From silence to conversation: breaking the wall, one essential change at a time


Dan: What is one of the most common obstacles to making the transition from silence to prayer easier for multilingual learners, and how can we work to overcome it?

Tonya: This shift is about changing habits, collectively, so that every student has the opportunity to engage in peer-to-peer conversations every lesson, every day. This change is imperative to ensure that multilingual multicultural learners, especially English (EL) learners, have a voice in classroom communities and have access to intellectually rich content and language learning.

A common obstacle to this change is human habit, as structuring the peer-to-peer conversations in each lesson requires, for many of us, to do things differently from the way we have learned. Many of us learned in classrooms where lectures were the norm, and students only occasionally spoke one at a time if they raised their hands to speak. Even in our adult lives, we often experience the same flaw in traditional speech in conferences (eg, Ted Talks) and meetings.

It takes an awareness of our default discourse, and an intention to change inherited habits to make our teaching more interactive. The good news is that we can do this with intention and practice, planning peer-to-peer conversation strategies in our classes and making the conversations routine.

Committing to changing habits is easier when we work together with a shared vision and a compelling reason to change. In schools and systems, this change requires ALL educators, not just language specialists, to transform traditional instruction into interactive instruction, from student silence to student conversation.

Start with the why of membership and collective engagement to increase equitable student engagement in peer-to-peer conversations in all classes and schools. The many benefits of this change include:

• Increase the percentage of students who get involved.

• Increase opportunities for all children to speak.

• Create low-risk opportunities for students to make sense of, solve problems or engage in productive struggle.

• Accelerate the development of academic language related to content.

• Increase the opportunities to collect formative data, both on content and language objectives, during your teaching. Deepen the active engagement of multilingual learners in every class and content area, throughout the day.

• Keep the “why” of this change front and center and act individually and collectively to achieve the vision of interactive and equitable classrooms in which all students are engaged and all voices are heard.

Dan: Can you provide teachers with strategies for setting up peer-to-peer conversations in distance and mixed learning environments?

Ivannie: As I work with teachers, I recommend the 15 minute rule, where the teacher interview is organized in 15 minute segments throughout a class or hour period. This does not mean that teachers would only talk for the first 15 minutes of class, but that they would “split” or organize their teaching into 15 minute segments in order to plan student engagement. In the book Tools for teaching, Davis (1993) found that “… students’ attention during class tends to wane after about 10 to 15 minutes. Researchers Wankat (2002) and Benjamin (2002) also suggest that attention is highest at the start of a conference. Such research on student attention during face-to-face instruction or lectures reminds us that the person who speaks the most learns the most. In this way, we have to intentionally plan the speech of the students, otherwise it will not happen.

The 15 minute rule has become even more important in a distance or blended learning environment where it may be easier for students to become passive learners, or for zoom fatigue to take effect. In addition to the constraints of distance or blended learning, it’s important to remember what it’s like to stay focused on a teacher’s speech in a language we don’t fully understand. The moments of pause and check for comprehension become particularly essential for multilingual learners in a virtual environment. For all of these reasons, the 15-minute rule helps teachers organize their instruction into 15-minute segments and intentionally plan for opportunities for student discussion or engagement after those 15 minutes.

With face-to-face instruction, I typically recommend two partner interviews at each of the first two 15-minute intervals and ending with a more structured Think-Write-Pair-Share (see 15 minute rules diagram below. -above). In a blended or distance learning environment, after the first two 15-minute time segments, teachers allow processing time with a chat box response or allow students to reactivate to answer open-ended questions. For the last 15 minute segment, I recommend a small group discussion for a longer discussion. As with face-to-face teaching, chat box or small group discussions, it is essential that teachers plan open-ended questions (knowledge levels 3 and 4) in advance, thus requiring the preparation of open-ended questions. use of more detailed and lengthy methods. expanses of language.

Dan: Chapter 5 of Knock down the wall suggests that EL Shadowing can be an effective catalyst for moving from silence to conversation. How can the Shadowing protocol be implemented in distance learning contexts and what have been the results?

Ivannie: EL Shadowing (second edition of the book to be published by Corwin Press in spring 2021 and entitled Observation of multilingual learners) is a way to spend a day in the life of a multilingual learner with a specific focus on their speaking and listening experiences. As such, observing multilingual learners in a virtual setting has become even more essential, in order to understand and meet their specific linguistic and cultural needs from a distance. In an age where educators are also concerned about the loss of learning and whether the needs of specific groups of students are being met virtually, it is essential to continue to observe multilingual learners in virtual environments. Additionally, when schools return to face-to-face teaching, observation of multilingual learners can reaffirm the importance of prioritizing the needs of multilingual learners.

That being said, there are also several ways for educators to continue to observe multilingual learners in a virtual setting, described below.

• Record your own lesson in Zoom or your own learning management system (note: first make sure you have the necessary permissions to record). Then select one of your own multilingual learners, review the video later, and complete the observation protocol every 5 minutes.

• Observe one of your own multilingual learners in a small group or group session. Please note that it can be difficult to observe in real time while meeting the needs of students in groups. For this option, you may also want to record the breakout, review the video later, and then end the observation protocol every 5 minutes.

• Request permission from a substitute teacher and permission to observe in a colleague’s virtual classroom. Observe a multilingual learner in this colleague’s virtual classroom.

• Shadow using Jeff Zwiers videos (the nine videos and the take-out activity at the start and end of each video). Keep in mind that these videos are exemplary classroom situations, which can also be helpful in terms of classroom conversation opportunities with multilingual students.

Dan: How can school leaders play an active role in implementing the transition from silence to conversation both at school and system level?

Tonya: At the system level, collaborate across roles and departments to align professional learning initiatives so that your focus on fair conversations in the classroom doesn’t feel like “one more thing,” but is deeply tied to your priority goals. leadership of change. Alignment is necessary to go in depth and leverage your resources, including valuable professional learning time and guidance from instructional coaches, learning communities, and administrator tours, in order to foster success. .

Build the capacity of all teachers to structure and scaffold conversations in the context of what they teach each day. Go beyond strategy workshops and support work-integrated professional learning that is fundamental to transforming classroom practice for impact on students. At the site level, engage teams of similar teachers (for example, at the department or grade level) to jointly clarify what effective student conversations look like in their disciplines, by co-planning high-level, aligned conversations. on the local curriculum, and working together to make student conversations routine.

Lead a learning culture in which taking risks, collecting data and thinking about data to change practices is the norm. Teacher Inquiry Cycles are important to go beyond simply implementing strategies, to actually fine-tuning the ways we teach in response to the unique and diverse strengths and needs of the students we serve. Help educators collectively and individually use conversation data to know who is speaking and who is silent, and use conversation data as powerful, real-time formative data on student successes and challenges with content and language learning objectives (Singer & Zwiers, 2016).

Be a leader who leads for a compelling vision of student impact, not just the implementation of adopted strategies. The emphasis on strategies as an end goal communicates the idea that “we have developed the strategy and so done our job” and removes our collective responsibility to tailor activities as usual until we we achieved fair classrooms and schools.

In contrast, leading with a vision of impact ensures that we are focused on a shared vision of fair discourse in the classroom and that we have the humility and courage to use the data to tailor our approaches until that time. that we reach our goal.

The references
Benjamin LT, Jr. Lecturer. In: The Teaching of Psychology: Essays in Honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer, edited by Davis SF and Buskist W. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002, p. 57-67.

Davis BG. Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 1993.

Wankat PC. The efficient and effective teacher: scholarships and service. Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.

Singer, T. & Zwiers, J. (April 2016). What conversations can capture. Educational leadership, 73 (7). Extract of :

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