Practice Brief 6 -- Topics: InformalEd Instruction Equity

How Can I Get My Students to Learn Science by Productively Talking with Each Other?

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Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers should routinely support students in "sense-making" talk to help them work through their understanding while engaging in the science and engineering practices.
  • District staff and PD providers should provide models of productive talk in PD and as an integral part of enacting curriculum materials.
  • School leaders should observe productive science talk in classrooms and provide support to teachers as they develop talk facilitation skills.

What is the Issue?

Talking is integral to human learning. The practice dimension of the NGSS and CCSS highlight that scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and writers routinely communicate—not merely to share their final form products—but to make sense of their work and to gather feedback and refine their ideas as the work unfolds. Learners benefit from such accountable talk as well, but it can be tricky to scaffold and manage productive discourse in the classroom.



Reflection Questions

  • What do you think productive classroom talk looks like? What is your role in supporting that talk at different phases of student investigations?
  • What explicit and implicit social norms are at play in your classroom, and how can you effectively shift these to support productive talk?
  • What cultural styles of talk and sense-making are present in your community of students that you should make room for in science learning conversations?

Things to Consider

The science and engineering practices in the NRC Framework and NGSS are deeply social and require that students communicate. They involve reasoning with others and seeking a shared understanding of science phenomena. The goals of productive talk include: (1) sharing and clarifying one's own thinking, (2) listening to one another, (3) deepening one's own reasoning, and (4) thinking together.

Talk makes student thinking explicit and public—so that it can be engaged with, interpreted, built upon, and refined. Student ideas can then become resources for learning.

I-R-E (initiation, response, evaluation) is the dominant discourse pattern of classroom interactions, and it needs to change. In order to engage students in science and engineering practices, they need access to and experience with discourse-rich, sense-making conversations. Breaking the I-R-E pattern and integrating productive talk may, at first, require practice, preteaching, and even scripting student roles and language.

Students should be supported to make sense of complex natural phenomena. Rich discourse among students should be encouraged through thoughtful lesson sequences and skilled facilitation that positions them as collaborative constructors of knowledge.

"In order to process, make sense of, and learn from their ideas, observations, and experiences, students must talk about them... Talk forces students to think about and articulate their ideas. Talk can also provide an impetus for students to reflect on what they do—and do not—understand."

Ready, Set, SCIENCE!

"We suggest that trying to present science [communication] in a culturally neutral way is like trying to paint a picture without taking a perspective."

Doug Medin, psychologist

Attending to Equity

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