Sorry Students, There's No Time for Dialog!
Last week, I wrote about the importance of effective lesson planning because of known physiological constraints that affect how much a student can learn in a given episode. But we know there are other reasons why it is wise to plan for effective instruction. A particularly important reason in the context of today’s standards is that if we are going to ask students to engage in the behaviors of college and career, namely academic discourse, then we cannot waste time with poorly planned instruction.
I have a habit of attending college. I can’t get enough of it. It’s probably one of my more expensive habits, but I love it. I love the campus environment. I love to learn and read about new topics. I love the relationships developed over a shared endurance of the assignments and projects. And I absolutely adore class discussions.
Growing up, I was a kid made for the new standards, which focus on active participation in a community of learners or colleagues. I have many memories as a young student of my class being scolded for being too chatty. In my memories though, we were more often than not talking about whatever we were learning. If a compelling question was posed bringing the new learning into the context of my lived experience, watch out! My mind lit up and my mouth got going. I was an enthusiastic participant in classroom dialog.
As a student and professional today, I am still this way. I am able to:
Participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners,
Build on others’ ideas
Express my own ideas clearly and persuasively
Adapt my speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks
Demonstrate command of formal English when appropriate
But here’s the thing about all that dialog, it can easily eat up class time. I can imagine my elementary teachers who were exasperated by students talking were simply mindful of everything they knew they had to accomplish that day. More recently in my graduate courses, a seemingly simple prompt can send the class into a rich and enthusiastic discussion of the assigned reading (very on topic), leaving the teacher with no time for the planned lecture and video. This highlights the very real apprehension teachers can feel about incorporating more student-driven collaboration and dialog into their schedule.
This is why we educators need to plan the most efficient and effective lesson we can with the time we have.
The ability to communicate and collaborate is not a nice-to-have set of skills. It is essential. Not only do we need to plan for authentic class dialog knowing it will, at first, be messy and time-consuming, but we most definitely need to explicitly teach the discrete skills of effective participation. Student application of new learning requires time. A lot of time. Therefore, if we can plan for focused lessons that teach the new concept or skills without wasting instructional minutes, finding the time for application becomes easier to do.