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Constructive Classroom Conversations

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Heidi Park

on 5 January 2014

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Transcript of Constructive Classroom Conversations

Constructive Classroom Conversations:
Notes and Thoughts from a High School Science Perspective

Why do we care if our students are having constructive conversations?
How do we use constructive conversations?
As a
formative assessment
To observe where students are at relative to specific learning goals
Students externalize thinking through what they
, and
Teachers need to listen closely to

students are saying (what they are thinking) and
they say it (the language they use)
Close listening provides better information on
student ideas
How do we teach, model, and scaffold effective conversations skills?
Constructive conversations
lead to student learning by allowing them to:
practice academic language
build, develop, and refine their thinking about academic topics
negotiate ideas
collaborate with one another
Whole-class discussions:
are generally facilitated by the teacher
can be sustained for longer/go deeper
can be used to model conversations/develop conversation skills
are harder to involve all students
allow for less airtime for individual students
are easier to use to monitor discourse
Pairwise conversations:
involve all students
can be challenging to facilitate conversations so they are focused and constructive
require levels of trust/comfort on part of students
give students more time for talking and listening
allow students to clarify and negotiate ideas
Features of a pairwise constructive conversation:
on one another
Clarify, justify, explain, and/or support
Students do as much as they can with one idea before moving on
Not just a list of disconnected ideas
Both students come up with ideas and extend the conversation
Conversation is
on the lesson objectives
Show, grow, or clarify learning
Lesson objectives can include thinking skills, communication skills, content, and/or academic language
To identify the
where students are vs. where the teacher wants them to be
includes both
content understanding
academic discourse
Use of academic language does not always indicate content understanding
Teachers must operate within an
interpretive framework
conceptual understandings
the students' ability to express themselves
think ahead
not just observation and subsequent modification
Questions to keep in mind:
How do I set up
rich conversation opportunities
for students with a particular conversation gap?
What would the
development of these skills
look and sound like?
What would be
evidence of this development
in student conversations?
To make
instructional decisions
It's challenging for teachers to decide what to do next after understanding and interpreting student responses
Even when focusing on content or language, teachers must have a sense of the
of the content development, language development,

how they intersect
provide feedback
for students
External feedback
from the teacher: adjusting the lesson, implementing a particular intervention, or providing specific feedback to a student
External feedback
from peers: via responses during a conversation
Internal feedback
from the student: metacognition and self-reflection on own learning and language development
Connections to
Next Generation Science Standards
NGSS require students to engage in the process of inquiry in the context of specific content
Constructive conversations can be used to help students engage in the
8 Science and Engineering Practices
and Using Models
and Carrying Out Investigations
Using Mathematics
and Computational Thinking
6. Constructing
Engaging in Argument
from Evidence
8. Obtaining,
, and
conversation skills:
: listen for what you want students to talk about and how they talk about it
micro-ear: today's learning and specific students
macro-ear: general trends, informs future lessons
: what are students doing/not doing to accomplish the conversation's purpose
timely feedback
: ask and give suggestions on how to improve
Relationship to Common Core (9-10 Speaking/Listening):
Initiate and participate effectively in a range of
collaborative discussions
(one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues,
building on others’ ideas
and expressing their own
and persuasively. (CC.9-10.SL.1)
Propel conversations
by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and
, or
ideas and conclusions. (CC.9-10.SL.1.c )
These skills are also related to Common Core
Writing Standards
claim(s) and counterclaims fairly,
supplying data and evidence
for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns (CC.9-10.W.HST.1.b)
Constructive Conversation

the idea and it's language
define terms, explain, elaborate, paraphrase, and/or use analogies
the idea by using examples and
from the text, from other texts from media, the world, and from their own lives
with peers to take the most appropriate suggestions and build a better idea
Examples of using conversations skills in
Create a
research question
lab procedure

NGSS Practice 1: Asking Questions
NGSS Practice 3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Clarify when
discussing the meaning of lab results
to tease out the underlying scientific concept
NGSS Practice 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data
discussion of a scientific concept
by supporting it with data from the lab or mathematical reasoning
NGSS Practice 2: Developing and Using Models
NGSS Practice 5: Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking
NGSS Practice 6: Constructing Explanations
Negotiate the meaning of the scientific data to
determine the best explanation
NGSS Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence
NGSS Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Key Elements
for High-Quality Conversations:
Engaging and authentic

: Answers "why am I doing this?". Consider purposes like create, argue, decide, or solve
Clear and focused
: Beyond school tasks, engage in real-world conversation. Authentic purpose will help with this.

to use original language: Not over-scaffolding to allow students to try new things and refine

: Knowledge related to the purpose. Can come from reading, listening, talking, observing, and doing
Conversation Skills:
Use early formative assessment to determine what needs to be modeled. Perhaps:
Building on partner ideas
Co-building ideas
Content, thinking skills, specific language
Turn-taking, nonverbals, respectful responses
Modeling is important.
Students won't know how to use these skills if they don't see it.
Class discussion
Allows for some student-directed conversation
Students can practice prompting questioning and asking for evidence
Push skills out to students to reduce dependence on the teacher
Teacher-Whole class:
Teacher is partner A, entire class is partner B
Push students to justify reasoning while still continuing conversation
Allow students to participate

Two students (or teacher-student) model conversation while rest watch
Allows two students to practice skills while others observe

Written Models:
Going over written transcripts of conversations with students
Allows students to see different moves that partners can make
Related strategy: Have students record and evaluate their own conversations using the Conversation Analysis Tool

How to model:
Conversation Skills:
just enough
support, reduce as much as possible as soon as possible
Goal is to
develop skills
rather than have continual reliance on the scaffolds.
Some examples of scaffolds:
for conversations and/or for each turn
Tokens to
indicate who starts/ends
Cards with
conversation moves
Intentional pairing
/grouping of students
Graphic organizers, charts, or other
Sentence frames
These are general sentence frames that could/should be modified in specific contexts
Noticings, Wonderings, and Next Steps from observing my own classroom conversations:
Observing student conversations before any modeling or scaffolds are provided showed little building on ideas, a lot of distraction (lack of focus), and students who do not question their peers' ideas.
If sentence frames are provided with little to no modeling, students do not use them.
Different prompts generate different amounts of conversation.
I wonder if having a constructive conversation is an appropriate focus for every classroom activity, particularly in science.
I wonder how important it is to take class time to explicitly teach conversation skills
I wonder if I can use these skills of constructive conversations individually instead of collectively (e.g., students need to fortify an idea but don't create it)
I wonder how much I am missing by not being able to listen in on every conversation
Next Steps
Listen to more conversations to determine what students really need support with
Determine the best time/context to explicitly model conversation skills
Some inquiry questions:
are the students who are quieter during conversations (pairs, small groups, or whole-class)?
are they quiet (personality, lack of confidence)? Do they believe that conversation skills can be
Conversation Analysis Tool:
Dimension 1:
Turns build on each other
4 Half or more of the turns build on previous turns to effectively build up a clear and complete idea
3 Half or more of the turns build on previous turns to adequately build up an idea, which may be incomplete or lack clarity.
2 Few turns build on previous turns to build up an idea. 1 Turns are not used to build up an idea.

Dimension 2:
Turns focus on the knowledge or skills of the lesson's objectives
4 Half or more of the turns effectively focus on the lesson’s objectives and show depth or fostering of the intended learning.
3 Half or more of the turns sufficiently focus on the lesson’s objectives, but this focus may be superficial or lack clarity.
2 Few turns focus on the lesson’s objectives.
1 Turns do not focus on the lesson’s objectives.
A tool to help educators analyze student conversations
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