I had the privilege of visiting Hillcrest Elementary on Tuesday. It’s always fun to visit classrooms and see our students at work. Like all of us, each of our classrooms have distinct personalities. We are working toward student-centered practices in EMSD. You have heard me say that a lot and you’ve heard me write about it through this blog. It’s incredibly important we make this shift for the benefit of our students. My travels around the district are focused specifically on seeing student-centered environments and our progress. I was struck by just how much the children of Hillcrest Elementary are talking amongst themselves. And that isn’t a bad thing at all.
The first classroom I visited was Ms. Layer’s 2ndgrade. There is a chemistry in her classroom that lends itself to a community feel, where everyone learns together. When I came in the room, the students were sharing their journals on the Smart Board. Ms. Layer has her students journal every day and I was impressed with the conversation around one particular piece of writing. Ms. Layer asked the students, “does anyone remember the target we were working on that day?” The students all knew the target -- they were working on a narrative. The teacher asked the class how well they thought the student at the Smart Board hit their target and they used the “shaka sign” hand signal to identify that he hit his target. The students then went over to the carpet for math corner. Mrs. Layer used “turn and talk” with her students, reminded her students when working with a partner on the carpet to use “accountable talk,” and encouraged her students by recognizing aloud that she had seen “three strategies used already.” One student remarked aloud to all, “I want to add to what he said.” The accountable talk in this room was rich.
The next classroom I spent time in was Mrs. McKay’s 4thgrade. Her students were working in groups on a reading selection and finding the main idea. Mrs. McKay used a fun way for the kids to get the gist of what the selection was about by using a hashtag. It was a modern twist using a social media idea to help the students glean the point of the selection. Students had group roles on their lanyard, and it was evident the students were working on accountable talk. Mrs. McKay worked her way around the room while her students engaged with each other as they discussed their textual evidence. The students would later use this information to write an opinion paper on green technology. Mrs. McKay had signs up on the walls and on each student desk as reminders on how to use accountable talk. Each group was engaged and using their strategies to interact with each other and the information.
After leaving Mrs. McKay’s class, I went down the hall to see Mrs. Skiles 2ndgrade. Immediately upon walking in I noticed the success criteria up on the board. This class moved into partner-groups to review a story they had been working on to identify key events. The used a Venn diagram from a previous lesson to use as a guide to help them find their textual evidence in the story about King Midas. Moving around the room to listen to the students interact with each other, I noticed students were again using accountable talk to build upon their partner’s work. The students knew the success criteria and they were utilizing their Venn Diagram to find key details in their story.
My final stop for the day was in Mrs. Floming’s kindergarten. The class started on the carpet but moved to the Smart Board to discuss the task ahead on identifying the parts of a story. Mrs. Floming used “turn and talk” with her students and to indicate if they agree/disagree with their partners. From there the students moved into their partner-groups to begin the task of identifying the parts of a story by using pictures to put them in the correct order. Mrs. Floming reminded her students that they could not move ahead unless both partners were in agreement. I noticed this created rich conversations in a couple of groups where students explained why they felt their partner was wrong. One student said to another, “No, I don’t agree. Remember the house?” Upon hearing this the other student nodded and replied back, “Oh yeah, I remember now.” It was very clear that Mrs. Floming is working on accountable talk in her kindergarten, notably agree/disagree.
The kids are talking at Hillcrest and that is a very good thing. It was evident that the use of accountable talk is a focus for the students and teachers. Our teachers are changing the way they set up their classrooms and how our students interact with each other. We are moving to a student-centered environment in the East Moline School District. I am continually impressed by the up-front work our teachers do on a daily basis. It’s not easy, but it is already paying dividends as we prepare our students for an ever-changing world where we must learn to interact and work with each other.
If you would like to learn more about accountable talk (and get some free resources) you can click here.