Saturday, September 5, 2015

In the Classroom: Building Student Discourse

4 Levels of Language Version 2.0
Academic and professional discourse and group collaboration is integral for students to be able to succeed in the classroom, meet the rigor of the Common Core State Standards, and most importantly prepare students for life. This is a challenging and daunting task, and one that I am very passionate about in my teaching. Because of this, over the years I have found some tips and strategies that help scaffold students for success. This series In the Classroom will explore some of those tips and strategies.

First many of my ideas are based of off Doug Fisher and +Rick Morris -- two of my favorite educational presenters. If you ever have a chance to see either of them, I would strongly recommend to do so. Also I love to use many Spencer Kagan strategies and structures as well throughout my teaching to further engage students.

Getting down to business, this first post will focus on how I used a rubric and the Class Cards App to build language into my classroom. If you are asking what class cards is, simply follow the link. If you already know what is it, just keep on reading.


It wasn't until after the second +Rick Morris training that I really got into class cards, and at that point I was going full bore with the clip chart, choices program, and numbers in my classroom as well. After really using the app for a few weeks, I had immediately run into a problem. I loved the random selecting of students to check for understanding, but I was not sure how to grade the students' responses fairly. How could I determine if their answer deserved the score of an A, B, C, or D? Some responses sounded like As and some like Cs, but it didn't feel consistent all the time. Not only was I unsure of what to score the students really deserved, but the students also had no clear idea of the criteria/significance of their grade. I did not feel successful with my Class Cards integration. What to do?

My next step of course was to go to Dr. Google and consult the internet. Specifically, I was wondering if I could find any rubrics on speaking that could give my students a general guide of how to compose their responses. I found some great rubrics from many different sites, but none that really fit the bill. So the next day in class, I decided to create my own with the help of my class.

First of course, I presented them with my conundrum of not being able to fairly score them on class cards. Therefore, we decided we needed a better way. We started by finding some videos of eloquent kids giving speeches on Youtube. Kid President was our first stop, and a good resource for you to check out if you haven't already.


We then discussed what made them sound intelligent, and why we liked them. In addition, we talked about the difference between classroom talk and playground talk, and how we needed to increase our awareness. This had been an ongoing discussion from the beginning of the year. Next, we broke a piece of chart paper into four sections and discussed what a scholar would sound like when he or she was speaking. We labeled the top part scholar and agreed what to write in that section. We then moved to the bottom row and filled that in as a class. Swiftly, we moved to the middle sections and filled those in using similar language throughout. Finally, we came up with names that we thought appropriate for our class. Not all might think them appropriate, but we agreed that they fit our class. Viola, our rubric was complete.

4 Levels of Language Version 1.1
After a few days, I felt that not only were we aware of how scores would be distributed on Class Cards,  I could also hear the students pushing themselves to speak more precisely, confidently, and with increased academic language. I could truly hear the students striving to sound like scholars.

Let me clarify that this was not the only piece that helped my students be successful linguistically, but it was one of the scaffolds that helped. Plus when paired with Class Cards, it gave me actual data to share with students and parents about their participation and speaking ability.

Let me end by presenting you with the slightly modified original poster. The greatest thing about it is I have seen so many other versions of this poster. My goal is to email those who have adapted this work and include their awesome ideas in this post as well. After all, sharing is caring!!