#8. Accountable Talk® and the Principles of Learning / Part 3

Posted on April 1st, 2014

From the Institute for Learning, this is Pam Goldman.

In this podcast, I'll finish up the discussion of Accountable Talk and the other eight Principles of Learning by discussing Learning as Apprenticeship, Organizing for Effort, Fair and Credible Evaluations, and Recognition of Accomplishment.

While basic elements of Accountable Talk can be heard in discussions across academic disciplines, it is not the case that talk will sound the same in all disciplines. One of the functions of Accountable Talk discussions is to apprentice students to the ways of thinking and expressing themselves that are specific to each discipline. Thus, the topics of the discussion will vary from discipline to discipline, for example, proofs in mathematics, data from investigations in science, textual references in literature, or documentary sources in history. They will also vary in the type of proof required to support student arguments. For example, in an English class a student will be required to support an interpretation of a character’s actions with several pieces of textual evidence while in mathematics a student will be required to provide a mathematically relevant basis to support the argument that 2 + 2 = 4.

For many centuries, most people learned by working alongside an expert who modeled skilled practice and guided novices as they created authentic products or performances. This kind of apprenticeship allowed learners to acquire complex knowledge, practical abilities, and appropriate forms of social behavior. Much of the power of apprenticeship learning can be brought into schooling by organizing learning environments so that complex thinking is modeled and analyzed, and by providing mentoring and coaching as students undertake extended projects and develop presentations of finished work, both in and beyond the classroom.

When we say that Accountable Talk discussions need to be about something worthwhile, we mean something worthwhile and discipline specific. Then, in the course of Accountable Talk discussions, teachers model and mark the use of discipline specific language and reasoning. As such, Accountable Talk discussions are a part of LEARNING AS APPRENTICESHIP. Students are apprenticed to think and express themselves not just as good students but as mathematicians or historians or chemists or journalists.

ORGANIZING FOR EFFORT might bring to mind what I said about socializing intelligence in the first of these Principles of Learning podcasts. An effort-based school replaces the assumption that aptitude determines what and how much students learn with the assumption that sustained and directed effort can yield high achievement for all students. Everything is organized to evoke and support this effort, to send the message that effort is expected, and that tough problems yield to sustained work. High minimum standards are set and assessments are geared to the standards. All students are taught a rigorous curriculum, matched to the standards, along with as much time and expert instruction as they need to meet or exceed expectations.

Just as Accountable Talk discussions can model and sustain Socializing Intelligence, they can do the same for Organizing for Effort. Think about how an Accountable Talk discussion can provide a situation in which hard work is expected, expressed, and modeled and in which the class’ sustained efforts yield one or more solutions to a tough problem.

The first seven Principles of Learning, including Accountable Talk, that I discussed in these podcasts, are directly tied to classroom instruction. The remaining two focus more on functions of school systems. As such, they are not directly related to Accountable Talk, but I’ll mention them here to make sure you’ve heard about all nine of the Principles of Learning.

FAIR AND CREDIBLE EVALUATIONS. If we expect students to put forth sustained effort over time, we need to use evaluations that students find fair; and that parents, community, and employers find credible. Fair evaluations are ones that students can prepare for: therefore, tests, exams, and classroom assessments, as well as the curriculum, must be aligned to the standards. Fair evaluation also means grading against absolute standards rather than on a curve, so students can clearly see the results of their learning efforts. Evaluations that meet these criteria provide parents, colleges, and employers with credible evaluations of what individual students know and can do.

And, finally, RECOGNITION OF ACCOMPLISHMENT. If we expect students to put forth and sustain high levels of effort, we need to motivate them by regularly recognizing their accomplishments. Clear recognition of authentic accomplishment is a hallmark of an effort-based school. This recognition can take the form of celebrations of work that meets standards or intermediate progress benchmarks en route to the standards. Progress points should be articulated so that, regardless of entering performance level, every student can meet real accomplishment criteria often enough to be recognized frequently. Recognition of Accomplishment can be tied to opportunities to participate in events that matter to students and their families. Student accomplishment is also recognized when student performance on standards-based assessments is related to opportunities at work and in higher education.

Well, that's it for the Principles of Learning. 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.