In my previous post, Using Discussion to Foster a More Collaborative Classroom, I ended by mentioning Accountable Talk and its role in creating a classroom that balances individualism with collectivism. I received a few questions about Accountable Talk–what it is, how it works–and I’d like to use this entry to explain and explore.
What is Accountable Talk?
Accountable Talk, a registered discussion technique from the University of Pittsburgh, is “academically productive talk in which students exert effort to explain their thinking with evidence and to listen and respond constructively to others’ ideas, in order to make progress in solving a challenging problem, interpreting a challenging text, or conducting an investigation.”
The “Accountable” piece is three-fold. When the students discuss, they are to be accountable to 1) accurate knowledge, 2) rigorous thinking, and 3) the learning community.
The Demonstration Teachers in Seattle (I am one of them) are practicing the model throughout the year. Because research has shone that academic talk exposes inaccurate or incomplete thinking, boosts memory, develops language, and helps students develop their ability to reason well, we are honing and sharing this tool in hopes it can help in eliminating the opportunity gap.
There are two features of Accountable Talk that I have found unique and particularly helpful.
Feature #1: Breaking Discussion into Scaffolded Tasks
One key feature of Accountable Talk is scaffolding discussion into (usually) four tasks. Task 1 is to demonstrate comprehension. Task 2 is to further comprehension. Task 3 is for interpretation. Task 4 is for analysis of craft.
My 9th-grade Language Arts class recently read the beautiful poem, “Digging,” by Seamus Heaney. For each task, I used the same routine. First students jotted down ideas on their own. They then discussed ideas with a partner. Then we discussed their ideas as a whole-group. When I felt satisfied that we had achieved accurate and deep understanding, we moved onto the next task and repeated the steps. Here are my prompts for each task.
Task 1: Comprehension
Read “Digging.” Use the following questions to guide your reading:
–What is happening in the text?
–What do you know about Seamus Heaney’s father and grandfather?
–What moments do you find difficult or confusing?
When you’re finished, please work with your partner to:
–List descriptions of Heaney’s father and grandfather’s actions. What was their job? What are the specific tasks of their jobs?
–Share moments that you found difficult or confusing.
Task 2: Furthering our comprehension
How does Heaney compare himself as a writer with his father and grandfather as potato farmers? Jot down ideas on your copy of the poem. Cite the text to support your explanation. Then share your thinking with your partner.
Task 3: Interpretation
What argument is Heaney making about his identity in relation to his father and grandfather? Compose a quick-write to answer the question, drawing on evidence from across the text to support your response. Be prepared to share your quick-write with a partner and engage in a whole-group discussion.
Task 4: Craft Analysis
How does Heaney use ONE of the following literary devices to persuade his reader? (Imagery, Shift in Metaphor, Details)
In the case of this poem, by the time we finished Task 3, I had written and audible evidence that nearly all the students in my class understood the profound (and challenging) significance of the digging metaphor. In exit slips, the majority of my students acknowledged they would not have arrived to this understanding without the discussion.
Feature #2: Accountability
A second feature that I value is that these discussions are academically productive because I understand my role as facilitator: to ensure we collectively think accurately and deeply. Because I know where we are headed and what it will take to get there, I have a clear sense of how I need to ask questions, or how to teach my students to ask questions. Here are some “moves” teachers and students can making to ensure accuracy, deep thinking, and collaboration.
To wrap up, Accountable Talk can help give discussions clear steps and purpose. When the text is rich, the tasks are provoking, and the students are versed in discussion, it is inspiring how big the thinking can get. Together.
Latest posts by Sean Riley (see all)
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