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: 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 ( ) but are they enough?




Adult Communication that Impacts Student Success in School

Up to this time, this blog has focused on language development and use by children.  The idea was to focus on the ways in which children do and can develop the language skills that help them to be successful learners.  There is a wealth of information “out there” as well an on this blog about ways to do this.

It is time for a new focus: the communication of adults that impacts children’s success in school and beyond.  Teachers and parents talk about children and their success or lack of success in school, administrators and teachers talk about children, special educators and teachers talk about children.  Support staff members and “outside” experts “communicate” about children and their success or lack of success in school.  What do we know about how these “stakeholders” (is that the correct term?) talk to each/one another about children’s success in school?  How much of their conversations address the reasons for children’s success or lack of success and what each adult does/can do to ensure that success.

I am going to start with a very brief video (4+ minutes) featuring an expert on adult communication about children’s success in school.  I “found” this video when I googled the topic “open to learning.”  Here is my starting point: exploring what this well respected expert has to say.  More to follow.

Here is a follow-up video with more detail about “Open to learning communication.”

Listening and Learning

Reading Sage on Think Alouds

From the blog of  The Dyslexic Reading Teacher Sean Taylor,  a teacher whose work I highly respect and value!

 Rethinking Ability Groups and Differentiation!

   ” Teachers are trained to use reading assessment data to differentiate and ability group students based on reading comprehension scores, yet many teachers never ability group based on the students listening levels. Many teachers never test the students listening comprehension ability. Why? Basing reading instruction and lessons on grade level reading scores alone is a mistake, student’s grade level listening comprehension levels are a clue to your students’ potential ability….”

 My Experience with Low Reading Scores and High Listening Comprehension!

       “Special educations students like me, that could barely decode at a first grade level in 5th grade, yet I could have easily understood literary concepts many years higher than my grade level. I never had a chance to test my ability and tackle complex literary concepts because I was always in a special education ability grouped reading class (differentiated) my whole public school career!  My education choices were accommodated, modified and differentiated to the point of being mute….”


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.




Ritchhart Part 3: The Language of Listening and Community

In the first blog post in this series I introduced Ritchhart’s Chapter on Language: Appreciating Its Subtle Yet Profound Power from his text: Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools (2015).

The first post from this Language Chapter focused on The Language of Thinking, one of 7 kinds of languages.  In this post, I’m going to begin a series that brings together, The Language of Listening, The Language of Community, and ideas from his Chapter on “Interactions: Forging Relationships That Empower Learners.”

The Language of Listening

In this section, the author highlights the power of being a good listener.  “Good” doesn’t mean agreeing with everything others say, it does mean engaging in a dialogue that includes clarification, making connections, building coherence (of ideas) and challenging…”not in terms of correctness or accuracy, but in the exploratory sense.”

Ritchhart says, “Good listeners ask authentic questions to clarify points, unearth any assumptions they may be bringing to the situation, and be sure of the speaker’s intent. To verify their understanding, good listeners paraphrase what speakers have said and ask speakers to verify that they have correctly represented their ideas.” (p. 83)

With clarity established [at least temporarily], a whole range of moves is possible, “depending on the context and goals.”  Clarity allows the participants (teacher, leader, students) to make connections among speakers’ contributions, thereby threading ideas together with the intent to creating a coherent dialogue.  If we then challenge ideas being presented, there is an opportunity to extend the conversation.  Learners can explore how these ideas might or might not apply in other contexts, to their own unarticulated ideas, to implications of the ideas and to other connections.

Listening, in classrooms, happens in a community of learners.  In Chapter 3’s discussion of the Language of Community, Ritchhart’s focus is on language that we use to show that we are part of a group.  Pronouns, in particular, are highlighted.  He points out the difference when a teacher uses “you…(are going to) vs. we (are going to).”  “We’re going to identify connections,” which indicates that the teacher is thinking and learning with the group.  In terms of creating a community of learners, the “we” must include the teacher not only as the director of the activity but also as a participant in the learning process of that activity.” (p. 72)

The second point of interest in this chapter is the use of “I”.  “…he (Pennebaker) has found that in reviewing email exchanges the person with less power is apt to use the pronoun “I” with greater frequency that the more powerful individual in the relationship.”  So, we might say that our use of pronouns can give insight into our sense of self, and our priorities, beliefs, and intentions.

A third point in this section on the Language of Community addresses the question of who is a member of the community.  As his example, he cites the question teachers might ask:  “What kind of answer are they looking for in this problem?”, bringing in the anonymous outsider to the task, situating the authority outside of the classroom. (p. 73).  The issue here is having students connect with authorities in a (the) field:  “It is harder to build an affinity with the discipline of study if one sits outside it and doesn’t even know the major figures who have contributed to it.” (p. 73)  Don’t we want students to become members of a discipline, to become mathematicians, scientists, historians?

The 3rd segment of Ritchhart’s text that is very specific to language use in his chapter on Interactions (Chapter 8).  I can’t and don’t intend to try to do it justice here (I really recommend buying this book), but there are a few ideas that are particularly relevant to listening and community: giving students roles to play in conversation, providing students with conversational routines to use, and establishing “rules” for interaction.

Ritchhart goes into great detail to describe the teaching and interactions in the 7th grade class of students with special needs, whom he refers to as “disenfranchised learners.”  He describes a “game” (Enbrighten) in which students take on particular roles to develop reading comprehension and language skills. The roles are summarizer, visualizer, vocab master, connector, questioner, clarifier, or predictor.  “Students then read a text together and complete their assigned roles in preparation for the class discussion which might be led or facilitated by the teacher of one of the students.” (p. 205) These roles are carried out with the scaffolding, support, and modeling that each student needs.

The author next describes a pattern of interaction (routine) that allows students to build on one another’s ideas.  In contrast to the QRE routine (teacher question, student responds, teacher evaluates), which he describes as “ping pong”, a basketball metaphor is suggested as a preferred pattern of interaction.  In the basketball routine, the “ball” (question) is passed around and ideas are bounced off one another.  Ritchhart then describes several multi step routines that engage students in thinking, sharing and reflecting.  They start with a free write, move into 3 person discussions, whole class sharing and then a Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate routine.

One final point from this chapter that I would like to highlight here: rules for interacting.  We might call these “educational ground rules.”  One set of suggested rules comes from the work of Herrenkohl and Marion Guerra (l998):

Contribute to group work and help others contribute

Support ideas by offering reasons

Work to understand others’ ideas

Build on one another’s ideas.





Language as a Tool for Changing Classrooms and Schools

Book Review:Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, Ron Ritchhart, Jossey-Bass, 2015

This is a book for teachers, focusing on many forces that have the power to change our classrooms and schools so that students can become more successful learners.

The 8 forces are: Purpose and Promise, How Our Beliefs Shape Our Behavior, Language, Time, Modeling (Seeing Ourselves through Our Students’ Eyes), Opportunities (Vehicles for Learning), Routines (Supporting and Scaffolding Learning and Thinking), Interactions (Forging Relationships that Empower Learning).

The focus for this series of posts is the chapter on “Language: Appreciating Its Subtle Yet Profound Power.”  The chapter describes 7 “kinds of language”:

The Language of Thinking

The Language of Community

The Language of Identity

The Language of Initiative

The Language of Mindfulness

The Language of Praise and Feedback

The Language of Listening

The author begins this chapter by describing a classroom scene where Lisa, a fifth grade teacher, is teaching the children to use a particular thinking routine: See-Think-Wonder.  Lisa begins the lesson by giving the students a series of photographs showing children around the world as they experience some type of hardship or inequity.  Ritchard describes the action:  “As I moved around the room with the cameraman, I was pleased we were capturing good footage of students talking and sharing their thinking at each step of the routine.”

He describes the way he moved from focusing on Lisa’s choice of content, preparation, purpose, and the way she was developing a larger understanding, to focusing on Lisa’s use of language. He “became more and more engrossed not in the lesson itself, but in how Lisa’s language served to effectively guide and direct the students’ learning and thinking….  …it was only by carefully attending to Lisa’s language that I was able to begin to understand how all the aspects of expert teaching took shape.” (p. 63)

Lisa starts the conversation by asking, “What do we see?”…Lisa then asks the students, “What do you think might be going on with those children? Students immediately begin to offer possibilities and alternatives.”…..” Students put forth possibilities, add on to one another’s ideas, and connect to things that had been seen….”

Ritchhart points out the importance of Lisa’s choice of words:  “we” (this is a cooperative venture); “might be going on” (seeking alternatives, possibilities, and options rather than naming).

He goes on to describe the way she joins the conversation to help them move forward:  “Feeding their own words back to them, she gives them a chance to elaborate on their initial thinking and modify it if necessary…” (p. 65) and she “effortlessly weaves in feedback in a non-evaluative way by point out the good thinking they have done….”   She asks clarifying questions, using “responsive language” to convey that she has heard and “what questions, connections, or possibilities others have raised.” (p. 66)….not looking for correctness but “engaging with them in coming to a deeper understanding”..(p 66)…..”pushing them for the evidence and reasoning behind their responses….” (p. 67) [bolding mine]

Using a variety of linguistic frameworks, Ritchhart says “we can distill a number of key “language moves” that can create a culture of thinking… (p. 68).

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.




Ongoing Relevance of Dialogue

I think this excerpt from an article by Karen Gallas (Language Development: A Reader for Teachers) from my January 2015 post on Dialogue About Language, Literacy, and Learning is worth revisiting:

Early in the chapter, the authors note:

“Talk is an inherently social act. In classrooms, however, teachers generally corral language by defining when children talk, what they are supposed to talk about and for how long. We also have implicit rules governing how talk can be used across classroom activities, requiring students to crack these code, as it were, and develop a language kit of discourses to suit the needs of different contexts. But the school is a site of may discourses in contact including both those discourses that come from students’ cultural background—their out-of-school ways of talking, reasoning, and valuing—and the many specialized discourse that are a part of the academic domain.Math, science, social studies, art, gym, music, books studies, and writing workshops all stand as distinct discourse that children must master. But discourses, by definition are complexly situated, socially, culturally, and historically.” (p. 130) (Bold mine)

It is not clear why we consider “talking” such a natural ability. It seems there is much to learn about “talking” and how to help children develop the oral language skills necessary for school success, even as early as kindergarten. Gallas and her colleagues offer us many aspects of language development to consider:

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