Project ExcEL Teams in Action

The Anne M Dorner Project ExcEL  team meets in the tiny Roosevelt Conference Room, under the watchful eyes of Teddy himself.  A dozen teachers and administrators crowded around a small table before the school day began – coffee and bagels helped to fuel the animated conversation.

The team is currently focusing on student conversation in the classroom, and looking for ways to build the oral discourse skills of English Learning students.  Team members brought and shared transcriptions of student conversation.

Question:  What is the relationship between a higher gradient and the steepness of the slope?

Student Y:  Ummm, the relationship is, hmmm

Student X:  I think it’s the same thing, like more lines closer means a hill or a mountain

Student Y:  Yes

Student X:  And lie if they’re not that close, umm, I think it’s like kind of like flat.  That’s what I think, it’s not like a mountain mountain, it’s just like flat, I think, I guess.  I’m not sure how to answer.

Student Y:  Well the higher one is the steep one, we pretty much know the gradient is closer, like the contour lines.

Student X:  Yeah, true.

Student Y:  So I think the difference or the relationship – I’m not really sure.

Team members used a rubric to score the conversation skills, and then shared their scores and justifications.   Important, significant insights developed almost immediately.  The information from this small sample of conversation provided a window into student understanding of the concept as well as their skill in expressing ideas.  The discussion very naturally led to questions about prompts and explicit conversation skills that could be used in the classroom to make leverage student discourse into more powerful learning experiences.  Teachers wondered how they might explicitly use ‘turn and talk’ experiences to build up ideas, rather than simply confirming or restating facts.

Team members agreed to bring additional transcripts to the next session.  The science teacher (of course!!) plans to record a similar conversation between non English learners so we can make some comparisons.  Other participants will seek bring additional transcripts to continue this exploration process.

Everyone left with at least one instructional model for building up student conversation skills in the classroom.

Conversation skills