Sunday, May 1, 2011

Building A Conversation

        I'm reading the book Comprehension Through Conversation; The Power of Purposeful Talk in the Reading Workshop by Maria Nichols. All I can say is, "Wow! Where was this book when I first started using interactive read alouds??????"
        As a literacy coach, one question I wonder a lot (along with a lot of teachers) is how do we get kids to talk TO each other, rather than to the teacher?  And, how can we get kids to stay focused on the same idea being discussed rather than to keep switching to their own ideas that totally drop the previous one?  We know that we have to model language that promotes adding on, agreeing and disagreeing, or to clarify a statement and I have seen success with this.  However, it always seems like when we model this language, it seems a little "canned" and not real.  It feels like the kids are saying it because they know I want to hear it whether they actually agree, disagree or even WANT to add on!  Quite often, I would hear a student say, "I disagree." and then go off on a totally different idea!  Ughhh. . .
         Maria Nichols, in her book, tells us that we FIRST have to start with teaching children to "listen with intent", or as some of us call it, "active listening".  Until kids can really listen to each other and think about what the other is saying without their own random thoughts swimming in their mind, they are unable to actually "build a conversation".  She tells us to teach students to "park your thinking for later" if something pops in their heads that is not related to the idea of the speaker. Surprisingly, kids can do this!  I used the "park your thinking" language with a group of second graders and they understand it!  Sometimes their original thoughts that they parked get forgotten, but, that's okay.  If it's really important, it will come up again.  They learn that it is important to build a deeper conversation on one idea to help us all understand each other more, the authors' true messages and shift our thinking.
        Nichols goes on to talk about our teaching of specific language to build a conversation.  You know, the "canned" stuff?  She stresses the importance of encouraging natural talk for having conversation and that if we notice it, much of this talk falls under the categories of agreeing, disagreeing, adding on and clarifying meaning.  For example, these phrases are all natural language for agreeing:
"Oh, yeah. . ."
"That's what I thought, and. . ."
"Me too, because. . ."
"That's just like. . ."
"I agree with you because. . ."
         So, I taped some of our second conversations during a read aloud, and sure enough, that's the language they used.  Before, I was always looking specifically for "I agree. . .", and was totally missing the boat.
         I'm only half way through the book, but I already know that this book is going to be a book study book with our staff.  Just the other day, a third grade teacher told me that she feels we need to go deeper with our interactive read alouds.  I was thinking, "Yup!  This book will take us there."
         Thank you, Maria, for all your insight!  And for helping us all "build conversations"! :-)



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