A Community of Learning

An inquiry in "thinking together" in the classroom

A collaborative inquiry by the Grade One team at Esker Lake P.S., Peel District School Board

Classroom teachers were curious to see how using 'accountable talk for math' strategies would transfer across the curriculum within their classes. We hoped using these strategies would be a way to foster student engagement and a collaborative classroom culture with the outcome being an improvement in student communication of thinking.

Theory Of Action

If we teach students accountable talk strategies across the curriculum then a culture of collaboration will be established that fosters discussion where students will be engaged and metacognitive.

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Read more about Collaborative Inquiry in the LNS monograph, Collaborative Inquiry in Ontario, Where Are We Now and What Have We Learned

Talk Moves

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We introduced the following talk moves across the curriculum within our classroom.

Turn & Talk

Turn & Talk as described in Classroom Discussions, Using Math Talk to help Students Learn, (2009, Chapin, O'Connor & Anderson) is a partner talk move where students turn and talk to their neighbour in a low pressure manner. By listening to the discussions, a classroom teacher can have a better sense of how to respond to students and proceed with the discussion. Lucy West offers 10 clues on knowing when to use Turn & Talk. We learned that using Turn & Talk frequently and with purpose helped change the climate of the classroom. Students became used to listening to each other. This was 'measured' by the physical response of students who actually turned to look at each other when a student was speaking during whole group discussions.

#Thinking Takes Time

We continued our emphasis on making student thinking explicit by introducing new talk prompts. These talk prompts enabled students to ask for clarification so that they could continue to participate in the classroom dialogue. Students stopped using the phrase "I forgot" when called upon and began to use "I need more time to think" . This change meant that the classroom teacher could then respond to the student with "Would you like to ask a question?" or "Okay, take your time, I'll come back to you". These prompts were sourced from Twitter(@justintarte)
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Value Line

Traditionally, a value line is used in the classroom to have students arrange themselves according to their varying degrees of agreement/disagreement of a certain statement. We used the value line to have students think about their learning talk and where they felt they were on a continuum of understanding. In this way, students were perhaps moving toward becoming more metacognitive.

Thinking Together During Social Studies

Through Turn & Talk and whole group discussion. Students talked about their responsibilities and roles. Students began to see the interrelationships with other people and the responsibilities they held in those relationships. As there was no one right answer, students had to synthesize multiple perspectives and create their own meaning of the roles they held.
By teaching students how to have interactions through dialogue, students are developing their social imagination. Peter Johnston, author of Opening Minds Using Language to Change Lives (2012) describes social imagination as children's ability to empathize and imagine others thinking.
Students used the inquiry process to determine how significant events impacted their lives. Families communicated the important events and places in their lives. As "children construct their vision of humanity within our classrooms then we too as educators ... will need to learn more about cultural differences in social reasoning." (Johnston,2012)

Thinking Together During Mathematics

Classroom teachers noticed that with the frequent use of talk prompts and talk moves, students were really listening to each other. Students began to talk to each other in whole group discussions. This reflected a movement away from traditional question answer discussion patterns. In one discussion, students pressed another student for his reasoning- "You have to tell us why you thought that!"

"Selecting activities that 'require' rather than merely encourage sharing of information and joint decision making "(Wolfe, Alexander, 2008) fosters a learning dynamic in the classroom. Students appeared to move away from finding the one right answer and towards learning about the relationships between shapes for example.

In one discussion about patterning, student A disagreed with student P. Student P had described patterning as being something that repeats. Student A disagreed by using a growing pattern as an example of a pattern that did not have repetition. Students had created a climate where they felt safe to discuss these mathematical ideas and attend to each other's thinking. This can be viewed as an example of dialogue where children disagree with each other in order to deepen their conceptual understanding.

Thinking Together During Reading

During reading times, students were encouraged to use Turn & Talk to discuss the reading strategies that were helpful. One student was able to reflect on his conversation in the morning to help him write his learning goal in the afternoon. He chose to use the strategy his partner had shared with him.

By using classroom talk to have students share their learning and making their thinking visible, students are constructing their own learning. Teaching in the classroom is magnified as students become teachers (Johnston, 2012). Additionally the emphasis in the classroom is on the causal process for the student...'when I use this reading strategy, this is the result'. Students are thinking together to propel their learning.

Observations and conversations document the learning process which become an integral part of assessment for learning. Learning goals can be shared with the family community through the Remind App.

Key Learnings

Student Learning

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Teacher Learning

  • Documenting the process through SWS allows for reflection on the process of student and teacher learning.
  • Using Talk Moves in the classroom has led to a more democratic classroom with more opportunities for students to speak, rather than having a few students dominate classroom discussion
  • Students are sense makers and can self assess their own learning through practices such as a Value Line
  • A climate that supports focusing on process instead of determining the right answer leads to risk taking on the part of the students.
  • Inquiry yields new knowledge, we learned that students can use classroom discourse to construct knowledge through shared understanding
  • Navigating inquiry and construction of knowledge with curricular expectations is a balancing act


Student Work Study Initiative 2014

Collaborative Inquiry by Chris Lakhan , Gurdeep Arneja (Grade One Teachers) and Janet D'Silva (Student Work Study Teacher)