Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.19.15HISD’s Erin Krafft Installs Turn and Talk & Builds a Culture of Error (Video)

HISD’s Erin Krafft

For our video meeting this week, Chief Video Officer, Rob Richard promised the TLaC team clips that were ‘new’ and ‘pretty exciting.’  Now, Rob is not given to hyperbole.  ‘Pretty exciting’ on the Rob-o-meter is pretty serious praise so the pre-meeting buzz was, let’s just say, intense. With good reason, it turns out. We’d just received footage from our colleagues in Houston Independent School District of some top classrooms, the first of which was Erin Krafft’s 6th grade classroom. 

Almost everything we watched was outstanding, but there was one clip we were especially dying to share, in which Erin was installing a procedure for Turn and Talk in an exemplary—and extremely useful—manner. And just as compelling was evidence of an outstanding Culture of Error that we’d seen in clip after clip.

Colleen Driggs wrote up these notes.

Context: Just before this clip, Erin had been gathering data on student answers to a series of problems in the Do Now. One problem, number nine, proved particularly tricky. In it, students were asked to compare the value of two numbers—one a mixed number and the other a decimal.  As a first step in uncovering their errors, Erin asked her students to discuss their answer with a partner in a Turn and Talk.

EA.TurnAndTalk.GR6.Kraft.’Look at number nine.’Clip2394 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

The first thing we noticed was how beautifully she built a positive, productive and efficient procedure for Turn and Talk. In this clip you can see her essentially installing the Turn and Talk system she will use for the duration of the year. It’s a brilliant system that we hope you’ll steal! The system included guidance on how to agree or disagree within one’s partner within the Turn and Talk, and it fostered an incredibly powerful Culture of Error  (discussed later) that enables more rigorous and productive student-to-student discussion.

Some key points:

  • Erin’s Turn and Talk began with clear “Managed Turns.” “Door partners” were instructed to speak first, and Erin checked with a show of hands to be sure that students were clear on which partner is “door partner.” Then it would be the “window partner’s turn.” This small detail is critical since the goal of Turn and Talk is to involve all students. In many classrooms students are sent to a series of Turn and Talks where some kids talk constantly and others talk not at all.  Managing turns makes sure everyone talks.
  • Erin was also clear about how the first partner should start by providing a sentence starter: “My answer is _____ because…” This sentence starter is important for ensuring that students get right to work productively and that they get to discussing their process not just their answer.
  • The directions for the second partner to agree/disagree were equally clear. She taught them how to agree or disagree directly and respectfully.  One person on our team noted after watching Erin’s class, “The simplicity of her directions is elegant because it places the emphasis on student conversation.”
  • Despite the clarity of her directions, Erin checked in one last time (with hand raising for responsibilities and Call and Response for sentence starters) to be sure students were clear on the directions—because this part of the system was new, and because it’s so important to her overall culture.
  • Erin brought her class back together with a simple, 3-2-1. She respectfully allowed students to wrap up their conversations, and then efficiently began her whole group review.


Something else struck us just as forcefully, though, when she called on a student to report back on what she and her partner talked about. The student, Alexis, raised her hand to share the content of her discussion: “I realize that I got it wrong because my neighbor told me that I’d missed a zero [in evaluating the problem].” With a chuckle, she happily admitted– to her teacher and all of her peers– that she’d gotten the answer wrong at first, and it wasn’t until her partner pointed out her error that she could understand where she’d made her mistake.

As teachers, we all want to get to a place like this: where students are comfortable making and then learning from mistakes, but how did Erin achieve this? Our team watched a second time, looking for other moments that revealed the secret of Erin’s extraordinary Culture  of Error. In just two and a half minutes, we discovered several moments where she did just that, particularly through language that Normalized Error:

  • Erin set students up to review the problem by saying, “This is one of those [questions] that we have a lot of different answers for.”  The statement is simple, but the message is powerful: “we don’t all have the same answer, and that’s ok. In fact, that’s what makes it interesting and worth studying. Let’s work on it together.”
  • Erin explicitly taught students the language they need for productive and respectful disagreement within their Turn and Talk: The first partner, she noted, should share their answer.  The second partner should evaluate it. “Now, if you go second, what would an appropriate reaction be? How should you respond to what your partner has just told you?” And, when students genuinely weren’t sure of the answer, Erin supportively helped them get there.  “You tell them your opinion. What should they say back? (student: their opinion) “How should they phrase that?” (student: in complete sentences) Erin probed further asking another student to weigh in until students arrived at her desired response: “No, I disagree, or yes, I agree…”
  • After the Turn and Talk, Erin polled students, “How many of you agreed with your neighbor? Most of us but not all of us. Ok, cool.” In asking students to raise their hands, Erin reinforced the normalcy of disagreement and built students’ comfort in sharing their answers publicly. Erin’s words were warm and reassuring, messaging to her students that such disagreement is a valuable part of learning. It seemed like she was genuinely excited to find out more about the disagreement.
  • Once Alexis revealed her error, Erin responded with a supportive positivity that is characteristic of the whole lesson. “You were looking at the fact these [a repeating decimal] keeping going. That’s what a lot of us thought—that because it goes on forever it must be bigger. But, must it be bigger? What was the number that made you realize it was wrong?” Erin acknowledges that many students made the mistake. By asking Alexis to explain her error, she made Alexis the new expert, able to explain to her classmates where many of them had gone wrong like she had herself.
  • But Erin didn’t forget to mention the teamwork that went into Alexis’ error correction as she graciously thanks and spotlights Alexis’ partner before moving onto the next problem for review.

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7 Responses to “HISD’s Erin Krafft Installs Turn and Talk & Builds a Culture of Error (Video)”

  1. Sara Tomlinson
    October 19, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Rock on HISD! Erin used Turn and Talk so well in her video. I am stealing her idea and using it tomorrow!

  2. Emily Smith
    October 21, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    Really well done! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Mike A. Foster
    November 25, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Good techniques for the elementary/middle school environment. Show examples with a high school sophomore class. Thanks.

    • Doug Lemov
      December 4, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      Thanks. I’ll see if i can find video of a good example. (I’ve seen it work lots of times in HS classrooms).

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