Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk a #G2Great Chat with Maria Nichols

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click Here to Access the Wakelet

Imagine a little girl with dark curly hair, very thick glasses, and a huge vocabulary. This child came from a family who believed that children had important things to say. A family with a mother, a father, two brothers, and a sister who all shared their views, spoke their minds without hesitation as though their ideas were all important. This same child, who had a big extended family that shared the same values in an even larger social setting. Then, as if that were not enough, another whole layer of family friends also encouraged children to speak their minds and who were genuinely interested in hearing what they had to say. Imagine the benefit of having such a rich social language learning environment to grow up in. Couple those lived experiences with voluminous reading and writing and now the child has, even more, to think about, more to say, and more opportunities for self-expression. That is a child who is being immersed in a language learning process that will help her for the rest of her life. How fortunate would that child be? Very. That is my story. That child was me.

The reason why I specialized in literacy is that I wanted to give as many students as possible the same experiences I had growing up. Believing that a school is a place where teachers may cultivate a social learning environment that holds purposeful talk in the highest esteem is very powerful. If you believe that, as I do, then you know we have the power to reshape a child’s life. So you can understand why, it was a real thrill to welcome author/educator, Maria Nichols, to lead #G2Great in a conversation about how to create a process of growing purposeful talk.

What voices are being valued?

Show students that you believe that they have something important to say. Help them believe that their voices matter the most to us and then there will be boundless growth. Children, who feel as though their words hold weight with teachers will be more likely to share and elaborate on their thinking in deeper more meaningful ways. Part of the work is to create equity and access for purposeful talk, and there is a lot we can do in school to make that a reality. Teachers are setting the table for talk by giving space for feedback and reflection. Don’t be afraid of those quiet moments. Be generous, give space for students to process their thinking. Give them the chance to fill that space with their own words.

What do all students think?

Be curious about what students think. Whenever we start to fill in their words for them just stop. Let them go, find out what they really think. Treating classroom talk as you might an inquiry study will help to cull out what they think through lean questioning and wait time. Then if we teach them how to take a questioning stance, we create other “teachers” in the room. We create more opportunities to uncover the collective thinking that is happening in real time. When we use mentor texts that serve to underscore thoughtful talk we add another layer of support to elevate students’ thinking. It is an amazing process.

How can we raise talk to new levels?

Listen to learn first, not to evaluate. Be strategic when planning spaces in conversation to pause and ponder. This not only fortifies stamina, it also models what thoughtful dialogue looks like. Building a culture of “talk” starts when we take the time to reflect on what went well and when we invite students into that reflective process we raise the quality of purposeful talk over time. Purposeful talk requires a plurality of perspective to inform how it is going. It is not just what teachers think, teachers are one part of a broad community of thinkers. The talk in the classroom mirrors everyone who is part of that community. That is what makes talk so important.

Purposeful talk measures the level of intellectual rigor. It conveys the level of trust and relationships within the community. The words that fill a classroom reflect the learners themselves. Think of it this way, talk paints a picture of students’ culture, beliefs, passions, and even their fears. We are showing students how to communicate in the world, we are teaching them that their words are valuable, that they are important, and every child deserves to know that they have a voice that is worthy of being heard. Thank you, Maria Nichols. Thank you for writing your beautiful book, Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Building Purposeful Talk.

The Right Tools, Towanda Harris #G2Great

By, Jenn Hayhurst

Access to Wakelet by clicking here.

Disclaimer Alert: I Love Tools!

It’s true, I have a soft spot for tools. From my earliest memories, I have loved working with tools. My father would invite me into his garage and would marvel at the hooks and draws and bins full of useful devices that could help a person get any job done. My love for tools has remained constant, just the other day I inventoried my kitchen tools to assess which ones were most useful. I love tools because they help us to perform at higher levels, to be more independent, and to feel empowered to make a change. Tools make my teacher’s heart sing.

Needless to say, when Towanda Harris agreed to join our #G2Great community… I was VERY enthusiastic! On August 15, 2019, Towanda Harris initiated a discussion stemming from her beautiful new book, so aptly named, The Right Tools, that I believe, will be a book teachers will use and love.

Instructional tools offer a pathway towards active learning and aides for assessment for our students. They are mediators engender high levels of engagement and support. So, why aren’t we all using tools on a regular basis? Towanda, spoken like the true teacher puts it simply,

Today, we often find ourselves facing a dizzying array of materials and resources, whether they be a box of dusty skills cards handed down from a retiring teacher a professional book passed on by a colleague, a unit plan saved from a previous year, a teacher’s manual found in the back of a storage cabinet, a procedure recommended by a supervisor, a program required by a district, a book reviewed on a blog, a set of activi- ties discussed on Twitter, a chart found on Pinterest, a unit downloaded from a website, or a strategy highlighted in a brochure or an email. But how do we know which of these will help the children in our classrooms? How do we find helpful new resources without squandering funding or instructional time?

Towanda Harris, The Right Tools, xii Introduction

How do we begin? This post is dedicated to beginning the process.

I feel so privileged to share the voices of the #G2Great community. Thank you for sharing your expertise so that we may grow our understandings of this important topic.

Having well-defined criteria for what tools are brought into the classroom is an important first step. When developing a criterion, we begin as Towanda suggests, with clarity for the tool’s “purpose” so they may meet students where they are. While Travis reminds us to consider the appeal of tools, is they “kid-centric” if kids don’t like them they won’t use them. Mollie brings us back to basics as she reminds us to keep tools grounded in authentic opportunities for use. Sonja comes at tools from another perspective, when she tweeted that the best tools are flexible ones that “bend.” So true!

Tools offer teachers opportunities to be responsive to students needs. Faige, adds her voice to the conversation as she explains that criteria for tools cannot be set unless teachers have time to observe the students who are in the room, she invites us to consider students’ “interests, needs, and strengths”. Towanda echos this truth as she perks our attention to knowing “learning styles” so we may avoid that “one size fits all” mentality that becomes a roadblock for a successful transfer to independent use. As always, Mary brings the discussion back home, as she implores us to be “honest” in our estimation of tried and true tools we love as educators. We have to always be reflective to make sure we really do have the right tool for the job. Laura, says it best I think when it comes down to the underpinning for criteria for tools, “Students are criteria” Know your students first, then develop or offer the tools they need to be successful.

This post offers just a snapshot of the conversation we had about tools. I do encourage you to go to the archive if you missed the chat. It is a treasure trove of ideas that could spark a meaningful discourse for any Professional Learning Community, (PLC).

On behalf of my #G2Great team, I’d like to thank Dr. Towanda Harris for joining us for this meaningful discussion. Teachers everywhere are organizing and getting their resources together to kick off the school year. With books like, “The Right Tools” in hand they will get closer to “great practice”, and that is what teaching from a learning stance is really all about.

Reading to Make a Difference

By Jenn Hayhurst

On March 21, 2019, Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly joined #G2Great to begin a conversation around their book, Reading to Make a Difference. I have to say, I just love that title, Reading to Make a Difference. There are so many ways that reading can make a difference that it boggles my mind and stirs my soul. It makes me dizzy to think about the endless potential for positive change that is possible when teachers view reading as a call to action. The chat began with meaningful reflections as teachers celebrated book choice, writing, and the sheer joy that comes with intentional learning:

As I read these tweets I am struck by the varied perspectives and I kept thinking about how Lester and Katie’s work was inspired by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s piece, Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors.

Mirrors

We look to books to help us understand ourselves and the world. Books are indeed a mirror, they reflect a reader’s own story back to them as they read to find clarity and validation. These are the important moments for readers, this process is part of forming a secure identity. As they journey down this path to self-discovery, it is only natural that they begin to question: How am I different? How am I the same? What can I learn from all of this?

Windows

The windows we shape in our classrooms are constructed by the libraries we keep. It is time that we all ask ourselves, am I willing to take a stand for equity? Will I expand my classroom library to greet and embrace all my students? There are so many stories to tell and it is vital that we provide access to them. Children are broadening their understanding of the world as they look to find new possibilities and greater awareness for the complexities of life. Trust that the books we offer them can help with this work.

Sliding Glass Doors

Books are here to inspire us. They are foundational for opportunities to grow. They can unlock the potential for new experiences. We can teach our students to seize these opportunities through the relevant work that can come with reading a great book. What can I do with my learning? If we live the life of an authentic learner we can show them how to slide that glass door open, to step through and create something substantial. This is how we lift the words off the page and into our hearts and minds. Literacy is transformative.

Thank you, Lester and Katie for your beautiful book. It is a great resource for teachers to read, reflect, and create. I hope you will all continue to dig deeper into this work and continue grow your practice. Here are some helpful links that can keep the learning going:

Heinemann Podcast: Reading to Make a Difference

A First Look Inside Reading to Make a Difference