I was never much of a talker when I was a younger student. I pretty much kept to myself. Sure, I had some friends, but not many. I was very much a quiet, introverted individual. I didn’t like talking in front of my classmates or other people at all. As I matured with age, like tasty cheese, I became much more comfortable with speaking in front of and to others. I now feel much more confident in my ability to chat it up with strangers. I wouldn’t say that I’m a talker now, but I am more willing to and open to speaking with others than I was many years ago. I’ve come to realize the power in conversation and discussions. Much can be learned from talking to others. I’ve grown most as a person by talking to my wife and bouncing ideas off of her. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her. Talking with her has made me a better person. I’ve also grown as an educator from talking to and working with my various co-teachers. We planned lessons and graded work together. My co-teachers helped me to change my perspective on teaching. Two voices are far better than one. Becoming an individual who converses with others, shares ideas, and listens to what other people have to say has been transformational. The power of conversation is amazing. I wish I had been courageous enough as a student to see that. I wish I had been in classrooms in which the teachers promoted conversation and group work. I can’t even imagine how my life would be different if I had been more of a talker when I was in school. It’s crazy to think about.
As a teacher, I see the value in talking and conversation. I embrace it. I want my students to share their ideas with the class and others. I want them to ask questions and think critically. I want them to appropriately challenge others. Over the years, I’ve created a culture of conversation in the sixth grade. Our students complete group projects on a regular basis so they can utilize the power of collective thinking. We teach our students how to discuss controversial ideas in meaningful and appropriate ways. We promote question-asking and curiosity in every class. The students have table partners that they can work with or talk to as they work and grow as students. We want them to see the power that comes from talking with others. So much can be learned by asking questions and listening to the ideas and thoughts of others. We want our students to see the value in this. While this can be challenging for many of our students and different from what they are used to, by the end of the year, they all grow into talkers who can carry on conversations and discussions that promote growth and great thinking.
Today in class, the students were provided several different opportunities to think critically, grow, learn from others, listen, and talk. In our study skills class, the students had a popcorn discussion with a peer they don’t typically work with in the class. They discussed the purpose of being able to assess the reputability of online sources. Why is it important to be able to judge the credibility of websites? Many insightful discussions took place. This then led into a whole-class discussion on the topic that allowed their ideas to bloom with meaning and power. Later in that same class, the students worked with an assigned partner to complete an activity that allowed them to practice the skill of assessing the reputability of online sources. They worked together to investigate a website and complete a worksheet. They coexisted with each other to accomplish a common goal. Later in the day during Humanities class, the students discussed cartography and questions about maps with a table partner to open our unit on mapping and perspective. These short partner discussions bled into a large group discussion on the purpose of maps and how the students use maps in their daily lives. The boys shared some great ideas that provided much fodder to jumpstart our unit. The boys were engaged in the discussions, which allowed them to become interested in the topic of mapping that can sometimes be a mundane or boring topic for students. The big activity for the period involved the students, working in small groups, in observing four different kinds of maps. They discussed what they noticed and saw. How were the maps different from each other? What did the maps show? What do the maps mean? The students discussed the accuracy of the maps as they pointed out interesting observations they were making. It was very cool to watch the students learn and explore maps. I closed Humanities class with a final discussion on what was learned from the various maps they observed. How were they different from one another? Which map was most accurate and why? The students all seemed to have different thoughts on these questions, which allowed for some interesting discussion and further questions to be asked. So much learning took place in the sixth grade classroom today through conversation. The students shared ideas, listened to their peers, and processed information learned to formulate their own new ideas. It was awesome.
Imagine what would have happened in class today if conversation and talking was not the vehicle used to promote learning. Would the students have been as engaged in the topics being learned? Would they have generated such insightful and unique thoughts and questions? Would they have had as much fun? Would as much learning have happened? While I can’t say with 100% certainty that the answer to my previous questions would be, “No,” I do hypothesize that very little genuine learning and fun would have happened in the classroom today if conversations and discussions did not take place. Talking and listening are crucial life skills that lead to growth and maturity. Without talking or sharing ideas, where would our society be right now? We need to prepare our students for meaningful lives in a global society, which involves teaching them the power of conversation.