Monday, July 21, 2014

#TMC14 GWWG: Talking Points Activity – cultivating exploratory talk through a growth mindset activity

This activity is the one I am most excited about bringing to #TMC14 and to the Group Work Working Group. My intention is to blog more about how this goes during the morning sessions. I also hope that participants will blog more about this too and contribute resources to the wiki.

Exploratory talk is the greatest single predictor of whether group work is effective or not, yet most symmetrical classroom talk (peer talk) is either cumulative (positive but uncritical) or disputational (merely trading uncritical disagreements back and forth).

This activity is based on Lyn Dawes’ Talking Points activity but has been adapted for use within a restorative practices framework. It’s a great way to practice circle skills (i.e., respecting the talking piece) and get students to practice NO COMMENT (i.e., trying to score social points rather than focusing on the task at hand).

  • to support students’ exploratory talk skills by pushing them out of cumulative and disputational modes and into a more exploratory talk mode (i.e., speaking, listening, justifying with NO COMMENT)
  • to reveal student thinking about speaking, listening, justifying and about having a growth mindset 
  • to cultivate a growth mindset community
17 minutes

Get students into groups of three.

Talking Points is a timed activity. Groups will have exactly ten minutes to do as many rounds as they can do. For the whole-class debrief at the end, try to keep track of who thought what and why.

Like classroom circles, Talking Points proceeds in rounds. Each “talking point” statement on the list receives three rounds of attention. One person reads the first statement aloud with NO COMMENT. There are then three rounds of speaking and listening. You want these to be “lightning rounds” rather than plodding or deliberate rounds. The Talking Point statements are provocative and designed to stimulate reactions that can be worked with.

10 minutes

ROUND 1 – Go around the group, with each person saying in turn whether they AGREE, DISAGREE, or are UNSURE about the statement AND WHY. Even if you are unsure, you must state a reason WHY you are unsure. NO COMMENT. You’ll be free to change your mind during your turn in the next round.

ROUND 2 – Go around the group, with each person saying whether they AGREE, DISAGREE, or are UNSURE about their own original statement OR about someone else’s statement they just heard AND SAY WHY. NO COMMENT. You are free to change your mind during your turn in the next round.

ROUND 3 – Take a tally of AGREE / DISAGREE / UNSURE and make notes on your sheet. NO COMMENT

Groups should then move on to the next Talking Point.

At the end of ten minutes ring the bell and have groups finish that round. Don’t let the process go on — they need to stop and move on.

2 minutes

At the end of the ten minutes, give students exactly two minutes to fill out the Group Self-Assessment. They will use this during the whole-class debrief and will hand this in for a group grade.

5 minutes

Ask each group to report out about specifics, such as:

Who in your group asked a helpful question and what was it?
Who in your group changed their mind about a Talking Point? How did that occur?
Who in your group encouraged someone else? How did that benefit the conversation?
Who in your group provided an interesting additional idea and what what is?
Who did your group disagree about and why?

I generally choose two or three of these questions and then move on to the actual mathematical group work while the energy level is still high.

Here are links to the first two documents for this activity:

Talking Points handout 1 – talking about talking
Talking Points – Group Self-Assessment

I'll post links to a whole barrelful of the research as soon as I can!


  1. I'm afraid to post this, because right above this it says, "No comments" and that fits your post so well.

    I am sad I missed this because I can't quite picture it in my head. Would there be any way to post a video of how this works in practice?

    1. David, It's only "no comment" during the activity itself — not during the blog post! :)

      We didn't videotape any of it, but now I'm sad that we didn't because I think it would be helpful. It was a lot like meditation, but meditation-through-talking-in-turn.

      Maybe if somebody recorded video they will pipe up here and offer to share!

      Wish I could be more helpful with this.

      - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  2. Thank you for the excellent review of TMC14. I am especially challenged by your ideas around cultivating exploratory talk. I've downloaded your templates to use during the first week of school with my 6th grade math students; thank you for sharing freely and generously!

  3. I'm wondering about the group self assessment. It asks "who asked good questions?" But, in the circles, students are only allowed to agree/disagree/unsure, no comment. When do they have time to ask questions of each other?

  4. Cheesemonkey recently spoke on Global Math about this topic, you can listen here..

  5. An usefull post,thx to admin for the article

  6. Our staff tried this out today at our staff meeting. We had wanted to discuss the topic of student absenteeism anyway, so our talking point was "When a student is absent for a test, they should write it the day they return to class." Round 1: We didn't all agree, so there were a lot of issues being raised and considered in the "because" clauses that made it really hard to stick to "no comments" in round 2, but we did. For my turn, in round 2, my "because" addressed an issue that someone else had raised in round 1. Is that ok? Or am I cheating? We all loved this strategy by the way, one reason being that we kept moving forward, regardless of disagreement, AND we all became better informed of issues we hadn't considered before. More questions to follow!

    1. I love this! It is definitely difficult to stick to the "no comment" rule, but it makes our listening and digesting so much deeper.

      In answer to your question, I think it is GREAT to use your "because" statement to address an issue someone else raised in round 1. That is exactly the way to do it! You are demonstrating that you have heard and considered someone else's thinking... AND you were moved to change your mind.

      We Americans are so terrible at this. We seem to view changing one's mind in public as a bad thing — a sign of weakness rather than as a sign of flexibility of mind. Really, the ability to consider a competing point of view is what makes you a collaboration ninja.

      Another thing I love about this strategy, in addition to keeping things moving forward, is that it keeps everybody's voice in the conversation. Group roles don't always ensure that everybody makes their voice heard equally, but Talking Points sure do.

      Thanks for these ideas.

      Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

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