Chapter 5 (RSS): Making Thinking Visible: Talk and Argument

Please share your ideas (concrete, little or big, the more explicit the better) on how you might apply the ideas in this chapter in your classroom to strengthen your students' learning.


Chapter 5 itself wasn't overly exciting for me because I can't imagine teaching science without classroom discussions with the kids. Students often have a different way of looking at life. I find that often times I learn as much from them as they do from me. I love to listen to children's ideas and the way they think and the way they interact with each other.
I teach younger students and they are often uninhibited with their discussions, I think talk moves is a great way to teach the students how to respond to each other respectfully. I would also emphasize the lesson on how to listen to what each other has to say. Often times the students are so quick to tell what they know that they forget to listen to their peers. I think that the talk moves would help with attentive listening.
I think that I will start using Talk Moves with a discussion on what my students might find in the tide pools and why they think that specimen might be found there. I know that this sounds basic, but it's a place to start.
I especially think that talk moves will be important in math while doing problem solving because there are often many ways to get to an answer and talk moves could really help students feel comfortable explaining their ways.

I have used the strategies that foster objective argument and supporting positions with evidence from this chapter, both in our discussions of invasive species and with discussions of literature. For example, we are reading the novel, Seedfolks, and students claim that a theme in the book is "hope," then they have to provide evidence for their claim. Rather than having students look at me for approval/disapproval of answers, I follow up their answers with "does anyone agree or disagree?" We have just started into this kind of discussion format and I haven't explicitly pointed out why I'm facilitating it as such; but I definitely like the fact that answers don't stop with me either validating or questioning the students' responses.

Quick point on "wait time..." I have the hardest time waiting for wait time. I have to physically take breaths in order to allow for it.

On the subject of cultural and linguistic diversity, the most valuable strategy I have adopted this year is taking more time to explicitly teach vocabulary, and teach it in multiple ways (students draw, make concept webs, act out, make lists of examples/nonexamples, etc.) on key vocabulary words. This gives them even more confidence in class discussions as well

One of the things that I have been doing this year to encourage scientific discourse in my classroom in a more natural way is (I usually do this as a warm-up activity-but sometimes it ends up taking longer than planned which actually indicates that the activity went well, ironically enough.) I have the students logon to and read an article (one that I select). After everyone has had a chance to read, we discuss. Yes, it can be difficult to not have that "control"; however, it is a great learning opportunity for them to participate in discourse. They know that they are expected to agree or respectfully disagree-or even somewhere in-between, as long as they can back it up with evidence. Just like with Vital Signs... I ask them, "Where's your data? Where's your information? How do you know?"

Does it always work? Of course not! ;) Is it always pretty? Never! Do they love it? Usually! :) And, I think this is one of the life lessons and cross-curricular items that will help them as they move through all subjects as they go from 8th grade on up.

Comments on Chapter 5 – Making Thinking Visible – Talk and Argument

I frequently use the teaching strategy described as Socratic method – I pose open-ended questions with the purpose of leading the students down a path of critical thinking. One of the most difficult aspects of this chapter’s suggestions, for me, is giving up some of the controls the Socratic method affords the teacher.

So now I am thinking, why do I employ the Socratic method so often? Comfort level? – for sure, this has become my standard way of leading discussions in my classroom. Modeling thinking patterns for students? – again, yes, I have found that leading students down a path with open-ended questions helps them develop and gain critical thinking skills.

Next thought, do I have to give up my norm (Socratic method) to employ the scientific position-driven discussion described in this chapter? I do not think so. I think I can utilize both to help my students work toward the goal of productive talk and argument in the classroom.

How? By using the Socratic method to begin to establish norms and patterns of discussion in my classroom. The trick will be moving from the discussion being totally driven by my lead and allowing the students to grow into discussion leaders. That is the part I need to think and plan for, the part I do not do now.

One of the most difficult things for my students to do is realize that there may not be “an answer” or there may not be one right answer. Students have bought into the answer game, so helping them learn to think and realize that there may be several different answers takes some time and practice. Using the Socratic method has been my way of getting students past the ‘one and only one correct answer”.

I've always tried to encourage discussion in my classroom, and have always felt that debate was one important strategy that students needed to learn. However, I've never given much thought to the differences between the different types of "argument" and their purposes. Like chapter 5 explains, there is a difference between an argument I may have with my stepsons or husband, where one party is arguing to win their point. Then there's the debate, such as a political race, where those arguing are trying to "sell" their point or position. But then there's the argument in a scientific setting where the "focus is on the ideas...and not the person who are expressing them." (pg 89) I have to admit that this style is different for me, for my most comfortable, and most usual form of argument is the acrimonious form, where I'm arguing with my children to do their homework or their chores.

In my language arts classroom, the style of argument is usually in the form of a debate, not in a scientific style. There is a possible way to incorporate the scientific form of argument in my class, but I'll need to definitely prepare myself mentally for it. I'm not sure how wonderful the outcome will be, but I can always try and grow from the experience.

I can definitely see the benefits of discussion and allowing kids to freely argue especially when it comes to discrepant events in science. I also agree that a free-for-all can be disconcerting to me as the teacher but I am seeing the benefits of this in the Vital Signs project. I have settled on small group discussions so that there is a smaller forum for their ideas and they are more comfortable sharing their thoughts.

It's ironic that this reading also talks about the effects of using praise or corrective remarks with students as I just started reading "Waiting for Superman". A golden line from that book relates to this chapter in that they cite that one problem with education these days (and the authors cite so many) is that we have used praise and the "feel good about yourself" approach so much that students are doing worse and worse, but they think they are great anyway! Bottom line from both readings is that we need to be more honest with students about getting something wrong and even more important, directive in how they can correct their own or find a better answer.

I agree with your frustration when it comes to students doing worse and worse. It seems that no matter what I do or what I try, there are some students who just don't improve when it comes to the quality of their work. Being honest with them, of course in a constructive manner, is the way I've chosen to go when it comes to trying to direct them along.

I'm interested in the I-R-E sequence of talking with students. It'll take some practice on my part to be conscious of which part of the process I'm using. I don't usually focus on scientific talk, unless I'm working on Vital Signs activities. However I can see how I-R-E can be useful in a language arts class.

I've heard a lot about the book "Waiting for Superman" and hope to be able to get to it before I see the movie. At least, I believe there's a movie on it.

Appreciating cultural, linguistic and experiential differences-
This really speaks to me. We don't have huge racial diversity but we have enormous diversity in terms of life experience, access to resources. I talk football to football players, don't assume anything about the default 'family' of the students- and also try hard to accommodate the needs of students who don't/can't think without speaking.

This year's class is particularly polarized- with kids who are very academic and at ease arguing, researching, talking writing and others who seem allergic to the very idea of doing something scholarly. More than ever, I need to establish respectful norms, and employ means of encouraging all to participate.

One method is to really build on our common experiences- so we went out in the field before we talked about whats out there- and we had a great field trip out to an island in Frenchman Bay that wasn't totally vital signs aligned- but provided, again, basis for common discussion.

Ultimately , I can engage all the students with ME- but the trick is to get them talking respectfully with each other- particularly with this class, they are so divided- I will continue to work on this- and will employ some of the pointers in Chap 5 in this endeavor.

mmcosker, I feel the same about the talking respectfully with each other. It takes one student who is closed-minded to change the dynamics of any discussion taking place. I'm saying this because I have one student like that, and it has been a huge challenge for me to not become defensive and react. However, there are plenty of students who do react to what he says. I'm hoping my modeling of my responses to him might guide students to follow suit. But what do we do in situations like this? Should we correct them? What if these students are right but just speaking what everyone else is thinking, or just going against the societal norms which is making us all uncomfortable? Although this is my last year with this student, I'm sure I'll have more coming up the pike in the future to fill those shoes.

Hi mmcosker,

I'm interested that you went outside first to create common experience. I often think this might be a really effective practice. There's almost no way to fully prepare students for field work without going out and doing it and then building on what happened. I'd love to hear more about this early field trip you took.

And you make another excellent point - communication between teacher and student is pretty straightforward. It's far trickier to establish norms for how students interact with each other in the classroom. If you have any surprising successes with chapter 5 ideas, please share them - this is a really common challenge. Good work.

This really resonated with me today because I took the students out in the field today. I told them that when looking for their species that whether or not they found them they need to prove it. In order to do that, they need to defend their statements. For example, they needed to give examples of why they think the did or did not find their species. If the items they were looking for had spiky leaves and they item(s) they found didn't then they need to say so, etc... Needless to say, this will take time and lots of practice; however, it will be a great lesson.

I've been interested in the discussion ideas as my students have a very difficult time to focus on academics rather than social / side conversations. We've had some very successful classes (mystery graph) and more and more kids are 'getting on board'... exciting. But others are still acting very young. The parent night was disappointing... Joan Savage

That's too bad, Boggyplants, that the parent night wasn't what you expected. That is frustrating when our expectations of how an activity will go doesn't match with the reality. I'm sure I'm not alone to say how I had different expectations about how Vital Signs, or any other new project I've tried in class, will be received by students. Some times it has taken a little while for them to warm up to the idea, while at the same time having students on both ends of the spectrum. I'm hoping next year will be different than this year in the sense that the new kids coming up will be more receptive and I will have this year's experiences to draw from.

I really like the "Talk Move" language on page 91. I already do some of this and feel confirmed that it is the right thing to do to encourage good discussion in class.

Also, it is important to share with students the way scientists share info and the type of info they do share. Many of these ways are available to our students through the laptops.

I think the IRE sequence is perfect for many areas, not just science. I-Initiation R-Response and E-Evaluation
What a great sequence to use for any sort of conflict, even really personal ones... It could become more of a classroom norm.

Using "talk moves" and setting norms are helpful in facilitating student dialogue. Even at that, however, I still have to remind students that the discussion is on the task or problem not on the upcoming dance or ball game.

Had some great discussion about grouping students, and also having students practice debating issues regarding invasive species. As a language arts teacher, I can definitely see the value of having students write their argument down first regarding how to handle invasive species, for example, then have a debate about it. I can see the students really enjoying this process.

I have done science talking with my students for a while now. I agree that while it is important to do labs and experiments, most of the real learning takes place during this classroom talking phase. I do like the idea of the "Green Sheet" I will use this in my classes.

Okay, evidently I had forgotten to read this until now! After reading this chapter I really like the idea about having a discussion about different science topics where students have to explain their reasoning. My students have very little experience in proving themselves correct when it comes to any sort of topic. My biggest worry is listening. In my classroom discussions I often get students who will make the same comment or suggestion over and over because they are not really listening to whoever is speaking. It's not always a case of inattentiveness but sometimes they are simply so focused on what they are going to say that they don't hear the people around them. I really liked the idea about having a reference sheet for them with the appropriate expectations and having them go over it every time someone has an infraction.
On a side note, the analogy about foreign diplomats is a good one, but I fear that one of my students may misbehave and then claim to have diplomatic immunity.

Yes, I agree they repeat and the rest are too quick to tell them. t-chart or something so you record the comments helps so much, when you have time and remember.

This week we had a parent night to introduce the Vital Signs project. Guy, Joan, Joelle and myself were quite excited about showing all that we have learned and experienced thus far. We had just met with all parents last week during parent/teacher conferences and personally invited (with an invitation) all parents along with their child. Guy graciously put together a slide show of our trip to the pond out in the field as an example. It was great! However the attendance wasn't very good to say the very least. It was kind of disappointing and I felt a little embarassed.

My students also did their second mystery graph this week, Purple Loosestrife. The kids did a much better job the second time around. We had some great discussions centering around invasive species, resources and what happens. We are planning to go outside tomorrow but a surprise fire drill scheduled right in the middle of things may alter my plans and put off going outside until next week. The weather doesn't look like it is going to cooperate Friday.

That sounds great. I wish we would have thought of that. That would make it great for the students and parents. There is always next year.

I think that it is always hard to engage kids in the conversations during class discussion and totally agree that there is not enough time or added value to building them up with false compliments when they don't respond in a correct manner. It is certainly true that the kids, at this level need to be able to recognize when they are wrong. It is also very difficult to find the right words to get them to that spot and not feel difficult in doing so. I really enjoyed the video and article on the Inverse Power of Praise this week. It definitely made me think about those words and made a lot of sense in kids that I see and have seen over the years. Some of the very brightest kids lack self confidence in the most common tasks.

I too feel that class discussion lends itself to pulling information and validating those student who really struggle with the writing piece. I feel that as each year passes, my job becomes more of a literacy specialist. I find myself teaching more and more grammar and focusing on writing skills. With those who struggle in these areas, we always have those discussions to go back to and they add a great deal of help in finding what we need to begin the writing and follow through successfully. This holds true with the journal work that we have been doing with Vital Signs as well. All of the kids are having a rich experience, some just don't have the ability to verbalize or transfer it all to paper, which makes it much more difficult for them to journal unless we have a discussion.

Karen, I too enjoyed the video on the power of praise. In fact, since then I've been constantly reminded of how often we praise them for getting things right rather than the effort they put into it. I keep noticing how many opportunities I get to praise them for their efforts, but don't always take them.

Dialog is very important in teaching and understanding science – from position driven discussions to IRE’s. My students got into a great ‘debate’ when doing the Mystery Graph exercise as to which line represented which species. Students supported their theories citing key points on the graph. The students really listened to each other and respected each other’s positions and thoughts. They also brought in personal experiences to help support the graphs’ relationships. My role was the facilitator, monitoring the discussion, so that it wouldn’t get too heated or out of control, and if necessary, to bring the discussion back on topic. It was interesting to note that as the discussion progressed, the new vocabulary words were used! So the debate advanced into a scientific debate. It was great!

We did a mock field investigation in our schoolyard. Afterward, I had students reflect of what worked and what needed improvement. We then turned these into ‘guidelines’, which lead into team roles. After putting the various ‘jobs/responsibilities’ on the board, the students then grouped the jobs so that they will be divided among the three students per team.

Your story inspires me to want to try this. It sounds like a great success!

I enjoyed reading Chapter 5. Useful strategies. I admit, many talking at once usually doesn't seem productive in my classes. Maybe because I went to rock concerts once upon a time and now, well....I can hear them better if they speak one at a time.

We just had a position driven discussion in SCI7, but I didn't know that was what it's called: "What came first? The sandstone or the sand?" Don't you love this question? No talking. Copy down the question and just write whatever you think. You have to pick a side. You have to give a strong reason for your choice. (While they write, I walk around making happy noises as I read over shoulders. Now that I am expert on inverse power of praise, I mutter 'nice work!'. Then I draw big t-chart and clear throat, apologize for interruption and open up the floor.) Hands for sand! Hands for sandstone!!! Yay! We are diverse! This will be interesting discussion! Who wants to share? Want to hear both sides! Yes, there is one usually best answer to this one. Kind of. Nature is messy though. We will decide after we listen to all ideas. What is your idea? (Write it on t-chart.) And you? (Write idea, look for student trying to look invisible with no hand raised.) Hey, you are quiet. Is this because they said yours? Or because you are thinking? Let me see what you wrote. Oh! You should say that! Or are you changing mind? What made you change?

Pretty soon we have some student ideas on the board and I ask how many changed mind. I ask for reasons. Its becoming a routine and they like to do this. They feel safe, I am a happy teacher. We all go traipsing cheerfully off to lab to shake some granite pieces in plastic jars, make a terrific racket, and make sand...without sandstone.

Did you ever imagine that it would become "normal" for your students to talk with one another like they are now? Pretty neat.

Because so much of this curriculum has been group work, there haven't been a lot of opportunities for teacher-guided larger group discussions surrounding particular concepts. Certainly at the beginning of the curriculum, during the Oh Deer! activity, when we first began to comb through and make sense of the data, the suggestions for fostering student voice in discussion would have been particularly relevant. During the circle-ups between rounds, asking students to explain their reasoning and having others reflect on and build upon those thoughts was a great tool to help students make sense of what was happening throughout the game. Later conversations about what quality evidence looks like offers other opportunities to put these ideas into practice.

I read a great book recently called, "Choice Words" that demonstrated one researcher's findings about the influence of supportive, targeted teacher feedback on student achievement. In it, the author actually catalogs "power phrases" that he observed exemplary teachers using to really rally kids towards success. That research came back to me during this reading, and made me think of the particular words and phrases I like to use in the classroom to encourage creative and probing thought in students. One of my favorite expressions to encourage students to speak up, whether right or wrong, is to follow up a question with a not-so-obvious answer with the challenge, "Who in this class is willing to take an intellectual risk?" When a kid tentatively raises a hand, I praise them, "I see Susie is willing to take risks in front of her peers! Great job, Susie!"

Another angle in considering the impact of teacher word choice is recognizing that teacher responses to wrong answers is both tricky and at the same time crucial. If a kid does take an intellectual risk, and blows it, you can be sure that s/he won't try again if made to feel stupid. Yet having said that, it is important to call a spade a spade, and identify poor reasoning to prevent reinforcing misconceptions. Being an overstretched and imperfect human, I am the first to admit that sometimes I blow it and shoot a kid down or garble my correction. If it's a good day, and I'm really on, I might nail it with something like, "I can see why you might think that's the case, but here's where your reasoning went wrong.....", then concluding with a "nice job volunteering, Sam!". This particular skill is a real challenge to get right on any given day. Add to that pressure the implications of the research described in last week's reading emphasizing how empty praise does nobody any favors. Thus it's important to make that last little sentiment genuine and not some sort of backhanded compliment. Kids are quick to hear criticism, and highly suspicious of false praise.

So there are many layers to this business of teacher language, and a whole lot of pitfalls and booby traps. Not that it isn't worth the perseverance; the stakes in terms of student learning and intellectual confidence are certainly high. But it definitely underscores how this profession of educating is a lifelong journey. Whew. Just pondering it exhausts me. I think I'm ready for bed!

Gretchen, your post spoke to me because I am always erring on the side of being too encouraging and not pointing out errors enough. This does make for a classroom of students who feel safe to talk, which is a start. However, it's important to be honest as well with correct/incorrect thinking. I really liked the discussion part of the chapter when it gave concrete phrases to facilitate a discussion and training kids to talk as a group rather than just question/response to the teacher.

I'm looking into the "Choice Words" book!!!

I agree with Gretchen it's a tricky spot we find ourselves in sometimes, because everyone in the room is hanging on our every word when it's clear there's no way out of telling a kid he/she is wrong. Nothing mucks up the day more than feeling like I just shot down a kid who really put him/herself out on a limb. More and more I am just letting it feed the discussion. I say. "I hear you. Who else agrees? What other ideas are there? How can we test this idea? Does anyone disagree?" Sometimes it just won't work that way. I've tried: 'I do not agree, and I can explain why, luckily, since I am supposed to be the teacher and know this stuff, heh heh; but I am pretty sure many people will say the same thing as you'. Keep it on the intellectual-argument, even-steven level; and take a step away from sage-on-the-stage. Takes longer, but ultimately, where's the road leading?

I really appreciated several aspects of this chapter, mostly because I am currently working on my Master's degree in literacy, even though I teach math and science. One might think a literacy degree does not fit in well with math and science, but in fact, it fits in quite well, because math and science require strong communication skills (i.e literacy skills). I think one great way to apply the ideas in this chapter is to work on a persuasive writing piece in science. There are so many topics in science that would lend themselves to this. As part of the persuasive writing, students would also engage in both talk and argument. The author talks about a point driven discussion as being on in which "students are all focused on the same phenomena, but must commit to one position or thoery and must argue for their respective predicions or theories". This is a great way to begin a persuasive writing piece - by asking students to commit to one side of an argument, support their argument through talk, through visual demonstration and through writing. It could be a great interdisciplinary project between the ELA teacher and the science teacher. By working through this type of formal argumentation, a classroom teacher could build norms for scientific argumentation on a regular basis.

The other piece of this chapter that I found quite practical was the way in which we honor and value the contributions that students from widely diverse cultures and backgrounds can make to our science discussions. I particularly appreciated the comment made on page 99 where the authors state, "An assumption of competence makes it easier to bujild on and promote students' contributions, even if those contributions are incomplete, not entriely explicit, or are expressed in a nonstandard dialect. Once students are invited into the conversation, are given opportunitiies to engage in coherent instructional tasks, are able to hear and build on the contributions of their peers, and have scientfic reasoning modeled for them by teachers and peers, they gradually take on the language and forms of competence that are valued in science." This quote is intended for application in situations where a student is an English language learner, but I think this quote fits all students. It would be of great benefit to classrooms across this country if teachers approached all students with an assumption of competence. It was a great reminder to me that all students need to be treated with the utmost of respect for the great gfits they bring into our lives.

I agree about 'ways to honor and value students from widely diverse cultures'. Even though in my area the ethnic diversity is not so great, there's a big difference in literacy. I have students who barely write, not because they are ESL, either. It feels like there are different family cultures, some families don't read to their kids, the way I always read to mine, for example. As long as I keep the perspective that these 'foreign diplomats' simply think and communicate in ways that I cannot always immediately understand or relate to, and possess unique talents and skills; it helps me stay in the zone, keep trying and stave off frustration.

I am not very far along in the vital signs curriculum, but already see how it is encouraging kids to talk about data. We did a modified version of Oh Deer! and began talking about what kinds of questions our data could help us answer. I had each small group come up with at least one question and we discussed all the different questions as a large group.

I also had the kids work in their small group to "mine the data" that would help them to answer their question. Each group made a large graph to show the rest of the class. Just listening in, the discussions about what kind of graph and how to make it were quite interesting! I can also see how activities like "Prove It" done in both small and then larger groups could really help kids frame their observations as evidence. I have not gone outdoors to do the actual species search with my students, but am hoping that the small research groups will be a good avenue for kids to talk more about what they are or are not finding, as well as how to best document their evidence.