Week 29: Academic Conversations

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Academic conversations provide authentic assessment and opportunities for students to collaborate.  Listening to students’ thinking has been very valuable in determining what students understand. In sharing their thinking students, who may need additional support, learn from their peers.   As a result, students are able to apply learning. This was quite evident in one of our lessons last week.

The topic of conversation was thinking of a good heading for the topic pet care for our All About reports. One student suggested a good heading would be “Pet Care”.  Another student suggested “How to Take Care of Pets.”  Since I have been using hamsters to model lessons in our All About Pets unit, a student suggested I write “How to Take Care of Hamsters”.  I agreed that it would help my readers if I were more specific.  Another student suggested “Caring for Hamsters” as a possible heading.

This academic conversation was a good assessment to tell me that students understand what a heading is and its purpose. It also provided a collaborative opportunity for students to come up with possible headings for their own reports.  Students who may have not had the language were given a couple of models.  Students then used the heading frames (How to Take Care of ___  or Caring for ___ ) suggested and filled in the blank with the pet they were studying about.   

Are you wondering what might have contributed for these academic conversations to take place? Reflecting on my practice, here’s a list of some of the things we have been doing all year: 

  • Reviewing what active listening looks like (looking at the speaker, sitting on your bottom, keeping body parts to yourself) and sounds like (one speaker, no side conversations, no unnecessary noise) before we begin our conversations. 
  • Giving specific praise for desired behaviors and complimenting students who keep discussion agreements. 
  • Prompting, “What do others think?”  Any one else would like to share their thinking? 
  • Affirming thinking and valuing contributions to discussions. This also helps lower the affective filter and help reluctant students to take risks. 
  • Providing many opportunities for Turn and Talk.  This sets the expectation they are held accountable to think and share their thinking. 
  • Modeling how to agree and adding another idea.
  • Modeling how to disagree and giving a reason.

Academic conversations are definitely a valuable component of our routines and procedures.  I think one of the most important thing my students have learned is they have a voice.   

 

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Conversations, particularly those referred to in this book as academic conversations, push students to think and learn in lasting ways. Academic conversations are back-and-forth dialogues in which students focus on a topic and explore it by building, challenging, and negotiating relevant ideas.

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