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Academic Conversations

Today was one of those days that started great, had a few bumps in the middle, and ended with a surprise that reminds me of why I teach. I need to keep track of what went right so that I can continue using it in the future.

We are opening a new unit that involves the use of folktales as model texts in our EL 200 classes. Today, I decided that we should try having another academic conversation. The previous one I tried to have a couple weeks ago went terrible. However, this time I structured it in such a way as to promote at least some participation. For starters, we sat in a circle instead of remaining in the desk spaces. This forced people to face each other and talk. Next, to prevent conversation hogging I used a talking object to control who was speaking. The question was also fairly simple and easy to understand. I gave the students some modeling by answering the question in my own way and then allowing them to respond. It may seem rudimentary, but even our non-language learning students struggle with having conversations with peers in an academic manner.

I remember sitting there in that circle and wishing I had a photographer who could sneak in while students were sharing their perspectives. The perspectives weren’t earth shattering or anything major. In fact, most students could only provide short sentences in English. But that wasn’t the point. The idea that they were sharing their opinions aloud and people were listening to them was visible on their faces, even beyond the embarrassment of facing peers and practicing their language.

I am hoping to incorporate this style of discussion more often. One thing that can build on this idea is to have a discussion wrapping up the unit at the end of the week or even after a major test. It could even be structured so that we can track student opinions as they change over the course of a unit.

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