Listen

We’re working on sharing our opinion in grade 10 English. Wait, I’ll be more precise: we’re working on politely sharing our opinion. That’s a little harder.

Last year, I learned that sharing opinions can be a little easier if we start with oral work and move towards written work. Not that group discussions are easy. How

penny for your thoughts

many times have I witnessed “discussions” where three kids dominate while two fall asleep and everyone else says one thing and is done? Sigh. Over the years, I’ve developed a few ways to support kids when they’re just getting used to group discussions. We pretty much always do a penny discussion (everyone has to put their two cents’ worth in before anyone can talk a third time – I use actual pennies, and students have to pay to talk) and a

Image result for discussion web twine

visible web (twine goes between students as they speak – in the end we have a physical map of the discussion). The kids mostly hate the artificial confines of these discussions; the magic is in the debrief. As it turns out, the best discussions involve everyone, but not everyone needs to talk equally.

Once we’ve laid the groundwork for talking, we start using conversation cards that I made up last year. These cards have sentence starters to help students politely agree, disagree, ask questions and state opinions. I developed them because last year’s crew was having trouble using, um, “academic” words. They laughed their heads off when I suggested that “I hear what you’re saying, nevertheless…” could replace, “What the *#$! are you talking about?” It was slow progress, but we got there.

Last week, the students chose to discuss: “What Advice Would You Give to Your Mom, Dad or Guardian on How to Be a Better Parent?” (I love this 

NYTimes list of 1,000 writing prompts for studentsEach one links to an introduction and an article that provides some background. Careful though, the Times has a limit of 10 articles per month if you’re not a subscriber.) They were excited at first, ready to dish about their horrible parents, but once the discussion got going, the kids came quickly to the conclusion that their parents and guardians are doing the best that they can because they generally want the best for their children. The kids responded to each other, (using those cards!) and by the end they agreed that they really wished that adults would listen to them. In fact, as the conversation shifted to advice they would give to teachers, they talked their way to the same conclusion: they know that we want what’s best for them, but they really want us to listen.

I know that I’m just a kid, but sometimes I have good ideas. But adults interrupt and they talk over me and they don’t even want to know why I did something. I just want them to listen to me, to take me seriously.

That was Thursday. Since then, I keep hearing the same thing: listen. On the web somewhere, someone said, “Listen for the request in the complaint.” My son asked me to snuggle at bedtime and listen to the things that had happened during the day. I thanked my husband for listening to me as I worked through a sticky problem. My friend called and asked, “do you have time to listen to something that [my child] did?”

Listen. Just listen.

It’s a straightforward request, powerful and important. I value this, yet it’s not something I’m always good at. By the end of Thursday’s discussion, my students decided that if they could give their parents and teachers advice, if they could make a New Year’s Resolution for us, it would be “Listen.”

Well, I’m listening. For 2019, my resolution, my one little word is listen.

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5 thoughts on “Listen

  1. Our students really do have much to say, but they are not always good at expressing themselves. Your statement cards must help them to move beyond their selfish responses and become better listeners as well. I will carry this word, listen, with me today.

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  2. Betsy Hubbard is the person that helped me realize that writing — at all levels — is stronger when it floats on a sea of talk. Oral rehearsal is one of the most critical things we can spend time on, but often it’s the first thing that goes for the sake of time. But it doesn’t really save time when it’s omitted, does it?

    Great OLW for 2019!

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