Fostering Student Independence and Accountability

After my last post, some questions came up about how to foster the sort of independence that made Mrs. G’s classroom work like a well oiled machine.  A big part of the answer is teacher talking moves!

So much of our daily classroom life is spent engaged in talk.  The importance of student talk is immeasurable, and in order to talk well students must be given many opportunities to converse and become immersed in an environment that values their voice.  An entire blog post could be devoted to the importance of fostering student talk, but I want to focus on how teacher talk can cultivate student independence and accountability in the workshop classroom.

Teacher talk is what sets the classroom tone.  The talking moves that we make day-to-day make a profound impact on students.  How many of you have come to the end of a school year and noticed that your students sound just like you?  The behaviors, attitudes, and habits we model will be emulated by our students, which is why it is so important that we use our talk effectively.

Talk to Foster Independence

As mentioned in my previous post, a main belief backing the workshop model is that we are working to create independent readers and writers who have a repertoire of effective reading and writing strategies they can apply as needed.  Workshop teachers do this by using whole-class mini-lessons to add to students’ repertoire, teaching them how to use various strategies they can draw on over and over.  This approach differs from traditional classrooms, where teachers use instruction at the start of the lesson to model and teach what everyone is expected to do during independent work time that day.  Basically, in a workshop classroom, you should not assign a task for students to  complete that day!

The language we use to dismiss students to work time will encourage the idea that students have options and choice about their day’s work.  Some phrases you might say include:

  • “So let’s review your options for what work you’ll do today.” *Refer students to unit anchor chart.
  • “So when you’re ready to work on [insert the day’s mini-lesson topic] remember this tip…  But you can also draw on all you’ve learned to do, prior to now.”
  • “So we can now add [insert the day’s mini-lesson topic] to our Strategies of…. anchor chart.  Look over the chart, and make a plan for today.  What will you be working on?” *Students could turn and talk, telling a partner their plan for the day.
  • “So far we’ve learned readers/writers use many different strategies to [name out skill].  Which one will you work on today?” *Students could raise their hand in a quick informal poll.
  • “So when you reach that part of your text, remember that you can…” *This is good when you know that you have students who have not reached the particular point in a book for the strategy you’ve just modeled.
A sample unit anchor chart from a third grade mystery book club series.
A sample unit anchor chart from a third grade mystery book club series.

All of these talking moves will allow students to reflect on their progress, set goals, and make an action plan.  These actions are the exact behaviors we expect from independent, self-directed learners!

Talk to Foster Work Accountability

We can also use our talk to promote accountability in student work.  Sometimes there are days when a student may not have approximated any of the strategies that you have modeled.  You would like to give students an opportunity to turn and talk about that work, but you worry that that particular student will not have anything to contribute.

I saw this situation recently in a third-grade classroom.  Students were working on tracking characters along a story mountain.  Some students had drawn their mountain, but had not added any plot points.  The teacher kept them accountable by saying,

“Even if you haven’t drawn any plot points, point and say what your points would have been.”

We  can use talk as a means for students to practice strategies they have not exhibited “on paper”.  No one gets an out because they didn’t get to it.

Talk to Foster Accountable Talk

We’ve all seen the Accountable Talk posters on Pinterest and have really taken to them.  However, students cannot learn these talking moves from a poster on the wall.  We as teachers need to model these talking moves regularly when conversing with students.  Some common conversational moves and their purposes are:

  • Marking: “That was an important point.”
  • Challenging students: “What do you think?”
  • Keeping everyone together: “Who can repeat what Johnny just said?”
  • Keeping the channels open: “Did everyone hear that?”
  • Linking contributions: “Who wants to add on to Mikala’s point?
  • Verifying and clarifying: “So are you saying…”
  • Pressing for accuracy: “Where can we find proof/text evidence of that?”
  • Expanding reasoning: “Take your time, say more.”
  • Pressing for reasoning: “Why do you think that?”
  • Building on prior knowledge: “How does this connect?”

Nancy Frey, at a recent Rutgers University workshop, said that we need to immerse students into these talking patterns by using them as often as possible.  When this language becomes a way of life for us, it will soon become a way of life for students.

The sooner we make our talk align with our goals for students, the sooner a positive outcome will ensue.  We have to make sure that what we are saying to kids truly embodies our beliefs about teaching and learning.  What we say in the workshop classroom is just as important as what we do.

What kind of talking moves do you make in your classroom to foster independence and accountability?

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

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If You Build It They Will Come

I believe in the workshop model.  Wholeheartedly.  I know that it is what works best for kids.

But honestly, when I implemented the model, I had a bit of skepticism regarding one aspect.  I never quite understood (or believed?) how young learners could learn a repertoire of reading and/or writing strategies and then just “magically” recall and apply them “independently” during the work period.  Early in my workshop teaching, I questioned, “Wait.  No task?  No assignment?  No specific instructions to go back and try (insert mini-lesson strategy here)?”

I was curious how the youngest learners could be so self-directed and purposeful during independent time.  Like most people, I was afraid to let go.

Now, I see many of the teachers that I work with grappling with the same concern.  However, like a field of dreams, if you build it they will come.

I recently visited a third grade classroom where magic was happening!  The class was in the middle of a mystery book club unit and after the mini-lesson students were sent back to their desk with their “quiet critters” (small craft pom-poms outfitted with feet and eyes) to read.

Immediately, I was impressed with how quickly the students transitioned from the carpet to independent reading.  Two students (who were in differing book clubs-I noticed because they had different books) sat together at the carpet and created twin Venn-diagrams in their notebooks to start character comparisons for the characters they were reading about. Another two met the teacher at her table for a quick small group.  Everyone else?  They returned to their seat, opened their notebooks to the next fresh page, and started reading.

Needless to say, I was impressed and I wanted to stick around.

I started to read over students’ shoulders as they paused (when they decided they were ready) in their reading to do some stop and jot reading notebook work.  What I saw was so impressive!  Students were independently choosing various reading responses to use in their notebook.  Most surprising to me was that students weren’t just jotting once.  The majority of students had chosen to do at least two different types of thinking that day.   For example, some predicted and then chose to do a character comparison.  Others created a suspect chart and wrote about character traits.  But all were reading…. and thinking!

This teacher, through meticulous patience and belief in the workshop model had created what we all strive for.  Her routines and expectations were working!

Look at this example from one student’s notebook:

Starting in the middle of the left page, this student did six separate thinking strategies (all dated 2/24/16). She wrote about book similarities, created a comparison Venn diagram, described a secondary character, named out how a character changed, summarized, and created a character web and attempted to include text evidence.
Starting in the middle of the left page, this student did six separate thinking strategies (all dated 2/24/16). She wrote about book similarities, created a comparison Venn diagram, described a secondary character, named out how a character changed, summarized, and created a character web and attempted to include text evidence.

When I spoke with this student she told me that writing in her notebook helps her reading “go from good to great.”  That sometimes she doesn’t understand something, but then she will write about it and it would become much clearer.  She explained that she chooses what to do based on what Mrs. G has shown them before.  There is no menu of activities to choose from pasted into each reading notebook or listed posted on the board of what to do next.  Strategies had been instilled into each learner in the class and they were drawing upon that knowledge independently.

I moved over to another student who was sitting next to Mrs. G’s anchor chart, and from what it looked like, copying the chart into her notebook.  I asked what she was working on.  She gestured to the chart and told me that she was taking questions from the chart and answering them in her notebook.  And she was!  I remembered that she was one of the ones who had started a Venn diagram  earlier and I wondered if she had abandoned that task for this one.  I asked her about the Venn diagram.  She flipped back a page and said, “That’s right here.  I didn’t finish yet.”  And then after a moments pause, “But I guess I can use the answers to these questions…” She flipped back to the answers based off the anchor chart questions,  “…to finish filling in my chart.”  She returned to her Venn diagram with urgency and fervor.  I hadn’t even said a word.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I immediately went to commend Mrs. G.  She was making it happen! Her kids were readers and independent thinkers and doing all the things we want students to do in the workshop model!   I was so excited!

But Mrs. G was busy… quietly conferring with a student.

So, I tiptoed out with a smile on my face and let them continue doing their thing.  I felt assured in the good work that we do and the value of the workshop model.  It IS possible!  She had built it and they had come.

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay