#6. Accountable Talk® and the Principles of Learning / Part 1

Posted on March 11th, 2014

From the Institute for Learning, this is Pam Goldman.

If you’ve been listening to these podcasts, you know that here at the Institute for Learning, we think Accountable Talk practices are important. And, if you’ve been listening, you will have heard some of the fundamentals of Accountable Talk. Now, let’s step back and put Accountable Talk into a broader context.

At the outset of the IFL’s work, almost 20 years ago, we developed the Principles of Learning, condensed theoretical statements summarizing decades of learning research. The Principles of Learning are designed to help educators analyze the quality of instruction and opportunities for learning that they offer students. Accountable Talk is one of the Principles of Learning. There are 8 others. Although each is expressed individually, the principles are connected to each other and interdependent.

The eight other Principles of Learning are:

  1. Socializing Intelligence
  2. Self-Management of Learning
  3. Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum
  4. Clear Expectations
  5. Organizing for Effort
  6. Learning as Apprenticeship
  7. Fair and Credible Evaluations
  8. Recognition of Accomplishment

This is the first of three podcasts in which I’ll discuss the Principles of Learning and how the other eight are related to Accountable Talk. This time, I’ll discuss two principles closely related to Accountable Talk and to each other: Socializing Intelligence and Self-Management of Learning.

A discussion of SOCIALIZING INTELLIGENCE must start with intelligence itself. Intelligence is more than an innate ability to think quickly and stockpile bits of knowledge. Intelligence is a set of problem-solving and reasoning capabilities along with habits of mind that lead one to use those capabilities regularly. Equally, intelligence is a set of beliefs about one’s rights and obligations to understand and make sense of the world, and one’s capacity to figure things out over time. Intelligent habits of mind are learned. Yes, learned. Intelligent habits of mind are learned through daily expectations placed on the learner. By calling on students to use the skills of intelligent thinking—and by holding them accountable for doing so—educators can “teach,” yes “teach” intelligence.

It’s easy to see the connection between Accountable Talk discourse and Socializing Intelligence. Accountable Talk classroom conversations provide a way for students to “learn” intelligence. At some point, of course, students are accountable for demonstrating the skills of intelligent thinking through written work, but the day-to-day development of intelligent habits, capacity to figure things out, and beliefs about one’s rights and obligations to make sense of the world occurs through classroom talk. When ideas and reasoning are acknowledged, corrected, challenged, and extended, not once, but on a daily basis, students hear and practice intelligent habits of mind and thinking skills.

The “teaching” of intelligence is what teachers normally do with students they expect much from. This practice should be standard with all students. The benefit? Consider the different conversational participation by people who have socialized intelligence and who fully engage in classroom discussion and those who do not. The former feel free to ask questions to clarify their understanding or to ask others to explain or extend their reasoning. They are likely to be confident enough to acknowledge when they don’t understand something and ask for help. Those who don’t believe they have the right and obligation to make sense of what’s going on are likely to stand back. They may fear looking foolish by admitting they don’t understand something. They may not have the confidence to try out a new idea or challenge the reasoning of another. Who will learn more? It’s obvious.

SELF-MANAGEMENT OF LEARNING is about students becoming responsible for the quality of their thinking and learning. In order to do so, they need to develop—and regularly use—an array of self-monitoring and self-management strategies. These metacognitive skills include noticing when one doesn't understand something and taking steps to remedy the situation, as well as formulating questions and inquiries that let one explore deep levels of meaning. Students also manage their own learning by evaluating the feedback they get from others, bringing their background knowledge to bear on new learning, anticipating learning difficulties and apportioning their time accordingly, and judging their progress toward a learning goal. These are strategies that good learners use spontaneously and all students can learn through appropriate instruction and socialization. Learning environments should be designed to model and encourage the regular use of self-management strategies. Accountable Talk comes into play here.

Notice the similarity between some of the internal moves of Self-Management of Learning and the external moves of an Accountable Talk conversation. Much of what goes on in an Accountable Talk discussion is similar to the internal thought process of students as they monitor and manage their own learning. A primary vehicle for modeling and encouraging regular use of self-management strategies in classroom settings is Accountable Talk discourse. Students express self-monitoring-type moves when they engage in Accountable Talk. Additionally, teachers may model self-monitoring, explicitly telling students, for example, “I didn’t understand this word problem, so this is what I did...” or “I already knew X, so when I was confronted with Y, I was able to...” or “I asked Alisha to say more because I didn’t understand what she was saying.” Classroom discussions make explicit many of the moves of self-management of learning.

Well, you’ve heard about two principles of learning today. Tune in next time for two more—Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum and Clear Expectations.

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.