Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.25.14I Like Turn and Talk As Much As The Next Guy, But….

I recently posted on making Turn and Talks more efficient. Thanks for all the positive responses.  I wanted to add this quick follow-up to talk about how to make Turn and Talk rigorous and overcome its pitfalls.  What? you ask, Pitfalls? in Turn and Talk?? Turn and Talk involves lots of kids doing lots of discussing. How could there possibly be a lack of rigor in that?

Well, look, I like Turn and Talk as much as the next guy, but there are downsides that you have to prepare for. Here then (with thanks to my colleague Joaquin Hernandez who helped me write it) is a real world guide to making Turn and Talk rigorous by managing what comes after it.

Designing Turn and Talk for Rigor

Recently I watched a lesson from a middle school science class. The topic of the lesson was friction and the teacher asked his students to Turn and Talk to discuss ways friction might affect what happened during a basketball game. The teacher’s in-cue was crisp and he had established a culture of positive accountability so students buzzed into action, sharing their energy, their excitement and, as it turned out afterwards, a great deal of misinformation. When the teacher asked students to share the ideas they’d discussed in pairs, three out of four shared ideas that misapplied or misunderstood how friction worked.  There are times, in other words, when even with efficient and accountable systems, Turn and Talks can be predominated by the spread of low quality ideas- or erroneous ones.  In the class I watched, the teacher stumbled on this fact via good fortune of answers that revealed the problems and the wise decision to process the Turn and Talk via a broader, teacher-lead discussion afterwards.  But let’s pause here to consider all of the Turn and Talks where misinformation has blithely and earnestly been spread among participating students who did not know that what they were hearing (or saying and driving into memory) was dead wrong, all without the teacher’s being aware of it. Some certainly are not that way; but some surely are. And for the most part the Turn and Talk itself makes it all but impossible to determine which is happening in your classroom at a given time.

Turn and Talk, then, is an outstanding activity for building Participation Ratio and initiating Think Ratio.  It can allow students to rehearse ideas and refine their thinking, inscribing it in memory and preparing them for discussion. It can allow students to listen to the ideas of classmates and compare them to their own. That’s a lot of upside. But Turn and Talk is also a time when students can engage on the most simplistic level, or where they can inscribe, apply, and instill into memory flawed information and ideas.  And whether this is happening in any given Turn and Talk is very difficult to track. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use Turn and Talk – just that you should use it in a way that considers the challenges, and the best way to do that, I think, is to pair your Turn and Talk with a subsequent activity that allows you to reinforce rigor and check for understanding.

Another way to think about Turn and Talk is as a prelude, a catalyst to some other activity: a whole-class discussion, written synthesis, a charting and comparison of ideas generated. The Turn and Talk’s purpose is generative—let’s get a lot of ideas going—the next activity’s purpose is analytical—now let’s figure out what makes sense and why.

So after a Turn and Talk it’s important to take the ideas that were generated and analyze them in a public way, editing, revising, and prioritizing ideas so students see what was good, what was better and what, possibly, was wrong. And then, if you want, consider asking for some further processing, ideally in writing, to ensure that rigor and clarity emerge from the investment you’ve made.

Post Turn and Talk: Pushing for Greater Rigor

Here, then, are four key “after” activities to make sure that Turn and Talk brings rigor and high standards to your classroom.

Whole Class Analysis. Teach students that the first idea is not always the best idea, that selecting the best ideas often require applying criteria carefully. This might sound like, “Let’s look at some of the ideas we came up with and see which ones make the most sense.”

Whole Class Discussion. Use the Turn and Talk as the starting point for a deeper whole class discussion that builds upon and stretches students’ initial thinking. This might sound like, “As we talk, feel free to add to what you already wrote down,” or, “Let’s build on the thinking we’ve started—”

Whole Class Note Taking after Turn and Talk. Follow up the Turn and Talk by processing those initial thoughts—by having students share, improve and prioritize the contents of their collective “pair” discussions. The expectation here is that you take what you talked about in your Turn and Talk, develop it by listening and comparing to what others took from the discussion and track a wide array of thoughts on the topic, not just your own. This might sound like, “Add two sentences to the bullets on page three…”

Whole Class Guided Discussion then  Written Processing. Close the pair and whole group discussion about the topic by having students synthesize the most important insights into writing, perhaps via a single, well-crafted sentence. For example, following a whole class discussion about what’s counter-intuitive about the earth’s proximity to the sun in January: “Okay, everyone take 90 seconds right now and capture what’s counter-intuitive about the Sun’s proximity to the Earth in January in a single well-written complete sentence that starts with the phrase ‘Despite the fact that…’ Go. Another example might sound like, “To close, we’re each going to capture in a single, well-written sentence that starts with, “Despite…”

Each of these four approaches, or adaptations or combinations of them, can help you make sure that your Turn and Talk is a productive tool that leads to a lesson of the highest standards.

4 Responses to “I Like Turn and Talk As Much As The Next Guy, But….”

  1. Ana Rosario
    March 31, 2014 at 4:38 am

    This is awesome thank you!

  2. Silas Kulkarni
    June 4, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for this information. It strikes me immediately that this concept applies 100% to adult discussion of the sort that are frequent during professional learning/PD. How many times have we been in a PD session, been presented with some info, then been asked to discuss with people around us, with no way of the facilitator clarifying if we are discussing correct or incorrect interpretations, high-quality or low-quality ideas? Is there any video of this in action that I could watch to get a sense of concretely how to do it well?

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