Doing Accountable Talk in the Classroom

Doing Accountable Talk in the Classroom
The Editorial Team October 7, 2020

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Promoting student-centric discussion in the classroom is accountable talk. More than a mere educational trend, accountable talk is a manner of conversing in the classroom setting that is respectful and meaningful for both the listener and speaker. By advancing students’ speaking skills, accountable talk has become an essential part of classroom management that is not only a useful way for students to express their opinions, thoughts and ideas but also as they move outside of the classroom. Of course, in order for accountable conversations to take place, instructors must rely on methods that promote student learning, reflection and competent communication of that learning and reflection. Fortunately, teachers have many means at their disposal to encourage accountable discourse in the classroom.

What Is Accountable Talk?

When researching accountable talk, you’re likely to come across many definitions. Perhaps the simplest definition is this: it’s the type of talk/discussion that moves learning forward. Naturally, this type of discourse is going to sound different depending on class level but both elementary and secondary students will be compelled to accept accountability to:

  • The learning community (i.e., the classroom setting)
  • Accurate information
  • Critical thinking

To promote accountable talk, teachers will focus on accountability to the learning group, ensuring that all participants make efforts to help one another understand. For this to occur, teachers will encourage students to rephrase, paraphrase or offer examples to illustrate their points. It’s essential for teachers to hold students accountable for relying on accurate knowledge in order to provide accurate information during discussions. And finally, teachers can encourage students to be accountable for reasoned thinking and assessment of discussion points.

Why Is the Classroom the Ideal Setting for Accountable Discourse?

The classroom is an ideal place for accountable talk because students already come to this setting with an expectation for learning. In theory, accountable talk can take place anywhere. However, the classroom tends to be outfitted with tools to help teachers encourage accountable discourse. These tools might be charts on bulletin boards or lists of sentence starters that students keep in their desks.

How Does Accountable Talk Support Oral Language Skills

Oracy education prepares students for life beyond the classroom. Students need to speak well in order to possess positive oracy skills. Accountable talks promotes oracy because it encourages students to engage in product conversations that promote learning. To effectively promote learning, they must have sound oracy skills. As they engage in accountable talk within the classroom setting, they are literally practicing and developing their oracy skills.

Active Participation Strategies that Teachers Can Use to Encourage Accountable Talk

It’s helpful for teachers to encourage accountable talk across the board–in all discussions regardless of what subject they happen to be teaching. It’s helpful when teachers remind students that when involved in a formal classroom discussion on any topic of study, they will be held accountable for providing reasons and evidence for their opinions. All students should have this expectation for accountability.

Teachers can encourage accountable discussion in many ways–and relying on a variety of methods is, in itself, a great way to help students practice accountability in discourse. For instance, teachers can encourage accountable discourse:

  • After reading a news story and gauging reactions
  • Introducing a new topic that builds on prior knowledge
  • During group read-alongs
  • When debating a topic
  • When summarizing knowledge on a previously studied topic

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Teachers can develop their own method for promoting accountable discussions.

Questioning Techniques for Teachers

Some of the most meaningful classroom discussions will involve accountable talk. To drive accountable discourse forward in a manner that promotes or enhances learning, teachers must hone their questioning techniques. They’ll be tasked to form questions that relate to accountability (i.e. promoting critical thought). There are various strategies they can employ to develop sentence starters and stems. It’s actually most helpful for teachers to strategize by first asking themselves questions before class sessions in order to encourage accountable discussions. These could be:

  • What are the major ideas students should discuss?
  • What are the key lesson concepts?
  • What task might support accountable discussions?
  • How does the topic relate to other topics studied by students?
  • Is the topic ideal for the group as a whole or smaller groups/partners?

When teachers plan for accountable discussions, they can tailor their activities and lessons so that they promote learning by discussion.

Accountable Talk Sentence Starters and Stems

Teachers often make themselves lists and are likely to have lists that help them promote accountable discussions. However, it’s also essential to provide students with helpful sentence starters and stems that support meaningful discourse and critical responses. Some effective sentence starters and stems could include:

  • I think this way because in the text …
  • I know this because …
  • I agree with ABC because …
  • I disagree with XYZ because …
  • I am confused about ABC because …
  • I want to know more about …
  • I can prove this because …
  • If I understand this correctly, it means …
  • From my perspective …
  • I can expand on that by adding …

Both students and teachers can rely on sentence starters and stems to support accountable discourse in class.

How to Combine Dialogic Reading

An important area to employ accountable talk is with dialogic reading. The two methods can go hand in glove. During dialogic reading, the student and teacher switch roles. The student becomes the “teller” and the teacher becomes the active listener. Teachers can incorporate many questions or conversation starters into the session. Students can reply by using accountable talk stems that drive the conversation and understanding forward. Accountable talk can be one of many strategies that support reading comprehension and critical thought. Both accountable discourse and dialogic reading support literacy. Students can combine the two methods by switching roles between reader/listener and relying on the sentence starters, stems and critical questions we’ve touched on here.

Accountable Talk Anchor Charts

Teachers can create their own countable anchor charts themselves but there are many online. Instructors can adopt these and modify them to suit their students, particularly the age level of their students. Use the following links to find more anchor charts so you can build your own:

Accountable talk drives discussion and learning forward. When practiced routinely, it can become habitual with students — and that’s important. Students should get into the habit of feeling accountable to providing factual information and using critical reasoning to evaluate virtually any topic that comes up in the classroom setting. Even better, with practice, they’ll get used to using accountable talk outside of the classroom too, and that’s a mark of success for any teacher. When students are able to discuss information and opinions critically, they are developing the skills they need to in their adult lives and when engaging in higher learning.

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