Strategies to Promote Accountable Discussion
Having Students Pronounce Vocabulary
Academic vocabulary words are new to all students, and pronouncing new vocabulary words can be intimidating for many students. This affects their confidence and engagement with the vocabulary. I recommend that the class chorally pronounces each vocabulary word (yes, even in secondary classrooms!) so they become comfortable sharing the word out loud. Two ways to encourage choral pronunciation are:
- Parsing Syllables
Separating a word by syllables can help students gain confidence with pronunciation. In the case of sedimentation, for example, students can say each syllable, sed-, -iment-, -ation, after the teacher. For added effect, students can pronounce the full word a couple of times after they say each syllable.
- Multiple (Slow) Repetitions
In this strategy, the teacher models saying the vocabulary word several times very slowly, and then the students repeat the word. The number of times the teacher says the word depends on the needs of the class (I repeated the word up to seven times in my classes), but I recommend students repeat the word at least three times.
Having Students Discuss Questions Using Sentence Stems
Structured conversations about academic content is critical for students to share ideas and develop new levels of understanding. Strategies for setting clear expectations and structuring the language of the discussions, such as the Q-SSS-A strategy, are highly effective at engaging students in academic discussions. Below are some strategies to employ if students are not all sharing using the sentence stem:
- Proving ample think time by instructing the class to simply "think about the question" without answering it or by having students provide a signal to show readiness (detailed in the Q-SSS-A article linked above) can give students confidence to discuss using the sentence stem.
- Having students repeat the sentence stem chorally before they share with their partner can help focus them on the specific academic language to use.
- Specifying who speaks first in each group can help students share more equitably and remove any ambiguity about the conversation. For example, students can number off with in a group one through four, and the teacher can randomly choose a number to speak first in each group.
- Randomly calling on students promotes a sense of accountability and inclusion for students, and giving students the option of sharing what their partner(s) said reduces anxiety and communicates that there is no one right answer.
Appropriately Targeting Levels of Questioning
The questions and sentence stems in this resource are designed to progressively require students to think and discuss more deeply as they examine and re-examine the visuals. The first level is observational, so that students are simply describing what they see in the visual. The next level is relational, where students are making connections between this word and other words. The final level is inferential: what can they predict or infer about how this concept would play out in hypothetical contexts? These three levels and their alignment to Bloom's Taxonomy are described in the table to the right.
In a heterogeneous classroom environment, it is recommended to start students at the observational level so that they can apply and share their background knowledge about the vocabulary. When questioning students at the relational level, it will likely be important to expose the students to the other vocabulary word(s) the question is relating. For example, when exploring the visual about the word axis with the question, "How is the Earth's axis related to its rotation?," it is important that the students have seen the visual for rotation as well.
Helping Students Explore the Visual
Some students might need support in identifying finer details of visuals. Helpful strategies include:
- Having students simply describe the visual to their partner with a sentence stem such as "One thing I notice is..."
- Directing students to identify key words in the visual. For example, when looking at a visual for the word double helix, before asking the question, "How is DNA organized into a double helix?" the teacher can instruct students to find the word DNA in the visual.
Explaining What Certain Symbols Mean
There are many symbols repeatedly used throughout The Visual Non-Glossary. While many students can infer the meaning of these symbols as they pertain to the visuals, it may be helpful to create an anchor chart specifying exactly what they mean. To the left is an example anchor chart, which can be referred to throughout the year.
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