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Learning Assistant Seminar: Talk Moves and Practicing Echo-Probe-Toss

September 12, 2015

Pre-class Reading Summary:

On Monday, in my learning assistant seminar, students will have read a chapter mostly about two things:

First: “Common Reactions to Student Answers”

  • Confirming (“That’s correct! Good Job”)
  • Denying (“Nope, not quite.”)
  • Ignoring (“Hmm… Anybody else have an idea?”
  • Arguing (“Well, it couldn’t be that because _____”)

Second: Alternative talk moves:

  • Asking student to say more (“Say more about that!”)
  • Pressing Student for Reasoning (“Why do you think that answer makes sense?)
  • Re-voicing the Student Idea (“OK, so George thinks that _____”)
  • Asking others to weigh in (Does anybody either agree or disagree with George’s idea and can say why?)
  • Asking others to re-voice (“Does any body think they understand George’s idea and repeat what his idea was in their own words?)
  • Prompting for More Participation (So, we’ve heard from a few folks who said ___. What else has an idea about what could happen?)

This section also includes a revisiting of wait time, which they have already read about, as well as a few other things.

Examine and Share Out Cases (30 minutes):

Our day will begin with groups of 2-3 each getting a “case” (just a two line transcript, where a student gives an answer and a teacher responses).  They have to first identify the type of “reaction”, explain what possible downsides that reaction might have, and then second propose an alternative response, identify what type, and what possible benefits there could be. I have each case as handout for the group.  But I also have a powerpoint, so students will just have to be prepared to talk about the common reaction over the power point slide, but I will have them prepare on whiteboard for their alternative response.

If it seems productive or time-permitting, I have following whole-class discussion questions prepared:

A.  What feelings–either our own or from students– lead us to “react” to student answers rather than responding more deliberately?

B.  What other feelings (possibly about student as learners or ourselves as teachers) can we nurture to help us “respond” more deliberately?

[With both of those questions: What will make it hard for you personally to respond rather than react?]

An alternative discussion question (if it’s leaning this way is):  Is it ever OK to respond by confirming or denying? If not, why not? If so, what’s a situation where you think it would be OK?

Brief Direction Instruction (15-20 minutes)

Triadic Dialogue:  I will briefly review this common form of classroom interaction (from a previous reading), where a teacher initiates dialogue with a question, students responds with a brief answer (often one word), and the teacher evaluates its correctness. This is sometimes called I-R-E.

Then I will introduce a different kind of dialogue that can help us practice getting away from I-R-E. The dialogue is still rather teacher controlled, in the sense that it’s about moves the teacher makes, but it’s a good stepping stones for my students.  For my students, I call it “Echo-Probe-Toss“:

Echo: (You state back the students’ name and what their answer was), “George says he think the net force is up”

Probe: (Ask for reasoning), “George, why did you think the net force is up”

Toss:  (Revoice and put the conversation back to the class): “OK, So George says the net force is up, because the elevator is needs an upward force to keep moving up.  Who else in class said that the Net Force is up, and could say why they agree with George?”

The first thing I will have students to do is discuss with a neighbor which talk moves we just talked about could go with each stage. For example,  “Say More”, or “Pressing” could go under probe.  We will make a list at the board.

Echo-Probe-Toss Game (30-40 minutes):

Then we practice as a class with mock “clicker question”. The rules of the game are– “students” must given honest answer, but when called on they must only give the answer (don’t give reasoning unless the teacher probes). The rules for teachers are you must use the students’ name on each move.

The clicker questions are a mix of silly questions (“Which super power would you most want to have?), biology questions (“when you exercise and lose weight, where does that weight go?”), and questions about LA pedagogy concepts (“Which talk move do you think will be the most useful in the class you teach?”).

Each student will get a chance to practice, and we will pause for discussion as seems helpful. In past, it’s been helpful to point out different flavors of re-voicing that come up (mimicking exactly, vs paraphrasing, vs highlighting, vs. enhancing). It’s been useful to talk about what to do when you haven’t actually understood what the students just said—maybe you zoned out or maybe what they said was confusing. It’s been useful to highlight different ways to “toss” it back as well. Sometimes, even unpacking and comparing specific phrases have been helpful– Why did that last toss back feel very natural whereas some of other ones felt awkward?

I’m still learning to facilitate this:

For me, facilitating this is actually quite tough:

  • Deciding when to pause and discuss (too much, you ruin the flow; too little, you miss learning opportunities),
  • Enforcing the rules (students help with this, though),
  • Deciding how long to let each clicker question go (some lead to interesting conversation which you want to let go, but probably shouldn’t; others fall flat quickly; I want make sure everyone gets a chance, and that everyone gets enough rounds in on a single question)
  • Intervening when someone needs quick help (e.g., a reminder to say a name, rather than a pause and discuss)

One other thing I have a hard time deciding is, when to not enforce the rule when it seemed like a good thing is happening. For example, this happens usually when the “teacher” does a few good turns and the conversation really starts going, and students start just really talking about it, to each other, without any teacher moves. I try at least once to let it happen, and then talk about it–How good facilitation (and good questions) can lead students to actually just start really talking about something? BUT I can’t do that every time, especially if it happens right at the start of a clicker question, because then the “teacher” isn’t getting enough practice with the talk moves.

Striking the right balance is hard. I’m getting better every time, but I still make lots of non-optimal decisions. Right now, thinking about how hard this is for me makes me think about how some researchers I know would probably want to analyze these rehearsal spaces.

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