One of my campus’s big goals this year is to reduce the amount of teacher talk and to to increase student discourse -accountable talk relevant to their learning goals. In reducing teacher talk, I am working to restore some of the good habits that sometimes, in the thick of things I forget – using musical cues instead of speaking, varying tempo/dynamics to keep students engaged & restore calm if needed (less verbal reminders), allowing time for the excitement to settle before trying to move on to name a few. As I look to increase student discourse, I am trying some new things, and it’s a bit daunting. I like to be in control, and it means letting go of some of that. It has already been so great for the kids, though. As I dive into this, I am discovering some new tricks to help keep things running smoothly and keep the conversations goal-focused.
For less teacher talk, I am focusing my routines with concise, consistent expectations. I initially give a bit more detail, but get more concise as the expectations are set. Our vocal warm-ups, for example, I expect to be performed mezzo piano, musically (with a singing voice), and with teamwork (start and end together). When we move to a circle: Zero talking, watching, and like a train (following the leader, stay in order, no big gaps). When we are listening and moving to music: student sounds – off, hands, feet & body to self (no crashing into anyone or anything). Keeping the instructions simple and consistent – I can repeat them quickly and predictably, talk less and get us into what we are doing. If we have to stop, I don’t have to explain – just make a quick 1-3 word restatement, then we try again.
For student discourse, I started with the familiar. When students partner up, I have often had them talking together, but mostly making connections with each other to build a stronger sense of community (find one thing you have in common or share your favorite food, for example). We still do that, because the community building is important, but I am making a point to include more musical connections. So far, it has been wonderful! Some ideas I’ve already tried: Dynamics – share an example of something that is piano and something that is forte; Rhythms – speak a 4 beat rhythm to this partner and have them echo, then listen and echo theirs. I usually can walk around and help refocus any that get off topic. As we do more of this, I have to redirect less. It doesn’t take long at all, and the murmur gets a bit quieter before they transition to off topic chatter. This is the point when I throw in a musical cue to keep us moving – usually a drum that gets us walking around and mixing it up. As they share with more people they get more confident in their answers as well as more creative and willing to take risks.
Another thing I tried (rather accidentally, honestly – it was a spur of the moment decision): I was teaching a partner clap pattern, I asked a helper to take a risk with me. Instead of explaining the clap pattern, I had the kiddo try to do as I did without a word. (I went slowly.) At the end, I asked the student to share the trickiest part to help her classmates. In 1/2 the time it would have taken to get it somewhat ok with the whole group, the students were invested in NOT letting that part be a struggle. They rocked it! I did the same with the next class to see if it was just a fluke, and it worked for them, too!
The last thing I have already started is having students work in groups through some of our late prep and present lessons at the board. They can have relevant conversations and draw conclusions together resulting in greater engagement and focus. Then share back to the big group. It has been insightful watching them converse. They say the person doing the talking is doing the learning, and I totally see the difference. Where I was worried about time of students getting off task, I am learning that the more we do it, the faster they begin to transition back. Also, I am finding it takes less time than when I guide the whole class through. I can hear misconceptions quickly as all students are engaged in the problem solving, not just the handful that speak out first.
Another piece I have used is when we do share back, I ask students to share what someone else has said, not their own. It is so awesome to hear them mention a child by name and praise their input!
I am excited about this new goal and focus, especially since it is a whole school focus – we are growing together, and the kids are picking up on it more quickly.
I am excited as the year progresses to learn more and try more.
What are ways you get your students talking and working together? How do you manage keeping students on task and transitioning back to the whole group? I’d love to hear what works for others!