Today was the start of the new school year for me as I attended a workshop with Maria Nichols. She has written several books about accountable talk from her experience as part of a demonstration school in San Diego. She was literally a teacher behind the glass, teaching students half the day with a hidden audience of up to 200 teachers and administrators, and processing the experience with them the other half of the day. That is courage!
Much of what she presented was familiar, but there is always something new and useful if I am paying attention. Today’s useful tidbit sounds small but could have a very large impact on my teaching. When I ask students an question about something we have read and give them thinking time, maybe even “turn-and-talk” time, almost all of them will have an idea they want to share. In the past I have tried to give most of them a chance to share their thoughts. This takes quite a bit of time in a whole class discussion. Nichols pointed out that if we want our student to think more deeply about their reading we need to realize and teach our students, too, that growing an idea is more important than hearing everyone’s initial ideas. As a teacher I need to help students take one beginning idea and respond to it, digging deeper until the group has created something that no one could have predicted when we started. Students in turn need to put their energy into listening to each other’s ideas and responding to them instead of trying to keep their own first thoughts in their memories. If their first thought was an important piece of thinking deeper it will naturally resurface even if it is temporarily lost. Meanwhile attention to and interaction with the ideas of others will help them develop their ability to think critically, something the state of Colorado’s current politics shows is desperately needed! (Sorry for the political aside, but it is pretty crazy around here, and this is only the primaries.)