Classroom Chit-Chat: Using Accountable Talk in the Classroom

Blog Post created by teachontarioteam on Sep 14, 2015

accountable_talk_main.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers Kim Savoie and Erin Briska's project called "Classroom Chit Chat." Kim and Erin both teach at Sacred Heart School in the Northwest Catholic District School Board.


What is Accountable Talk?

Research shows there is a strong correlation between talk and learning in school. However, just having students to speak in class, or to each other, does not necessarily lead to learning. For classroom talk to promote new learning, it must be accountable.


The term "Accountable Talk" refers to talk that is meaningful, respectful and mutually beneficial to both speaker and listener. Accountable Talk stimulates higher-order thinking— helping students to learn, reflect on their learning, and communicate their knowledge and understanding. To promote Accountable Talk, teachers create a collaborative learning environment in which students feel confident in expressing their ideas, opinions and knowledge. (A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction Volume 1, Grades 4-6).



map of sioux lookout.jpgThe Project Overview:

Sacred Heart School in Sioux Lookout, Ontario is comprised of a unique demographic. Sioux Lookout serves a high percentage of Aboriginal learners who already come to school with a strong oral story-telling tradition. To enhance student voice, two Intermediate teachers at the school decided to test Accountable Talk strategies as a way to empower all students.


Kim Savoie* and Erin Briska wanted to create a division-wide collaborative environment in which students could explore and develop critical thinking skills while feeling safe to share their own knowledge and opinions, and where there was an increased ratio of student talk to teacher talk..


As part of the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP), Savoie and Briska, along with colleagues Manuela Michelizzi and Michela Salter at Sacred Heart School, endeavored to research and compile successful Accountable Talk strategies to use for their project: "Classroom Chit-Chat."


Guiding how students talk and what they talk about is key to creating an Accountable Talk classroom. Teachers require deep understanding of the Accountable Talk strategies available, and how to use them effectively to create a collaborative learning environment. With that in mind, the goal of the project was for teachers to increase their understanding, knowledge and ability to use a wide range of Accountable Talk strategies and compile successful ones as a resource to be readily used in the classroom.



lucy west quote.jpgAssessing Accountable Talk Strategies:

Using resources such as Accountable Talk Sourcebook: For Classroom Conversation that Works, and educational thought leaders like Lucy West, the teachers co-planned, co-taught and co-assessed various Accountable Talk techniques.


At the beginning of the project, teachers modeled Accountable Talk norms by continually questioning, probing, asking for clarification and challenging misconceptions. Once this foundation was set, teachers and students could move forward, jointly constructing the learning.



accountable_prompts.jpgFor example, teachers placed prompts around the classroom as anchors or visible reminders for students to always use appropriate and helpful forms of discussion when in class. Over time, with teacher support, students began to use these Accountable Talk norms themselves in peer discussions.


Teachers and students then began testing partner, small group and large group Accountable Talk strategies together. Students were asked for input through self-evaluation and peer-evaluation forms and surveys. Teachers logged each strategy on tracking sheets, listing strengths and challenges, and rated each strategy using a 4-star rating system.


For example, "Save the Last Word for Me" was a large group strategy tested in the Intermediate classrooms. Students were assigned a reading selection to read independently. Students then chose a passage that "spoke" to them and wrote it on a recipe card. On the reverse side of the recipe card, students explained why their selected passage was important or interesting.  The class broke up into small groups and used an instruction page provided by the teacher to guide the discussion. The first student read his or her selected passage, and each group member responded to the passage. Then the first student shared his or her own thoughts on the passage, getting the "last word."


Once the activity was over, students and teachers listed the strengths (e.g., it provided students with a chance to make a connection with the text), and the challenges (e.g., students found it difficult to remember to take turns). The strategy was then given a rating of 3.5 stars.  Assessing the strategies together was a unique way to further student engagement and provided the teachers with useful data with which to complete their project.



The Results:

The overall impact of implementing Accountable Talk strategies was a positive one from the students' point of view. The data taken from the student surveys showed:

  • Students felt they could clearly articulate their ideas and opinions.
  • Students felt they were better active listeners, and could paraphrase peer discussions more accurately.
  • Students felt they could reflect more on their learning and show proper body language during discussions. (See video at right for an example.)


Teachers were able to:

  • Research and explore various teaching strategies.
  • "Open" their classrooms and lessen teacher talk.
  • Co-plan, co-learn and co-teach.
  • Build upon and respond to individual staff members' unique needs and expertise (lateral capacity building).
  • Provide students with various opportunities to develop and apply critical thinking skills.
  • Share their learning with colleagues throughout the Northwest Catholic District School Board.




Sharing the Learning through Technology:

A large part of the project was compiling the successful strategies in a resource to be used in the classroom. The result was an app. The "Class Chit-Chat" app was designed as an easy teacher resource with 'at your fingertips' strategies for use in the classroom.


The App offers partner strategies, small group strategies, and large group strategies. Each classroom strategy is given a rating based on the research done during the project, a definition and explanation of how to use the strategy and a list of strengths and challenges for further insight. Each strategy has suggested uses and is referenced to its source. Along with detailed descriptions of usable Accountable Talk strategies, the app also provides the user with documents, visuals and links to further support the strategies.


The app is available for teachers anywhere and anytime they wish to use it, and is a useful tool for teachers new to using Accountable Talk to promote learning.


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*Kim Savoie is now the Vice-Principal of Sacred Heart School.




Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this school in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Using Accountable Talk in the Classroom