21st Century, Innovation

Talk Less!

Part 1 in a series inspired by Seth Godin’s NYC Pick Yourself event.

When I “Imagine a School…” I imagine there to be less teacher talk.  Or more specifically, less teacher lecturing.  What I would hope to see include some of the following points to eliminate unnecessary teacher talk, empower students, change the classroom environment and MAKE SCHOOL DIFFERENT:

  • My first point my be obvious to some, but new to others.  Using the Khan Academy to deliver content at student’s own pace at home has proven (for me) to be a more effective use of class time.  Having access to Sal Khan and Vi Hart and being able to listen to math concepts being explained clearly (and with the option of being paused, restarted, rewound) has meant class time can be utilized for more engaging, problem-solving and interactive tasks that require the application of a variety of math skills
  • Simple instructions for students such as for the beginning of a writing assignment, a group task or a new project can be pre-recorded and delivered via your own avatar  on Voki.  You can speak in your own voice and then play with the special effects or have a different persona read the instructions you say or type.  I think this would be an awesome way to deliver the same message to groups of students and makes me think of Mission Impossible – adding a sense of mystery and adventure to the instructions.  Voki is free and easy to navigate and would be a fun tool for you and for your students.
  • In a similar vein, a simple pressing of keys on the keyboard will ignite a voice from within who will read aloud the text you have preselected.  One of my tech guru’s posted about this on his Technology Tips blog (check him out!) and many kids use it for both the novelty factor but also to hear their written work read back to them.  So often, students come up to share their written work and the minute I read it aloud they are able to identify the errors in their work where prior to coming to me there were ‘none’.  For many, hearing what they have written is what leads them to correct their work and this is a great tool to allow them to do that without you needing to read aloud for them.
  • In our fifth grade class, we shared the concept of the Socratic Seminar with our students.  This free-flowing, building-block, interactive forum for discussion is a great way to ensure everyone gets a voice as ‘chips’ are thrown in when you add your voice to the conversation and once your chips are gone, you may only continue to observe the conversation in silence.  This is a technique that takes some practice and modeling but is well worth you persevering with in order to bring group and class discussions to a higher level. Initially, you may be the person who leads or ‘chairs’ the seminar but in time, this too can be a role that is handed over to the students.
  • Write your key points.  When I was an art teacher, I took a course on assessment and one of the tools I investigated was the use of ‘Success Criteria’.  This is a very, very simple concept.  When you have defined the outcome of the lesson or time period, simply write that on the board in the following way:  You will be successful when your group has come to an agreement about the design of your art piece AND the design represents input from and the ideas of each member in the group.  The great thing about Success Criteria is that it makes it clear what ‘finished’ for this part of the lesson looks like.  As the teacher, you can direct student attention back to the criteria and have them decide when they are truly ‘finished’ and therefore ‘successful’. There are a couple of SlideShare presentations that give a few more details about this here and here.
  • When you are talking to the group, nominate student teams to be record keepers.  Better yet, have them document the lesson preamble and post on your classroom blog.  The post should focus on the What, Why, When, How and Who – in particular, the Why.  Why are we doing this?  What are we hoping to learn?  Who will be doing what?  When is the task needed to be completed by?  What are our choices and options?  Giving student groups (pairs) the responsibility for this frees up other students to really focus on listening rather than listening and note-taking.  It gives an authentic forum for writing and reinforces the idea that in learning communities, we learn and work together to achieve common goals.

I titled this post ‘Talk Less!” but I think it important to mention that what you say and how you say it are just as important factors as how much  you are saying.  This is clearly evident when you take a look at the work of Peter H. Johnston and two of his books, Choice Words and Opening Minds: Using Language To Change Lives – both books going to show that sometimes a single word can change everything. The two books are succinctly summarized on Amazon as follows:

“In his groundbreaking book Choice Words, Peter Johnston demonstrated how the things teachers say (and don’t say) have surprising consequences for the literate lives of students. Now, in Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, Peter shows how the words teachers choose affect the worlds students inhabit in the classroom, and ultimately their futures. He explains how to engage children with more productive talk and to create classrooms that support not only students’ intellectual development, but their development as human beings.”  

I know there have been times when I regret the way in which my message was delivered but also have experienced times when the choice of the right words has moved students towards deeper understandings or greater confidence in their abilities.

What do you do in your classroom to ensure you are ‘talking less’?  What active steps are you taking to ensure the right kinds of talk are coming from your classroom?
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2 thoughts on “Talk Less!”

  1. Sonya, your message is so clear and easy to implement. I will definitely use the ‘Success Criteria’ concept and the ‘chips’ idea of the Socratic Seminar in our formal class discussions.
    Thank you 🙂

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