Talking is Sense-making

If we believe that whoever is doing all the reading, writing, and talking is doing the thinking (and learning!), then we need to intentionally plan for student talk to serve as opportunities for sense-making and self-assessment.

Students need these opportunities to grapple with their own non-expert thinking in order to shift misconceptions and make learning persist over time. By engaging in dialogue with their peers, all students have the opportunity to strengthen and refine their own positions and to learn from one another. The structure can be formal, like a gallery walk, or less formal, like a think-pair-share. The key is to intentionally plan chances for students to think and talk in a safe atmosphere before evaluation occurs.

One of my favorite structures is for students to consider the question “Why would an intelligent person think ___?” This frame works whether the blank contains a correct response or a plausible misconception. Considering alternate viewpoints allows the student to more clearly frame their own thoughts, and this frame allows students who might have misconceptions to safely engage in the discussion. After all, the idea being considered isn’t necessarily “theirs” – it belongs to “an intelligent person.”

This brief from STEM Teaching Tools contains a number of helpful links to ideas, articles, videos, and research on improving both the quantity and quality of student discourse in your classroom. While the content is intended for science and STEM teachers, sense-making through talking is a critical component of personalized learning in any content area. Check it out!

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