Thursday, July 17, 2014

Because Talking to Yourself is Totally Normal

Brought to you by Lori

When I do math, it is just not a natural process for me. At all. (You may want to ask Suzanne about the time she made her friend--not me--cry while trying to explain compounding interest.) Some people just take longer to think. As teachers, we know this. 

As language teachers, we also know that grammar is a perpetual thorn in our sides and somehow we just can't get kids to transfer their knowledge to their writing. It's so natural for most of us, so it's difficult to understand why kids struggle to make the connection.

Last week, I got to go to Gretchen Bernabei's writing conference and even though I've seen most of the strategies before, I tuned in this time to really think about what her classroom must look like and feel like and how she is able to yield the results that she does. 

And this time, it hit me! It's conversation. Gretchen is a master at conversation, and she teaches kids how to use scripted conversations to make smart choices in their writing. I've worked with Star Points before, but I always felt like their was something missing and I didn't see my students using it on their own unless I told them to. Even then, it was very hit or miss. It turns out that I've missed a huge instructional component--the internal dialogue. When kids use a proof word, it should sound something like this.

  • It's (it is) raining outside.
  • The underlining indicates an intentional choice, and kids should be taught this. The statement is: "I did this on purpose."
  • The ( ) indicates that the student knows they've made the right choice. Teach them to think and say: "I know it's correct."
  • So every time you use a Star Point, this conversation should happen in the classroom for everyone to hear. Eventually, it becomes an internal dialogue. 



These choices are natural for many of us, but for students, it must be taught. This internal dialogue is also hugely important for Gretchen's Sentence Wringer, a system for revision and sentence combining. In this three-step dialogue process, students are taught to question one another following this script:
  • Is it a statement?
  • Is there a verb?
  • How many statements?


While at the training, Gretchen alluded to the work of Jerome Bruner who discusses the notion of protoconversational formatting. It's fascinating! The whole idea is that parents--as a natural part of language acquisition--teach their babies the format of a conversation.
  • Who's a beautiful baby?
  • You are!
  • Are you my sweet boy?
  • Yes you are!
That formatting doesn't necessarily need to stop once students reach school. The only difference is that it must be explicit. We have to teach them how to talk to themselves...in essence how to think!

What processes do you use that you think should be formatted into a conversation so that they move to internal dialogue? I'd love to see your thoughts! 





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