Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.30.20Online Turn & Talk with Ben Esser

Image from page 828 of "Stories for the household" (1889) | Flickr
Thinking about breakout rooms as Turn & Talks helps us leverage their long and happy history in our classrooms

Turn & Talk is a key tool for building Participation Ratio in a bricks and mortar classroom. It’s not too different online where the use of breakout rooms allows us to replicate it with decent fidelity.

Even though it involves the use of breakout rooms we still call the technique Turn & Talk because we think it’s helpful to use the same terminology as we use in physical classrooms. Doing so helps create continuity for students–it reminds them that the activity is highly analogous to something they know well–and reminds us to use what we know about it from physical classrooms in our online lessons.

This short video of Achievement First East New York MS’s always thoughtful and impressive Ben Esser:

A couple of things we love:

It’s quick. Turn and Talks give students the opportunity to test and rehearse ideas before a fuller discussion, but (we think) they should be a preliminary to a subsequent activity since they include lots of good ideas and probably a fair number of erroneous ones. If we know they are preliminary we want to ride what we call the “crest of the wave“: we want students to come out of them still eager to talk as opposed to having tapped out all their ideas and ready to move on. “Five minutes in breakout rooms”? Uh, probably not.

Ben “manages turns.” One risk of Turn and Talks is that verbal kids talk and quiet kids don’t. Giving students a rule for who goes first makes it more likely that quieter kids will get their chance as well. It also makes it easier for students to start their conversations quickly and thus get more value out of the Turn and Talk.

Ben’s students wrote about the question before they talked about it. (You can hear this in Brandon’s answer where he is partially talking extemporaneously and partially reading his answer). This ensures that they have lots to say during the Turn and Talk.

Ben takes volunteers after the Turn and Talk rather than Cold Call. Cold Call is also great but given all the time he’s given students to prep their ideas it’s a good time to bet on volunteers. Notice how many hands he gets. And notice how critical “cameras on” is to his being able to see them.

We love the way he calls on Saraya to “build” on Brandon’s answer. Ben is stressing those critical “Habits of Discussion” that remind students that listening as important as speaking.

Ben, thank you as always for sharing your classroom.


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