Accountable Talk–it’s a thing

When I started working in whole school design reform, I learned a lot about how to get students connected to their own learning. I focused mainly on reading and writing, but also consulted for our science and math divisions. I worked for a company called the National Center for Education and the Economy out of DC. One of our partners was New Standards.

Fascinating stuff. We had standards, rubrics, exemplars (samples of great student work), and accountable talk was vital to it all.

The core concept was that if students didn’t know why they were doing it, what was the point? I mean, we all know the brain-as-vessel or banking method isn’t all that great at moving students up the taxonomy of learning (

Before you read on, please spend a few minutes with the Revised Taxonomy. Roll your mouse over every square. Think about what this means in your life as a learner, as a professional. It’s vitally important to understand Bloom’s (Revised) as a jumping off point to share with students about expectations for their learning. They are used to working in just the first few boxes. AND they frequently want to know how to get an A–just tell them what to remember, they beg, and when to regurgitate that information. Not okay. When you show them this dynamic chart, they can see where they are operating and what it might be like to learn information and translate it into knowledge, from remembering information to applying it to creating new knowledge. (The thing, BTW, that the university is all about after undergrad education, right?)

Back to the accountable talk thing again…

Basically: students and teachers need maps to know where they are going and why they are going there and what it means when they’ve gotten there–and they need to be able to talk about it together. Education maps. EduMaps. Standards/outcomes/rubrics. Keys to success. BUT ya gotta be able to talk about those things, too.

Talk, talk, talk. Super important.

Back in the day, we used extensive standards for writing and reading (my part of the R&D division of the company). These were created for K-12 and substantial with samples of great to fair writing and reading responses (New Standards mentioned above). These were not unlike the Common Core Standards and were widely adopted across the country well before No Child Left Behind and CCS. These were highly successful, and our company secured a LOT of grant money to implement in schools and train teachers–I worked on 13 million of grant money alone. I loved it. Standards for grade level writing and reading (for pre-K, too, which btw I used on my kid to teach him literacies early–from infancy); rubrics and criteria were transparent; students knew the standards and made rubrics for assignments with the teachers, and they each made it clear what work they did and how it met the standards. Standards were displayed everywhere in a classroom; everyone knew what they were (including parents); so unlike the mysterious educational system that molds us instead of moving us to be creative and critical thinkers, this system show everyone where to go and how to get there and helped them make sense of the journey.

And how to we learn from each other: talking. It’s one way, we learn from each other and from teachers, and a most effective way. But it’s talking WITH, not talking AT.

Learning through talking with one another works. You know this is true. When you talk through an idea, you learn. What have you done in FB but talk in order to: 1) articulate what you think; 2) learn new perspectives or approaches; 3) be not afraid?

That’s it. Be not afraid to speak, but have some guidelines for it–learn what you want to say that matters to you and then learn from what others are thinking. “Accountable Talk.” It is a thing. One of our intellectual leaders was Lauren Resnick who knocked it out of the park with literacies and standards, but that wasn’t her only accomplishment:¬†

Accountable Talk at the Institute for Learning:

This is NOT intuitive stuff, but it does teach us what we’d all like our students to be able to do in small group or paired conversation, or even when you are guiding a discussion. You know when we are putting people in groups how some won’t talk? You know. Well, most students don’t much know how to do this talking business; they are insanely afraid to speak to one another; accountable talk principles help them find a way to speak (there are stems to help them find the right words to hook onto their thinking). Be not afraid. It should be easy by grad school, but sometimes it’s not. Right? Right. SO. Who needs to teach this? Every teacher ever in every subject. Right? Right.

This isn’t something you can pick up and teach in one class–this needs to be a philosophical base for your life. But I can tell you, it’s worth the effort. In the 1990s, New Standards and Accountable Talk changed my life. In fact, it was my work in educational publishing that made it possible for me to come back to teaching after I started and HATED it so much. I loved teaching after I learned all this stuff for K-12 kids. Actually, I worked mostly with K-9 and ELL (English Language Learners). And I loved teaching college when I came back to it. I applied all I learned and it was lovely. I get distracted sometimes now, by admin things, but the core of what I learned about getting students to talk and know what they should be doing buoys me up like a life-safer is rough seas, because, let’s face it, teaching is like jumping overboard every single term. Technique and strategies are what keep you afloat.

I believe Accountable Talk is worth learning more about. It will make you not just a better teacher, but a better facilitator of meetings, of small groups, of teams, of family members. (I still use a lot of these strategies on my son when he’s not looking.)

Here are some things to see/think about, but you could have stopped at the Institute for Learning’s site and be fine.

Video of a fishbowl demonstration: teacher and students work together to figure out how to show accountable talk or how they learn collaboratively. Amazing. Young folks can do this. College students can do this. BUT they all needed to be trained. AND the teacher needed to get it and make it happen. And demo it, and make it matter, and reinforce it, and over again, and over again. It needs to be part of every part of the course, every day. It’s how learning happens in the class, how collaboration is done, and then becomes part of the culture.

Another one showing accountable talk with kids: doing math! What matters: teachers who learn how to do this and then teach in small groups. Where are the other kids in the class? Music class? Art class? One can dream.

Teacher talks about accountable talk: not bad. This is all about little kids, but seriously, if kids can do this, anyone can. College students need to be TAUGHT this, esp. in BW. Heck, grown ups could use some training in this.





For typographicaphobes 1/26/17

[From ages ago, but I still love this.]

Typos make me crazy. But I will make them. Everyone will. The trick is to have the guts to release early and release often. If I can just write and publish a post, I’ll have done something. If I write and edit, and proof, and fuss, and sleep on it, I end up keeping a draft in my post “draft” space for weeks until I don’t care anymore. I often delete these unholy messes that could have been angels if only I’d let them be free.

So I have learned to live with the fact that I cannot achieve perfection in posting to this, or any blog, or in any work I create. Textual perfection is a ghost, like trying to carry water in your hand. Give it up. I have typographicalitis, and I admit it. It’s a disease that causes me dis-ease as a writer, as a writing teacher, as a writing teacher teaching both writers and folks who are or want to be writing teachers.

Is it better for me to get out ideas and go back to fix the text later–after more eyeballs have had a chance to see what might need changing? Yes. I say, yes.

While I have suffered alone in the past, I mark today as the day I stand up and call all to unite with me and stop this horrific disease from crippling our writing selves. Down with the internal editor who belittles the internal writer! Down with perfectionism! Up with writing and editing and proofreading later! Up with writers everywhere!

Please join me in reciting the below. Today, right now, dedicate your lives to working these seven steps to deal with your typographicalitis.

The Typographicalitist’s Serenity Prayer

May I have the serenity to write what’s in my mind and heart, accepting that I may or may not commit typographical errors along the way, and have the grace to know that this is always a possibility.

Writing one word, sentence, paragraph, essay, book at a time, I will enjoy each moment of writing for what it is; accepting the typos as they come, knowing that the world is filled with writing judges, yet, I will not be afraid; trusting that those who judge me for my typos will also be judged by others for their typos (damn straight), and trusting that I can go back and change anything at anytime if I label everything I do as: DRAFT.

May I forever write as I need to, for whoever needs it most, in whatever ways are most useful and satisfying to both myself and my readers.

A Seven Step Program for Living with Typographicalitis

  1. Admit that you have typographicalitis.
  2. Recognize that you need time to find errors and correct them but that sometimes, you need to get text out there quickly.
  3. Understand that you need others to help you.
  4. Exam your past errors to see how you can prevent “hte” and “jsut” and “withe” from happening again.
  5. Make amends for your typographical errors by letting readers know you meant “six” not “sex”; “meet” not “meat”; and “wholesome” not “whoreson.”
  6. Adopt a measured and reasonable approach to writing that includes time and space away from your text and slow proofreading (whenever possible).
  7. Know that you are not alone.

Ain’t nothing basic about it… 1/9

In my next post, I’ll write about the troubling history of the word “basic” when applied to writing classes and what came before. For today, I want to explain the name of my blog.

This thing--I sort of like it.

This thing–I sort of like it.

I saw this “meme” on Pinterest and it piqued my interest because it struck me as funny. I knew that a new definition of “basic” had become current–see the Urban Dictionary for details: “An adjective used to describe any person, place, activity involving obscenely obvious behavior, dress, action. Unsophisticated. Transparent motives.”

I quibble with the use of basic as applied to writing and to life, for a lot of reasons–one has to do with this largely negative definition. I suggest most basic writing classes should be called “Introduction to Composition” or “Introduction to College Writing.” You know. Like how they do it in Math Departments, calling the class before College Algebra, “Introduction to Algebra.” No stigma there. I took that class. (A few times, actually.)

Another reason I don’t like this current definition is that it belittles the obvious. Sometimes the obvious is perfection. I certainly don’t value vaguery or the obscure or the ambiguous for their own sakes’; I like to work straightforward, straight up, and honor straight talk. In my attempt to own “basic” again, I’m saying “basic” pirates are good enough to be pirates. One doesn’t need to be spectacular or extraordinary to be a pirate. AND I like to think pirates have it going on when it comes to principles of higher education.

Check out these phrases from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl:

  • Take what you can; give nothing back.
  • Well! I think this has been a very good experience for all of us, eh? Spiritually? Ecumenically? Grammatically?
  • The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.
  • Keep to the code. // Aye the Code.
  • Any man who falls behind is left behind.
  • Every crew member is to have an equal share in any treasure found.
  • Knowingly targeting and sinking other pirate ships is strictly forbidden.
  • Everyone who invokes the right of parlay shall be granted parlay: temporary protection while brought before an enemy (captain) to “negotiate” without being attacked until the parlay is complete.
  • There’s the Code to consider. // The Code? You’re pirates. Hang the Code, and hang the rules! They’re more like guidelines anyway.

Is there anyway we can see these as applicable to the best practices of higher education? Think about it.

In the meantime, please check out our own codes. These will be listed on the page, The Pirate Code. These are guidelines by which 21st century writing curriculum should be based (created by writers, writing teachers, writing professors, and writing program administrators and librarians). All worth knowing.

Writing Program Administrators’ Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (if this is what students should know after Freshman year–then these are outcomes we need to be aware of when crafting curriculum for “basic” writing classes):

Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing

With these two documents in hand, you will have a solid foundation that will bridge the gap between those who have and those who don’t–and if our students “don’t have” we need to get them in a position where they can “take all they can; and give nothing back.” Approaching the business of the Pedagogy of Basic Writing like pirates is powerful. (Like the best of the romanticized pirates–and open source/open access/copyleft folks–more on this later.)

So reclaim the word basic for your semester of piracy–every pirate equally shares in booty. We’re going to own “basic,” rethink it, revise it, and rework it, until it makes sense for the 21st century online, on paper, in person, and any way we like. Know the guidelines that govern the best we can do for our students who could use a little of the chutzpah romanticized pirates have. We’ll be epic this term. Yo ho.

Ahoy Pedagogy of Basic Writing Students! 1/5

Ahoy! And welcome to Pedagogy of Basic Writing. The very first thing you should do before starting this class is to click on the “Read This First” page, do everything you are asked to do, in the order you are asked to do it, then come back to the posts and look for what’s next.

Every post will have a title AND a date (even though WordPress automatically dates posts)–I want dates as part of the title–helps me and might help you.

So ahoy and we begin. Avast!