Academic Dialogue: Beyond the Basics

Welcome to our October theme, “Academic Dialogue: Beyond Peanut Butter and Jelly Partners.”  The idea of structured, academic dialogue has received great attention in recent years.

This attention is well-deserved; Stanford University professor Dr. Jeff Zweirs provides clear justification for increasing academic dialogue as “the process of learning is actually a social venture, and interactions such as conversations (and specifically academic conversations) [help] students to enhance and broaden their comprehension of a specific topic profoundly and in a meaningful way” (Zweirs, 2014).  Yet, Dr. Zweirs’ research found most classroom academic conversations are dominated by teachers, robbing students of the rich opportunity to actively engage in a learning dialogue with their peers.  Armed with this knowledge, teachers have made a concerted effort to increase structured student-to-student conversations. As a result, students are now talking to each other much more often than in the past.

“Peanut butter and jelly partners” are probably familiar to most teachers, especially those teaching elementary-aged students.  It is an accessible strategy for creating “think-pair-share” partner groups to ensure equal participation and individual accountability.  The danger, however, is sometimes these sharing opportunities are merely a recitation of facts or lower-level comprehension.

Without a doubt, structures are a necessary foundation for academic conversations that foster deep and extended learning.  We are going to take this base even further this month as we share various resources to deepen teachers’ academic conversation toolkit.

To get us started, here are Dr. Zweirs’ “Think-Pair-Share Tips.”

In Think-Pair-Shares, students should:

Think about the possible responses and how best to say them in connected sentences (They can write them down, too, but shouldn’t read them when talking)

Interact face to face (face each other)

Take turns talking

Listen to remember, connect, and compare to what the partner says.

Give evidence from the book, discussions, or own life.

Ask clarifying questions to know more   (Do you mean that…? Why do you think that? Where does it say that? Did you get that from a random website? Tell me more about…)

Zweirs, J. (2014). Academic language literacy: tools & resources. Retrieved from

http://www.jeffzwiers.com/ and    http://jeffzwiers.org/tools–resources.html