Accountable Talk in Your Classroom
In addition to Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop,
Accountable Talk is a cornerstone of the new curriculum adopted
by New York City. What exactly is it and how can you get it going
in your classroom? For the most part, we are used to teacher directed
classrooms. This might be referred to as a "chalk and talk"
model where the teacher does most of the talking and she spends
the rest of the time writing on the board. In that kind of a classroom
the students spend their time listening and copying.
Proponents of the new curriculum believe that children
learn more from talking about what they're learning rather than
just listening or copying down what the teacher has said. As I pointed
out in my article last month in
the workshop model students learn by doing -- in the same way that
when you do a pottery workshop you learn by watching the teacher
and then trying out the techniques yourself. Similarly in the reading
and writing workshop, teachers model reading strategies or writing
techniques and students try them out, first in active engagement
right on the rug, and then independently. Accountable talk is a
nice compliment to the workshop model of teaching.
The easiest way to get started with Accountable Talk
is during your Read Aloud time. Choose a book with some potential
for discussion and read it to yourself before you present it to
your students. Use post-its to mark the spots where you want to
stop reading and start the Accountable Talk. The first step is for
students to come to the rug already set up with a partner. Then
when you get to your previously marked passage, you just have to
say "Turn and talk to your partner about...." You will
continue with this turn and talk strategy even after you move on
to other models of Accountable Talk.
Remember, Accountable Talk is classroom talk that
is accountable to the learning; students have to be trained to not
talk about other things. The most difficult form of Accountable
Talk is the whole class discussion that is NOT lead by the teacher.
If you study the dynamics of how discussions go in classrooms, the
flow usually involves the teacher at every other point, meaning
a student says something, the teacher responds and asks another
student to respond, the teacher responds again and calls on another
student, etc. Some people call this the "Twenty Question"
technique in which the teacher is leading the discussion by throwing
out question after question about the story to elicit separate responses
from the students.
In the Accountable Talk class discussion model, the
students are able to discuss a topic around what they are reading
and studying; that may be selected by the teacher, but the students
are carrying on the discussion with minimal interference from the
teacher. She or he is merely acting as a facilitator and not really
leading the discussion. Students, of course, need to be trained
to listen to each other and untrained regarding raising their hands
when they wish to speak. You will use the "Turn and Talk"
model every day when you do your read aloud, whereas you can reserve
the whole class discussions for a couple of times per week. The
"Turn and Talk" is done during reading; the numbers of
stops depend on the grade level of the students, with younger grades
stopping fewer times. The whole class discussions happen after the
reading is complete. The whole class discussion would be around
a "big idea" or theory within the book or chapter. Perhaps
on such a day, instead of turning and talking, students would use
post-its to "stop and jot" down something interesting
regarding the question.
The whole class discussions will be much harder to
pull off than the "turn and talk" with a partner. You
might want to start slowly, perhaps going from partners to small
groups, two or three sets of partners having a discussion, and then
finally to the whole class. Once the process is incorporated, you
will be really pleased. Just as in the workshop model, with Accountable
Talk your students are gradually taking responsibility for their
you have any questions.