Part 2: Who’s Doing the most talking? Who’s doing the most thinking?

Updated: May 14, 2020


How do we ensure all teachers and leaders know the research about, the impact of, and how to use Accountable Talk across all subject areas?

How do we continue to ensure all voices of leaders, teachers and students are heard when using technology and ‘learning from home’?

Where do we find ‘Knowledgeable Others” who can walk alongside us, coaching and mentoring us, to embed Accountable Talk in practice, that is, in classrooms and in Professional Learning (PL) sessions?

Accountable Talk: A high-impact instructional approach!

Accountable Talk: A High Impact Instructional Approach

Why Accountable Talk? Accountable Talk is an evidence-proven, high-impact instructional approach that not only should be taught but can also be measured through ongoing conversations using an individual, whole-class and small-group format. This paper unpacks that strongly-held belief.

Accountable Talk builds on Oral Language development – so critical in early years’ learning (CLARITY, Chapter 5), and becomes essential in the creation of new knowledge. We learn from others. Learning is a social process. Talk is our single most valuable indicator of thinking, making meaning and understanding in order to assess our own learning and that of our students. Learning to express oneself literately is often difficult enough one-on-one with a teacher or a mentor, without adding the stress of having to express a thought, or to read one’s thoughts to a group of peers without time to think it through and “talk it out” (Sharratt, 2019).

Effective teachers and leaders create communities of conversation with protocols that reduce anxiety and enable students to test out their ideas and their new learning alongside their peers. It causes a ‘deliberate pause’ for us, as leaders, to ask and monitor, “Who is doing the most thinking and the most talking in our classrooms and in our PL conversations?” Student-talk in classrooms and teacher-talk in learning sessions must tip the scales and outweigh teacher or leaders talking-at learners in their care.

Reading and writing, and presenting a point of view, verbally, must always begin with talking about one’s thinking with someone else, such as a ‘talk partner’. Learners, from young learners to graduate students and adult Professional Learning (PL) participants, appreciate the opportunity for oral rehearsal first before being called upon to answer.

Accountable Talk is a data collection tool for classroom teachers: “What do my students know?”; “What do they need to know next?”; “What do I need to know to move my students forward?” Accountable Talk is a learning tool for students who ask: “What do I know?”; “What do I want to learn?”; “How will I learn it?”; “Who can I talk to in order to clarify and extend my thinking?”. In parallel, these are certainly the questions that leaders ask when planning staff PL sessions.

In this paper, I unpack what Accountable Talk is; offer a strong research base of evidence that recommends using it; describe the practical application of Accountable Talk in the classroom with students and during Professional Learning (PL) sessions for teachers and leaders together; and, in conclusion, consider what Accountable Talk looks like in an online environment.

What is Accountable Talk?

The term "Accountable Talk" in classrooms refers to talk that is meaningful, respectful, and mutually beneficial to both speaker and listener. Accountable Talk stimulates higher-order thinking - helping students to learn, reflect on their learning, and communicate their knowledge and understanding. To promote Accountable Talk, teachers create a collaborative learning environment (The Third Teacher, CLARITY, Chapter 1) in which students feel confident in expressing their ideas, opinions, and knowledge (A Guide to Effective Literacy instruction, Volume I Grades 4 - 6).

Accountable Talk Has a Strong Research Base

Accountable Talk as a critical way to bring learners’ voices into focus is steeped in research. The following are some of research studies available that substantiate the importance of students’ verbalizing their thinking in classrooms.

1. Sharratt, 1996, discusses the four levels of discourse/talk:

  • Discussion: lowest level and often quick as a decision needs to be made;

  • Dialogue: higher level because there is no expectation that a decision must be made so conversation flows more easily;

  • Reflection: very high level as more time is taken to not only retell your thinking but also relate it to what has already occurred. Conversation then ends with reflection on what is possible;

  • Silence: is often an indicator that ideas are being formulated, making meaning is being investigated, and new knowledge is being created. This is when teachers must resist in rushing-in and rescuing a student. Wait-time is a virtue. It is ok to let students struggle and talk it through before expecting a ‘correct’ answer as that struggle is often the very best time for our brains to be working. Teachers need to be attuned to silence and determine why students are being silent – is it that they are thinking or not understanding or disengaged?

2. The research of Michaels, O'Conner and Resnick (2007) about academically productive classroom talk suggests that the critical features of classroom talk fall under three broad dimensions: accountability to the learning community, accountability to the knowledge, and accountability to accepted standards of reasoning. For example: