Is Talking Time Lost Time?

In our classroom, kids are always talking. Since most of our teaching and learning happens in small groups, children have many opportunities to converse with us, with their friends, and even with other educators who join our classroom space. Learning happens through conversation. I truly believe this. It’s how kids …

  • share their theories,
  • respond to questions,
  • re-evaluate their thinking,
  • socialize with others,
  • problem solve,
  • and express their emotions.

Now that school is happening online, I see this talking time through a different lens.

After our daily online meeting times, my teaching partner, Paula, and I reflect together. One thing that we talk about a lot is the talking that happens in our digital classroom space. When we first began these meetings, we noticed that many students would talk forever. Usually in the classroom, we could use some non-verbal cues to help transition from one child speaking to another.

  • Maybe it’s an open palm inviting somebody else to share.
  • Maybe it’s regular nodding to help children know that we’ve heard them, that we agree, and that they can move on with their plan. 
  • Maybe it’s just a gentle touch on the arm, which signifies to slow down, wait, and possibly give somebody else a turn.

We do all of these things without even realizing that we’re doing so, but often these small actions help with carrying and sharing a conversation. Online though, when we’re all little bubbles on a screen, non-verbal cues are much harder to read. Paula and I decided that we had to explicitly teach kids when it was time to share the microphone. We came up with an oral prompt. When one of us says, “Thank you so much for sharing,” this is the cue to let somebody else speak. We assured students that they can stay on until the end, and share additional thinking with us then. Overall, this has helped a lot, and most students have a Pavlov’s dog response to these words, but there are still some children that want to keep talking. 

This is when we feel conflicted. We can cut children off, and at times, we will ask them to wait and share more later, but we’ve also spoken a lot about why these kids want to talk so much. For over two months, they’ve been forced to stay home and stay away from others. 

  • No friends.
  • No relatives.
  • No school.

A few children have found ways to connect on FaceTime …

… but others have not. For some kids, our online class is the only time that they are connecting with people outside of their home. It’s maybe the only time that they are seeing and talking to other 4-6 year olds. And they are beyond excited to see their friends, to share their stories, to ask their questions, and to speak with other kids and adults who will listen to and hear them. 

How can we cut this off? Instead we try to find ways to link their stories to some project ideas and to suggest other spaces where they can also share all of their great ideas. FlipGrid has been amazing for this: an open area to talk, connect, and share story after storyYes, I realize that some of our class times go longer because of more talking time, and some of our online lessons take more time to complete because of a little more sharing, but maybe this is okay. Paula and I talk regularly about creating a classroom environment that’s “responsive to kids.” Is a little extra “talking time” what these kids need? How might their sharing lead to new learning for themselves and others? 

I keep thinking about one of my favourite videos from Jean Clinton about brain development in the early years.

Kids are not “empty vessels,” and the thinking and learning that they share with each other can be just as valuable as what we share with them. If I stop and really listen to the stories that students tell, I can hear,

  • theories around their view of the world,
  • new vocabulary,
  • reflections on social interactions,
  • thoughts around their self-esteem,
  • and thinking about their emotions.

No, we don’t want one child to dominate a discussion. We still actively work on asking others questions and inviting others to share, so that all voices are heard. But maybe, for some kids, these daily moments of talking time are critical. It gives them a voice outside of their homes and a little bit of normal in a sea of abnormal. I think that I needed this reminder to see things differently. What about you? I know that come Tuesday, I’ll continue to use, “Thank you for sharing,” as a way to keep the conversation going, but if a child keeps talking after the prompt, I’m hoping that I remember this post as a reminder of a possible why. For some kids, these extra minutes of talking time might make their day, their week, their year. Just as we ask kids to be patient in our online space, maybe this is a reminder for me, that as adults, patience is just as important.


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