So, you know how sometimes you’re teaching and you have this moment where everything clicks and you’re on a roll and feeling like a rockstar? Like for real you feel like a rockstar? Those moments are the best aren’t they? Usually, they are moments of spontaneity. Sure, you planned the lesson, but THAT moment is something you can never plan. It is organic and wonderful and real and you just ride that wave and hope the kids come with you. Well, on this wave, the kids came with and let me tell you…
I was teaching a lesson on one of the very first days of school and I really wanted the kids to employ some of the strategies they’d learned regarding accountable talk. In the moment, I walked to my desk and pulled out this bouncy ball I had purchased over the summer (because it’s my favorite color). I made a statement, then threw the ball to someone else and they responded to my statement and then threw the ball back to me. I think you can picture that, right? I told the class to keep the ball moving. One person would speak (hold the ball) at a time and all others would follow the ball, in other words, track the discussion. I emphasized the importance of following the ball and paying attention to the speaker, but also passing the ball. Eventually, I stepped out of the equation and let them go. I let them go! I let them discuss without me. Oh there were some very quiet moments, but oh my word!!! They are having a discussion, using accountable talk, and staying on topic! What?
The ball was spontaneous, and oh so perfect. I slyly removed the ball from the equation, but encouraged them to keep the talking going, which they did. A month after this lesson and the kids are still holding these discussions and all I have to say to get them on track is “remember the ball”. You guys, I am completely serious when I tell you, that’s all I have to say. REMEMBER THE BALL. That moment. That one spontaneous moment when I pulled that ball out of my desk and used it to symbolize an exchange of ideas, made such a lasting impression. It made something so abstract, very concrete and solidified their understanding of what I expected during a class discussion. Sure, I prompt them to use accountable talk. I remind them to “respectfully disagree” and I say to them “don’t look at me, look at the person with the ball”, but they get it! My fifth graders get it! They are having discussions and these discussions take on a life that is separate from me, their teacher. I’m observing these amazing things being talked about, debated, right in front of my eyes!
We were having a discussion about Esperanza Rising the other day and I mentioned the ball and then it clicked to me that I needed to share this idea. Every teacher needs a ball and a really good strategy for teaching and reinforcing accountable talk because, you guys, it will change the way you teach! It will change the way your kids learn. Accountable talk is such a buzzword in education right now, but the buzz is so worthy. This is one of the few educational trends in my 20 year teaching career that I feel is worth your full attention. So stop what you’re doing and hear this.
Accountable talk means your kids are engaged listeners and learners during a discussion. A discussion is not a one person show. If one person holds the ball, the entire time, that does not a discussion make. And that goes for you too. Teachers, drop the ball. Step away from the discussion and let them talk on their own.
A healthy exchange of ideas means that people can respectfully disagree or ask for clarification. A discussion means your ideas are worthy and you can support them and give weight to your claims with evidence or details. You can agree and add to an idea as well. It sounds like this:
Abby: I think the character shows bravery in chapter 3 because he takes the lead as they head into the field.
Ben: I agree with Abby because Miguel knows there is danger I the field, but takes the lead anyway and that’s brave.
Chris: I’d like to add to what Ben said and quote from the text…
Sky: I see what you’re saying, but I think maybe “courageous” is a better word.
Teacher: You bring up a good point, Sky. Is brave the correct word to describe Miguel? Is courageous better? Are the two words synonymous?
When you start hearing these types of discussions, your teacher heart will sing.
What are your thoughts on accountable talk? Do you think you might try the ball in your class? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below, find me on Instagram or head over to my shop to get this Discussion Rubric to help you implement accountable talk in your classroom.