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How Do We Talk to Each Other?

Teaching kids how to agree and disagree with each other is a life skill.  How can they be a part of the business world or a teaching profession without those skills?  How can a police officer function without superb communications skills?  Kids can learn to be communicators at home if their families are superior communicators, but if they don't learn to interact with their peers (and not just their parents or adults) in a respectful way, they may not have adult communication skills to translate into their chosen profession.  It is part of our job to teach them to talk in a group setting or class discussion, to make a plan together, to problem solve and think critically with others. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics suggests that three areas necessary for employment are the ability to collaborate along with problem solving skills and communication.  (See www.bls.gov)

Burke (2013) shares that the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE)  suggests that teachers can better prepare their students for the workforce through  things like oral and "written communication, teamwork/collaboration, critical thinking/problem solving."  So how do we do that in a primary classroom?  I propose we start with learning to agree and disagree appropriately.

Start with finding ways to let kids express their opinions.  If you have read many of my posts, you would know that I am a huge proponent of the Socratic Seminar.  I have a product with implementation ideas.  The road to helping kids communicate is not expressly found through Socratic Seminars, although they are amazing in teaching kids to communicate.  Just your regular class discussion can bring out some great opinions based on your questioning strategies.  Do you plan your questions ahead of time?  Do you study a text enough to be able to ask those higher level questions?  Planning ahead beyond the book or story you plan to read will help those questions become  easier to plan.

Creating a silly scenario is a great way to start teaching kids to hold a class discussion.  For example, express a silly opinion such as "I think the aliens that landed on the playground are the best aliens I've ever met because they seem friendly. They offered me a ride in their spaceship."  Divide your class in half.  Assign half of the class to agree and half to disagree with your opinion by writing down their reasons on paper and then sharing them within their group. Come back together as a whole group. Allow them to share their opinions with the class.   Pre-teach them stems such as "I agree with _____ because..."  or  "I disagree with ________ because."  Encouraging them to use "because" helps them to think about what they believe and become prepared to articulate it!  Another stem might be "I like what _______ said because...".  We practice by role playing the typical eye-rolls and anger issues that might arise when someone disagrees with your opinion.  We practice staying open-minded and not let personal offenses enter into our discussions.  Kids will truly understand your norms by allowing them to role play and by watching you portray the "offended" or the "offender."  It's honestly a great life lesson and they have fun!

It takes a great deal of practice.  Socratic Seminars have norms...as should your class discussions whether you adopt the Socratic method or not.  It would be amazing if an entire school raised up great communicators.  The benefits of empowering kids to be strong adult communicators builds leadership.  In light of our current situation in this country regarding racial and police tensions, being able to agree and disagree appropriately and finding words to express our opinions could be more valuable than we realize.

Collaboration and communication is key!

Burke, Jim. The English Teachers' Companion. 4th ed. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2013. Print.

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