Thursday, February 4, 2010

Talk and Discussion in Classrooms

After seeing the prompt given for this week’s note-blog, I started thinking about the importance of discussion in my classroom. There are a number of different types of discussion that occur in my kindergarten class for my placement, which include large group discussions, group discussions during centers, and regular social interactions in the classroom. Most of the discussions that take place in the classroom are group discussions that are lead by the teacher for group lessons or directions. The class starts every day with morning announcements, which leads into group lesson, which consist of a science, math, or phonics lesson. During this time the teacher does a great job of involving the students in the discussion by asking them to respond to questions, or allowing them time to offer up their own opinions or experiences. After looking at Chapter 10, “Managing Recitations and Discussions”, of Weinstein and Mignano’s textbook, they brought up an interesting point about classroom discussions by saying, “Selecting only those who volunteer or those who call out may limit the interaction to a handful of students” (pg. 306). This was an interesting outlook on children participating, and it made me think back to how this is relatable in my own kindergarten classroom. I have noticed that my teacher goes out of her way to give each and every child an opportunity to offer their ideas to the discussion, as well as making sure all students participate in some way during the discussion. Not all the students in my classroom are active participators and willing to raise their hands, so my teacher does a good job of getting them involved without making them feel uncomfortable. An example of this was when my teacher called on one of the shyer students, and asked her if she agreed with another student’s opinion, or if she had a different idea. This was a way to get her involved in the discussion, without putting her on the spot and making her to feel like the spotlight was on her. Weinstein and Mignano also state, “those who volunteer are often high achievers, [so] calling only on volunteers is likely to give you a distorted picture of how well everyone understands” (pg. 306). It is vital to involve all students in order to not only assess their understandings of academic topics, but also make them feel that their opinions are valid and worthy of being part of the classroom discussions.

There are also several scaffolding practices that my teacher uses in her classroom for response-centered talk in discussion. The first way scaffolding is put in use in the class, is when my teacher models activities by giving them visual aids or activating their prior knowledge. For example, the students were doing an activity where they were working on practicing writing the numbers 4 and 5. After discussing what the students were going to do, the teacher went to the whiteboard and wrote out the numbers and showed them the steps of how to make 4 and 5’s. This was a great way to scaffold their learning by putting visual representations on the board for them to reference while they are working on the activity themselves. My teacher also described making 5’s, as being similar to making S’s, which activated their prior knowledge since they have already worked on their writing of letters, so this is another great way to scaffold their learning, and prepared them for the upcoming activity. During this modeling activity, she allowed several students to come up to the board and practice themselves, which got the students involved as well. Although there were only a few students that were able to come up to the board, the rest of the students were able to comment on the students numbers, by putting a thumbs up or thumbs down on whether they wrote the number out properly. This was a great way to involve all the students in the discussion, which is important according to Weinstein and Mignano, as they say, “the important point is to make sure that the interaction is not dominated by a few volunteers” (pg. 312). These are a few of the ways that I have noticed scaffolding and modeling occurring in the classroom in order to produce a response-centered talk in the discussion among the teacher and students of the class.

There are several students in our classroom that need a specific type of scaffolding in order for them to properly complete some assignments. One of the examples of this is seen in the modeling and scaffolding that the teacher does to a specific girl in class that is of a lower achievement level. Since she is not very familiar with her phonics or the sounds of particular letters, the teacher provides her with an alphabet chart that has all the letters of the alphabet, along with an object that starts with that particular letter, which helps students with the sound of the letter. This is just one strategy that my teacher incorporates into this child’s learning to scaffold her learning during writing workshops or reading buddies. There are other instances of these types of learning taking place, and it is important to individualize the scaffolding and modeling of learning for different students.

Brooke Somers


  1. I understand that all students need to be incorporated into class discussion. But in both of my lessons I called on students who were not raising their hands and they completely shut down and kept on saying " I don't know." Even after I changed the questions around or even just asked them what they thought. Or I found that they just repeated what the person before them said. How do we as teachers gets students to shares their ideas in front of the classroom and think critically? I know that this might be an extreme case because I'm pretty sure my teacher did not set up a classroom community so none of the students feel comfortable sharing their ideas. But I was just wondering you had any thoughts!

  2. First of all, reading your post makes me wish I was in a kindergarten class! I'm just picturing tiny little people and I love it! lol, but really, it sounds like your teacher must have done a lot of work to set up a strong, comforting, classroom community at the start of the year. Like Heather said before me, if she hadn't, then the students would not be so apt to participate. It really shows how large of an affect that has on students. Have you asked her about that at all?

    In terms of scaffolding, it sounds like your CT has a really nice handle on ways to help every student at every level.

    when I was looking through the chapter, i remembered the concept of "wait time". how does that work in your class? I'm just curious as to what that must be like in a kindergarten class. I know in my fourth grade class, my teacher does a great job of it, but it can take awhile! I would think it must take even longerr with younger students!