While I’m beginning to feel consciously incompetent around the CCSS-ELA standards, I’m at a loss at how to bring students up to standard in Speaking and Listening. What follows is my learning process.
I’ve been reading through Rigorous Reading by Frey and Fisher (2013). They discuss the 5 access points teachers need to lead their students through to comprehend complex texts. Access Point 3 is using collaborative conversations to increase student comprehension. As I read their suggestions, I thought, I do this! I also took many ideas from Stacy Brewer at the Teaching Channel. This is how I can meet the standard for the 4th graders I work with: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussion with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Here’s what I’ve been doing with my small group of 4th grade students:
Students hear me read the text aloud to them and they read it aloud with a partner. They have 2 readings with comprehension support and formative assessment.
Students are given a focus question. The focus questions for the week require text based evidence. This question needs to have at least 4 pieces of evidence students could use, otherwise the discussion will not be rich.
Sometimes the anthology has decent questions. I get many of the questions from the Basal Alignment Project. Sometimes I write questions with other teachers using question stems. Literacy Design Collaborative also has fantastic resources.
Last week, students answered the following question: Using examples and details from the story, explain how the role models in Martin’s life inspired his dream to “turn the world upside down.”
Students then go back in the text and mark the evidence that answers the question. For example, last week we read My Brother Martin in our anthology. I wrote on the board: Martin was influenced by the adults in his life. Mark the text with an “I” for times when the adults influenced him. Students went back to the text and found times when Martin was influenced by the adults in his life.
Students worked with partners and each person marks in the text with a sticky note. I personally like the smaller sticky notes, because it doesn’t cover up a lot of text and it allows students to write just a small bit on the sticky.
The following day, students respond in writing to the question we are going to discuss this week. This not only allows them to prepare their thoughts and evidence, but it requires one more thoughtful reading of the parts of the text that will support their claim.
Because they had already found the evidence in the text the day before, now they had 2 simple steps: write a topic sentence and pick 2 pieces of evidence that best supports the topic sentence or claim. Students answer on the response sheet.
If I’m lucky, I plan on students responding in writing the day before the discussion. That way I can provide students with feedback before the discussion. I also want to communicate to students that they need to arrive prepared for the discussion. They must have a quality response ready before spending time with their peers.
It’s discussion day!
At the beginning of the year, I taught students the ground rules for having our group discussion:
- One person talks at a time
- Listen to one another
- Allow people to disagree
- Talk respectfully to one another
- Read the selection carefully before participating in the discussion.
- Discuss only the selection everyone has read.
- Support your ideas with evidence from the selection.
As with any ‘rule’, we talk about these and I model them. At this glorious time of the year I can have the students read them silently in their head before we have the discussion. Because I’ve structured my week as outlined above, rules 5, 6, and 7 are taken care of.
I then remind students of the discussion sentence stems we’ve practiced:
I agree with ________ because ________.
I agree with ________, but would like to add ________.
I disagree with ________, because ________.
These are very basic, and worked for the beginning of the year. If you teach secondary, you might consider this fantastic resource from Graff and Birkenstein’s work.
I use this opportunity of the students talking to assess their use of vocabulary, evidence from the text, and controlling or main idea. I got this idea of note taking from Junior Great Books.
I draw an oval on a paper (keep on clip board) to keep track of students and notes about what they say. An easy way to start is just to mark with an X inside the circle to note that they said something. Now, I mark their argument and the evidence they provide. That way, I know who made no response, so I can call on them at the end and ask specifically if they would like to agree with someone or add to the discussion. See my Blank Seating Chart and a filled out seating chart.
There are many ways to physically divide groups into discussion groups. If the group is small enough, keeping them in one group is fine. However, if you have more than 12 students and only have one adult, consider one of these options:
Group A and Group B – have two groups and work with one group at a time while the other group is reading or doing something independently, then switch the groups.
Inside/Outside Circle – have one group form a circle with their chairs and have the other group sit around the circle. The inside circle has their discussion while the outside circle are observers only – perhaps even given a task of things to look for and report on as they observe. Then the groups switch so that the group that was observing, is now the inside group and taking part in the discussion. The group that was the inside circle, is now the outside group.
It is important that during discussion the teacher facilitates the student conversation rather than giving his/her opinion. Students may be reluctant to share as much at first, but once they realize how safe the environment is, they will have plenty to say without the teacher giving input.
After Discussion – students revise their answer. They can either keep their opinion and give it more support by providing one more piece of supporting evidence from the text (likely they would have heard this during discussion), or they may have been persuaded to change their opinion and then need to state what their new opinion is and give one piece of text-based evidence to support it. Either way, they need to state whether they are keeping their answer the same or changing it (and if so, to what), and give a piece of supporting evidence.