“Who’s your favorite listener?” I’d never thought about this question until this morning, as I was reading UNLOCKING THE POWER OF CLASSROOM TALK: Teaching Kids to Talk with Clarity and Purpose, by Shana Frazin and Katy Wischow. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. (Full disclosure: Katy Wischow is a dear friend. And she’s smart and funny, as you will see if you read this book.)
Frazin and Wischow provide numerous nuggets for thought such as this one. Their book is full of practical guidance about why it’s important to “teach talk” and how to target instruction to meet the key purposes for talk—i.e., talking to building relationships; to play with ideas; to clarify, analyze, and argue; and to report. And they reflect thoughtfully on the relationship between listening and talking. They also offer concrete strategies for building students’ listening skills by examining the key purposes of listening—to build and strengthen relationships, to get information, to reach a shared understanding, and to change or grow your thinking.
What makes this book so accessible is its use of specific, field-based examples. The authors show themselves in the classroom, testing ideas and “naming what’s noteworthy” to clarify why those strategies work.
I also appreciate that they criticize and propose alternatives to strategies that don’t work well—or have limitations—such as assigning group roles. For example, they suggest “teaching kids to track the content they talk about, like character, plot, theme, craft, or vocabulary. Kids can periodically pause to reflect on what they have talked a lot about or a little about and use this to set goals. Everyone is responsible for all the content, not just one person whose role it is.” They add: “This can be more engaging than group roles—when we narrow kids’ work in a conversation, we unintentionally limit their engagement to waiting until it’s their turn to ‘do their part.’” Amen!