Every now and then, a professional book comes along that has the potential to really change how I teach. And much less frequently comes a book that changes how I teach, as well as how I think about my life and learning outside of school and classrooms. Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk by Shana Frazin and Katy Wischow is one of those books.
The first chapter Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk presents a powerful argument of why we should be teaching talk in our classrooms. “Talk transcends,” (p. 5), they write, and yes, it does. Most of us agree that we are living in a world where it’s critical to have conversations, understand perspectives, and synthesize ideas– all skills that rely on communication skills. “But if you define talk as communication, self-expression, exploration, and getting ideas across, then it becomes even more urgent that all kids have access to instruction that helps them participate” (p. 7). At the end of the first chapter, they go on to remind us that “Ultimately, talk can change the world, and we’ve all seen examples of kids whose voices have done this” (p. 9). I would just add that we should be teaching talk and paying attention to Shana and Katy’s ideas in all settings of our lives, and not just our classrooms.
Throughout the book there is the drumbeat of important– no critical– concepts around instruction and building relationships. The authors remind us to teach with clarity and precision– what Shana calls lean instruction– so that students have time to practice and approximate. Without ever sounding preachy, they also remind us to nurture relationships by learning and celebrating interests and prior knowledge of students, spying on ourselves as learners, and finding ways to bring joy and play into classrooms.
There is also a brilliant and unique cycle for talk that Shana and Katy have created. Just as the writing cycle has specific components, conversation does also, and early on in the second chapter, they present us with a way to envision a Talk Cycle. The graphic could change how we not only teach, but also participate in conversations.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the clarity of four purposes for talk: building relationships, playing with ideas, clarifying, analyzing, and arguing, and reporting. Thinking about my own conversations through the lens of purpose has made me a better conversationalist! The lessons transcend the classroom, despite the title of the book. For each of the purposes there are clear and practical strategies. I’d like a chart of them in my own kitchen, let alone in classrooms everywhere!
Talking has another side, and that side is listening; Shana and Katy have purposes and strategies for listening, as well. And yes, I’m thinking about creating and hanging that chart in my kitchen side by side the speaking one.
Katy and Shana are in classrooms a lot, and they authentically work side by side with teachers, thinking about problems and reflecting on possible solutions. Throughout the book, they suggest predictable challenges teachers and students will face with their ideas. With a conversational tone, they address authentic issues, and they offer suggestions that are both practical and implementable, as well as powerful and engaging for learning. You have a chance to win a copy of Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk by leaving a comment on this post, but it is also available both at Heinemann and on Amazon.
*I have received an advanced complimentary copy of Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk.
This giveaway is for a copy of Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk by Shana Frazin and Katy Wischow.
For a chance to win this copy of Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk, please leave a comment no later than November 1, by 11:59 pm EST. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number.
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