This morning we had our first hands down conversation in science. (Hands down conversations are ones in which the kids talk without raising their hands and being called on. Ideally I’m not in the conversation at all.) I’d been trying to figure out a good question to drive this conversation and wrap up our first science unit. I finally landed on this one:
Immediately my third graders were off and rolling with the conversation. For about 10 minutes they talked about ways we’re similar and different to animals and reasons we need animals to survive. They agreed with each other and referenced things that had been said by others. It was a pretty good conversation.
Below are the notes I took on the conversation. I learned the basics of this note taking style from Junior Great Books many years ago. (I haven’t used Junior Great Books in more than a decade but this way of recording conversations has stuck with me.) I’ve added to my knowledge about this thanks to Alexis Wiggins and her book, The Best Class You Never Taught: How Spider Web Discussions Can Turn Students into Learning Leaders. The students’ names go around the group based on where they are sitting. The lines through the middle show the flow of the conversation. The notes along the outside are quick records of what was said.
After 10 minutes I jumped in when it got quiet for a second. I try to avoid jumping in but decided it was worth it in this instance. (I think it’s the first time I’ve jumped in during a hands down conversation this year. I’m never certain if it was the right decision. Just as I’m never certain if not jumping in is the right decision.)
On the back of my notes I made a quick note about my input in the conversation. I told the kids I had noticed two big ideas being discussed: our similarities and differences with animals and our need for animals to survive. I then asked, “Given these ideas you’ve discussed, what does that mean we, as humans, need to do?”
They were off and running again. For the next 10 minutes or so, they talked about a variety of things we bear responsibility for. Such as not throwing trash on the ground where animals might eat it and die. And not throwing trash in the ocean where fish can eat it and then bigger fish eat them and they all die. (One kid connected that to a food chain.) One student discussed how we need to be careful about using paper because we don’t want to cut down too many trees because animals need the trees for their homes. They discussed the danger of extinction for some animals and how that hurts us.
By the end of the conversation 14 of my 19 students had spoken. That means the ones who frequently talk (mostly the kids all sitting on the left-hand side in my notes above) held back some and gave others space to talk. One kid mentioned to me, on the way to lunch, how excited she was because this was the most she’d talked in a conversation this year. (I think she spoke twice.)
I finally had to jump in and stop them so that we could get ready for lunch. But I knew they weren’t really ready to stop so I had them turn and talk to a buddy about anything else they’d wanted the chance to discuss. Here’s a quick snippet of that.
I took my kids to lunch on a total high from this. I told them how impressed I was with their conversation skills and with the deep thinking they did around this science topic. It’s been more than ten hours now and I’m still on a bit of a high.