Look who's talking
I believe it was Jen York-Barr that is credited with saying, "The person doing the talking is often the person doing the learning." It's one of my favorite quotes that point out the importance of allowing all students to talk and verbalize their thinking. What I love about teaching reading and writing is the way that listening and speaking bolsters each of these language domains. The four language domains are interconnected, reciprocal skills. Writing and speaking are both outputs, while reading and listening are inputs. The best reading and writing teachers are skilled facilitators who strategically plan meaningful interactions between students and content, students and peers, and students and themselves. These interactions are anchored in talk, structured with intentionality, and cultivated by formal or informal discussions about what students are reading, writing or learning.
A general rule of thumb I offer when pondering teacher-student talk ratios is 10 to 2. For every 10 minutes of teacher talk, there should be at least 2 minutes of student talk. Skilled facilitators know it's imperative that learners are given time and space to share their thinking about the content they're learning. This allows educators to lean in and hear students express understanding or misconceptions related to the content. A few strategically planned discussion questions can help you discern who truly understands from who is truly lost.
Please don't think that you can just plan some questions, head into your classroom tomorrow, and make your students talk to one another. Talking classrooms are not created overnight. Teachers have to create a dialogic learning community by establishing routines and expectations for accountable talk and modeling them. Most teachers use accountable talk sentence stems to provide students with options for respectable conversations. These sentence stems serve as scaffolds for all students, especially our second language learners. Model how to use the stems by having fishbowl conversations, where you and another student or a group of students demonstrate how a conversation can go. This will allow opportunities for you to highlight "dos and don'ts." I suggest starting with casual, non-threatening questions, before rolling out content-specific discussion questions. We tend to talk more when discussing topics we are most familiar with, especially if it's about our likes and dislikes. Before discussing an inference from the text using text evidence, you can talk about what you like or dislike about the text, whether you agree or disagree with the author or a character's actions, etc.
Here are a few of my favorite discussion strategies:
Share your favorite ways to get your students talking in the comments.
What's the purpose of homework?
There are probably a wide variety of responses to this very loaded question. I know many teachers who see homework as an extension of the work being done in class. Throughout my years in education, my answer to this question has evolved to consider a plethora of things, including who is home to assist developing readers and writers, what materials do they have access to at home, how many trees will be sacrificed this week, etc. I placed more importance on students listening, speaking, reading and writing for homework. We would brainstorm interview questions to ask siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, different family members about topics covered in class. Students recorded responses and came to school ready to share their findings. Dictation is a great way to see how students understand and apply knowledge of letter sounds. Instead of making homework packets, I encouraged students to watch the news or their favorite television show and write what they learned.
Now, more than ever we need to consider how we can make homework more meaningful. We can't assign independent practice for homework, then take a grade on it. Independent practice is meant to be completed in class with the teacher on hand to assist if the student has any issues applying the new learning. Time has not been the friend of any educator I know, so I know balancing synchronous and asynchronous time for both face-to-face and virtual students is challenging. Resist the temptation to have students complete independent practice for homework. Instead, consider the following:
Please share any other suggestions in the comments.
How much time do your students spend actually reading and writing? There is so much research out there that supports the need for independent reading and independent writing with conferencing to become better readers and writers. More than half of your instructional block should be dedicated to independent reading and writing, so students can practice the strategies and skills taught. When we teach a strategy, we have to give opportunities to apply their understanding of the strategy. Imagine taking dance lessons where the instructor explains, demonstrates, and guides you through the dance steps, but you don't practice the steps on your own.
Some people can learn like that (don't get me wrong), but the vast majority of people will need time to practice the steps to make them their own. Independent practice with the instructor looking on, ready to jump in and assist, is a necessary part of performance-based tasks. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are performance based, and independent practice is required to ensure mastery. Structure your instructional time to reflect that belief.
Now wait a minute. This was easy to do in face-to-face settings, but what does this look like in virtual?? Here are some options to consider:
Malene Golding has been a professional educator for over twenty years, teaching, coaching, and managing reading and writing teachers, as well as administrators and specialists.