The power of conversation…

S. is a creative and passionate teacher. Listening to her team planning, I was surprised that she dismissed the idea of her students using drama to practice second language skills. She was equally unenthusiastic about allowing  a group of learners to apply their skills through tech tools, while she worked with those who needed more time and attention. It seems that she likes to have all the kids with her, preferably doing the same task, so that she is in control of the learning.

We had a great conversation today about her own two children. She told me that one catches on quickly and is a thinker, while the other is more of an artist, very creative and easily distracted. I commented that they obviously learn in different ways and asked what she thought would happen if they were in her class, where everyone is expected to learn in the same way at the same time. Something suddenly clicked into place and she was immediately open to exploring ways to change her practice!

We talked about scaffolding independent learning experiences. If she sets the structures in place, she can allow them more control of their learning and trust that they will manage what they need to do, without her constant involvement. We looked at the ‘gradual release of responsibility‘ model and, once again, related it to her own children. She’s a wonderful mother so she got the point right away and saw how she could apply it to her students.

At the end of our short conversation, she stood up and said “This is huge. Thank you. I’m going to start making changes.”

It seems she got something out of our interaction. So did I…

  • A simple conversation can be a powerful path to creating change.
  • Asking the right question can be the trigger that shifts thinking.
  • Relating concepts to our personal lives facilitates understanding.
  • Moving the focus from teaching to learning is the key to good practice.
  • It’s important to check that our practice reflects what we believe about learning.
  • Education reform happens one teacher at a time, one learner at a time…

Here’s my take on ‘gradual release of responsibility’:

Release Responsibility By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

17 thoughts on “The power of conversation…

  1. Thanks for sharing this post topic. I think the power of conversations was really highlighted in our eT@lking session tonight, when we had participants who do not have a blog, in a webinar with people who have experience with blogging, asking many questions and the participants responding to those questions and issues.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful blog of yours in tonight’s eT@lking session. It is wonderful to be able to see and listen to the reasons you connect and communicate in this way.


  2. Hello. this IS huge. The teaching model she applied in her second language classes is the model which is being taught, modelled and passed on to Mexican educators today. I give professional development classes which aim to help teachers realize their possibilities to manage their groups instead of control their groups in Mexico.

    If you go into many classrooms in my city, you will see whole group activities in traditional learning settings. Add 45 students to the teacher, old fashioned chair-desks and a textbook and we have a recipe for not-learning.

    Your post that a simple conversation relating to a life situation will be passed on to as many people as I can touch with my blogs. Thanks for sharing your insightful posts. Ellen


  3. I guess S. is not the only one saying ”this is huge…” and surely not the only one standing up and starting making changes in the way we manage an English Learning Classroom. If we could add and additional skill to the English learning development, it would be FEELING apart from the four traditional skills that we know: READING-WRITING and LISTENING-SPEAKING. It is pleasant to realize how reliable the interaction with what we think of what we experience (language externalization) can help us as second language teachers understand that students are learning to express themselves using their own abilities. Students are capable of performing unimaginable tasks by themselves when proper assistance is provided and by far enables their teachers accomplish the goal of release responsibility.


  4. Hey my name is Brittany Hamilton. I am a student at the University of South Alabama and am currently taking EDM 310. This was an excellent post. I loved how it showed me as a future teacher that not every student will learn the same way. Teaching styles sometimes have to be adjusted to help kids learn and understand the material that you are presenting to them. I found it very interesting that when you used her children as an example that it started to click with her that things needed to change. This shows that when you use examples close to the person, it will become clear to them. I also like that she took it as constructive criticism and did not get her feelings hurt. Too often we take criticism the wrong way and start putting up the ” I’m always right” mentality. It is good to get constructive criticism from other educators on how to improve our classrooms! I love the cartoon, it really depicts that if we start to hand off responsibility then our students will share it and help other students. If you would like to view the blog post I will be writing my summary on go here: My Blog


  5. Edna,
    Another great post. It is very well timed. It turns out our Superintendent of Schools just recently released a Draft Assessment Policy for all educators in our district (teachers, educational assistants, administrators). It was released to invite all to engage in conversations about assessment in our district. It is as if you two were talking one on one and then decided to send out your work. With so much work done on the topic of assessment lately it is about time we look at it and have conversations, just like you described, to promote change in our practices. If not that far, at least conversations can bring about the inwards look at our own practices and promote us to re-evaluate our outlook on education. And finally yes, education reform happens one teacher at a time! I sent your entry to my Superintendent, and my student teacher, two at very different ends of the spectrum, but both equally important in educational reform.


  6. Great post and I can totally relate because I am discovering the power of conversation too! I am realizing that when given the chance to reflect and wrestle with questions, people do begin to see the areas where they need to grow or change. And the whole getting people to think about how they parent their own children is huge! That has made a lightbulb come on for several teachers I work with. Thanks for sharing your experience.


  7. Thank you for this post! Conversations are a truly powerful tool. In conversations lie the infinite possibilities of what might be as well as giving us a chance to reflect on what we really believe. The line ” it is important to check that what we believe about learning reflects in our practice.”. Really resonated with me. How important it is to be able to work in such community that this kind of genuine conversation can happen. It is also important that we have genuine conversations with our students and to empower them to use the art of conversation.


  8. Hi,

    My name is Chelsea and I’m a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama.

    I’m glad that she came to realize that teaching all of her students the same way isn’t always the best idea. People learn differently and for some, simply taking notes and studying those doesn’t cut it. I find it important for all teachers to realize this and attempt to structure their lesson plans in such a way that allows students who grasp information easily, to either help those that don’t or work on something else while the teacher helps the others.


  9. Thank you for sharing this story Edna, it was great that you could relate the concept of freedom in learning to her in a personal way. As someone who consistently works with teachers it is a great reminder that teachers really do want the best for their students, sometimes it takes a slightly different approach to help them see a new perspective.


  10. “Relating concepts to our personal lives facilitates understanding.” We’re always trying to have the students make connections (text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world, text-to-media) to help them better understand concepts, points of view, information, etc. Guess it really works!!


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