JS a: checking for understanding, inviting participation

JS b: reference to text, authentic question, inviting participation

JS c: upping the ante, authentic question

JS d: upping the ante on student’s thinking

JS e: moving on, refocusing students on another part of the text

JS f: upping the ante

JS g: upping the ante, sustaining the questioning, inviting the student to expand thinking

JS h: refocusing, upping the ante, authentic questions. Restating the response

JS i: asking for clarification of what actually happened in the text

JS j: slowing down the thinking to focus on one aspect of the story

JS k: restating, upping the ante

JS l: asking for an extension of thought

JS m: upping the ante, uptake*, inviting the rest of the class to respond to that idea

JS n: upping the ante, another perspective

JS o: upping the ante, inviting deeper thought

JS p: open-ended question, authentic question, stepping back to allow students to reflect on the story.

JS q: authentic question

JS r: an extension of thinking

JS s: inviting participation

JS t: asking for clarification

JS u: giving example, application, supporting, expanding students’ responses.

JS v: using connections to the stories they’ve heard to thinking about conversations with their family members.

JS commentary on the whole
So, let’s look at the conversations and tease out what is happening.

In both, the teachers begin by asking students what they think.  Notice that the amount of teacher talk is little in comparison with student participation, and when the teacher does speak, it is to push the conversation deeper.  In the science classroom, Diana is wanting to prepare students for interviewing their family members to create a genetic family tree, and she does so by having students consider conversations and things they’ve discovered about family/neighbors in relation to Veteran’s Day.  Students begin by simply retelling the interactions with different veterans and then by revealing their stories.  This is a five-minute exchange that sets the tone for a project the students will undertake as they explore genetics…and how that study relates to their own family stories.

In the fifth-grade classroom, Ralph is discussing “Thanksgiving Hunter,” a short story by Jesse Stuart.  Once students establish the basic premise of the story, he makes a specific reference to the text and asks students to infer what the fact that Uncle Wash’s gun was in spotless condition tells the reader about the kind of character he might be and finds important and why.  He invites participation by asking, “What do you have to say about… ?” and upon hearing a thought, asks, “Why?  Does the story tell us?”  He’s inviting the student to supply the unwritten words that show how the student reached a conclusion.

Ralph didn’t chide the student for not supplying details, but rather by engaging the student in the text, he invites the student’s thinking.  My colleague Eija Rougle has said many times, “Everyone likes to feel smart”; inviting a student to explain how she/he came to make a statement allows the learner to muddle around a bit in creating an answer.  They talk their way to the truth.  They don’t necessarily know what they’ll say when they start, but they let their idea grow through talk, and finally they come to an understanding, a statement.

Once students have come up with some thoughts regarding an understanding of how the dove happened to be blinded, Ralph pushed them on to make some predictions regarding their reading.  And when students began giving responses, he delved further by asking, “Why?”

He sustains the question by asking, “So would you feel sorry [for the dove] if you were the little boy?”  This question lets the student go into the story and “try-on” the character, seeing if the student can understand the predicament facing the young character without actually being in the situation, so there’s a safety.

Once students explore that possibility he redirects them to the actual ending of the story.  After the reading, students respond to the ending and here Ralph says, “So are you saying that the character feels, I can’t kill it, but I know it will have a hard time?”  He checks for understanding with the question, “So what does the bird do?”  Once he’s sure students have an understanding of the central story, he momentarily stops the conversation to have students write what they would have done if they were the young character and why.

This is important because it is giving students time to take all the information that has surfaced throughout the conversation and expand upon it—and personalize it—and “try-on” the predicament for themselves.  This writing consumed three minutes’ time, and then the conversation resumed.

Looking at Ralph’s response to a student’s idea, “So you’re projecting your feelings onto the dove?” he restates what he believes is the student’s reaction, but he is asking for clarification.  This step is important.  By restating the reaction, he’s honoring the response, bringing it up again so the class can think more about it, and offering the student a chance to expand on the original statement.

He asks for an extension of thought by asking, “What do the rest of you think?”  This is uptake*.  It invites more thought and asks the class to consider again what kind of character Uncle Wash might be:  “Was the uncle that bad that you’d try to run away?”  Again, he is asking students to imagine themselves with such a person in their own lives and how they might respond to that individual.  He further asks, “Is there another alternative…?” asking students to use divergent thinking and consider other responses.

Then Ralph once more stops the class.  He directs them to the front of the story and asks why the writer might have written the short story.  Once some responses are stirred up, he finishes by directing students to turn back to their writing and direct their thinking to the author’s purpose in creating the story.

Both teachers throughout are listening for statements that will develop students’ understandings.  When they hear them, they use uptake* and authentic questions and up the ante to help students explore more; in Ralph’s case, learning more from the text, in Diana’s establishing connections in preparation for the next unit of study.


* The practice of listening carefully to what has been said and building upon it, often by incorporating what was said within a new question or turn. Anyone in a discussion may do this.