Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey shared a wealth of knowledge with teachers, leaders, and curriculum developers at the ASCD Conference last weekend. In “Collaborative Conversations: Meeting Anchor Standard 1 in Speaking and Listening,” Fisher began by describing his experience as a student in a graduate-level neuroscience course. One of his main takeaways was that interacting with his classmates kept him motivated, clarified information, and extended his understanding of the brain. He realized he needed time to make sense of the material in his textbooks on neuroanatomy, and collaborative conversations provided access to this complex text.
The speaking and listening section in the Common Core Stand Standards notes the value of collaborative conversations in which students learn guidelines for conversations, use evidence in their arguments, and critically analyze a topic. See anchor standard 1:
Fisher and Frey both recognized the major shift this means for teachers. In the past, it was natural to think students should discuss simpler, easier topics when they didn’t have the support of the teacher. Now, it’s clear that students can have productive group conversations about complex ideas with the right supports.
To engage in collaborative conversations, students need:
- Enough background knowledge to have something to say. Supplement with videos and texts on the subject matter.
- Language support to know how to say their ideas (e.g., sentence frames, vocabulary wall, or peer language broker).
- An interesting and relevant topic to discuss.
- Authentic reasons to interact.
- To understand the expectations of and accountability for the interaction. Establish a culture where students are expected to talk to each other.
- To feel part of a community of learners that encourages and supports each other.
- To understand the task (e.g., what to do in a “jigsaw”).
These conversations are key to developing academic language and vocabulary, as well as an understanding of complex texts. Their district in San Diego has set a goal for student-to-student interactions: 50% of instructional minutes. Want to find out more? Check out Fisher and Frey’s website and YouTube Channel.