#2. What is Accountable Talk®?

Posted on January 22nd, 2014

From the Institute for Learning, this is Pam Goldman.

In my last podcast, I explained why we at the Institute focus so much on Accountable Talk. Some of you might be thinking, sounds good, but exactly what is Accountable Talk, anyway? In this podcast, I will explain the three foundational dimensions of Accountable Talk and distinguish Accountable Talk from two other types of classroom talk.

The "accountable" in Accountable Talk comes from its three dimensions: Accountability to the Learning Community, Accountability to Accurate Knowledge, and Accountability to Rigorous Thinking.

Accountability to the Learning Community is about how students talk to and with each other. When they speak, they speak loudly and clearly so everyone can hear. If not, chances are they'll be asked politely to repeat or explain. When students listen, they do not simply think about what they will say next. They focus on classmates' contributions so they can understand, challenge, build upon, and refine each other’s ideas. In an Accountable Talk classroom you will hear students respectfully agree or disagree. You will hear teachers ask questions like, "Did everyone hear what Juan said?" "Could anyone repeat what Susan said so everyone can hear?" "Does anyone agree or disagree?" "Does anyone want to add on?"

Accountability to Accurate Knowledge is about what students discuss. They make claims and try to be as specific and accurate as possible. Students ask each other challenging questions such as: "Are those statistics accurate?" "What is your basis for that conclusion?" "Where did you see that in the text?" So, Accountability to Accurate Knowledge is about getting the facts straight—individually and as a community.

Accountability to Rigorous Thinking is also about what students discuss and is closely related to Accountability to Accurate Knowledge. It's about using that accurate knowledge to build a logical and coherent line of argument. Students use sound reasoning, as well as evidence, to back up their claims. You might hear questions like, "Why do you think that?" Or, "What's your reasoning behind that explanation?"

As you can see, adhering to these three accountabilities sets the groundwork for rich classroom talk that promotes learning. That's Accountable Talk.

Another way to think about Accountable Talk is to distinguish it from other common types of classroom talk, here IRE and sharing.

IRE, Initiation, Response, and Evaluation, is, by far, the most common type of classroom talk in the United States. Whether as a teacher or a student, you are probably familiar with the scenario: the teacher asks a question (typically one with a fixed answer), the student replies (usually with a short response), the teacher evaluates (right or wrong) and then moves on to the next student with a new question. The IRE pattern emphasizes correctness over reasoning. Once a question is answered, conversation shuts down rather than opens up. IRE reveals answers but does not reveal or build students' knowledge nearly as well as open-ended talk.

Another popular classroom talk format is sharing or collecting students' evaluative opinions or personal reminiscences related to a topic. The goal is often a worthy one—helping students connect to prior knowledge or promoting students' understanding of each other's backgrounds and perspectives. But, sharing is not academically productive. As students respond with their own experiences, the teacher encourages more responses. There is no academic way students can challenge, support or build on each other's perspective.

So, going forward, think beyond IRE and sharing and think about the accountabilities to community, accurate knowledge and rigorous thinking and how these foundations of Accountable Talk promote the kind of reasoning that is crucial for college readiness and for success in the Common Core State Standards environment.

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.