Kids love to talk, but they struggle with having a conversation; one where both people feel heard and can walk away feeling respected. That’s what I noticed in my classroom when I decided to make a change, a change from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered one.
After my first Kagan training, I couldn’t wait to get back to my classroom to engage my students with some meaningful talk. After teaching them the mix, pair, share strategy (which I love for finding partners), I posed a question on the board and asked them to take turns discussing it. What I saw made me shake my head. I had kids talking over each other, some were totally not engaged and, oh my, the things that were being said when there was a difference of opinion. I was certainly glad the principal wasn’t there to see that epic fail.
I knew from that point that if my students were going to have authentic and meaningful discussions I was going to have to teach them how to do it. They needed to know what it looked like and sounded like during partner talks, but just as importantly, what it felt like to actually be heard.
I knew the only way to teach my students to have meaningful conversations was to model, model, and just when I thought they had it, I would model some more. Then, I would strategically put them into situations where they had to talk to each other. Now, at the beginning of each year, when I am teaching my students rules and procedures, I am also teaching them how to be good partners.
These are some of the things I do:
What does it LOOK like to be a good partner?
- Stand face to face with the person they are speaking to or shoulder-to-shoulder if they are sharing information on a whiteboard or paper.
- There is enough space between the two so that both people are comfortable.
- Standing face-to-face with the person they are listening to or shoulder-to-shoulder if there is something their partner is trying to show them.
- Eyes on their partner.
- Their facial expression should match the material that is being shared with them. For example, if it’s funny, they should smile; if not, they should have a look of intent listening. (I know this sounds funny to have to teach, but trust me they need it!)
- Occasional head nod to show you are engaged in the conversation.
- Stand still.
What does it SOUND like to be a good partner?
- Only speak to your partner.
- Use a voice that only your partner can hear.
- Agree or disagree in a respectful way. Here are some ways to do that:
- I agree with you because…
- I have the same thought. I want to add…
- You make a great point, but I think…
- I can see why you think that. This is what I think…
- I disagree. This is what I think…
- During your partner’s turn, you say nothing unless he/she stops talking. If that happens, you can say:
- Can you tell me more about…?
- What else do you know about…?
- Is there anything else you’d like to share?
What does it FEEL like to be a good partner?
This is where students praise each other at the end of every conversation (especially conversation where they have a difference of opinion). This is a crucial part of the partnership. It lets both participants know their opinion has been heard and is valued. Below, I have listed some of the praises we use:
- You make a great partner because…
- Thank you for sharing!
- I’m so glad I picked you as a partner!
- You make learning fun!
- I liked the way you explained your answer.
- Your opinion matters to me!
After this part of the conversation, students should walk away feeling proud to have taken part in it.
The result of implementing this change in my classroom has been enormous. It has dramatically enhanced my classroom’s culture. Not only are my students growing academically, they are developing social skills that I hope will help them make a change in the world. This future generation is now able to have authentic and meaningful conversations where they can be heard and mutual respect is a top priority.
Imagine the world we would live in if everyone would follow suit.