Changing Our Thinking: Economy of Language

Changing Our Thinking: Economy of Language

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teachers using economy of language in the classroom.

 

Why We Talk

That seems like a very silly heading… why do teachers talk? Well, we talk because we need to say things to students. What sorts of things are teachers saying to students? The role of a teacher used to be primarily talking… talking as teaching. Teachers were viewed as the people who had the knowledge and students were viewed as the people who needed the knowledge. Classrooms were filled with teacher talk. In my head, I was just picturing a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher lecturing and having students repeat after her but even when I was in elementary school my teachers talked more than the students. 

My teachers talked and I listened, followed directions, took notes, completed assignments and talked at specific times. My talking wasn’t considered a priority in the classroom. Students talking was often considered a distraction or a waste of time.  

What's the Problem?

The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning. We are social beings and meaning is constructed through talk. Picture a young child around 3-4 all that child does is talk! Kids talk talk talk and as they talk they are making sense of the world around them. They’re figuring things out. People build meaning through talk.

Balanced literacy builds upon the child’s known and a child’s oral language is their known. When teachers are the only ones doing the talking or are the ones doing the majority of the talking children aren’t being given their own time to make meaning of what is happening in the classroom, of what they’re learning. 

Whoever is doing the talking is the one doing the learning. 

What to do Instead

Build in talk time. I build in time for conversations in every single period of every single day. Here is how I build it into my day.

Classroom Conversation- Each morning we have a conversation. We practice talking without raising hands. Together we set guidelines and we learn how to enter a conversation, how to encourage someone else to share in a conversation and how to end a conversation. These conversations are student-led and I do not speak during them. 

Turn and Talks- When teaching something new offer up time for the students to turn and talk with one another. Listen in as the students share ideas with one another. You’ll quickly be able to hear misconceptions, building upon ideas, and questions they might have. Allowing them to talk through things that are being taught allows them to build their understanding of what is being taught.

Read Aloud- Gosh! Let them talk during read aloud. Let them interrupt and ask their questions. Allow time for them to wonder. Ask questions to get them thinking and beginning to comprehend. Let them build meaning together.

Class Leaders- Give them a voice outside of learning time. In my classroom students frequently make announcements to one another. These announcements are as simple as, “someone didn’t push in their chair. We all need to push in our chairs so the classroom is safe.” or “I just found a marker without a cap. We need to find it and then we need to make sure our caps are clicked.” Teachers often make these sort of announcements but why not allow your kids to make them. They should feel empowered and want to take ownership of their classroom. 

Whispering In- During conversations, book clubs or even guided reading groups I often whisper to a student to share a question or idea instead of sharing in myself. This seems weird but it works. At first, when I was crawling around the edge of our conversation circle I felt so stupid. As I whispered in, “say why do you think Edward felt that way” during conversations and listening to kids parrot it out did not convince me I was doing what was best. BUT after a while, after coaching in with my quieter students and having them share what I was thinking they started sharing their own thoughts. As a conversation is going on I am listening in and I am also whispering a conversation with a student who might not chime in unless prompted. I am checking in on their learning and pushing them to share an idea. Any idea. When they are sharing an idea that isn’t their own they feel safer. If someone disagrees it is still ok. Whispering in has empowered my students who might just sit out to lean in. 

What I've Learned

Limiting my teacher voice in the classroom didn’t happen overnight. Let me tell you that there are still days where I do the majority of talking in my classroom. Nobody is perfect but on those days I am more conscious of what I am doing. I am reminding myself that I need to hear my students’ voices more than my own. I am checking in on student voices that I don’t always hear and together we are building community and growing in knowledge through conversation. 

How do you promote oral language and communication in your classroom? How do you ensure that students are talking and that you are listening? What questions do you have about limiting your teacher voice? Let me know in the comments below. 

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