Instructional Conversations: How often do you use them?

playmobil-451203_640At Lingual Learning, we are huge believers in letting students do the talking. “Talking out” new concepts has proven more valuable to the talker than the listener when it comes to learning, and the effect is increased multifold when learners are practicing new language, in addition to new concepts. Educational models that embrace student talk are gaining ground, and we get excited over research that quantifies the impact of student talk. One such study on Instructional Conversations (ICs) looked at 1500 third- and fifth-grade students, about half of which were English learners. ICs had a direct impact on reading comprehension and on subject-specific concepts in English language arts, science, and math for all students, with ELs having the largest margins of improvement compared to control groups!

The key is maintaining structure during ICs. Regular group work may or may not result in the same learning gains, for a number of reasons. ICs happen in small groups of students, but the teacher remains a facilitator-participant. He or she presents the activity and models the desired outcomes, or probes for more critical responses to questions. The teacher also models courteous turn-taking and encourages students to support their arguments. While content mastery may be the goal of the moment, critical analysis and respect are long-term skills that require high expectations and plenty of practice to develop.

ICs also give teachers an informal assessment opportunity since students can display the depth of their knowledge, and misunderstandings can be corrected early.

One of the main takeaways for us at LL about student talk is to keep content extremely focused. That’s why each lesson in our curriculum features a concrete objective, language purpose, an explicit grammar focus, and specific language frames. When the content you’re developing is language, this is one of the surest ways to witness student success.

ICs and similar student talk activities take a lot of planning and thought from teachers, but they are so worth it. What “aha moments” have you had in your teaching about student talk?

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