Today we are delighted to welcome guest blogger, Valerie Geschwind. Valerie is currently a teacher in the NYC public schools. Valerie creates magical things in her classroom, one of which is rich and inspired talk. In the post below, she shares some of her secrets to building great talk. You can follow Valerie on twitter at @valgeschwind and learn more at her blog, kiddrivenblog.wordpress.com
With the CCSS placing such a strong emphasis on speaking and listening, teachers have been asking an important question: How can we support students in building academic talk and conversations?
Just like we support readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists with charts and visuals, we can support our talkers with charts too!
Getting Started with Talk Behaviors
If your classroom is anything like mine, the fall months are spent with a lot of wiggly worms on the rug. Before diving into building conversations, we spend time practicing the behaviors of talk. During daily shares that happen within morning meeting, kids get to practice being respectful listeners and talkers. These morning shares were not academically based, but instead were student chosen. In order for students to hone in on the behaviors of talk, it is important for them to be free from worrying about new content.
To start, we brainstormed what it looks like to be listening. I charted what my kids came up with in simple language, as it was fall of kindergarten.
Before each share, we choose one behavior to practice as a class. When students were finished sharing, we would reflect. We would ask questions like:
- How did it feel to (insert goal here)?
- What was easy?
- What felt hard?
- How can we do an even better job tomorrow?
After we became expert listeners, we worked on becoming expert speakers! In many ways, this is a lot more difficult for children. They need to be able to come up with ideas and share them with all of their peers. When we were practicing becoming expert speakers, we followed a similar procedure as when we became expert listeners. We brainstormed what expert speakers sounded like and then practiced during shares.
As the weeks went on and our class had practiced the listening and speaking behaviors, kids began setting their own personal goals. They would jot a behavior on an index card and bring it with them to the rug as a reminder.
Students holding their goal index cards during a share on the rug.
Kids were in charge of this goal-setting. If they felt that they needed to work on the same goal over a few days, they would keep their index card. When they felt ready for a new goal, they made a new index card. As kids made their goals, they took ownership of listening and speaking behaviors that would act as the base for future conversations.
Behaviors Help Build Conversations
Talk behaviors act as the foundation for conversations. We started to practice using what we know about being a listener and speaker and combining these skills around debate topics as opposed to practicing these skills in isolation during a share where a few children speak, the rest listen, and there is not growth or development. Again, to start, these were not academic talks, but debates around topics my kids were interested in. For example, we debated which is more fun, indoor or outdoor recess? We debated what flavor is better, vanilla or chocolate?
We began practicing these new conversational strategies to support deeper talk and conversation around one topic.
This chart grew over a few weeks. Strategies were added as they came up in our debate conversations and kids were ready to push their talk deeper.
Content Drives Conversation
I am a firm believer that content is what will ultimately drive conversation. Kids (people of all ages) like to talk. When kids are interested in a topic or a book, they will be eager and excited to talk about it. When moving into academic talks and grand conversations, I keep this fact in mind, choosing topics and books that are meaty, interesting, and engaging. In my personal experience, I have found that kids love to talk around non-fiction topics, so this is where I often begin when transitioning kids into academic talk. To get kids talking, I chose some strategies that are also supportive when reading non-fiction and charted them.
We also remembered to take everything we learned previously about conversation behaviors and strategies and brought it to these new conversations.
During read-aloud, kids could write their ideas and then use these non-fiction strategies as a guide for talk. Students would ask questions and many would respond with their theories.
Having the chart as a visual supported the types of thinking and talking they could do around non-fiction topics. It is also a supportive visual to have the book projected so that students can use it as evidence for their theories or to clarify each other’s thinking.
Similar content charts can be made for fiction.
It is easy to get kids excited about talk. Creating charts and visuals of talk behaviors, strategies, and interactions with content only further supports their ability to build meaningful conversations.
What are some talk visuals you have created to support your talkers?
Happy Charting and Talking,
We were thrilled to see and reconnect with so many teachers and Chartchums followers at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop 86th Saturday Reunion. We were inspired by Kathy Collins who reminded us that we are teaching children for life, not just for school and she suggested we find the simplicity, the essential elements that stand the test of time, like Shaker Furniture, in our teaching. We agree and try to do that with the charts we create. This week we are revisiting an earlier post on nonfiction charts that can support both reading and writing since many of you have told us you are trying to help your children actively read and write informational texts.
With the adoption of the common core state standards, many schools have seen an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading and writing. Many of the schools we work with across the country are beefing up nonfiction libraries, working on nonfiction writing year round, and incorporating plenty of nonfiction into their read aloud and shared reading time. What can happen when we teach nonfiction is that we get caught up on the content and forget the valuable reading skills that children can gain from reading informational books and will further develop through the reading of just right nonfiction texts. In this post you will find a variety of nonfiction reading and writing charts intended to support a classroom of second graders, but can easily be tweaked to support any grade level.
This chart supports a classroom of children who, when asked, “What is this book teaching?” give the most basic and undeveloped of answers. You may teach, and subsequently chart, that the questions nonfiction readers ask themselves to make sure they are getting all the information the author is offering. The quick sketches could be from a read aloud that you did ahead of time, or you could even use the photos from that book. You may need to teach all of these questions, just a few, or maybe none at all. As you may recall from a previous post, the magic number on a chart is four (+/- 1). More than five things on any chart means that one thing is likely to be forgotten or never used. Sometimes less really is more. After teaching this big work, you may do what Alyssa did (our guest blogger from a few posts back) and make a smaller version of these questions for certain readers to keep with them at all times.
This is a chart that might be used to support nonfiction readers who hang on to the coolest fact as the most important one. You know the experience; after reading an entire book about sharks you ask about the most important information, and all you hear echoed back is the one line about how sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away. (true- its why Kristine gets knee deep in the ocean and then runs back out). The tricky part is, for some children, that is THEIR most important part, but that may not be what the author was trying to emphasize. There are a few strategies listed to tie children back into the text. Depending on the level and style of nonfiction book your children are reading, these strategies may not work. If your children’s books have no headings, well then using the heading is going to be awfully hard. It is helpful to study your students’ materials before jumping into your teaching. Again, this chart would be stickier and stronger if the samples were from texts you read aloud or from leveled texts you used during your lessons.
When teaching any strategies around a big skill, it is helpful to think about teaching a few and then spending a day or two reminding children to use the chart and to choose whichever strategy will work for them in the book they are reading now.
Starting in Kindergarten, children are expected to name a topic, then in first and second grade the CCSS talks specifically about children being able to introduce a nonfiction topic in their writing. It seems worth assessing if children can do this well. If not, you might teach, and then chart, some of the above strategies. This chart could look many different ways. This one lists the strategies out of context, but you could take a great nonfiction introduction from a read aloud, write it on chart paper, and mark the same things in context on that introduction. If one introduction doesn’t support the strategies you want to teach, you could mimic Rosie’s chart, “Leads to Hook Your Reader!” from “Checking in On Charts” and replace the fiction mentors with nonfiction ones. Finally, you could use student work to show examples of what each of these things look like in action. There is a very fine line between inspiration and copying, and when children mimic examples that you have posted they are using them as a powerful scaffold. The next introduction they write may not need to lean so heavily on the models.
The standards for nonfiction writing mention “developing” your topic, which to us sounds like elaboration. For each strategy, there are multiple ways this can be done. For example, to give definitions you could: use a word box, a glossary, or an in-text definition. Even when something is named in the standard, like definitions, we want to give children choice in how they approach it in their own work. To make this more powerful, you could again use mentor texts that you have studied or samples from student work. There are countless ways to elaborate nonfiction writing, so the best place to start is with assessing the ways your writers use and don’t use elaboration strategies. You can scour nonfiction texts for examples to share and then put them on the chart with a descriptor so children will be able to recreate it in their own work.
Just like with the reading skills, when you teach a big skill like elaboration you may want to spend a few days teaching all the different ways, and then another day or two in using the chart to make smart choices in our own writing.
Remember Kathy Collins’s suggestion to find simplicity when teaching. Charts don’t have to be fancy or perfect, but they do need to be simple.
Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz
Class charts are just that – for the class, the whole class. They capture your teaching and provide a resource for children when they need a quick reminder, a guide for how to do something, or an exemplar to view as a model. We have talked about ways to make charts interactive with the use of post-its and making smaller table-top versions or individual copies for kids folders or book baggies. While all these options have been used successfully, there are always children who need something else, a variation, or a complete new kind of chart. Turning charts into tools that can match individual needs is one way to do this.
Marjorie recently worked with some first grade teachers at PS 256 in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn who were trying to figure out some ways to get the kids rereading their books repeatedly without just repeatedly reading each and every book in the exact same way. The whole purpose of multiple reads of a text is that both fluency and comprehension improve. In other words, the reading gets better. How to solve the problem then of when a small group of students don’t seem to understand the value in rereading their books multiple times and therefore not progressing as readers? For this small group of children something else was needed. The teachers and Marjorie came up with the idea of teaching the children a routine for rereading that laid out a different focus for each time a book was read.
They came up with five different ideas for rereading a book. A first read was usually figuring out the words, the second read was often to smooth out the reading, the third time was to look more closely at the pictures adding to their understanding of what the book was about, the fourth time was to read with expression, matching one’s voice to tone and mood, and lastly rereading to post-it important parts worth thinking and talking more about. Marjorie then sketched out a bookmark with these five ways to reread a book. The teachers immediately thought that all their students could benefit from such a support, but for some children, five ways might be too much. Variations were made by simply removing some of the options, so that there was one kind of bookmark that had only three ways and one that had four ways to reread a book.
Also, how the children used the bookmarks could be adjusted depending on needs. For example, in one class there were a few children who would benefit from rereading each book three times in a row and using a paper clip to keep track and prompt them to keep going. Another class thought the sliding paper clip idea might work for all the children and make it feel like a game.
The bookmarks became helpful tools to put into each child’s hands and set them up to take on more ownership of their reading and responsibility for rereading with intention and purpose. And each bookmark could quickly and easily be adjusted depending on needs and reading levels. Any chart can be transformed into a tool and even more importantly, be customized for each student.
Marjorie & Kristi