I’m a big proponent of conversations in the classroom. Students need ample opportunity to use academic language with each other to teach and learn from each other. It also gives me the opportunity to listen and learn. I learn misconceptions I may not have caught otherwise. Sometimes I even learn a different way to teach things!
When do we hear most about using conversation in the classroom? In regards to English Language Learners. But did you know that tools you use to help your ELLs will also help your students in special education? Your students in gifted and talented? Your students trying to stay under the radar?
I love Content-Area Conversations by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Carol Rothenberg. Just like English is a new realm for students with another primary language, academia is a language all it’s own for our students.
But how do we provide these opportunities to talk? It takes creating a culture of conversation. Regularly provided opportunities are key. Every single day, conversation time should be woven into the lesson. An easy way to start is with “Think-Pair-Share” or compare your steps to your elbow partner – talk about the differences.
Math Talks are also a great way to build a culture of conversation (while practicing accepting answers without giving judgement). Math talks take a lot of practice and you won’t get it right the first time, but the benefits are amazing. Translating math talks into Problem Strings are also very beneficial to developing a deeper understanding of the material.
Once your classroom culture has a good foundation of sharing without judgement, the opportunities given to students to have mathematical conversations widens. For instance, towards the end of the year I always have my students create their very own “Transformations Dance”. The amount of enthusiasm I see every year still amazes me! The kids are excited to create the dance to a song of their choosing. Some even make their owns songs with original lyrics. We push all the tables to the side of the room and they use the space to practice their dance moves calling them “translations, rotations, reflections, etc.”. Almost all groups end up adding more than what’s required, finding unique ways to represent dilations as well as horizontal and vertical compressions and stretches.
When you give the kids opportunities to express their thinking, the understand becomes much deeper. The investment in learning becomes greater. The culture in the classroom becomes one of openness and warmth. My goal every year that I start a class is that no one is scared to share. No one is scared to be “wrong” or make a mistake. Instead, we work together and learn together. That’s the power of incorporating conversation every single day.
Here are some reflections the kids wrote: Algebra Reflections