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Constructive Classroom Conversation

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NaGma KhiMaNi

on 6 January 2014

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Transcript of Constructive Classroom Conversation


Constructive Classroom Conversation


The overall goal was for participating educators to better understand student-student classroom discourse and use what they learned to facilitate higher quality interactions that built disciplinary knowledge and skills.
• Develop a practical understanding of academically-engaged classroom discourse, with emphasis on what this looks like in linguistically diverse classrooms that are focused on teaching Common Core State Standards

• Listen more carefully to student talk and use a discourse analysis tool to analyze student discourse, focusing on how interactions build disciplinary language, knowledge, and skills

• Learn and practice practical teaching strategies for building students’ abilities to engage in constructive face-to-face interactions

• Collaborate with other educators and build professional relationships that result in an online community focused on improving students’ abilities to engage rich academic discourse across disciplines and grade levels.

Moving from Teacher-Led to Student-Led Conversations

Grand conversations can be about all kinds of texts – wordless picture books, poetry,
non-fiction texts, magazine/newspaper articles, advertisements, graphic novels,photo essays, film clips, magazines, blogs and so on.
Selecting a text that is rich enough to stimulate and support a grand conversation is a critical first step. The text needs to be sufficiently challenging so that it requires students to wrestle with the concepts presented; it needs to be multi-layered so that it allows a variety of interpretations and opinions. Books with interesting plots and
characters, detailed descriptions and dialogue are good choices for fiction. Non-fiction texts should present content clearly and at times provide strong visual support. Poetry is also a good choice for stimulating rich discussion.
Wordless picture books and books with limited text also provide opportunities to engage students in rich conversations about text because they remove the linguistic challenges presented by written text while encouraging collaborative construction of meaning. The visual story invites students to look closely in order to make connections,draw inferences and make predictions, and to express personal thoughts, feelings and opinions. To support conversation, the pictures must be clearly and easily visible to all participants. Unless the teacher has access to a “big book” version of a wordless text,small-group structures generate the most productive conversations.

Student engagement increases when students are given opportunities to think deeply,articulate their reasoning and listen with purpose in conversations about issues that are important to them. When teachers open up a conversation that allows students to take the lead, the classroom becomes a place where learning from one another is the norm, not the exception. Involving students in collaborative structures and teaching students how to engage in meaningful conversations about text makes a difference in student learning and achievement, supporting the development of the higher-order thinking skills which are so critical to today’s learner, this was all I erudite from the course Constructive Classroom Conversation and the knowledge has helped me a lot, it worked pretty well for me :)

What is constructive conversation ?
The new standards specifically describe the importance of students understanding the reasoning of others and engaging in meaningful conversations using evidence for claims. Yet this type of student-to-student discourse tends to be rare in classrooms. Common classroom activities such as whole class discussions, jigsaws, and think-pair-shares, can have the appearance of constructive interactions, but they often do not provide adequate opportunities for all students to engage in academically rich, back-and-forth dialogs. So, constructive conversation is the use of speech for the exchange of any kind of thoughts, ideas; which are understood by the listener.

Why grand conversations?
“...student engagement in discussions
about text results in improved reading
comprehension, higher level thinking skills,
and increased literacy motivation.”


Initiating students into the kind of talk that fosters higher-level comprehension requires varying levels of scaffolding. Students need to be taught the skills and behaviours that will enable them to consider the ideas presented in a text, share and defend their own ideas and opinions in response to the text and build on and question ideas and opinions contributed by others. Initially, teachers may take a more “hands-on” role, initiating the conversation with a dilemma, big question or prompt and modelling appropriate discussion skills. They need to be ready to step in just in time to contribute new questions or prompts to redirect talk that has become tangential or remind students to direct their comments to group members. Teachers need to be prepared to support students in negotiating and accepting differences in ideas and opinions about the text and building upon the ideas of others; they may also need to intervene to invite responses from quieter students and to assist students in practicing appropriate turn-taking and discussion techniques. Both whole-class and small-group settings provide an opportunity for the teacher to model skills and behaviours and for students to practice them with teacher guidance and support. Anchor charts about rules and norms for productive conversations can be collaboratively developed and posted for ongoing reference and revision. Over time,as students become more proficient in applying these skills and behaviours, teacher support gradually fades and students assume more responsibility for independently conducting the conversation. The teacher’s role shifts from that of discussion director to discussion facilitator to participant in the discussion as students gain greater independence and proficiency as conversation participants and contributors.


A fishbowl activity can be used to help students reflect on the features of an effective conversation. Discussion group members sit in a circle facing each other as they conduct their conversation. Other class members sit in a circle around them so that they can see and hear the conversation. The teacher reads the text to (or with students) so that all are familiar with the text to be discussed. Alternatively, students in the discussion group may have read a common text while other students – the observers – have not. Prior to beginning the activity, teacher and students review the elements of a quality conversation about text and decide on key elements to watch and listen for. If developmentally appropriate, the teacher may want to give students in the outside circle a checklist to focus their observations. In the initial stages, the teacher joins the group and initiates conversation with an authentic question or prompt, intervening strategically to encourage the exchange of ideas and support participation and turn-taking.When students in the inner circle have completed their discussion, the observers
are invited to pose questions about what they have heard and provide the members of the discussion group with constructive feedback.


To begin shifting responsibility from teacher-directed to student-led talk about text,teachers model the use of authentic questions and prompts to initiate conversation and stimulate critical and reflective thinking about a text. This initial conversational move opens the floor for students to share what they are thinking and feeling and creates “interpretive space” for the co-construction of meaning. The teacher makes judicious use of questions and comments during the discussion to sustain the conversation and to keep moving it forward without taking over control.Authentic questions and prompts are open-ended, “big” or interpretive in nature, so that they allow for a range of possible responses. The teacher needs to be prepared to respond spontaneously to move the discussion to deeper levels. Questions asked in response to student input encourage elaborated thinking. At the same time, the teacher models exploratory talk and appropriate discussion group behaviours and supports students as they practice these skills in the group setting .


The teacher organizes students so that they are seated in ways that support face-to-
face interaction such as “knee-to-knee/eye-to-eye” or in a circle. The teacher then
steps back from the traditional role of teacher as discussion director and moves into
the role of discussion facilitator/participant in order to allow students to shape the
Teachers may also use a strategy such as “turn and talk” in order to allow students to
discuss a point arising from the larger conversation and to practise engaging in the free exchange of ideas. After some talk time, two pairs of students can come together to form a discussion “square” and continue the conversation. As students are talking, the teacher should circulate, listening for the content of the conversations and scaffolding appropriate language and behaviours as necessary. When sufficient time has elapsed,the teacher pulls the group back together and invites students to share their thinking. “Discussion triads” offer another strategy to enrich discussion. The teacher arranges students in groups of three and presents them with an open-ended “big” question or prompt to get the discussion started on a text they have just read (or have had read to them). The teacher allows students approximately three minutes to discuss the question in their triad and then brings them back together to continue the discussion,share their thinking and confront differences in understanding and opinion.

Examples of authentic
questions/prompts ...

• What do you think the author wants us to think?
• How would the story be different if another character was telling it?
• How does the author show his point of view? Do you agree?
• What do you think was the most important thing that happened?
• What was something that confused you or that you wondered about?
• How did you feel about what happened in the story? What made you feel that way?
• Are you like any of the characters? In what ways?
• Did you agree with what (character’s name) did? Why?
• What do you think will happen next?What do you think (character’s name)will do? What would you do in the same situation?
• Is there someone in the book you’d
like to talk to? What would you say?
Why makes you want to say that?

Productive discussions ...

• Are structured and focused yet not
dominated by the teacher

• Occur when students are prompted
to discuss texts through open-ended,
authentic questions

• occur when students hold the floor
for extended periods of time

• maintain a high degree of student

Preparing Students for Discussion

A number of engaging and innovative strategies have been designed by educators to support students in thinking about the text they have read in preparation for classroom discussion. Some of these are described below.


Journals provide students with an opportunity to record their personal ideas, reactions,questions, connections and learning from their readings. Logs can be used after reading a text and before participating in discussion to provide students with the opportunity to reflect on and “ink their thinking” . A “picture-it journal” can be especially useful for students who are not yet able to encode and record their thoughts easily. Students use pictures which may or may not be accompanied by approximated spellings and a few sight words to capture their thoughts and feelings about the text.In later primary, a “double entry journal” offers a flexible format that allows for a range of response activities. To begin, students divide the page in half lengthwise.
On the one side, they record a quote from the text or a description of a specific portion
of text. On the other side, across from the entry, they record personal ideas, opinions,
feelings or questions about the quote or specific piece of text.

Focus Skill

After reading a rich text worthy of discussion, each student is asked to draw a picture of what aspect of the text they think should be the focus of the group conversation. Younger students can label their pictures; older primary students can write a sentence or two to explain more fully the aspect they have selected. The teacher works with the students to group the pictures and attach them to large pieces of paper, labeling each group so that students can see what was considered most important and worthy of discussion. The category with the most pictures is then used as the starting point for the group discussion.


Sketch-to-stretch is an activity in which students use sketches to respond to a text that has
been read to,with or by them. Rather than drawing a picture to show a part of the story or the
main idea of the story, students use images, words, shapes and other symbols to
show what the story means to them. The teacher can have students stop at key points
during a read-aloud to record their sketches or wait until the reading is complete.
Students meet together in small groups to share their sketches and use them as a
starting point for the group discussion. Sketch-to-stretch requires students to create
an abstract representation of their thoughts, connections and reactions to a text.
Additional scaffolding may be necessary for students who are very literal and want
to draw a picture of their “favorite” or “most important” character in the story.


Close reading refers to careful interpretive reading of a short passage of literary text.Teachers select a story that is rich and interesting enough to warrant close reading by and select or invite children to assist in selecting a part of the story that seems important. In a small group, students read, reread and discuss the passage carefully in order to work out the author’s stated and implied messages and how they align
with the students’ own thinking.


This strategy can be used with students who are able to read a text independently to help them
prepare for discussion. Each student in the group is provided with narrow strips of sticky note paper, two to three each of green, yellow and red. Students are directed to think of these three colours as “traffic lights.” They use the green GO strips to mark points in their text that they agree with, think are
important, make a connection with, made them laugh and so on. They use the red STOP strips to mark points that they disagree with, did not like, made them upset(sad, angry, unhappy) and so on. They use the yellow CAUTION strip to mark points that they are unsure of, found confusing, left them wondering, raised questions and so on. Students are encouraged to use at least one of each strip.

Different ways to develop good conversation :

The teacher read-aloud provides a context for rich conversations at all grade levels,but especially in the primary grades when many students are unable to read more challenging and conceptually complex texts. Although teacher read-aloud can occur in a small-group setting, it is most commonly used as a whole-class activity.
In the primary grades, teachers most frequently use picture books, both fiction and non-fiction, for their read-aloud activity. As they read aloud, they bring students physically close to the text and hold it so that students can observe the pictures as the teacher reads. Students are encouraged to listen to the words and simultaneously examine the pictures in order to make sense of the text. Often the teacher interjects questions to assist students in clarifying understandings and constructing an overall understanding of the message conveyed by the text.
After reading, teachers can use the read-aloud text to kick off a grand conversation. Students are asked to form a circle so that all speakers can see and hear one another. The teacher and students review collaboratively-established norms for group discussions. The teacher introduces a big question or prompt to initiate discussion and scaffolds the conversation as necessary.


Shared and guided reading groups also provide an opportunity for students to practice student-led conversation
about a text. After using a shared or guided approach to read a common text, the teacher presents a big
question or prompt related to the text. Following review of the class anchor chart for grand conversations,
the teacher withdraws, providing an opportunity for reading group members to engage in student-led
conversation stemming from the question or prompt. During this time, the teacher checks in with other
students and observes the functioning of the discussion group from a distance. After a few minutes,
the teacher returns to the group and joins the conversation in progress. Students are encouraged to share,
explain and elaborate their thinking about the question or prompt. The teacher may assist in resolving
conflicts that may have arisen as a result of conflicting opinions or procedural issues such as turn-taking and
conversation domination. Before ending the session, teacher and students reflect on and assess the
functioning of the group in relation to the class guidelines for grand conversations.


In primary classrooms, small groups of students (about three) can come together
around a common theme or big idea (or umbrella question) using one or more texts.
The teacher selects books for these small-group discussions based on student needs
and interests. After listening to “book talks” given by the teacher, students may choose
the text for their group discussion by holding a vote. Before beginning the discussion
the teacher may want to introduce students to various conversational roles – such as
discussion director, illustrator, word wizard and connector – as a way of scaffolding
student-led conversations. Although these roles can be helpful, teachers need to be
cautious that learning the role and “doing it right” do not become more important
than the actual conversation and inhibit the natural exchange of ideas characteristic
of a genuine conversation. The goal is for students to be able to participate in grand
conversation without taking on a specific role.


Instructional conversations are whole-class or small-group discussions about a common text that combine instruction and conversation. They share many of the characteristics of grand conversations, but are intended primarily to help students extract information from a text. The teacher begins with a specific curriculum goal in mind – a theme, topic or concept – and facilitates classroom conversation in order to meet that goal. Teacher and students share their prior knowledge and integrate it with new information gathered from the text to extend understanding of the topic or concept. Throughout, the teacher facilitates sustained discussion encouraging students to share and clarify understandings, link new knowledge to prior knowledge and consider issues presented in the text from various points of view. Again, the teacher brings closure to the conversation by summarizing, drawing conclusions or establishing goals for the next conversation.


Idea circles are heterogeneous small groups that support discussion focused on learning about a concept. Their purpose is to have students build an understanding of a concept through the dialogue exchange of facts and information. The goal of the discussion is to ensure that each student leaves the group with a clearer, more thorough and more accurate understanding of the target concept. Multiple concept-related texts, at varying levels of reading difficulty, are provided by the teacher. Each student reads their selected text, either independently or with a partner, for the purpose of gathering information about the topic under discussion.Students then bring their information to the circle where the information is shared,clarified, extended and debated in order to co-construct a deeper and more elaborate understanding of the concept.

Nagma Khimani
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