As teachers, we talk a LOT more than we realize. During student discussions, though, we really need to let the students talk. In this post I’ll be focusing on some of the main reasons that teachers jump into discussions and ways for decreasing teacher talk. It may not be easy, but you can do it! Watch how your student discussions transform when you just sit back and let them happen.
Decreasing Teacher Talk Quick Glance
- When Teachers Butt In
- Avoiding the Common Pitfalls
- Acceptable Teacher Talk
- Decreasing Teacher Talk Systematically
When I first started getting serious with my student discussions, I thought that they had gotten pretty good. I was measuring my student talk using my Google Form (check it out! It’s FREE), and as far as I knew I was doing pretty good. I asked our coach to come in and give me some feedback. Turns out my discussions were pretty awesome. I was making sure all students were talking, even my more timid students. The quality of our discussion was also pretty high because I was making sure that my students were responding to each other in different ways like building on to each other’s ideas.
Did you notice how I described the discussion? A lot I’s, We’s, and Our’s, right? My coach told me the same thing. It wasn’t the students’ discussion. I was in the discussion too much. That was the start of a coaching cycle. I was not the easiest student to work with. I’m a bit of a control freak. You can benefit from my bullheadedness, though!
When Teachers Butt In
If we can recognize what causes us to insert ourselves into what could otherwise be a great conversation, we can avoid it. What are some common triggers?
You’ve got a great question for students to discuss or a student just had a really great contribution and then….dead air. Complete silence. The students all start to look at you for some sort of support. You have to save them right?
How To Avoid It: When it gets awkward, let it. I guarantee someone will say something. When it gets silent and you start to feel the need to jump in, start counting to 15. This is after some extensive testing. You may think 10 is enough, but I promise you that something magical happens between 10 and 15 seconds. After 10, the kids realize that you’re not going to say anything. Someone WILL say something, and if they don’t, wrap up the conversation.
Students Talking To The Teacher
You’re the teacher! It’s your class and you wrote the question they’re discussing! Why shouldn’t they be talking to you? It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen as a first grade teacher and as a fourth grade teacher. No matter how many times you tell students to talk to each other, they’re still looking at you when they’re talking.
How To Avoid It: Do NOT make eye contact with the student talking. In fact, make eye contact with everyone else. As your students are talking, LOOK BUSY. Fill out your student discussion measurement form. Write down their ideas on sticky notes. Draw dots on a paper. But DO NOT join the conversation or acknowledge that the student is talking to you.
This was and still is my biggest trigger. I mean, how could it not? 9 + 4 = 12? How could you not jump in? Even worse, others are AGREEING with that student!
How To Avoid It: Breathe. Start counting to 15. Reason will win out. History proves it. Evidence proves it. Wait long enough and someone will show some evidence that contradicts incorrect reasoning. So, while, your heart is racing because your administrator just walked in for a surprise observation, breathe. Someone out there will come up with the correct answer and reason will win out. This brings me to my next common pitfall.
Wanting to Express Agreement or Disagreement
We’re teachers, we know the correct answers. We want students to know what the correct answer is, right? Yes! Of course. BUT, you cannot be the one to say who is right or wrong.
How To Avoid It: Whose conversation is it? Is it more important for your students to practice having an academic discussion or for them to get the correct answer? If the point is to have the correct answer, don’t have a discussion. If the point is for students to practice having a discussion, let students answer as they do. Breathe and count to 15.
Acceptable Teacher Talk
So you’ve just heard about all of things you’re not supposed to do and say in a class discussion. What is acceptable for you to say in a discussion?
The best answer? As little as possible.
These phrases are great:
“Hmmmmmmmm” (in as neutral of a tone as possible)
“Who would like to add on to that idea?”
“Who can give evidence to support or refute that idea?”
“Who could paraphrase that idea?”
“Who agrees or disagrees with_____”
Decreasing Teacher Talk Systematically
This has been a game-changer for me. How do you get students to realize that the conversation belongs to them and that you aren’t going to butt into it? Design your discussions to be completely run by students.
Quick Fixes To Use Tomorrow:
Discussions Leaders: Appoint students to run your discussions. It’s a great classroom job. The job requires that they help all students participate in the discussion. This is a great job for those students who always seem to share. Those ones that dominate discussions either by sharing multiple times or talking for 5 minutes.
Pre-Write Questions and Sentence Frames: When you have your questions pre-written along with the sentence frames that go along with them, you can add reading the questions to the list of jobs of your Discussion Leaders. Before you were probably reading the questions for students to discuss, but put your Discussion Leaders in charge of this. Boom! Increased student ownership!
Put a Timer For Discussions: Why? If you put a timer for your discussions, students will know that the discussion will continue until the time is up. Some discussions will end without a definitive answer to a topic. It takes the pressure off of you to add to discussions because students can see that there is still time. The discussion isn’t over. It also shows that you are not controlling when the discussion ends. The timer is.
The more you can remove yourself from your student discussions, the more your students will take ownership of them and become more involved. Designing your discussions around decreasing teacher talk and avoiding some of the common pitfalls will really improve your student discussion.
How are you decreasing teacher talk in your class discussions? Let me know in the comments!