The More We Talk...

We teachers talk too much. There, I said it. But it's not doing our students any favors, because the more we talk, the less they hear. This realization has transformed the way I've been teaching this year... especially as a teacher of 75 second graders (many whose first language is not English). I recently read that students begin tuning us out after a mere two minutes of listening to us talk. TWO minutes! As if we don't feel the constant race against time already: Teachers (and parents) are competing against ever-decreasing attention spans and the increasingly immediate feedback of social networking sites, video games, and screen time in general. 

With this in mind, I've started doing a few things to keep my teacher talk to a minimum in order to maximize student engagement and my feedback. After all, a very wise woman (one of my former principals), once mused, "Less teaching, more feedback" is the key. We want them to have plenty of opportunities to practice what we're teaching... even to make mistakes and then learn from those mistakes. 

Here are the things I've implemented in my classroom(s) this year, in an attempt to beat the clock and make sure my students hear what's important... and have plenty of time to practice and receive feedback from me.

1.  A Timer
I've started using a timer during mini-lessons. Before I start teaching, I set it for 5 minutes, and I make sure to have the students turn and discuss/respond to an idea before the timer goes off. Then I set it for another five minutes. I have to be done teaching by the end of that five minutes. (Because even if I'm not done, they're probably no longer listening anyway, right?)

2.  Partner Teach
I ask students to teach their partners what they've just learned, or what their takeaway is. This is similar to #1. The difference is discussing an idea vs. explaining their new learning so others can understand. This is a quick way to see who "gets it" and who doesn't. For the few who don't get it, I will be meeting with those kiddos as soon as I dismiss the others to get started. I don't re-explain and add time to my lesson if it's only a few students who are confused. 

3.  Directions: Visually, Orally, and With Movement
I give directions in four steps or less, written on chart paper, and have the students act them out with me while they're still seated on the rug. (I do all whole-group instruction on the rug.) For example, when students are starting a new word sort, and their first step is to write their initials on the back of each word, we act out turning over the piece of paper and writing our initials.

These three things save us a huge amount of time and confusion in the long run. Before I started teaching this way, I couldn't escape the dozens of questions before & during small group or independent work, and we almost never finished any task. Probably because they had already tuned me out by the time I got to the directions.

Now, as students begin their work, I'm ready to provide feedback individually or in small groups. This is where the true learning comes in, especially as they "try out" the new strategy I've taught. I'll be there to let them know how they're doing, and what they can do to improve.

I hope these ideas help you, too! What are the ways you keep your teacher talk to a minimum? I would love to hear what works for you!

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