Teacher-Student Dialogue

Empower Students to Be ‘Captains of Communication’ From Ed Week

By Starr Sackstein on February 12, 2017 6:31 AM Guest post by Brian Klaft


Short excerpt:

When groups are constructed around strong student communicators, student engagement increased. My class now has the ability to work bell to bell, to the point that my students often lose track of time due to their engagement. I have heard “time flew today” on more than one occasion. Time flies when learning is deep. Increased engagement was not the only benefit of having table captains.”

A good communicator has a way of making a group safe to engage in, which leads to more academic risk taking, which leads to deeper questioning and understanding of science phenomena. Questioning and understanding phenomena is the goal and communication is the key.”

My students have a safe zone through which they can take part in class in a more active way. They are not just going deeper due to NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] and its three dimensions, but also do to the safe dynamic of the group. Having a class designed on safety of communication has also resulted in fewer students on the periphery that only engage under teacher supervision.”



Teacher to Teacher Dialogue

Jim Knight’s approach to coaching.  Well worth exploring.

“This collection of our free and most popular resources include teaching tools and forms. They are designed to assist in the development and understanding of coaches, teachers, and administrators.”


“A partnership approach to dramatically improving instruction.

  1. What complicates the task of helping adults? 2. What are the partnership principles and should I ground my coaching in them? 3. What is the instructional coaching improvement cycle? How do I do it? Should I do it?









Focus on Dialogue About Teaching/Learning: Who is Engaged?

I began this current sequence of blogs by introducing a posting about “Openness to Learning” in which an expert on communication and learning provided insights into how administrators and teachers can optimize student success by engaging in meaningful dialogue.  But it isn’t only teachers and administrators who are engaged in this topic.  Here are some other “potential” discourse partners who can/will influence student success.

Teacher/Parent Conversations

Teacher/Student Conversations

Parent/Student Conversations

Student/Student Conversations

Special Educator/Teacher/Parent/Student Conversations

Teacher/Support Staff Conversations

In an attempt to curate/find relevant files/links for this current series I went back to my ScoopIt site for posts I had curated for my Dialogue and Learning Board: http://www.scoop.it/t/dialogue-and-learning which has over 500 posting starting in 2012.  Here is just a brief listing of the types of posts I curated:

Parent-Teacher Dialogue





Teacher-Student Dialogue

Students Voice…what are student’s thinking


Teaching Students to Give and Receive Feedback


Parent-Student Dialogue

Good Talk: Raising Smart Learners Through Rich Conversations


Student-Student Dialogue



What’s Next?

Are there general guidelines for conversation?  Do they apply to all partnerships?  To all situations? Grice’s Maxims offer a starting place ( https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/dravling/grice.html ) but are they enough?




Chapter 2 Getting Started with Academic Conversations from Zwiers and Crawford, Academic Conversations, 2011

This chapter begins as do the other chapters with quotes from learners or teachers:

Comment from a 6th grader:  “It was weird.  When we finished talking, we had a totally new idea.” (p. 27)

In a sense, Chapter 2 is the heart of this book.  It covers two central ideas: Conversation Norms and Core Skills for Academic Conversations.

Shared Conversation Norms.  I can’t image a more critical skill (standard) than learning how to use conversation to learn, to create ideas, to negotiate, perhaps especially as we elect new leadership in our country.  Here verbatim (from pages 30-31) are the authors’ list 7 norms:

*listen to each other

*share our own ideas and explain them

*respect one another’s ideas, even if they are different

*respectfully disagree and try to see the other view

*let others finish explaining their ides without interrupting

*try to come to some agreement in the end

*take turns and share air time

The five core skills of conversation which are explained in more detail in Chapter 3 are:

Elaborate and clarify

Support ideas with examples

Build on and/or challenge a partner’s idea


Synthesize conversation points

Real strengths of this text are the number of examples the authors provide and the extent to which it is possible to generalize these ideas to written language and across content areas.


Classroom Discussion “instruction”

This is a really nice extension of Zwier’s work on Academic Conversations posted last Tuesday.

How to Scaffold Skills for Student Discussions

Academic Conversations and School Success

Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford,  Stenhouse, 2011

Dialogue Blog for Monday, March 21 16

This book offers an extensive treatment of classroom talk with multiple examples and suggestions for application across the content areas.  In this multi-post sequence, my focus will be on the following chapters:

1 Reasons to Converse in School (pp 7-26)

2 Getting Started with Academic Conversations

3 Lesson Activities for Developing Core Conversation Skills

4 Designing Effective Conversation Tasks

5 Training Students for Academic Conversations

8 Conversations in History

9 Conversations in Science

To begin Chapter 1, Z and C offer a comment by a 4th grader:

“Conversations not only made us sound smarter, I think they actually made us smarter.”

Zwiers and Crawford begin this chapter by talking about the need for oral academic skills in school and in the larger world, and they note the problem that “Despite their power, rich conversations in school are rare.” (p. 7)  As always in reviewing a book in-depth, I highly recommend buying it.

Advantages of Conversation

They then go on to present a long list of “advantage of conversation” across a wide range of domains: language and literacy (LL), cognitive (COG), content learning (CON), Social and cultural (SC) and psychological (PSY).

Under Language and Literacy Advantages, they note:

Conversation Builds Academic Language

Conversation Builds Vocabulary

Conversation Builds Literacy Skills

Conversation Builds Oral Language and Communication Skills

In the Cognitive Domain, they note that Conversation

Builds Critical Thinking Skills

Promotes Different Perspectives and Empathy

Fosters Creativity

Fosters Skills for Negotiating Meaning and Focusing on a Topic

In the Content Domain they say Conversation

Builds Content Understanding

Cultivates Connections

Helps Students to Co-Construct Understanding

Helps Teachers and Students Assess Learning

For the Social Cultural Domain, conversation

Builds Relationships

Builds Academic Ambience

Makes Lessons More Culturally Relevant

Fosters Equity

And, in the Psychological Domain, Conversation

Develops Inner Dialogue and Self-Talk

Fosters Engagement and Motivation

Builds Confidence and Academic Identity

Fosters Choice, Ownership, and Control Over Thinking

Builds Academic Identity

Fosters Self-Discovery

Builds Student Voice and Empowerment.




The Language of Thinking

In the last blog post that focused on Ritchhart’s book on Creating Cultures of Thinking, I commented on Chapter 3 (Language:  Appreciating Its Subtle Yet Profound Power and ended that post with the following comments:

The next post in this series will explore the “Language of Thinking.”  It will be interesting to see how these introductory examples of “language use” (choice of words, ways of joining the conversation, asking questions about connections, possibilities, and reasoning) do or might play a role in the Language of Thinking.

The Language of Thinking (pp. 68-71)

Ritchhart begins this section (1 of 7 kinds of classroom “languages”) by referring to work of Costa (l991) on teachers using a rich vocabulary of thinking words, words like “inquire, generate, question, puzzle, theorize, to name a few of a very long list.”  He expands that idea by citing work by Tishman and Perkins (l997), who made a further distinction  of “thinking vocabulary” by subdividing the words into words about process (justify, examine), product (a hypothesis, a judgment) and attitudes toward an idea (agreement, doubt).  And, Ritchhart added a fourth category: states (confusion, awe).

Like most of our learning goals, we don’t just want students to “know” the vocabulary of thinking, we want them to use it in discriminating ways—to be specific about the cognitive tasks they are engaged in.  It matters that students understand that they are to “describe” rather than “infer” or “conclude,” for example.

For Ritchhart, “the language of thinking assists metacognition in both its reflective components as well as its planning aspects.  ….this helps us identify those processes for examination.” ….Metacognition isn’t merely backward looking, however.  Metacognition involves ongoing monitoring and directing of one’s thinking.” (p. 69)….Having a language to identify thinking processes is a requirement for us to call them into play.  If we cannot name the processes, then we can’t easily and effectively activate them.” (p. 70)

The main way students develop a language of thinking, he says, is by being in situations where others are using it….. “Noticing when and where students are thinking and specifically naming the thinking being demonstrated is a key move that teachers, parents and mentors can use to develop awareness, direct attention and reinforce processes.” (p. 70)

It starts with teachers highlighting and reinforcing what they want students to notice.  “For instance, in Lisa Verkerk’s class, the routine See-Think-Wonder asked students to look closely, notice details, observe carefully, make interpretations, build explanations, reason, generate alternatives, provide evidence, make connections, and raise questions….Rather than just telling students they had done a good job, she used language to notice and name something specific that they had done well: observing.” (p. 70)

Obviously that type and range of cognitive activity (thinking processes) is a lot to pay attention to at one time.  “Thus we need to identify what kinds of thinking we are looking for in a particular lesson.  Ritchhart notes that when the targeted thinking is missing, it can be scaffolded by the teacher.  “When it is present, we can …make it visible to them.” ….”Think of students as apprentices trying to develop a set of skills that allow for more and more independence.  We want to draw attention to those skills and processes that are authentic to the learning task at hand and not just the completion of the work.”(p. 71)











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