#7. Accountable Talk® and the Principles of Learning / Part 2

Posted on March 24th, 2014

From the Institute for Learning, this is Pam Goldman.

Let's continue to explore the connection between Accountable Talk practices and the other eight Principles of Learning. Last time I talked about Socializing Intelligence and Self-Management of Learning. This time, I'm going to focus on two more principles that are at the heart of teaching and learning—Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum and Clear Expectations.

I'll start with ACADEMIC RIGOR IN A THINKING CURRICULUM. Remember that two of the three dimensions of Accountable Talk are Accountability to Accurate Knowledge and Accountability to Rigorous Thinking. Both are necessary for a good Accountable Talk discussion. By keeping in mind the accountabilities to knowledge and reasoning, you will easily see the connection between Accountable Talk and Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum.

Thinking and reasoning are basics of the 21st century. This is true for the Common Core State Standards and for skills and knowledge needed to participate in the workforce.

Commonly held ideas that we can teach thinking without a solid foundation of knowledge or that we can teach knowledge without engaging in thinking must be abandoned. Knowledge and thinking are intimately bound. This implies the need for a curriculum organized around major concepts that students are expected to know deeply. It also implies that teaching must engage students in actively reasoning about these concepts. In every subject, at every grade level, instruction and learning must include commitment to a knowledge core, high thinking demand, and active use of knowledge. That’s what we mean by Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum.

We often say that Accountable Talk discussions must be organized around something worth talking and thinking about: In other words, topics that meet the criteria of Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum. Thus, classroom conversations should be about major concepts students are expected to know deeply and organized around well-planned open-ended questions that invite students to explore the concepts and actively reason about them.

In this 21st century environment, we need to teach all students the kinds of intellectual skills that, in the past, have been the mainstays of education for the privileged. For many students, this may mean entering a higher-demand learning environment for the first time. To help all students succeed, we need to define explicitly what we expect students to learn and to do and communicate expectations clearly to students, as well as to parents, the community, and school professionals. That's CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. For our purposes, let's stick to communicating to students, though many of the same ideas will apply to communicating to others.

The term "clear expectations" is in popular usage and in some schools can refer to a list of behavioral expectations or a list of upcoming due dates and tests or a list of which standards will be covered by the day’s work. Any of these lists, of course, is important, but by Clear Expectations, we at the Institute for Learning mean something different. We mean publicly displayed descriptive criteria and models of work that meet the standards. Ideally, the display is accompanied by an explanation that helps the reader understand not only that the work met the standard but why. Students refer to these displays to analyze and discuss their own work. In a classroom where Clear Expectations are set and displayed, students are able to tell you what was good about their work and what they need to do to improve. With visible targets for each stage of learning, students can participate in evaluating their own work and setting goals for their own effort.

While working in this way seems logical, it is not necessarily intuitive for all students. In Clear Expectations classrooms, Accountable Talk conversations are used to help students understand and fine-tune their understanding of what constitutes good work for particular tasks. For example, the teacher may display a sample of student work for the class to discuss against established criteria. Or, students might pair off for peer evaluations of their work against the criteria. Either way or both ways, talk is a crucial part of developing an understanding of academic expectations.

I hope these discussions of Accountable Talk and the Principles of Learning help you see Accountable Talk in a broader context.

Next time, I'll discuss the last four principles: Organizing for Effort, Learning as Apprenticeship, Fair and Credible Evaluations, and Recognition of Accomplishment.

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.