Accountable Talk is not new, but seems to be gathering steam with Common Core implementation. In a nutshell, it's an opportunity for students to learn how to speak clearly and listen attentively to one another's conversations which greatly increases their ability to learn. The respect for listening that automatically follows when a classroom adapts this technique, is also amazing.
The kids return from recess and find a slim piece of paper on their desks- the Accountable Talk Stems. They talk with their classmates for a few minutes as everyone is coming in and the conversations include things like: "What IS this?" / "We all have one" / "What does CLARIFY mean?"
After everyone's sitting, I tell them that we're going to be learning a new way to communicate with each other. Almost on cue, they begin to talk. I quiet them down and ask for a volunteer to restate what I just said. As the student repeats something like, "Mrs. Robinson wants to teach us a new way to communicate," I immediately model one of the stems and say, "I would like to add to what ______ just said. By learning how to communicate differently, I expect that you will have more respect for each other's ideas and a better way to get your own point across."
I ask them to tape the Accountable Talk Stems to the corner of their desks.
I jumped right into using Accountable Talk with the day's science lesson. Within our Variables Unit, the kids had to do an experiment in which they dropped pennies into a "lifeboat" to see how many could fit into the boat before it went under. I asked them to use their AT Stems as they proceeded with the experiment (Dropping pennies into the cups).
One of the conversations I listened in on was especially satisfying: ST#1 "So I just heard you say it took sixteen pennies to sink the lifeboat, but I only counted twelve." ST#2 "I did say sixteen pennies because that's how many it took. I counted carefully." ST#1 "I'm pretty sure you only dropped twelve because I counted them too." ST#2 "My evidence is in that cup, so I'm going to dump it out and count them." At this point the cup is emptied and the pennies counted. There are indeed, sixteen pennies. After the victor celebrated, I asked Student #1 if she could find an appropriate response from the AT Stem sheet. She came up with: ST#1 "I agree with you because I watched you count those pennies and there were sixteen."
Other kids worked equally hard to bring the conversations around with the Accountable Talk Stems. I was pleased that they wanted to try this, although there were more than a few who were making fun of the prompts more than using them for the intended purpose. No matter, as a first exposure, I just wanted them to familiarize themselves with this new way of talking.
After the science experiment is complete, the kids return to their desks and I ask them to come up with a list of variables they used in their group while testing the lifeboats. Many different variables are listed: how high the penny was when dropped/how hard the penny was dropped in/was the boat moving a lot/if the pennies were all on one side or not and how the boat was affected once it got soggy.
It was during the "soggy boat" conversation that a student began using an Accountable Talk Stem. I was taken off-guard, and appreciated her effort. Based on my evidence, I think _____________. All of the sudden I realized it would have been a great moment to record. As with many recreations, this one is not as good as the original because it's missing spontaneity, but I like having it because it's an example of my first day of trying this. They get a bit silly, but I look forward to comparing the recording with future examples.