There are very few people who would disagree with the idea that talk is an essential part of Writing Workshop.
But what kinds of talk should kids do? And how do these kinds of talk support learning?
On any given day during Writing Workshop, you might see kids talking to one another during a minilesson. You would probably see kids talking to teachers during conferences and small group work. You might also see students sharing what they tried that day during the share time. With so much talk already happening, you might be wondering why you should add either more talk or new kinds of talk to your Writing Workshop
In a typical workshop, two important purposes of talk are to practice new skills/strategies and/or communicate ideas. For example, in a minilesson you might have students turn and talk to a partner to practice a new skill/strategy. During share time, a child might share her writing piece with the class and then the students communicate, sharing their thoughts on next steps.
I’ve been reading Douglas Barnes’s book, From Communication to Curriculum where he talks a lot about something called exploratory talk. The purpose of exploratory talk is to help kids think and grow new ideas. Because kids are thinking as they talk, the talk often is marked by frequent hesitations, rephrasing, false starts and changes of direction. (Barnes p.28)
I recently tried exploratory talk with a group of 5th grade students. They were starting an argument essay unit of study. We began by telling them they were going to be studying a ‘mystery genre’. We showed them how first they would read this mystery piece like a writer and then think/talk about how the mystery piece was the same or different than other genres they had studied. As I conferred, many were saying it reminded them of persuasive writing because the writer had an opinion and gave details. Some were noticing it was very different from story. One of the girls noted that it was different from persuasive writing because it was more ‘nonfictiony’. (Certainly not an eloquent way to describe it but pretty accurate) The entire class came together to continue growing their ideas about this ‘mystery genre’. By the end they came to the conclusion that the reason this mystery genre sounded more ‘nonfictiony’ was because it backed up reasons with information, rather than stories.
The teachers and I talked afterwards and we all agreed that the students had learned a lot from their exploratory conversations. The kid’s ideas were at the cornerstone; therefore they were deeply involved. Laevers and Csikszentmihalyi would call this deep involvement ‘flow’. Flow is defined as the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. (2017) Simply put, the kids put their absolute all into it.
Comparing and contrasting two genres also involves a deeper type of literacy learning and research suggests exploratory conversations are an ideal mode of instruction. In, Fisher, Frey and Hattie’s important book, Visible Learning For Literacy, they talk about three different types of information, Surface level information, deep literacy learning and transfer. (2016, p.p.20) They found direct instruction to be a successful when students needed to do more surface level learning; however, they found that conversations tended to be more successful when you were trying to move into deeper literacy learning and/or transfer (2019 p.83)
I would love to hear from you. Have you tried exploratory conversations during Writing Workshop? What questions do you have? Please let me know in the comments below!