Less Teacher Talk, More Class Discussion

 Do you ever feel like whacking yourself on the side of the head and saying, “Why didn’t I think of this before?”

Reading Aloud

While sitting on a chair reading aloud to the class one day with all the students traditionally huddled on the floor at my feet I noticed something. All the interesting  exchanges were happening between a student and me, the teacher. It was like a game of ping pong and I was always hitting the ball.

Teacher-student-teacher-student-teacher-student-teacher, etc.

I was having a great book discussion! But what were most of the students doing when they weren’t talking to me? They were picking at their shoes, trying to get a friend’s attention, staring blankly ahead. No engagement. They were waiting patiently for us to finish our conversation.

More than just Reading Aloud

From that day on we decided to sit in a circle when I read aloud. Reactions to the story, comments, questions, and discussions are now directed at each other not at me. Of course, I can’t help but jump in occasionally when I feel like I can’t resist!

Now our ‘ping-pong exchange’ sounds more like this:


What have I noticed?

  • students are expected to listen to and respond to each other, and they do
  • students answer each other’s questions, disagree with each other, build upon each other’s predictions
  • students work cooperatively to construct meaning from the story
  • students govern themselves, reminding each other to be respectful
  • students feel like they have an equitable learning community where the voices of the students and  teachers are equal
  • students take ownership and drive the discussions, allowing them to practice critical and creative thinking skills.

Very much like a Socratic Circle.

More Than Just Reading Aloud

The Power to Choose

We gather most of our knowledge from others. Some of it we get from first hand experience, but mostly we listen to others or read books written by others and learn from them.

You've Got To Read This Book!I learn so much from books, I usually find the best books through recommendations from others. So I was excited when I found You’ve Got to Read This Book! by Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks while I was browsing in the school library. It is a series of short essays written by 55 people who tell the story of a book that changed their life. A book about great books and the life lessons the readers took from them.

For example, Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness) cites two books: A Guide for the Perplexed by E.F. Schumacher and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl as life changing reads. Both books taught him about the power to choose your response to any given set of circumstances and the ability to be self-aware.

We are not simply the sum of our experiences; we can reflect on those experiences and how they interact, and then make a choice based on that awareness.

Covey says that this lesson had a tremendous impact on his teaching, writing and his personal life, including raising his nine children. He realized that we always have the power of choice. “Each of us is responsible for our part of the equation, so we don’t blame anyone else for our situations.”

In the classroom we can teach our students about their power. When a child responds by blaming another child (e.g. “She did this and this to me.”) we can ask, “Why did you choose this response to that?”

Being Self-Aware

Once the child realizes that she has the power to choose her response, she can use her R and I: resourcefulness and initiative. Using our inner resources and creativity is the only way to respond to the challenges we face in our lives. It is a gift of our self-awareness.

Teaching our students that they are responsible for their responses and their learning is the best education we can give them. Our goal should be to help them “gain a level of mastery over themselves, not just academically but also in terms of getting exercise, eating right and living by their consciences.”

Even at a young age children can learn that they have the power to choose their response; they are creative, resourceful and can take initiative.

How can we innovate our schools to help all students understand that they have the power and the responsibility to choose to learn, to design, to create, and to take initiative?

Participation Spaces

Ewan McIntosh was at our school helping in the planning stages of creating a Design Centre at NIS. He shared his thoughts about the 7 Spaces of Learning:

  1. Secret Spaces
  2. Group Spaces
  3. Watching Spaces
  4. Performing Spaces
  5. Participation Spaces
  6. Publishing Spaces
  7. Data Spaces

I was hooked. While they are not ‘new,’ people create these types of spaces in their classrooms all of the time, it is interesting to identify and name the spaces, remind ourselves of them and consider how each space can best be used to enhance learning.

I talked to my students about the spaces. We decided to  investigate these spaces for ourselves.

Immediately our three Grade 3 classes planned a day where everyone created a ‘secret space’ in which they would read for the entire day! The excitement was palpable. Plans were sketched out, agreements were made as to how to share the space and the materials and things were brought in from home.

This is what the day looked like:

Private Niche3 Private Niche2

Private Niche4 Private Niche1

For the entire day students and teachers read peacefully, snacked and sometimes just rested.

The result? No one wanted to take down their private niche. Everyone wants to do it again. Everyone understands the importance and the pleasure of a secret space. Twenty two people in one class room, and we all found a ‘private’ space.

Pretty impressive.