one year of #sbar: instructional conversation

When I was beginning as a teacher at St. Francis near the Jicarilla Apache Nation, we had recurring professional development visits from a representative of CREDE -- center for research on education, diversity, and excellence.  It was really a great introduction to what we now call differentiated instruction.  We learned that "teaching and learning must accommodate individuals" and "language and cultural diversity can be assets for teaching and learning."

One of the pieces I've brought with me from CREDE that I don't often hear about in DI is teaching through conversation.  Earlier this summer I wrote a post about setting up my classroom for more student talk and less teacher talk.  Instructional conversation is at the core of this set up, and this is the time of year where students are starting to realize something is different in my classes.

The first thing they notice is that when we do work as a whole class, I refuse to call on people.  After I pose a question, I'll point at the few people who have raised their hands and say, "I see some hands raised here, who's going to go first?"  This sets up the expectation that not just one person will get to speak.  After that, I'll ask for more student responses, and prompt the original speaker to choose the next person.  Usually after a few rounds of this they've worked out the answer without me.

Oddly enough, sometimes when they find themselves split over a certain answer, they'll want to vote on it.  I try to remind them that voting doesn't make science, reasons and logic make science!

Once they've seen this as a whole class, they are ready to do the same thing as a small group of 4 or 5 students.  Except now they don't have to go through the formalities of raising hands.  I coach, praise, question and guide, but they're the ones who work out the answers.

I'm getting some feedback from other teachers, as they hear students talk about my class away from my room.  Some really get it, and see why I make them reason it out before I'll confirm an answer.  Others are still puzzled, wondering why I don't just get up a talk to the whole class.  They say they want to hear the questions other students ask me, because it's often a question they wouldn't have thought of themselves.  I'm still wondering how to address this, because they have a point -- learning from others' questions shows a lot of openness.  On the other hand, this whole class instruction often leads to a few active questioners asking questions of ME, and I begin to respond rather than inviting other students to respond.  At this point instructional conversation is broken.  I'd rather hear the same question asked four times in each small group, just so I can invite each student to respond in a meaningful way.

Of course, the problem right now is that September has been such a crazy month that I've had a hard time keeping track of which groups I've had which conversations with!  Here's to a smooth October.

High-Five Fail
a lot of high fives happen in a good instructional conversation.  not so many here. 
photo by lets.book used with creative commons license

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