Some implications for instruction from my book on classroom talk:
- Students make more interpretive moves when teachers demonstrate such moves in advance. In other words, we learn from the company we keep. If we want students to talk about books in particular ways, we have to show them this preferred way of talking and support their efforts as they move in this direction. If we want students to construct sophisticated interpretations, we need to construct more sophisticated interpretations during our discussions, and explain our interpretive processes so students may internalize them as they construct their own interpretations.
- The traditional interaction pattern (IRE) does not support students’ thinking. Our discussions should look more like (I-R-R-R-R), where an initiating move by the teacher is followed by a series, or chaining, of students’ responses. Our discussions should not be back-and-forth ping pong matches. We need to provide space for the voices and ideas of our students to be heard and considered.
- The talk that we promote in our discussions should help students move “beyond the literal” to constructing interpretations and analyzing the elements, themes, structures, images, and contents of a text. I believe it is important to notice what is contained in the text, but the written text and visual images should be viewed as a point of departure for our discussions, not the primary objective for our discussions.
- There is a difference between increasing social interaction during discussions and increasing intellectual complexity. Just because students are more involved in our discussions does not necessarily mean they are digging into the text or deepening their interpretive abilities. Certainly, we want students to talk more, but we also need to be concerned with what they are talking about and how they approach these topics.
- We serve as a mediator between our students and the text we are discussing, helping students navigate the text, generate meanings, share their ideas, and consider alternative interpretations. The questions we ask and the perspectives we offer should guide students toward the types of responses we expect them to make on their own.
- Our responses to students’ ideas, comments, and interpretations emphasize what we believe to be important, call attention to what we consider significant, and signal who is effectively comprehending. We need to attend to how we respond to students’ ideas and interpretations so that we don’t inadvertently send inappropriate signals. The responses we offer must move beyond “praise and paraphrase” and help extend students’ thinking, by demonstrating how to articulate, clarify, and confirm their understandings.
- There are moments in a discussion where students offer ideas that open up the interactive space for new possibilities if we are listening carefully and willing to consider the potential of these comments. These critical junctures are those teachable moments when new ideas are to be considered and new directions in the discussion are made possible. If teachers are willing to listen attentively to the ideas of their students, are qualified facilitators of classroom discussions, and know enough about the texts being discussed, they will be better positioned to take advantage of these critical junctures when they occur. There are always decisions to be made about which responses to expand on and which responses to politely let slip by. It is not an exact science. However, the more we know about our objectives for the lesson, the texts we read, and the needs and abilities of our students, the more often we will recognize the interpretive merit in our students’ responses.
- Finally, it is not enough to simply say to our students, “I want you to say whatever you are thinking in our discussions.” Although this is certainly an open invitation, and can set a good tone for our discussions, it is too open ended to help students to know what it is we want them to talk about. We need to demonstrate the kinds of discussion we want them to participate in, and show them how to dig deeper into a text during our discussions.