Academic journal article Language Arts

Calling for Response- Ability in Our Classrooms

Academic journal article Language Arts

Calling for Response- Ability in Our Classrooms

Article excerpt

As practicing teachers, we know that our classroom talk involves more than delivery of content to students. In fact, teacher talk practices provide "a cumulative continuing contextual frame to enable students' involvement with the new knowledge they are encountering" (Mercer, 2008, p. 37). For example, teacher talk both cues and mediates the degree to which student ideas are taken seriously and treated with respect, and whether and how student ideas are developed and connected to what is being examined and taken up in the classroom community (Aukerman, 2015; Nystrand, Gamoran, Kachur, & Prendergast, 1997). In ways such as these, teacher talk practices determine the scope and manner of student learning. So what do teacher talk practices that support deep student understanding and learning talk look like in our elementary classrooms?

It is tempting to oversimplify findings from decades of research on classroom talk practices and to valorize a particular talk move, doctrine, or technique. But teacher talk practices that cultivate quality student learning conditions are not a matter of "do this and not that" or a matter of one- time interaction. They involve a repertoire of talk practices working together across time and content (Alexander, 2008; Boyd, 2016; Burbules, 1993; Cazden, 1988). An effective repertoire of teacher talk practices includes telling and assessing understanding of information, modeling language use and strategies, and guiding and supporting dialogic interactions to promote student learning. Teachers plan lessons, invite student contributions, and then attentively listen and contingently respond to student ideas and contributions as they guide thinking in elaborated and analytic ways.

Response- able teacher talk practices cultivate student exploration and articulation as they frame and connect material to local experiences and student funds of knowledge, guide critical exploration, and cultivate openness to perspectives. Responseable teacher practices are a concrete manifestation of what I have called a dialogic instructional stance (Boyd & Markarian, 2011, 2015; Boyd, 2016). Teachers adopting a dialogic stance first encourage students to articulate what they know. Then they respond to those students by building on what students contribute in the moment and/or by adjusting the scope or pace of a lesson as they work to take up student ideas and contributions and to connect them to educational purposes in ways that render them relevant and valued in the learning community. To understand what the features of response- able talk practices are, and why they are indicative of a dialogic instructional stance, we can turn to the contexts of our classrooms and everyday life.

Response- able Talk Practices

What do we really mean when we say, "You're not listening to me"? In the constrained world of the public school classroom, with its lopsided power relations, it really means, "You need to do what I am telling you to do. You need to comply."

But what does it mean in the "real world" of negotiated interpersonal relations when I tell someone, say a friend or a partner, "You're not listening to me." Very often it means, "You're not responding to my meaning. After I tell you something, you say whatever might be on your mind without taking into account what I just said. You're not building on what I'm saying. Your utterances are not contingent on mine."

Listening in the real world of language and relationships means that what I say is contingent on what you have just said. That contingency, that listening to and responding to my meaning, is the defining feature of dialogue (Bakhtin, 1981, 1986). Sometimes when we are not listening to each other, we may take turns speaking, but we are just engaged in a serial monologue with each other.

If I expect you to listen to me, that is, if I propose a topic of talk and ask you to engage in dialogue with me, I have a special responsibility. …

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