Thursday, March 20, 2014

Chalk Talk

At the beginning of a unit of inquiry, a teacher has the important responsibility of creating a desire within her students to know about and understand a particular concept. During this initial “invitation” phase of the inquiry, teachers need to set up learning engagements where students can feel safe enough to take risks, ask questions, explore, be engaged, share their background knowledge, and to think outside the box. Yes, this initial step is a pre-assessment; it is essential that the teacher knows what the students know, understand, and are able to do as they dive into the unit of inquiry. However, this first step is more than just figuring out what students already know about a particular concept and collecting student questions. It is about capturing the hearts, brains, and spirits of the kids and igniting authentic interest in the concepts & topics being studied. (It is important to note that these ideas about this first step in the inquiry cycle are not my own. They all came from our school’s staff, when we completed the Visual Thinking Routine, “I used to think … Now I think” about the inquiry process at a recent professional development. I simply aggregated their responses to create our unique inquiry cycle: Invitation-Investigation-Demonstration.)

Because this first step in the inquiry process is so influential to the success of the study, the learning engagement that the teacher decides to complete with her students must be a significant and engaging one. Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison have included seven Visual Thinking Routines for introducing and exploring ideas in their 2011 book, 
Making Thinking Visible. Chalk Talk is one of those routines that teachers can use to “uncover prior knowledge, ideas, and questioning.” The routine is an “open discussion on paper; it ensures that all voices are heard and it gives students thinking time," (p. 51).

Recently, a second-grade teacher was preparing to begin a unit of inquiry with a central idea of: people influence the world in positive ways. During this unit of inquiry, students inquire into the characteristics of a hero, people who have made a difference, one’s own personal strengths, and how people can make a difference in the world. To spark her students’ interest in these particular concepts, she wrote several prompts on large sheets of chart paper and placed them on tables around the room. Her students had markers and she invited them to silently move freely from poster to poster, recording their responses to the prompts. Below are the "finished" products:

With these posters, the teacher not only excited her students about the idea of studying heroes who have made a difference both in the past and in the present, but she was able to efficiently collect valuable information about what the students already know, understand, and are able to do. She can now use this information to tailor future lessons to meet the specific needs of her students.

For instance, during a subsequent lesson, the teacher helped the students aggregate the information they wrote down from the "what is a hero" poster to create a working definition of a "hero".

Now, as students learn about heroes through reading, writing, and viewing a variety of multiple sources throughout the unit of inquiry, they can "test" their definition of what a hero is and continue to adapt it.

Building on the success she had with the original chalk talk routine, the teacher wanted to use the same Visible Thinking Routine, but in a different way. She knew the students already were familiar with the process, so they were ready to apply that familiar process to new content

As a way to continue to inquire into heroes, the teacher introduced the students to the poem "Lincoln", by Nancy Byrd Turner. Knowing that the poem was beyond the independent reading level of second graders, her plan to scaffold the activity was to copy each stanza of the poem onto a separate piece of chart paper. She even made the point to the second graders that she divided the poem into fourths (math connection). She then had the students read the poem, stanza by stanza, noting their ideas about what they thought the author was trying to communicate with each stanza.

Since learning about how this particular second grade teacher used the Visible Thinking Routine "Chalk Talk" in her classroom, other members of the team showed me how they have used it in the past with their students. Here are some examples of how other second grade classrooms used this Visible Thinking Routine as they studied communities last fall:

After reading about how members of the second grade team are using the Visible Thinking Routine "Chalk Talk" to introduce and explore new topics and concepts with their students, how could you use "Chalk Talk, in your instructional practice?

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