#1. Why the Institute for Learning focuses on Accountable Talk® Practices

Posted on January 7th, 2014

From the Institute for Learning, this is Pam Goldman.

If you've spent any time around the Institute, you've probably noticed that we focus a lot on Accountable Talk practices. We talk about them during in-person professional development sessions. We run facilitated online workshops about them. We make our Accountable Talk Sourcebook available on our website. And, last semester we offered a Coursera course about Accountable Talk. You might wonder why.

The answer is simple. Academic talk such as Accountable Talk promotes learning. Here are five important ways talk can promote learning:

  1. Talk makes thinking visible. Teachers can hear what students do and do not understand. And, by articulating—trying out—their ideas and by getting feedback about them, students gain insight about what they know and understand. In other words, talk is a way of taking stock and tailoring instruction (and also studying) to advance student learning.
  2. Talk boosts memory. By talking about and hearing others talk about academic content, we begin to see concepts, procedures, and representations from more angles. We make links to other concepts and meanings we already have. This helps us remember new ideas, terms, or concepts, and develop a richer set of associations with them, so that we can remember and use them in new contexts.
  3. Talk supports language development. When academic talk is used intensively in classes, students can get a richer sense of what words and phrases mean and how and when to use them.
  4. Talk helps students develop their ability to reason well, using evidence. This skill is crucial for meeting the Common Core State Standards and also for college readiness. All biologically intact children come to school as adept language users, able to think abstractly and argue for what they think is right. (Anyone who’s ever listened to a child argue about why they should get to stay up late or eat dessert without finishing vegetables or get that expensive pair of athletic shoes can attest to this!) But not all children have been exposed to the kind of thinking and reasoning that is valued in school and in public life. Students must learn to explicate their thinking clearly. With guided practice, students’ logical and evidence-based reasoning improves. The improvement in reasoning with evidence can transfer to improvements in students' writing and performance on standardized tests.
  5. Academic talk apprentices students to talk in the disciplines. All academic domains require argument with warranted evidence but the nature of the evidence and the goals of reasoning and forms of persuasion differ. For example, norms for evidence and reasoning in history, such as the importance of sourcing and corroborating to evaluate primary source documents differ from the kinds of evidence and reasoning required in mathematics to explain a conjecture or generate a proof.

Given what you've just heard about the benefits of classroom talk, you will not be surprised to hear that the Institute for Learning is not the only organization focused on academically productive talk, the generic name for what we refer to as Accountable Talk.

Decades of research has shown that students who have opportunities to engage in academically productive talk, show improvements in both cognitive development and standardized test scores. In some studies these improvements were shown to continue as much as three years later and transfer to content areas other than the ones in which students participated in Accountable Talk.

The Common Core State Standards in their Speaking and Listening standards have adopted Accountable Talk practices. And, Accountable Talk practices show up in other parts of the standards such as the mathematical practices.

So, if you wonder, is Accountable Talk for my school or classroom, the answer is an unequivocal, Yes. When should you start? Now.

But, not all classroom talk is Accountable Talk. Tune in next time to hear about the distinction between Accountable Talk and other kinds of classroom talk.

This is the first of a series of podcasts with useful information for educators about Accountable Talk. Until next time...

Pam Goldman

Pam Goldman is the Institute for Learning (IFL) Instructional Design Fellow. In this role, she designs, authors, produces, and edits a series of learning tools for educators based on the Institute's theory of action and practice of district and school reform.

More information on Pam Goldman.