When I taught kindergarten I was amazed at how many people gushed over kindergarten teachers. No doubt, kindergarten teachers are a rare breed, but what I’ve learned in my new role is fifth-grade teachers are no less special.
Last week, I observed a fifth-grade book club group and I wasn’t sure what blew me away more – the way the students led, prompted, supported, and negotiated the conversation or how their teacher coached them.
Sitting in a tight circle, with knees almost touching, the six students had a talk about the book Loser. In this case, what mattered more than the actual title was the way they navigated the conversation. They elected a leader who asked questions and made sure everyone had turns to both make points and reply to others. Their teacher sat back, really pushing them to look at each other instead of her (not an easy task for most) and kept a tally of how many times each student spoke, which she shared quietly with the leader to help guide her to pull quieter voices into the dialogue.
The work this teacher is doing around, what she calls ‘Talk Moves’ is quite spectacular. She has some groups focusing on listening and not talking over each other, but the group I observed was more pensive and they were focusing on expressing thoughts and including each member. This group also had writing pieces they’d done independently to help them through talking points.
All the time, a very large, detail-filled anchor chart loomed behind the group, which I saw participants looking at for guidance. Some of them had already ingrained the ideas they would need and it was a delight to see. As I glanced at the chart, I couldn’t help wonder if teachers in younger grades could modify this to help younger students as well. In a time when we see many adults struggling with how to appropriately converse, it can’t be understated the power of this work.