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 science and engineering practices described in the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education highlight that scientists and engineers routinely communicate through talk—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 sensemaking are present in your community of students that you should make room for in science learning conversations?

Things to Consider

"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

Recommended Actions You Can Take

Routinely focus instruction on student talk related to making sense of phenomena and their ideas. Read about making thinking visible through talk and argument, including how to establish classroom norms and use talk moves to cultivate learning conversations. Review the Talk Science Primer and use the Talk Move Checklist.

These classroom videos and supporting discourse primer highlight the use of different talk moves. Learn more about different approaches to managing classroom talk.


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