“Marsha is a sweet girl, she just talks SO much,” said more teachers than I could count. If there was ever a mark to be earned against someone, I got that one honest. During my first year teaching, this phrase stuck with me, and I vowed to never say that to a parent. As I wrote comments on my kindergarten report cards, I was advised by a wise mentor to never include something on a report card comment that a student would be ashamed of as an adult. Words are everything. This advice stuck with me to build students up and channel energy in a positive way. I remember countless parent teacher conferences where parents would say, “Last year’s teacher said they talked too much. I just know that is why we are here today.” This was my time to impress upon them the importance of good communication skills.
The truth is, we have raised generations of adults who do not know how to communicate. Consider divorce rates and how different they could be if we spent more time in the early years laying the foundation for strong communication skills among our students. In the age of social media and smart phones, our children are not being spoken to more than ever. Oral communication is not just for the debate team friends. Our words can do so much. They can resolve conflict, express thoughts and feelings, persuade, and process information.
One of the saddest sights to me is a quiet classroom. That buzz of intentional academic conversation among students is music to my ears. Lecture and listen….sit and get….does nothing for our students. They need time to listen and process their understanding…..not on a worksheet. Worksheets may not grow dendrites, but a great debate sure will. My students learn quickly that not only do I not have all of the answers, I’m not going to freely give them to them either. They have a love/hate relationship with my phrases, “Figure it out, ask a friend,…..” By encouraging these conversations I am giving them permission to take charge of the knowledge they want to gain. Problem solving just doesn’t happen in the mind. Sometimes children just need to talk it out.
A number of years ago, I had the privilege of participating in a FirstSchool study. This project included someone taking a snapshot of my classroom and sharing data with me to improve. Until then, I thought I was a great teacher. Once the data was revealed, I knew I had more than enough room to grow. This time, Marsha really was doing too much talking. Snapshot data revealed that my students were not given enough voice and choice. Cumulatively, they could have potentially spent days not talking in a school year. Thankfully, my FirstSchool tribe with the Franklin Porter Graham Child Development Institute provided me with the sound and solid research supporting ways to encourage oral language development among children. They even encouraged conversation in the the ever so forbidden quiet space….the hall. By giving children voice, they learn to value the voice of others and become better listeners. If you are curious about FirstSchool and their great mission, I highly suggest their book, FirstSchool: Transforming PreK-3rd Grade for African American, Latino, and Low-Income Children.
Academic conversation is important, but just good old fashioned talking has a place too. The silent lunch table is a subject that really bothers me. Guilty myself, I used to send students there until I realized that out casting those children did nothing to improve the behaviors I was trying to “fix.” Often times, those particular children need a vocal outlet even more than others. They need more practice learning to express their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. The lunch room is the perfect space for such practice.
What does your classroom sound like?
Are there areas in your school where students are to remain silent?
I’m not encouraging the circus to come to your class, but perhaps the time has come to evaluate a space for conversation on the academic table.
Now, go and talk about it.