Margin Notes

The Talking-Writing Connection


A few weeks ago we hosted a supper meeting for a group of teachers who had been provided with a copy of Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom. The premise of the book is that, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design” and that we (teachers) need to know the effect of what we are doing in our classrooms in regards to student achievement. For example, the effect size for class size is 0.21 and the effect size for metacognitive strategies is 0.69. Hattie states that teachers should consider classroom work with an effect size of 0.40 and above when designing learning for students. Teaching is hard work. And if the hard work isn’t leading to an increase in student achievement, then we need to ask ourselves why we are doing it.

During our meeting, one point of discussion was the link between talk and writing. As explained by Hattie et al, as students improve their ability to have effective academic talk with their peers, their writing becomes more sophisticated. The researchers write, “After all, if students don’t get to verbally explain, pose questions, and narrate routinely, it’s going to be much more difficult for them to do so in writing.” The effect size of classroom discussion is very high at 0.82. But here’s what’s troubling. One review of research on classroom talk in grades 6-12 reports student discussion as happening between 14 seconds and 68 seconds per class period (they use the definition of student discussion to be: “A free exchange of information among students and or between at least three participants that lasts longer than 30 seconds” (qtd. in Hattie at al).

In discussing the link between classroom talk and improvement in writing, Michelle Wuest, both a participant in the supper book study and one of our partners in our Making Learning Visible Project, was able to share the improvement in writing that her students have shown as a result of their talk with each other. Last year, she, like many teachers, assigned a “text of the week” (text of the week is an adaptation to Kelly Gallagher’s article of the week to include both digital and print text) to students to help build prior knowledge and to provide direct instruction on how to navigate challenging texts. Students were assigned the text on Monday, and written responses were collected that Friday. And, what she collected looked a lot like what other teachers were collecting…writing that lacked detail, voice, and evidence of a critical reading.

So she decided to try doing it differently. This year, the text of the week was still assigned on Monday, but instead of collecting the written responses on Friday, students engaged in a discussion about their thinking on this week’s text, and responses were collected the following Monday. Many things happen during these discussions. Students are able to clarify and extend their thinking, clear up confusion, debate, share connections they were able to make, and engage in reader-to-reader conversations. From their discussion, Michelle is able to give on the spot specific feedback and ask questions such as, “how would you include that in your response?”

And the responses have improved. Feedback that Michelle has received from students is that they are much more confident when responding to their reading. They already know what they want to say because they have already practiced saying it. No longer are they sitting there, blank screen or paper in front of them.

This section of Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom comes with a challenge: to use a timer for one week to measure the amount of time students engage in effective talk. With a district goal of having student voice being heard 80% of the time and teacher voice 20%, an effect size of 0.82, along with a link to improvement in writing, we challenge you to do this as well. Because as both research and Michelle’s students tell us, not only will this improve their ability to engage in academic dialogue, it will also strengthen their writing.

As we continue with our Making Learning Visible Project with Michelle Wuest and Shelley Hanson a major focus will be on student talk. Look for future updates on this project in the coming months!

One Response to The Talking-Writing Connection

Leave a Reply