Using Accountable Talk in K-5 Classrooms

It didn’t take long for me to realize that all of the hours that go into professional development before school starts seem to fly out the window by the end of the first month. We're encouraged to create a classroom full of new opportunities and are trained to utilize the newest, research-based teaching strategies. But when the time comes to put all those new practices in action, we realize the lack of resources and knowledge on how to actually implement them. 

One of the strategies that has always been so difficult for me, yet SO important, was facilitating meaningful conversations within the classroom. Over the past few years I've continued to tell myself, "I know what I need to do. Why can I not get it done? Why are the kids not understanding what I am trying to teach them? I'm doing what the district says is best practice- so why is it not working?"

I've come up with several reasons of why this happens (in kindergarten): 1.) this child did not go to Pre-K and has never been exposed to school prior to this, 2.) this child is not developmentally ready for this lesson, 3.) this child comes from a family with a low SES and has no support at home, and finally, 4.) the reason for this blog post, I do not have the resources to effectively implement this new teaching strategy. Out of all of those reasons, there is only that I can actually change. If I don't have the right resources then those brilliant new ideas you get at the beginning of the year is almost always going to slip away.

One way to create meaningful conversations in your classroom is by creating an environment of

accountable talk.

Accountable Talk is a set of research-based techniques that provides a framework for teachers to use as they strive to equip students with the skills necessary to carry on academically stimulating conversations. In other words, it's a way for teachers to facilitate meaningful conversations among their students.

It was difficult to implement accountable talk into my classroom discussions at first (especially because it was kindergarten and they freely say whatever they feel/think/see at the time). I eventually realized I needed something that served as a reminder of what to say and when which is what led me to make these resources.

I initially modeled what conversations should sound and look like:

-eyes on the speaker

-using talking stems (see below)

-challenging opinions, not people (this came with time)

 Then we practiced talking to each other using the “I agree/disagree” talking sticks with easy questions such as favorite foods, ice cream flavor, etc. I only used agree/disagree with my kindergarteners for awhile because it was easier for them to focus on those two as opposed to several at one time. We practice revoicing by saying “What I heard you say was...” before responding to someone.

To reinforce these talking stems in my room, I made posters and desk cards. These would be great with older grades (not only because they can already read) because many students hesitate to answer questions for several reasons. These talking sticks, posters, and desk cards remind students of appropriate ways to have a conversation and answer/ask a question. When they use this language, they know they are making their teacher happy and feel less embarrassed to speak because it’s common language of the classroom.

A great way to get students thinking about math problems is to challenge them to think of other ways to solve the same problem. Some students prefer to use a visual model to get their answer, others prefer to do everything in their heads. Having students share these strategies will provide alternative strategies for all students in the classroom sending that “oh, I’ve never thought of it that way” message.

Click here to see this resource in my store!

Do you already use accountable talk in your classroom? I would love to hear other strategies you have! Leave a comment below!