Turn and talk, a tool for accountable conversations in most classrooms, has been my hope and challenge since I was first introduced to it almost 10 years ago. It seemed like the answer to letting students share what they thought, also not take up too much instructional time, and give them an opportunity to practice conversation skills with peers. Then, in theory, I hop around to partnerships, listening and writing notes about how they are doing and making sure I don’t do the work for the students but guide them into discussion if needed. Uh huh. I find that I am in constant need of review for my technique. I will always be grateful to C.I.A. for opening my eyes to turn and talk stem starters. Where were you 10 years ago?! I know there were so many lessons where no one talked, I did all the work, or only a couple students dominated the entire process (and I let them, desperate for SOMEONE to share.) Now, I can give back responsibility for which partner starts, how they start, and how to begin responding to most students by pointing to the stems and designating the first partner. The actual depth of conversation will come as we get deeper into our investment in a good book. (I have always found students were excited to share with the group once we were into the drama of the text, but actually having a conversation routine with a partner was where we fell apart.)
As I mentioned in my September Poppy blog post, this year I set up three turn and talk partners in a circle –knee to knee, eye to eye– for Patricia Polacco and we have kept those partners for Poppy. (Having three was in response to the need to spread out my leaders in each group for better modeling. We’ll see if I go back to two students with our next unit of study.) Students are practicing listening and responding to each other. I use my popsicle sticks to call on a student to share what their group discussed; if students cannot restate the discussion, we are trying to set up norms for asking a partner to repeat their thinking and then the one who was called on will share it to the group. This is also helpful with keeping all three students engaged in the conversation, since any one of them could be called upon. The three partners are assigned colors and then I say which one is starting the conversation in this way, “Orange partners, you will be leading this conversation. Blue and Green, you will be responding.” After discussion, I say, “If everyone in your group has done their job, you can show me a partner pyramid,” and they put their hands together in the center.
We are coming along in being accountable to the prompt; now fewer students are doing text-to-self connections when the expectation is literary analysis from text evidence. (For a while during Patricia Polacco, we were always having groups that couldn’t add to the whole group conversation because they had gone off on a tangent about chocolate cake.) I do find that some students have trouble transitioning to the most recent textual evidence and purpose and will instead lead their group in a discussion from the previous conversation (this happened frequently when we were describing character traits for the mice. Students would describe Poppy when we had just read about Lungwort instead.) I am considering a temporary solution of inserting in the stem a sentence strip with specific textual evidence I want them to say. I also need to make room for whole group conversation practice so we can analyze how well we stick to a topic. I have always liked the activity of showing students how our conversation is keeping to topic by stacking colored unifix cubes for each student comment, noticing how many cubes actually belong to the conversation starter (same color means same topic).
My challenge with turn and talk remains the “hopping around and listening/ taking notes on conversations and not doing all the work for partnerships that are struggling” part. I put painter’s tape on the carpet to delineate where groups sit, which has helped open up my space for “hopping,” but I find that I need to do a better job prepping my notes pages with the names of students I will be listening to and what I am listening for. I have been using sticker labels for my independent reading conferences; I need to prep some group labels with specific skills to listen for. I anticipate that most of my current turn and talk issues will decrease with better prep!