I don’t know that I would ever recommend reading Intentional Talk cover to cover. I know that’s exactly what I’m doing this summer, but I can see why it might backfire with regards to changing teacher practice. Across 6 chapters, roughly 112 pages, the book goes in depth into 6 different ways to plan for and structure classroom conversation. The material is so rich, I can see teachers feeling overwhelmed attempting to put all of it into practice in a meaningful way.
In fact, that happened this past year at an elementary school in my district. The faculty did a book study of Intentional Talk, but by the end of the year there was little evidence that teachers were leading varied and intentional discussions. They liked what they read, sure, but trying to plan for and implement all these discussion types got pushed to the side because of numerous other demands on their time. They suffered from the problem of biting off more than they could chew.
This is a defeatist way to start a post, but the reason I’m leading with these thoughts is because I’ve been thinking about how to share this book with teachers and begin to help them successfully incorporate these ideas into their practice. My answer is to start with chapter 2.
Chapter 1 is excellent, don’t get me wrong. It provides rationale for why well-planned discussions are important, but honestly that chapter is only a must read for someone who craves background information or a reason to pursue this work. If you’re reading the book, you’ve probably already decided you want to learn more about facilitating classroom conversations. You aren’t looking for convincing. In that case, you probably want to jump right in and learn something new. So my advice is to skip chapter 1 (for now, at least) and move straight to chapter 2.
And then stop.
Seriously. Quit reading the book.
Take the time to apply what you learn in this one chapter. Believe me, there’s plenty to sustain you for a while! Take time to establish your classroom norms. They are critically important to creating the safe, respectful environment your students need before you start tackling the other discussion types. Take time to teach students the talk moves. Students need practice in learning what to say and how to say it. Let them practice. Let yourself practice! The talk moves are probably going to be new to you, too. Practice using them until you feel comfortable with them. That will take the pressure off when you do finally decide to tackle one of the targeted discussion types.
How long should you wait before picking the book up again? I have no idea. But chances are you’ll know when you’re ready. It might take a couple weeks, a month, or it might take a full semester, but at some point you’re going to notice that your students have gotten really good at sharing and discussing their strategies for solving problems. You’re going to realize that you know the talk moves like the back of your hand. That will be the time to branch out and ask yourself the question, “What other kinds of conversations could we be having?”
At this point, I might recommend reading pages 1-5 in chapter 1 to reconnect with the book and the principles that guide it. When you’re done, consult the table at the bottom of page 3 that provides a brief summary of the goals of each discussion type. Read through those and think about which type might support your students where they are currently in their math learning. After you choose one of the targeted discussion types, read the corresponding chapter and then stop. Quit reading the book again, and take the time to practice the new discussion type while continuing to do open strategy sharing.
Assuming you’re like most teachers, you’re going to teach more than one school year. There’s no reason you have to learn and master all these discussion types in one school year. The most important thing you can do is start by creating a classroom culture where students’ ideas are valued by you and their peers. Where students feel safe taking risks in sharing their ideas because they know everyone in the class is there to support each other in making sense of mathematics. Chapter 2 will help you with this goal. The rest of the book is great, but it can wait. No rush.