By Kati Pearson (Director of Teaching and Learning) and Hana Insanally, Julie Staton, & Bianca Williams (School Improvement Program Specialists),Lake County Schools, Florida
Over the last five years, Lake County Schools has been engaged in a district-wide rollout of Thinking Maps. We began the project in order to help our students, especially English Language Learners (ELLs) and struggling learners, engage more fully with academic content and improve their critical thinking, speaking and writing skills. One way that we have used the Maps in our district is to support Accountable Talk.
Accountable Talk is a teaching method that uses classroom dialogue to promote higher levels of learning. The concept of Accountable Talk calls for all students to be engaged and ready to hold dialogue which is accountable to one of three areas: Content, Community, or Rigor. It involves the use of structures to organize student conversations and empower them to have better discussions. Accountable Talk allows students to practice using words and phrases that are more advanced than typical “kid language” and requires all students to be engaged. Using Accountable Talk structures in conjunction with higher-order thinking questions and rigorous tasks helps the teacher ensure that all students have an opportunity to engage in student discourse with a focus on the content at hand.
Thinking Maps are amazing tools that freely lend themselves to deeper thinking and learning. Thinking associated with each Map is deepened through the act of having students speak their thinking “off the Map,” allowing deeper connections to be made to new and existing knowledge. The Maps also provide a visual reminder that students can use to recall that learning and further develop thinking through additional discourse and writing.
Teachers must intentionally plan for the incorporation of purposeful questions that stimulate thinking and lend themselves to Accountable Talk and student discourse. This discourse should occur student-to-student, student-to-teacher, and teacher-to-students, creating a learning cycle that facilitates, develops, and supports ongoing learning.
Questions Teachers Should Consider When Planning for Accountable Talk:
- What are the key concepts I want my students to learn in this lesson?
- What are the big ideas I want them to grapple with?
- How do these ideas relate to what we’ve just done?
- What instructional task will support the accomplishment of the purpose?
- Will this question or problem work best as a whole group discussion, as small group work, or as partner work?
- Should I set this topic up with a whole group discussion and then stop at a certain point and have the students turn and talk with partners? If so, precisely when should I tell them to do partner talk? What question should I have them think about with their partner? What classroom management issues do I consider?
- How will I keep the group or partner talk meaningful and relevant?
- What response stems are appropriate for the context and content of the lesson?
- What expected student responses should I be prepared for and how will I address them?
- What structures can I put in place so all are engaged and no one can hide?
Desired student actions during Accountable Talk also need to be explicitly taught to students. By modeling and practicing those actions, students build consistency with ways to voice and articulate their thoughts around their learning community, content of study, and task at hand. Without clear actions, students may struggle. Therefore, providing scaffolds, such as Accountable Talk expectations and question stems, can ensure success until automaticity is reached.
It has been reported that most jobs in the 21st century will require students to be able to think at the four highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. For this reason, it is important that students are regularly provided opportunities to think and respond, verbally or in writing, at these higher levels. Thinking Maps may be used to ensure that all students are able to engage in multiple cognitive processes and higher levels of thinking. Combining Thinking Maps with Accountable Talk can make the process more concrete and effective for students.
We introduced the use of Thinking Maps for Accountable Talk in the School Improvement Guide that we developed for our schools, along with many other strategies for teaching, assessment, instructional planning, coaching, and school leadership. In fact, the Guide not only introduces the Maps as a strategy, it uses the Maps throughout to illustrate and explain different strategies to school leaders and teachers. We have found the Maps to be a highly effective way to communicate complex information with both students and staff. In fact, we’ve found that almost everything we do can be improved with the right Map.