Chapter 2: Talk as a Tool for Learning

Talking shapes opportunities to think:

There are 3 kinds of talk in the classroom:

  1. Initiation Response Evaluation (I-R-E)
  2. "Popcorn Conversation"
  3. Meaningful Discourse

IRE is generally defined by short, closed, teacher initiated questions that usually only check for recall. When a teacher gets the correct response form a student , they proceed to the next part of their lesson without really knowing what the student understands or if the rest of the class also knew the answer. Some examples include:

  • What is the capital of France? Paris. Good.
  • ________ is when plants use light and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and glucose? Photosynthesis. Right.

Popcorn Conversations have more open ended questions and students have the opportunity to talk about their ideas to a partner before the teacher brings the class back. The teacher is less evaluative of the responses which results in longer but less accurate answers. The teacher may not do more with the response other than write them down on a white board for future exploration. The sporadic nature of the responses is reminiscent of popcorn popping here and there.

Meaningful Discourse can be attained with "talk moves" optimized for claim-making, justifications and "gapless" explanations. The following are the talk moves and a short description:

  1. Probing
    • Probing questions or prompts get students to make public more of their thinking.
  2. Pressing
    • Pressing means that the teacher does not allow students to offer shortcut responses, unsupported claims, or respond with “you know.”
  3. Re-voicing
    • Re-voicing means that the teacher paraphrases and re-broadcasts what a student has said, in order to enhance the clarity of that contribution for other students.
  4. Peer-to-peer talk
    • Your students should be developing the civility needed to elaborate on and critique the ideas of others in a public setting—without you acting as an intermediary between every turn of talk.
  5. Putting ideas on hold
    • Marking a student’s idea as something that is not going to be talked about at this point in a respectful way. A teacher might say: “That’s an interesting idea, and it is something that we will talk about tomorrow, but for now…”
  6. Wait time
    • During whole class discussion, students need time to think. Not everyone can spontaneously interpret what a teacher’s question means and respond to it within a couple of seconds.

Read this article for more examples of talk in the classroom as well as talk moves: A Discourse Primer for Science Teachers

the 4 Reasons for academic science conversations

  1. Activating and eliciting students' ideas about a science phenomenon
    • Draw out students' beginning understanding of an even or process in the world
    • Usually at the start of a new topic or after a video, demo or experience where the whole class shares their interpretation
    • Ask essential questions that prompt higher order thinking and structure the conversations to follow
  2. Helping students make sense of new observations, information or data
    • Help students recognize the patterns in the data or observations, critique the quality of the data or propose propose why these patterns exist
  3. Connecting activities with big science ideas
    • Applying what is learned in activities or readings to a phenomenon. Here, rather than trying to explain the outcome of an activity, we help students relate what they are learning to a larger puzzling science event
  4. Pressing students for evidence-based explanations
    • This kind of discourse usually happens once in the middle of a unit and then again near the end
    • Teachers help students use multiple forms of evidence (gathered over several lessons) to construct an updated explanation (model) for the phenomenon that's been the focus of the unit

examples of High Cognitive Demand Talk

  • Comparing and contrast two ideas
  • Generating lists of plausible hypotheses
  • Representing ideas in a different way
  • Predicting outcomes based on data or a model
  • Explaining why a process or event happens the way it does
  • Designing a study to answer a specific question
  • Evaluating the relevance and quality of data
  • Justifying claims with evidence
  • Identifying gaps or inconsistencies in an argument
  • Applying an idea or principle or model to a new situation