One of my favorite picture books of all time is , The Island of the Skog, by Steven Kellogg. I won’t tell the book for those of you who haven’t read it yet, but my favorite line in the book is when Jenny, one of the mice says,
“If only we’d talked to each other.”
She says this because communication is a very big deal. Teaching young readers how to talk to each other …is….I believe one of the beginning skills that is absolutely essential to their forward progress as readers,writers and thinkers. I also believe, in the flurry of get it in- get it done and fast, we don’t teach how to communicate because it takes too long. And then we forget to use it as a very practical strategy. Young learners need to be heard. In our school district, we currently have 30 kindergartners and first graders in classroom. If students learn ‘turn and talk’ every one of them has a chance to contribute and each one of them is heard by another human being. This is active learning and active listening….and I do believe it needs to start as early as pre-school.
There are two distinct ways that we need to turn and talk… My personal method for rug time – is using Eyes, Eyes, Knees, Knees – originally read about it in Reggie Routman’s or definitely in Debbie Miller’s books. The students are taught to turn quickly, so that both of their knees are touching and they are looking each others beautiful eyes. Some need to be taught that when you talk you do look at each other and not down, as is a custom in some cultures. They also do need to know that they look at each other and not around the rest of the room. They need to know who should talk first and who should talk second. This can all be accomplished by teacher modeling and then it needs to be practiced-often. After the short exchange, sometimes the teacher will ask some partnerships for ideas to contribute to the whole group…and sometimes the teacher will not. A signal can be used when the teacher wants the voices to chill….for example…she might use a rainstick or give a quick clap. and then the group can return to their forward position.
Children also need to share books even when they are beginning to read and they need a different way to move to read with each other. When they are reading together, both students must learn how to look at the book together. This alternative turn and talk is a side by side sit called, Elbow, Elbow, Knee, Knee– this position has been made popular by The Sisters in their book, The Daily 5. They fondly, call this EEKK, and tell students that they need to sit closely, so that they both can see the one book that is being shared. Again, this position needs to be modeled and practiced in order for it to be successful. Students are also taught how to talk and read a book together using their skill of ‘checking for understanding’. One student reads and the other checks to see if they understand what was read.
Now for all of you who teach middle school and high school…wouldn’t you agree that a room full of students talking together instead of listening to lecture is a better learning environment and culture to cultivate? This can again be modified from on the rug to up in a desk or possibly in stand up positions….hmmm….my favorite other talking strategy is a double-circle drill…but I’m saving it for another post. 🙂
Have fun and talk to me through your comments!
Turn and talk…every day…in more than one way!