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Recommiting to the Power of Talking About Books by Holly Chopak

We can all agree that last year students were without many of the everyday things that make school feel consistent and structured. Our students did not have a typical year, from holding physical books to using manipulatives to solve math problems. The biggest thing that teachers of all grade levels can probably agree was missing from last year was talking. Students could not talk through their writing piece, share their thinking about a historical event, think through the steps of a science experiment, or the strategy they used to solve a math problem.

For me, my literacy teacher's heart hurts that students were not able to talk about books. Some of the things that I love most are listening to partnerships share their idea about a character or readers bursting to say what they predict will happen next in our read-aloud. Talk has always been a lifeline for connection among readers as a way to grow comprehension. In a recent article from American Libraries Associate entitled "Partner Reading: Building Talk, Releasing Responsibility," Claudia Anne Katz and Susan Bohman write, "During Partner Reading, students monitor the reading of a fellow student. Pairs work together on various texts, building their reading confidence, increasing concentration, practicing interacting socially in a positive way, and improving their motivation to read. Partner Reading improves fluency, reading rate, and word attack skills, and helps students monitor their comprehension."

After a year of not learning and practicing strategies that build talk, how could I bring the talk back into my reading workshop? The first thing that I thought about was to build talk. We need to show readers how to think about a text. I had always modeled thinking aloud when reading aloud to students, but I have never purposely planned to think aloud. My think alouds were places I naturally stopped to question, predict, or envision about the text. This year I think things need to be different. My think alouds need to be purposely planned because they will be the model for which my students learn to grow their talk. Think alouds help to build students' independent abilities to comprehend a text. In the book Think Big with Think Alouds, Molly Ness examines the theories behind think alouds. She says that think aloud:

  • Provide teacher modeling

  • Offer guided practice when teachers incorporate strategies such as thumbs up if you were thinking the same thing as me

  • Provide an explicit description of the strategy

  • Foster Collaboration

  • Extend to independent practice

When we plan think alouds, we need to model:

  • Asking questions

  • Making Inferences

  • Synthesizing

  • Understanding the author's purpose

  • Monitoring and clarifying

I also need to think about how students will begin to talk. In my read alouds, I want to make sure that I have a balance of modeling in my think-aloud and allowing students to practice in their turn and talks. One way that I can think about growing talk is to plan a talk unit. In this approach, before I begin my read alouds I can teach my readers strategies to grow their talk. In the book Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk Teaching Kids to Talk with Clarity and Purpose by Shana Frazin and Katy Winchow, a talk unit includes:

  • Establishing purposeful partners

  • Thinking about what readers can do/partners can do

  • How to be an active listener

  • What is questioning language

  • Analyzing a text

  • Learning how to agree/disagree

When we are working to build talk, we can think about it as a cycle, like a cycle that writers go through during the stages of the writing process. It is essential to teach students how to generate ideas and then choose an idea. Then students need to learn many strategies and talking stems for how to develop their ideas. Students can act on their ideas by thinking about how this relates to the world around them. At the end of the talk, students need to reflect on the process. Some ways we can reflect might be:

  • What went well in our talk today?

  • What would we do differently?

  • How am I going to carry these ideas into my independent reading life?

This year, students will need a lot of things as they transition back to a more consistent school structure, but for me, the part of the day where we can create connections and rebuild conversation is by modeling, coaching, and supporting talking about books.

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