Facilitating Student Talk

As a teacher, how do you know that your students are engaged? How do you know what your students are thinking? What ideas arise for them as they assimilate new information with prior knowledge and concepts? 

Investigating these questions reveals insights into how students interact with content while simultaneously highlighting the quality of the opportunities that students have been provided to do so. Ideally, students clearly articulate their thoughts so that teachers and peers can provide meaningful feedback, but this rarely happens on its own. 

In order to facilitate this, students need to be given opportunities to pause, listen to, consider, reflect, revise, and verbalize ideas. Better understanding how and what students think can be accomplished through generating frequent opportunities for students to generate and express their ideas. This is a fine line to walk, as unstructured student talk can easily derail into tangential side conversations or shallow minimalistic regurgitation about the topic at hand. In an ideal classroom, these problems can be minimized by developing a classroom culture of trust and accountability. So, what does this look like in practice? 

Make sharing ideas accessible.

Incorporate opportunities for students to share their initial thoughts on a question, problem, or prompt. This is especially helpful when asking an open-ended question that appears to ‘stump’ the class. Before cold calling, ask students to “hypothesize with a neighbor” and circulate the room listening for valuable entry points that can be leveraged to open the discussion back up to the whole class. Highlight fruitful ideas that you heard as you circulated the room and ask students to expand on what their partner has shared with them. You can also incorporate opportunities for students to critique ideas shared by their peers, but in order to do this well, there needs to be a cohesive classroom culture.

For more on this topic, check out this post, where we talked about how to develop this classroom culture of trust and accountability!