Joy of Teaching, April 9, 2012
I often work with students in small groups providing strategies for improving reading. One of the activities I ask students to complete is a word sort that directs student focus on word features to improve decoding skills. Part of this activity involves students working together to decide how a group of words can be sorted. They must reach a conclusion and describe for me their thinking behind the word sort that they created.
Recently, I was observing students during this process, when one of the students shared that she thought this was fun. I asked her why she thought so and she replied “My teacher doesn’t let us talk!”
It reminded me that, in our classroom lives of school reform, so many important things have been pushed out of daily instruction. As adults we can surely recognize the importance of communication in our lives. We become successful through communicating with peers, employers and partners. Without good communication skills, we are usually unable to reach our best potential.
So why is that we forget to let our students do the talking. I learn so much about my students and their thinking through their impromptu conversations. Children develop language skills by using language. Yet, quiet classrooms are often perceived as ‘good’ classrooms. Noisy classrooms are perceived as ‘unruly’. A really productive classroom is a combination of both.
Teachers who direct students on a task and then allow them to work together to complete the task expect to hear a productive level of conversation. Sure, students get off task, but that is the teacher’s job to redirect the students. A teacher should monitor conversation, guide and engage in the conversations. Most importantly, the teacher should listen to the conversations. I actually learn from my students when I am part of the process. Students demonstrate their higher order thinking skills through language. My instruction is often guided by this enjoyable opportunity.
I hope we can all find the time in our busy instructional days to allow our students the opportunity to enrich their language development through the art of conversation. In my classes, we will continue to talk, talk, talk! After all, the skill of communication will largely determine a student’s success, now and in the future.