The Game Of School

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about reconsidering some rules that I’ve used for years and I know that others use too. This post led to a post from my previous vice principal and educational kindred spirit (I had to “borrow” this line from her as I do love it and totally agree), Kristi, which gave me just the inspiration I needed to make a change. So yesterday, I decided to try “regular talk.” We’ve experimented with this a bit when the class numbers were low (less than 10), but yesterday, we had 15/16 of our students. This was very different!

I decided to mention the idea after our shared reading yesterday. I noticed that I was again “picking hands,” and this didn’t seem right. I explained to the students that when I go to a meeting, I don’t raise my hand to share an idea. When I have a conversation at dinnertime with my parents or friends, I also don’t raise my hand. But then how do we know when it’s our turn? This got the students talking about waiting until others are done. They spoke about stopping their talking if others begin talking first. We spoke about respect. We talked about good listening skills. I clarified that this “regular talk” is only for our classroom. Students spoke that others that visit our room — to see the classroom library that we’ve been working so hard at putting together — might be able to try out regular talk as well. We’ll need to let them know what this looks like. We need to understand that this is different for them — it’s also new for us.

Hear Our Initial “Regular Talk” Discussion On “Regular Talk”

We tried regular talk many times yesterday. I think that it was easier for students earlier in the day than later. I wonder if that has to do with self-regulation. As the day goes on, most students seem to find it harder to sit, listen, and take turns. With me not controlling the discussion, the need for self-regulation increases even more.

  • I let students work through the problems together.
  • I let them negotiate turns to talk.
  • I jumped in, if needed, with a few quick reminders (or questions phrased as reminders) and this seemed to help.

Perfection doesn’t happen right away. We can’t give up because things don’t work perfectly the first time. This regular talking time gave me an even bigger chance to watch and listen to students. It was neat to see which students naturally chimed in, and which ones struggled with not raising a hand first. Many needed reminders to just wait and share their thoughts when the opportunity arose. It made me realize how accustomed even these Grade 1 students have become to the “game of school.” They’re looking at teachers to make the decisions. They know the rules and they want to follow them. Adjusting to changes in these rules takes time.

I’m willing to give this some time. I think it might be beneficial to work together and write a list of expectations to help us as we practice regular talk. I’d like to see if everyone does chime in, and if not, what supports can I put in place to help students become more comfortable with doing so? For others that have tried this before, do you use regular talk all of the time? Are there times that you still use the “hands up method?” How do you decide which option is best? As students move from the classroom to the real world, they need to learn how to negotiate talking time and work through conversations without raised hands. If I want them to be successful at this, even if their “Grade 1 real world conversations,” I think that I need to support these methods in the classroom. What do you think? What do you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts as I reconsider the rules for the “game of school.”


4 thoughts on “The Game Of School

  1. I like that you were wiling to try this in your classroom. It will be interesting to hear how it evolves as time goes on. You mentioned that at times you needed to jump in, how did you do that and what are some of the prompts that you used. Also how will you allow all voices to be heard? What about the ones that never get involved in the discussion? This is when I miss my classroom because I would have loved to try this self regulating skill with you.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jo-Ann! These are great questions. In terms of jumping in, I tended to do so when multiple people started to talk at once. I waited until things quieted down a bit, and I asked, could you hear what the other person said? Why not? What could we do differently? We talked about how to wait our turn, and what we should do if we started to talk and others did so at the same time. We also spoke about how this might make the other person feel, and why. This was a good opportunity to look at “point of view.”

      As for hearing all voices, not all students currently contribute to full class discussions. Some feel uncomfortable doing so, and some need some encouragement. Yesterday, I tended to wait until some ideas had been shared, and then I asked certain students specifically what they thought. Students are always given the opportunity to say that they’re not sure or want more time to think about it. I also do a lot of small group discussions, using apps such as ExplainEverything to record all of the conversation, so that those students that many not chime in with the full class can do so in the small group.

      Depending on how this goes and who dominates the discussion, there may need to be times that we look at using hands or maybe a prop of some sort (e.g., a ball) that can be passed around to hear more voices. This could gradually get phased out. I was pleased to see yesterday that students that don’t always chime in, did do so. And while there were certainly some students that spoke more than others, they are also the ones that tend to raise their hands and contribute more even when I’m the one doing the picking. This is why I think that encouraging certain students to share may be a good option.

      I also have a fairly small class, and if my Grade 1’s can continue to improve in “regular talk,” I wonder what the impact will be down the road (even as classes get bigger in size). Maybe this will help with self-regulation regardless of grade. I’m curious to find out.


  2. Hi Aviva,
    I loved using “regular talk” in my classroom. It was challenging at first and grew easier as students got used to it. Once we started, we would have reflection times to see if it worked, what we needed to clarify and what we would work harder on. As a teacher, I got better at balancing whole class and small group discussion to allow every voice a chance to talk sometime, in some way. More importantly, I shifted my accountable talk practices to more of an emphasis on accountable listening (because, let’s face it, good listening is a very difficult skill!) and found ways to have my more reticent students have their voices heard in the larger group. My best trick was if we did a think/pair/share or elbow partner chat before sharing in the big group, my students knew they would often be asked to bring their partner’s idea to the big group, not their own. Made for better listening and better distribution of ideas shared.
    I also got better at facilitating discussion. We’ve all been in those groups where someone monopolizes the discussion and doesn’t read any one else’s cues that maybe their turn is over. Respectfully but explicitly teaching students how to hear other voices was very important and I hope, a life long skill that they learned.
    I wasn’t too bothered by some of my shy students not talking a lot in large groups. I know that is exactly the “kid” I am in big groups and I am comfortable in that role. I learn well by observing others, listening well, and saving my reflection for later. I respect that some students are most comfortable with this too. Finding enough time to hear their ideas in small groups, one on one, in their writing…whatever… Is the challenge though. One big surprise I had was a totally unexpected strategy that worked for me. My class had a “Mr Bucket” (one of those plastic garbage cans with the lid on a swinging hinge with a face drawn on). I initially used this to have students write a note and feed it to Mr bucket (or just talk into it if need be) when they had burning recess problems they NEEDED to share before life went on and I was busy. I found I had some students who not only fed mr Bucket recess problems but also discussion reflections or ideas. I think mr bucket was to them what my blog is to me.
    The other biggest challenge I faced was when they went to another teacher or if there was a supply teacher. We decided early on that it might be confusing to other teachers so we had to be respectful of their needs to o. With that in mind, students could adapt – with some reminders – to their other teachers.
    I think it was worth the effort. It teaches good lifelong skills in community building, promotes active listening, and is less teacher focused. Stick with it!

    • Thanks so much for the comment Kristi and all of the wonderful ideas! I love the idea of having students share what their “elbow partner” discussed. What a great way to make them better listeners. I also like the Mr. Bucket idea. I’m off to buy a bucket today. 🙂 I have some students that love to talk and share, and maybe knowing that their ideas could be heard later by Mr. Bucket might help. Could students choose anytime they wanted to talk to Mr. Bucket, or were there specific times? I’m kind of thinking that as they transition from the carpet to go and work, they could find a good time to talk to Mr. Bucket and share those “burning stories or ideas” that they just have to get out. Maybe we could decide on some good times together.

      When we spoke about this “regular talk” on Thursday, we talked right away about when students go and see other teachers. I think that they’ll initially need some reminders that this is the rule for our classroom, but it might not work best everywhere. Like you though, I think that this is worth the effort.

      I’m just wondering, did you ever have students raise their hands? I’m wondering about those times that I’m in the middle of a mini-lesson and I ask a quick question. With this being less of a conversation, is it better to choose someone versus having that quick thinker always being the one to answer? I’m also wondering about shared reading times when students come up to the SMART Board to circle a word or highlight an idea. Without hands, will they just be tripping on each other? This is less of a conversation though and more of an activity, so maybe they can take control of picking people to come up (even just by passing an object to a person on the carpet) to help with some organization. Is there something that you tried that seemed to work well?

      Thanks for the inspiration to give this a try! I see so many benefits for students and a great connection to self-regulation!

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