“Make ‘Em Talk” – For Literacy. For Life.

By Aristotle

Perhaps “Make ‘Em Talk” is a title that sounds more fitting for a blog post about interrogation rather than one on literacy. But at 11 pm at night and just starting to craft this post, I really can’t think of anything better for a title.

I also really can’t think of anything better than getting our students to talk about their reading. That’s if we desire to:

Build a love of reading.

Build comprehension.

And build lifelong skills.

Now when I say “make ’em talk,” I’m not talking about a “turn-and-talk” type of talking (tongue twister?).  That’s all good, but I’m talking about discussions.  Authentic discussions.  And lots of them.

Build a Love of Reading

Let’s talk about movies.  Isn’t a comedy so much funnier when someone’s laughing right there alongside you?  Or isn’t a horror movie that much better when there are others flinching, tensing, and shrieking at your side?  Movies wouldn’t be near as enjoyable if we didn’t have others in our life to share them with.  Others in our life to talk about them with.

Reading is no different.  We are social creatures.  We like to talk with others, interact with others, and share experiences with others. So if we want our students to build a love of reading, we need to get them talking about what they’re reading.

Build Comprehension

Anyone remember Lev Vygotsky? Maybe from an old educational psychology course? Well, as a refresher, largely attributed to Vygotsky are the principles of social constructivism. That definition:

Social constructivism maintains that human development is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others.

Thanks Wikipedia.  “Development.” “Knowledge.”  Constructed.”  So what does this imply? Well, I’d say it implies this:

If we’re to help our students in their development as readers, we need to provide plentiful opportunities for them to construct knowledge (of text) via social interaction with others.

Build Lifelong Skills

Listening and speaking skills certainly don’t get the respect they deserve. This is likely due to them not being conducive to testing, standardized or otherwise.  And aren’t we already spinning so many plates as teachers?

But it’s difficult to deny the importance of listening and speaking skills. Skills that include the ability to:

    • introduce new thoughts
    • elaborate on and clarify ideas
    • respectfully disagree or respectfully defend thinking
    • monitor one’s own tone and body language
    • accept a different perspective and/or revise one’s own thoughts
    • give eye contact and other nonverbal affirmations
  • paraphrase and/or validate another’s thoughts (“So what you’re saying is…”)

With the current amount of screen time most students engage in, it becomes increasingly important that we as teachers are providing students with ample opportunities to develop speaking and listening skills. Skills that our students will need throughout their lives.  In their jobs.  In their friendships.  In their marriages.

So how do we get our students routinely talking in a way that builds a love of reading, builds comprehension, and builds lifelong skills?  Stay tuned because I’ll be exploring this question in our next blog post.