Responsive Classroom® Practices Foster Listening and Speaking

Although it’s possible to think without talking – and to talk without much thinking – each can strengthen the other”, says Elizabeth A. City in November 2014’s edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership. If you haven’t read Educational Leadership in a while, I cannot encourage my fellow educators enough to take some time out of your busy holiday season to take a look at this issue. The whole issue focuses on the importance speaking and listening skills play in student-focused learning. City, in her article called “Talking to Learn” asks the question, “Why bother with student-driven discussion? Your answer to this question is important. If you answer ‘because it’s a Common Core skill’ or ‘because you (or someone else) said so’ that’s probably not sufficient.” She continues, “Talking matters for learning. Although it’s possible to think without talking – and to talk without much thinking – each can strengthen the other. Talking also provides windows into what students are learning. I want schools to be places of rich learning and therefore I want them to be places of rich talk.” (City, 2014). In the same issue, Fisher/Frey’s article, “Speaking Volumes”, states how the amount of student talk is correlated with student achievement. Their findings agree with Donald Grave’s, the guru of writing, work. He says, “If we want children writing in sentences and paragraphs, we need to get them speaking in them first.” Fisher/Frey cite evidence how talking facilitates reading and writing development. In Hintz/Kazemi’s article “Talking About Math” also show how being a facilitator of mathematic discussion enhances student learning. The November issue includes many other articles that encourage teachers to foster these student-focused learning environments by offering students authentic opportunities: to collaborate, present their thinking, debate on a topic, to grapple with rigorous Socratic questions, to construct meaning through whole-class or small group discussions, to provide growth producing feedback to one another, to offer teachers formative assessment through sharing their thinking and to be fact-based when learners disagree with others’ view. These skills and dispositions are not just innate skills we as humans are born with. They must be taught, modeled, practiced and coached. Teachers need a full tool box of protocols and interactive structures to foster this learning.

As Lora M. Hodges, EdD, the Executive Director of the Northeast Foundation (developers of the Responsive Classroom®) says is the Foreward of the new book recently published by the NEFC called, The Language of Learning: Teaching Students Core Thinking, Listening, & Speaking Skills (Wilson, 2014), that students need to be explicitly taught fluency in the language of learning. The book provides educators “with practical tools and resources to move your students toward fluency in five core competencies:

  • Listening with respect and for understanding
  • Speaking clearly, concisely, and confidently
  • Asking purposeful questions – and answering them succinctly and appropriately
  • Using sound reason and evidence to make an argument
  • Agreeing and disagreeing respectfully to advance powerful exchanges of ideas” (Hodges, 2014).

Margaret Wilson, author of the book makes the connections with these skills with the Responsive Classroom practices, “The teaching techniques described in this book are based on the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning. Since its inception in 1981, Responsive Classroom has recognized the importance of teaching children to listening, speaking, and thinking skills – and has been giving teachers tools for explicitly doing that teaching. Numerous other national organizations and initiative have also come to recognize the importance of explicitly teaching speaking and listening:

  • The Common Core State Standards include speaking and listening skills as critical skills students must learning to be college and career ready.
  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has similarly recognized the importance of academic communication skills to students’ future success.
  • The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) all emphasize communication skills as critical for success in their content areas.” (Wilson, 2014)

The NEFC book gives teachers strategies and techniques to explicitly teach Speaking and Listening skills and ties each chapter to the Common Core State Standards:

  • Chapter 1: Listening Essentials (CCSS SL.1, 2, 3, 6; )
  • Chapter 2: Speaking Essentials (CCSS SL. 1, 4, and 6)

These two chapters would be a great resource to support the Ed. Leadership articles such as Elizabeth A. City’s article, “Talking to Learn”, the Erik Palmer article, “Now Presenting” and the Maria Nichols article, “Real Talk, Real Teaching”.

  • Chapter 3: Asking & Answering Questions (CCSS K-2.SL.1, 2, 3, 6; 3-6.SL 1, 4, 6)
  • Chapter 4: Crafting an Argument (CCSS K-2.SL. 1, 4, 6; 3-6.SL. 1, 2, 4, 6)
  • Chapter 5: The Art of Agreeing & Disagreeing (CCSS K-2.SL. 1, 4, 6; 3-4.SL. 1, 3, 4, 6)

These three chapters would support the Ed. Leadership articles, “Speaking Volumes” by Fisher/Frey, “What is the Value of Life? And Other Socratic Questions” by Casey Cuny and “From Mindless to Meaningful” by Billings/Roberts (this article actually offer readers a rubric for listening that many may find helpful when teacher students the learning targets for being an active listener).

Some of the articles discussed the importance of structures, interactive learning strategies and protocols to foster student learning of speaking and listening skills. Strategies/Protocols such as “Save the Last Word for Me”, “Say Something”, “Inside-Outside Circles” and structures such as “Fish Bowl” are designed specifically to give students a framework to learn and practice effective communication. The NEFC also just recently published a new book, Energize Your Meetings: 35 Interactive Learning Strategies for Educators (2014) which offers a wonderful collection of strategies to interact effectively not only to use with students but also structures that can be used in the adult learning community. Also EngageNY offers a great resource from Expeditionary Learning that brings together a great collection of protocols to assist in learning and practicing speaking and listening. (See references)

Responsive Classroom teachers learn practices that foster Positive Community, Effective Management and Engaging Academics. Responsive Classroom practices such as Morning Meeting, Academic Choice, Interactive Modeling, Teacher Language, Guided Discovery, Rule Creation, Hopes and Goals, Closing Circles, Energizers, Interactive Learning Structures, Responding to Misbehavior and even Quiet Time are all proactively taught and carefully scaffolded to honor the listening and speaking skills of the students we teach.

We believe that in order for teachers to create a positive learning community that learning needs to be engaging. In order to create an environment where learning is engaging, we believe that learning must be active. Our belief aligns with Victoria Halsey, author of Brilliance by Design: Creating Learning Experiences that Connect, Inspire, and Engage who agrees with the Responsive Classroom belief that in order to make learning engaging it needs to be active. She suggests that teachers should practice the 70/30 principle; Students should spend 70% of their time practicing and 30% of their time being taught. Responsive Classroom also feels that in order for learning to be engaging, it also needs to be interactive. Halsey also says the 70/30 principle applies here too. Students should be speaking 70% of the time while listening to their teacher 30%. This is quite a shift in classroom culture compared to 20th Century learning.

It is my hope that my blog will inspire you to now seek out the November 2014 edition of Educational Leadership and be inspired of the importance of taking the time to teach, model, practice and coach listening and speaking skills in your classroom. I also hope you will look into some of the aforementioned resources to help you create that student-focused classroom where the greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction (one of the Guiding Principles of Responsive Classroom). Lev Vygotsky says it best, “By giving students practice in talking with other, we give them frames for thinking on their own.”

Patrick Shaw

Certified Responsive Classroom® trainer through the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of the Responsive ClassroomStaff Development Specialist – OCM BOCES – Syracuse, NY
(OCM BOCES is a licensed agency for Responsive Classroom training by the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of the Responsive Classroom)



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