teachers all the time. And I talk about this quite a bit, that we just have to prioritize the content of what we're reading, the content of what we're writing over the standards any day. Because I'm not going to go into a fourth grade classroom and be like, "Its summary day you all, what are you thinking about that? Is that getting you going?"
Caroline Sweet: But if I'm like, "Guys, we've been reading about climate change, what do you think." They've got a lot to say, and we can push into our standards from that point. But I think the thing is, that we have to plan very deliberately to have engaging content that really connects to students lived experiences. That makes sense to them. That resonates as true. And when we are doing that, when we're really getting to know our students and understanding what they've been through, what their families go through, what they bring to the table, all the experiences they've had, when we know that and we connect it to our curriculum, the talk is there naturally.
Kassia: One small move I've been thinking about lately is how I'm choosing whether or not to revoice something a student says, for me, it's easy to slip into the habit of repeating almost everything that students say, "Oh, Naomi is telling us something." Or you're saying, and then repeating what a student says. And I think I do this because I want to make sure other students have heard the student's idea. And sometimes revoicing is a powerful move for that purpose. But I'm also starting to think about how revoicing, feeding every student comment through the teacher, can be disempowering to students. It can be like saying, your idea isn't good enough, loud enough, clear enough, until it's come through me, the teacher.
Kassia: So, one thing I'm doing now, sometimes, when I want to emphasize something important is, just asking students to turn and talk about what they heard. "Naomi has brought up this new idea for us to consider, turn and talk to your partner about how you're understanding her idea." So, we're wondering, what's a small move with a big impact that you use in classroom conversations. We'd love to hear from you on our Stenhouse blog, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. And we'll see you back here again soon for another mini podcast episode of Something to Talk About.