“When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself.” Plato
“To talk well and eloquently is a very great art…but an equally great one is to know the right moment to stop” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“To communicate, put your words in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce.” William Safire
One of the grooviest new improvements to my craft is to intentionally teach conversation skills. Each sixth day of a six-day cycle, I make sure that the students talk about the current read aloud book. I begin each Accountable Talk with a big question that I want the children to investigate. They then are to focus on this one question for the entirety of the discussion. It has been a highlight of the year for I am constantly modeling and promoting the value of being able to think critically and speak eloquently.
The Routine: Each day six at precisely 11:34, the kids come in from Physical Education class. They walk in to my class and read my keynote introducing the big question. Kids get their notes and sit in a circle. Students remind each other that they are to take their shoes off but not their socks. Students are able to look at each other’s eyes before we may begin. Students are not allowed to bring writing utensils of any kind to the circle. The facilitator of the group begins the discussion.
My Role as the Teacher: My role is to stay out of the circle as much as possible. I take lots of anecdotal notes to help with future teacher-student conferencing. I coach the kids sparingly along the way and signal my approval when impressed.
The Role of the Student: The students bring their reading notebooks. They are to be present. They are to listen and contribute to the discussion. They are to reflect on their participation and their new understandings from the discussion. They are to show evidence of learning from each discussion.
Keep it Organic: Fourth grade is highly structured and Accountable Talk is no different. Alas, I am essentially teaching the students to trust their thoughts and to trust their ability to convey what they are saying. Therefore, I am highly complimentary before, during and after each Accountable Talk.
Communicate with specificity: I teach the students to speak with specificity and with style. “Effective communicators are characterized by their ability to be specific, to refrain from generalization, and to support their arguments with valid data. Oral language however, is filled with omissions, generalizations and vaguenesses. (Laborde,1984)
Fourth grade is a blast for I get to teach habits that children will carry with them for life. I have high expectations for my students to become leaders in society. Each are expected to improve their speaking skills. Like every skill this needs practice to master.
Accountable talk circle time is one place where an educated adult coaches children to speak thoughtfully and precisely. It is really fun, as well.
Laborde, G. (1984). Influencing with integrity. Palo Alto, CA:Syntony Press