I was that student who sat on pins and needles each six weeks on report card day waiting to see if I got the dreaded “N” – “Needs Improvement” in controlling talking. Back then, not only would that get me in trouble at home for being in trouble at school, but the implication was that I was not listening and learning as I should have. Maya Angelou has a popular quote, “If you know better, you do better.” Educators, we know better now, and let’s get those classrooms talking. A talking classroom IS a thinking classroom.
We are born non-lingual. Learning how to talk is one of the hardest things you have ever set out to accomplish in your entire life. Yet, by eighteen months you may have been able to pronounce about fifty words and you understood about one hundred. When you walked in the door to formal schooling with your kindergarten friends, you basically had the job mastered in so many ways. Speaking growth mindset, think about what those young children CAN do when they walk in the door and less about what they cannot. And no joke, they can talk!!!
Talking is how we process information. Talking helps us to remember things. Talking is our operating system. Vygotsky (1962) suggested that thinking develops into words in a number of phases, moving from imaging to inner speech to inner speaking to speech. Tracing this idea backward, speech—talk—is the representation of thinking. As such, it seems reasonable to suggest that classrooms should be filled with talk, given that we want them filled with thinking!
If knowing better is doing better, what are some of the less than favorable implications of this information? Teacher talk still dominates most American classrooms. The adult as the primary talker is depriving students of their basic need to communicate and to truly think about what they are learning. Even more disturbing, the students from higher rates of poverty predominately have a higher level of teacher talk happening in their classrooms. Basic brain science tells us what is consistently turned on in our brains is strengthened and what is rarely excited gets pruned. Do our students who need more talking need less opportunity? Does their teacher really need to be doing the thinking for all of them in that classroom? How about the still too common practice of students eating lunch in a silent cafeteria? What tradeoff is being made here? And lastly, as we struggle with loss of respect for teachers, it is interesting to note that the expectation is respectful talk towards the teacher, but the teacher does not necessarily project respect in their own speech towards the students. The cafeteria scenario above is an example. Would we accept a principal stating a no talking in the teacher lounge rule?
Just like when I was in elementary school, controlling my talking, also known as my thinking, continues to be an issue for me. My next post will be a continuation of this topic. I will share things we can do in our classrooms to honor student voices now that we know better.