Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shut Up and Talk With Me

If you haven’t been hiding from pop music in the past year or two, you have heard the earworm  song called “Shut Up and Dance With Me

Aaaand ... You’re welcome!  for getting that stuck in your head when you thought it was gone for good!

It’s a fun pop song but  I’d like to change it to “Shut Up and Talk To Me”

How do you shut up AND talk at the same time?

It’s every teacher’s favorite strategy -- the Silent Conversation!

Silent Conversation strategy is the best of both worlds -- quiet, peaceful classroom management AND collaboration between students. It’s where the students write their conversation -- like a pencil-and-paper note passing session -- about content

How do I do it?
  1. Kids move into groups of four (three or five are okay, but four tends to work the best)
  2. Have something multi-dimensional, intriguing, and interesting for the kids to write about. Try a photograph of Gold Rush Forty Niners  in California, a primary source on Franz Ferdinand, or a political cartoon. Find something that has some depth and interest. A textbook section is rarely going to inspire good academic conversation.
  3. Each kid takes out a sheet of paper and signs his/her name at the top. He/she then starts writing about the topic or prompt. Each kid writes for the whole announced time until the teacher says “pass”.
*Hint - -use the or something similar to keep time on your screen. Start out with a short period of time - -two or three minutes, and add time next time you do it, or as the topics grow more in depth.
  1. When the teacher says “pass”, the students pass their papers to the left (or right, whatever you choose) and the kids write new entries, responding to the previous entry on the new papers.
  2. If they have trouble responding, compare this assignment to a low-tech version of a Facebook conversation. People comment and respond to each other in “threads” online all the time. This is just on paper. Remind them to keep it on topic – you have proof (written proof in their own handwriting) if the kids start talking about their video games or other stuff.
  3. They write for the whole time - - two minutes or whatever you tell them.
  4. They keep passing until they have written on each paper at least once.
  5. When done, allow the class to have a few minutes to read their papers and then continue their conversations out loud. The more often you do this, the better the kids get at having informed academic conversation!
  6. Wrap up by having each group report out to the whole class about one thing their group discussed.
How do I keep my kids on task? This is fixed once they realize that you now have a written (and graded) record of their conversation about each other’s mommas (or whatever)

Why should I try this one? We know that when kids think deeper about things, they learn those things better. They retain them better. They process that information better and more thoroughly.
This may be easier the first time with higher-level kids, but it’s more beneficial for lower-level kids. It just sometimes takes an extra practice or two before struggling kids really get used to the procedure. Stop, take a deep breath … and try it again. The more they practice, the better they will do with it and the easier it will become for them.
Struggling kids don’t always “get it” the first time. But if you give up and you don’t try it with them again, they’ll NEVER get it. Try it again until they get the strategy.
What could go wrong? Well, maybe we don’t choose a discussion-worthy topic... Maybe your kids don’t take the assignment seriously. That will be fixed easily as a grade is given or as you the teacher respond in writing in the margin of the student conversations. What about handwriting? They kids will fix that when they write back to each other things like “Man, I can’t read that!”

Please don’t call it “Shut Up and Talk”. Some parent or administrator is going to be upset. But do call it the “Silent Conversation” And try it with your kids!

As always, let me know how it goes! Email me

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