The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 109 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to Episode 109 of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. In this episode, we’re going to talk about a simple, effective strategy for getting students to have rich, one-on-one conversations about what they’re learning—and get to know each other a little better in the process. The strategy is called, quite simply, ongoing conversations.
In our dreamiest of teacher dreams, some of us might imagine days when our students spontaneously erupt into complex, nuanced conversations about the things they’re learning in our classes. If we borrow the language of the Common Core, they would “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade-level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And maybe the “teacher-led” kind is possible, because we could structure and guide it, but that doesn’t give students much ownership of their learning. In groups? That might be a bit harder to accomplish. And one-on-one? Well, how do you even manage that?
Jeff Frieden, a high school English teacher in southern California, wondered the same thing. Wanting a less teacher-centered class, he was looking for ways to get students talking to each other about the content. He’d tried all kinds of techniques— think-pair-share, appointment clocks, groups of four—but none of them gave him the results he was looking for.
Meanwhile, he also discovered that most of his students, who had gone to school together for over a decade, didn’t know each other’s names.
Then one morning, just a few minutes before class started, he came up with something new on the fly: A simple system for getting every student in the room to talk with every other student, a way of tracking conversations over time so that students had a reason to reach out to people they never interacted with, and have more meaningful, content-based conversations with each other. Since he started using this method, Jeff says his classroom just feels different. Students are taking more academic risks, diving deeper into the content, and actually getting to know each other. In this episode, he’s going to tell us how this strategy works.
Before we get started, I’d like to thank Peergrade for sponsoring this episode. Peergrade is a platform that makes it easy to facilitate peer review in your classroom. Students review each other’s work, while Peergrade takes care of anonymously assigning reviewers and delivering all the relevant insights to teachers. With Peergrade, students learn to think critically and take ownership of their learning. They also learn to write kind and useful feedback for their peers. Peergrade is free to use for teachers and students. And now, Cult of Pedagogy listeners can get 3 months of Peergrade Pro free of charge! Just sign up for a free 30-day trial, then redeem the code CULT to extend that free trial to 3 months. To learn more about Peergrade visit cultofpedagogy.com/peergrade.
Support for this episode also comes from Microsoft Teams for Education – the digital hub bringing assignments, conversations, and content all together in one place. Plan, share, and connect with students, staff, and fellow teachers across your school. Whether you’re grading and providing feedback to your student’s history project or sharing your next big idea for a lesson with your department, Teams for Education can help you and your school achieve even more. Teams for Education – making classrooms collaborative and saving time for teaching. Visit Microsoft.com/education to learn more.
I would also like to thank you for the reviews you’ve left for this podcast on iTunes. These reviews really help future listeners decide if this podcast is worth their time. So if you’ve enjoyed listening but you’ve never left a review, I would love it if you’d take a few minutes, head over to iTunes, and tell me what you think. Thanks.
The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast is part of the Education Podcast Network. The EPN family now includes 26 different podcasts, all focused on education. The newest addition to the EPN family is a show called Teachers Need Teachers, a podcast for new and beginning teachers. Host Kim Lepre covers all kinds of topics like what to look for when examining student demographics, setting up your classroom to maximize learning, and how to handle angry parent emails. Check out Teachers Need Teachers and all of the EPN podcasts at edupodcastnetwork.com.
Now here’s my interview with Jeff Frieden about his Ongoing Conversations strategy.
GONZALEZ: I would like to welcome Jeff Frieden to the podcast. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on.
FRIEDEN: Oh yeah, you’re welcome. I’m really glad to be here, excited actually.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, so we kind of, I’ve been interacting with you on Twitter probably for a good long while now, but you said something the other day, or maybe it wasn’t even the other day now, but it was a while ago. You sort of pointed me toward this blog post about something that you have been doing in your class called Ongoing Conversations, and when I read it, I thought, “This is really a great idea,” and I wanted to share it with my readers. So before we get into all the details about that, just tell me a little bit about yourself and your current role in school.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, I teach in Southern California. I’ve been teaching English language arts for 14 years now, a couple different districts. And I’ve done all grade levels, from ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, college prep to AP honors, pretty much all of it, and I’ve been one of those teachers who I guess it started probably in my first year of teaching when I went to a conference, and I converted to teacher nerdism. I’ve been participating in committees, grants, and even chaired two different English departments over the span of eight years.
GONZALEZ: All right. Great. So you’re well-steeped in teaching English language arts.
GONZALEZ: And discussion, conversations, should be a part of teaching English.
GONZALEZ: So tell me a little bit about the problem that you were noticing before you tried this strategy.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, so I’ve done a lot of different kinds of discussion models in class with varying levels of success, depending on the class that was in front of me and my level of comfort with the topic and just even rolling it out. And then there was one class that it was kind of this thing that came together where it was an unfortunate circumstance, actually it was, it turned out to be really good in the end, but I had this AP class one year, two years ago, and they had to collapse it at semester because of enrollment. And so they kind of Frankensteined together this junior class for me to teach, from students from different teachers, and they’re all coming together for the first time for second semester, it’s first period. And it was kind of quiet and awkward at first, which is totally understandable given the circumstances. So I started to kind of notice, well, hang on, I want to do conversations with these guys, but it just, it’s not really working. I tried some online conversations and there was some really deep thought there, and I thought, “Man. These guys should just connect and talk. There’s some really good stuff going on.”
FRIEDEN: But, and then I kind of started thinking about, there was other things I was thinking about too in my other classes, and one of the, I have them sitting at tables, it’s kind of the design of our school with the furniture we have. They have to sit in groups of four. And I was just noticing this uncomfortable group think coming from the tables. So I would change seating charts, and then this, I could pretty much predict, like, who would answer what, or what kind of idea would come from certain tables and certain periods of the day.
FRIEDEN: And that was, I was like, “This is odd. I really want to, I could shake up my seating chart all the time, but that’s a ton of work I’d have to be doing.”
FRIEDEN: And with this class in particular, they would talk in partners? Yeah, kinda. Table? Sorta. But class-wide? No way. And I could do mixer activities where I’d get them up and walking around and partnering up, and I’ve done that before, and there’s certain kinds of success that come with that on a given day, but they also poke holes in those systems, and they just kind of work their way around it to end up talking to their friends, and it becomes more social than content-centered interaction. And those type of mixer things, they usually only last one period, and something that was bothering me, I think for a long time as a teacher, was students come in day-to-day, and they kind of sit and they wait for you. They say, “What are we doing today?”
FRIEDEN: Even though we’re in the, we’ve been reading a novel for two weeks, “What are we doing today?” And it’s like the previous two weeks hadn’t even happened. So there was this kind of day-to-day thing that was bugging me. And so all of this stuff was bugging me all at the same time, because that’s kind of how my brain works. So that was the problem I was experiencing, lots of problems, actually.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And so then the conversation just wasn’t flowing, it wasn’t really content-based. And you know, you had said that you had seen this before, but it was just more acute in this particular group, that’s really what really inspired you to try something different?
FRIEDEN: Yeah. I think it gave me the nudge that I was looking for.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So what did you do?
FRIEDEN: So one morning we were about to start reading “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. It’s a great book. The students really like it. I’ve taught it at the AP level, and they were very, very engaged with it. And I’m thinking about this class in front of me not being, not the most engaged class. It’s early in the morning. We just came together, I get it, it’s awkward. It’s kind of the circumstance that we’re in, which I don’t think is really anybody’s fault at that point. You know, they have just joined me, I’m just joining them. But it’s still my responsibility to lead them through that.
FRIEDEN: And I guess what I really wanted, I was like, “Gosh. They’re going to — I’m going to talk to them, and I’m just picturing them not engaging with the book, and it’s making me, it’s kind of breaking my heart a little bit and it’s also making me a little angry.
FRIEDEN: But again, not at them, just at the situation.
FRIEDEN: So I was like, you know what? I really want them on their feet, I want them talking to new people, having new thoughts, and I want them to learn each other’s names, because this has really been bothering me for a long time that they don’t know each other’s names.
GONZALEZ: Yes, isn’t that crazy?
FRIEDEN: Some of them, they’ve been going to school together for 10 years, and they don’t know each other’s names.
GONZALEZ: I talk to my daughter, she’s in ninth grade, and I’ll ask her about kids in her class, she’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know their names.” And it’s like, really? It’s just weird to me. But it’s apparently really common now, I think.
FRIEDEN: Yeah. I guess. And so, and that was really bothering me too at another level. I also just wanted them to hold these series of conversations over time, connecting one day to the next. And then I think I was just kind of sitting there stewing in my sort of teacher nerd anger, I guess, and then a lightning bolt, like a flash where I was like, “I know what I can do!” And I kind of already had this roster for something else that we did in the class, so I pull up this roster, it’s like 20 minutes to go until the bell too, like I need to get this done.
GONZALEZ: Oh wow. Yeah.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, and so I made a roster, I have the roster ready to go. I do a date column, so they could record the date, and then just a, I guess rows for writing down summaries or just a blurb about what they talked about with their partner. And just one instruction at the top, which was something like, “Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be reading this novel, and you are to have brief conversations with 22 of the students on this list.” So I rush to the printer, print it off, and when the students showed up, I kind of explained it and we were kind of off and running there.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And so let me make, I’m going to summarize that back to you and make sure that I understand it.
GONZALEZ: And I’ve also seen this chart, so I want to make sure that we’re explaining it, I’m going to put an image of it on the blog post that goes with this, but for people that are sitting in their cars right now, I want you to be able to picture this. So it’s just a basic chart, and it’s got your, it’s a class list, basically, right down the side.
GONZALEZ: All right. It’s a list of all their names, and then there’s a date column and then a blank, wide final column for them to sort of take a quick note on the conversation. And the idea is that they need to have conversations with 22, out of how many?
FRIEDEN: My classes tend to run from 33 to 36, so right around there.
GONZALEZ: Okay. California, okay.
FRIEDEN: I know, it’s a lot.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Okay. And the idea was that they’re trying to hit about two-thirds of the class, basically.
GONZALEZ: Over the course of, over the course of about how long? How many days?
FRIEDEN: Well it depends on what I’m doing at that time. It was the novel, so I was thinking like three weeks, and maybe two of those weeks I wanted them talking, especially at the start of a novel when things are really confusing. That’s, I like to have them talking then.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So I’m a student in your class, I’ve got this, basically a class list of everybody else in my class, and I’m supposed to now seek them out, have a conversation with them and take a quick note about what we talked about, and it’s supposed to be about the novel?
FRIEDEN: Yes. And that sounds really free-range, the way you’re describing it right now, which I am, that would make me uncomfortable as a teacher right there.
FRIEDEN: But, so I guide them through. Like I have used Google Slides, and I’ll guide them through.
FRIEDEN: And it might be something as simple as, “Explain one thing that really confused you from the chapter to your partner.”
GONZALEZ: Okay. So you give them some sort of prompts, ideas for what they could be talking about?
GONZALEZ: And so then, what happened when you first handed them these sheets? Did they just start?
FRIEDEN: Well I did guide them through the process. We read the instruction. I kind of told them what I was picturing.
FRIEDEN: And I kind of say this thing too when we start reading something, whether it’s like a hard-to-understand article or a novel, is I say, you know, I just want to let you know I’m going to come clean that I’m a confused reader. Join the club. When I read something for the first time, it’s always confusing, and I need help, I need help to understand it. So let’s basically form this class-wide support group here for struggling readers, because I’m one of those too, and as we go through this, let’s talk about the things that are perplexing to us that we don’t get, words we don’t understand. Maybe we miss a detail that our partners or our friends figure out in the class, and so they can kind of help us out.
FRIEDEN: And then that’s kind of, sets the mindset for them getting onto the, you know, when I do the slideshow and I prompt them, that they kind of know, “Oh, okay. We’re just in here to kind of feel our way through this novel.” That’s what I’m hoping.
GONZALEZ: I got it. Are these different slides you’re showing? Sort of like, “Now find somebody to talk about this, then find somebody to talk about this,” like it’s one question at a time?
FRIEDEN: Yeah, I’ll do a different kind of prompt at a time, and sometimes it might be like, “Tell your partner about the conversation you just had,” something like that.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay. So this is not them just wandering around thinking up things to say. This is sort of everybody in the room talking about something they’ve been prompted to talk about, but they’re switching partners every time?
FRIEDEN: Yes. That’s a good way to summarize it.
GONZALEZ: Got it. Okay. Okay. And so, and what we’re talking about right now is the first time you did this, so did it go pretty well?
FRIEDEN: It went surprisingly well. I was actually shocked by it, how well it was going.
FRIEDEN: So I brought it into my other classes. I thought this was going to be one little thing I did to solve this one problem.
FRIEDEN: Maybe this one time.
FRIEDEN: But there was so much potential there. I did, you know, they were reluctant at first, so I would have nudge, they didn’t want to get out of their desks, especially to — at first I know they were going to talk to the people they were most familiar with —
FRIEDEN: — and then they would hit a point where they were like, “I am not comfortable. I don’t know these people.”
FRIEDEN: Which was what I was looking for, actually. But I would have to nudge them with things like, all right you’re sitting at a table of four, so the two students with the shortest hair, you can stay, the rest need to go, and go find a new, somebody else to talk to.
FRIEDEN: And they, you know, would heave a sigh, and they would go talk to somebody else.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. And then once they did that —
FRIEDEN: Yeah, it just had this new energy in the class. They were, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, they are talking.” And it was more content-centered talking too. It wasn’t just about their social lives. They were really responding to the prompts that I was giving them and talking about the book. And there’s one story that does come to mind too about that, where I had a student, this young lady, and she was not all that engaged in the class, and I talked to some of her other teachers. She’s not all that engaged in some of her other classes too, and so it was always a struggle to get her to engage. But she hit a point where she had to talk to Mario, and Mario was engaged, and Mario was very enthusiastic about the book, and he, I think I overheard him saying, like, “No, I have never read a book like this,” and he was so excited about it.
FRIEDEN: And after that, when it was time to move on to our next activity, she could not take her eyes off the book. So I came by and said, “Hey, we’re moving on.” And she’s like, “Uh huh. Yeah.” And then she just kept reading. It lasted about two days, but those are two days that she was really engaged in that book.
FRIEDEN: And I had never experienced anything like that.
GONZALEZ: Oh, that’s really cool. So you continued to use this model with them.
GONZALEZ: And you took it into your other classes too.
GONZALEZ: So how long ago was it that you did this for the first time?
FRIEDEN: It was spring of 2017, so almost two years ago.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So how has it changed to where it is now? What does the model look like? Or have you made many changes to it?
FRIEDEN: At first, in my mind, it was just connected to novel reading.
FRIEDEN: And then I expanded last year when I had my sophomores reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which is, it’s a dense book. We only read portions of it.
GONZALEZ: Yes. I actually didn’t finish it. I started it, and it is, it’s very dense, but it’s such an important book, so I’m excited that you were reading that with 10th-graders.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, so we were reading that, and then we moved into inquiry-based research. So I used that as a seed text, where I had them, like, “What are some surfacing issues that are coming up?” And then I gave them all kinds of guidance into exploring questions. So they’re out finding their own research. And then I was like, “You know what? I still want them to talk to each other. What if I just keep this thing going into the inquiry and research process?” And this was really cool. This was a good breakthrough too, when I had them partnering up to just summarize the articles that they read. Take your favorite article that you found, find a partner, and summarize it for them. And at first their eyes were rolling. They’re like, “Ugh. Okay, I have to do this. I had to print up this article, because you made me print up this article, and now I have to talk about it with somebody?” But since they’d all been researching different topics, like they would sit down with a partner and I’d watch them kind of like, “Okay. This happened, this happened.” But the other person hadn’t read it, so they’re like, “Wait. You’re kidding. What was that? You said that again?” And then they kind of sat up, the person who was doing the summary, like, “Uh yeah, so — ” and then they’d share more details, and they were getting more excited by the end of their conversation. This wasn’t happening everywhere in my classroom.
FRIEDEN: But it was happening in enough spots where I was like, “Huh. There is something here.”
GONZALEZ: Yeah. That’s really cool.
GONZALEZ: And so, okay. So this just started with novels. You expanded it to talking about all kinds of things, including research, and this is where you actually had a name change. You started off by calling them Novel Conversations.
GONZALEZ: You changed it to Ongoing Conversations.
FRIEDEN: Yeah. I think I, yeah. Just, I’ve been fumbling around with names, but it’s like yes, the idea of this conversation that’s happening over an extended period of time, because we’re dealing with complex text or issues, yeah, something like that.
GONZALEZ: Right. Right, right. Here’s something logistic, I’ve got a logistic question.
GONZALEZ: So if I get to my No. 22, at what point do you give them a fresh sheet and have them start over? You know what I mean? Can they return to the same person?
FRIEDEN: Yeah, that’s a great question that I’m not sure I have the best answer for. I do have a couple of thoughts though. So the reason, the No. 22, or two-thirds of the class that I pick, I think that was initially what I wrote down is two-thirds.
FRIEDEN: So that was just in case people were absent. So on the post that you saw, I was frustrated with the appointment clock.
GONZALEZ: Yes, you said you threw a tantrum about it.
FRIEDEN: Yeah. It works as long as you, every appointments there that I’m going to call that day, otherwise it doesn’t really work, and then I have to do a lot of work to partner people up or trios or whatever.
FRIEDEN: This was just in case there was like a number of absences. So it was like, “Oh, there’s got to be somebody on the list.” And then even at the end when I had people wait, I don’t have enough conversations. A solution I came up with last year was, “Okay, let’s move this thing to flip grid.” So we would move it to a way they could talk outside of class, but I can still kind of keep an eye on it.
FRIEDEN: And then if, I do have students that kind of they’re there every day, they have all the conversations, and they’re done, and I kind of ask them, I say, “You know. Hey, you’ve been doing a really good job with this. Can you, you know, basically be this benevolent little, can you help people out?” And usually, for the most part, people are like, “Oh sure. Yeah, I can do that.”
GONZALEZ: So how do they do that.
FRIEDEN: That’s kind of how handle it.
GONZALEZ: What does that look like? Did they, what are they doing when they’re helping people out?
FRIEDEN: Oh, they’re just having that conversation with, so they might have 30 conversations where the person they’re talking to is working on their 20th —
GONZALEZ: Oh, I got it. Okay. So the kids are going to have uneven numbers because of just attendance and that sort of thing?
FRIEDEN: So, but I just say, “Hey, you’re doing such a good job — ” usually when I kind of frame it that way, that really helps the students.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
FRIEDEN: And they are, they’re doing a good job. They’re there every day, they’re having conversations.
FRIEDEN: I’m really grateful.
GONZALEZ: So when, so let’s say the whole class though is getting sort of finished up with their, I mean is there a point where you’re like, “Okay. We’re done with this sheet, and do they turn them in? Are you sort of just looking at them in an ongoing way? Or do you actually collect them and read them?”
FRIEDEN: Yes to all of those questions.
FRIEDEN: But there are, so say we’re in the kind of halfway mark of going through a text or a complicated issue or complex issue, then yeah, I’ll give them another piece of paper and say, “All right. Round two.”
GONZALEZ: Got it.
FRIEDEN: You know, and we’ll kind of start over, yeah.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And now I’ve got to ask this question, because I know people are thinking this. Do they get a grade for this piece of paper?
FRIEDEN: Oh. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that question.
GONZALEZ: I got to ask, because I know they’re going to ask. We can head them off now. My guess, based on your reaction I’m thinking you would prefer to not give them a grade for it, and you think it would be best to not do that. Correct?
FRIEDEN: Well, well yeah, of course. So, no, the reason why I was hoping you wouldn’t ask is because this is a whole other podcast or series of podcasts. I’m taking points out of my class this year. I’m doing kind of the grade-less model that maybe you’ve seen online —
GONZALEZ: Oh yeah.
FRIEDEN: I’m giving that a try.
FRIEDEN: And going really well.
FRIEDEN: But I was using points when I started it, and yes, I would collect it, and yes I would, you know, count. I think I ended up, “Hey. Just go ahead and number off all the conversations you’ve had.” That helps me, just make them count it.
FRIEDEN: And it would be, you know, a small amount of points. Because really the richness of the activity was in the sharing of ideas, and it wasn’t so important that they summarized. But the summaries really helped them, if I ask them things later on for a debrief, like which conversation surprised you the most, or what surprising insight did you get from this? They could kind of look back and —
FRIEDEN: — kind of recall some of that stuff that they were doing, yeah.
GONZALEZ: Right. Okay. I want to dig into this just a little bit more too, because this is what sort of separates English language arts teachers into two camps, and I think to maybe people that have been teaching more traditionally with grades and points for a long time, I think this is a hard thing to grasp. But this reminds me a lot of the conversation I had with Marissa Thompson a couple weeks ago about the TQE method also, which is the assessment of the standard is, “Are they reading?” And so this—that’s all this really is. And so I think the question probably, there’s two things. One, how do you handle the kids saying, “Do we get points for this?” And I’m thinking that’s a larger battle that you’re fighting in general, with shifting away from grading everything.
GONZALEZ: But then also there are going to be teachers and administrators wondering, “Okay. In terms of assessing them for certain standards, what standards are you assessing students on, and how does that actually look in any kind of documentation or anything like that?” Is that a clear question?
FRIEDEN: Yes, no, that makes, it is clear. Because we’ll have, I do hold conversations with my students about their learning, which is standards-based.
FRIEDEN: And so they have to justify to me how they’re learning the standards.
FRIEDEN: And kind of at what level they’re learning them.
FRIEDEN: And so I will definitely throw in if it’s literature, I’ll throw in some literature standards, and I’ll remind them, “Hey, we did this with Ongoing Conversations. Here’s the analysis piece, when you talked about character.” And then also it’s speaking and listening, at the same time. So I got Speaking and Listening Standard 1 from the Common Core state standards, which is just, they have to have a range of collaborative discussions. And so I kind of break that down for them, and they tell me how they’re doing on that standard through the Ongoing Conversations. And they document that, and I look at the document, and we talk about it, and it all kind of translates into a letter grade, because I am at a traditional letter grade school.
FRIEDEN: I do need to submit a letter grade, and I do. And they, I mean really, I think kind of underneath the question that you’re asking is what motivates them to hold these conversations if you don’t have points attached to it?
FRIEDEN: And that’s sort of, well hey. I’m watching. You know you’re going to be accountable for this later on, so let’s just pretend that, well it’s not pretend. I do, I love making the joke that this class is totally pointless. That’s been fun this year. Like, “No, that’s totally pointless.” But the, yeah, so it’s really just, “I’m going to hold you accountable to this, and eventually we’re going to have a conversation. You’re going to have to kind of look me in my eye and say, ‘This is what grade I deserve,’ or ‘Here, I can justify this grade.’”
GONZALEZ: Okay. Well and you know that’s —
FRIEDEN: I don’t know if that answers your question.
GONZALEZ: It does, it does, because they’ve got to be able to justify that they’ve been sort of doing these things with literature or with research. And it’s interesting too, because I’ve not seen too many examples of how you can actually document speaking and listening, and I know teachers struggle with the speaking and listening standards, because it’s like, “Well, yeah. We sort of do that — ” And so by having kids sort of document their own conversations, they’ve got the proof right there.
FRIEDEN: That’s right.
GONZALEZ: Do you end up doing any kind of, like with novel, do you do any kind of an assessment or a paper at the end of them reading the novel? Or is it just to read it and discuss it?
FRIEDEN: Yeah, there’s going to be some kind of connecting activity. It’ll be — I haven’t necessarily assigned literature or literary analysis-type essays, but there’ll be some kind of, I tend to use it as a seed text that leads into some other kind of writing, some more real world type stuff. But yeah.
GONZALEZ: Got it.
FRIEDEN: There will be, they are accountable for what they did or did not do as far as the reading and the discussing.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And what about kids that show up having not read?
FRIEDEN: Let’s see, how do I, so I think I just kind of, I didn’t have a good solution at first, which was just sort of like, “Well, looks like you’re going to have an awkward conversation with a few people today.”
GONZALEZ: That’s a real-world consequence.
FRIEDEN: And that actually, you know I mean like I was talking about that young lady earlier, that kind of worked.
FRIEDEN: At least for a time, that worked for a couple of my students where they kind of, “Oh man, I need to, I’m going to have these conversations, and my friends are dwindling on my list here of people I can talk to, so I should probably show up with something read.”
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
FRIEDEN: And they help each other out too. They kind of compensate for each other, but they get, so those who aren’t reading, they’re still getting some of the reading through, even though they’re not handling it on their own, they’re still getting some contact and seeing different angles and points of view.
FRIEDEN: And even if a person, like, say I’m a student who’s done my reading, and I sit down with somebody who hasn’t, I still get to kind of go back over and recall and do all those great sort of learning habits.
FRIEDEN: Even though I haven’t, you know, my partner isn’t kind of interacting with me. And they don’t know. They’re actually sometimes inadvertently they’re motivating the other student to pick up the book.
GONZALEZ: Right, right.
FRIEDEN: But I might try the whole “go out into the hallway” thing that Marissa talked about during her podcast.
GONZALEZ: Go out and read, yeah, yeah.
GONZALEZ: Huh. Okay. So is there anything else you wanted to share about, well I actually had wanted to know if you’ve got any do’s and don’ts for teachers who want to try this? What advice would you give them?
FRIEDEN: Yeah, the do’s and don’ts, it’s kind of more in — I would say don’t print up, listen to the podcast, and then print up a roster, and then say, “Go.”
GONZALEZ: Got it.
FRIEDEN: I don’t think that would work. It’s a little too free-range, and then depending on the maturity level of your students, like I teach, I’m doing this with mostly 12th-graders right now, and so they are able to handle walking around a room and not squabbling with one another or getting caught up on other things, kind of on their own. So I don’t have to coach them as much with the social aspects.
FRIEDEN: But if you’re going to do this at a junior high level, I think I would be heavy on the “here’s how you introduce yourself to someone.” So those are the kinds of things I would do is coaching into, I mean my seniors are, some of them have remarked — I did a survey recently where they do not, they’re not really sure how to initiate a conversation with someone they don’t really talk to normally. So I’m thinking of bringing more of that aspect in as well. That’s kind of a “do” for myself.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, just role playing, really, like having a fishbowl with —
GONZALEZ: I did a podcast interview with Michael Linsin. He does the Smart Classroom Management website, and he really emphasizes modeling — explicit, detailed modeling — of what your body posture looks like, how you can phrase things that, basically to be behaving in a way that’s going to be conducive to a good classroom environment versus what not to do, and he’ll model that too, which I would think with junior high kids especially, that would be crucial.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, absolutely. And then because, and really what my goal is, like I’d love it to be kind of like my college experience, which wasn’t true in all my classes, but if I was struggling with something, I’d go talk to someone about it. I’d go ask them what, you know, I’ve got half an idea here. Am I on the right track? I mean I’d be comfortable enough doing that with my professors, but then there was also just my classmates. And to just, so this is the ongoing conversation tracker thing that I’m using is really just a way to sort of initiate them into that sort of academic discourse, that inquiry-based discourse where they’re not really sure what their next steps are, what their full thoughts are yet, but they’re talking with somebody about it to kind of help them form a —
GONZALEZ: Right, right. So ultimately, the dream is you would no longer even need the tracker, that this is just your classroom culture, that everyone talks to everyone, and they’re generating these questions on their own, and that may never happen, but you’re sort of creating that culture.
FRIEDEN: Yes, exactly.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. What are the most positive outcomes you’ve witnessed from making this change since you’ve been doing this?
FRIEDEN: Yes. I have had, I guess I said earlier that I do a lot of kind of discussion-based models, four corners. I don’t think I itemized them, but philosophical chairs. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of discussion in there, and those are good, and I still use them, and actually I kind of, I’ve sort of disrupted these ongoing conversations with them. I wrote that on a slide recently. It was like, “And now I interrupt these ongoing conversations for a four corners.” And that was actually really helpful, because they’re already sort of talking in this inquiry sort of mindset, and then they move into this argumentative sort of mode.
FRIEDEN: And then we go back to conversations, and it kind of enlivened it a little bit more.
FRIEDEN: But what I’ve noticed in that, so when I do the four corners, there’s this really content-centered, versus, like I think it was, I think I read a post you did recently too about the fish eye syndrome.
GONZALEZ: Oh yeah.
FRIEDEN: And I know for years, yeah, I was seeing like, I was seeing what I wanted to see with student interactions, so I might have like a third of my class really interacting. This has helped me kind of see, like, to what extent everyone’s interacting. And also when I send them into their four corners or the philosophical chair, I say, “Now while you’re there, why don’t you go ahead and use this opportunity, you have someone who’s like-minded with you, talk with them, and you can put that on your ongoing conversation tracker sheet.”
GONZALEZ: Oh nice, yeah.
FRIEDEN: It’s been, I’ve just found a lot of different ways to sort of incorporate the things I had been doing and sort of move this into, like you were saying, it’s, this is the classroom culture I want to promote.
FRIEDEN: And it’s okay to be uncomfortable with your own ideas and talk with other people who are uncomfortable with their ideas, and so it’s just really student-centered, or content-centered discussions that are happening.
FRIEDEN: And then I guess one of the other benefits is my check for understanding is by walking around. I don’t need to do exit tickets, I don’t need to do quizzes. The other day my sophomores were talking “Animal Farm,” and I had asked a question about Clover, and there were way too many of them saying, “Clover? Who’s Clover? I don’t know who Clover is.” And so I just went, “Okay. Time out.” And then we talked about that character and her relevance in the story.
FRIEDEN: And, “Do you guys — ?” And then they, “Oh, okay.” They kind of got it, and they got back on track with their conversations.
GONZALEZ: Wow. So you immediately responded to it.
GONZALEZ: You were able to immediately respond, which is the ideal in teaching. You do a formative assessment, and you can meet their needs immediately, yeah.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, and that’s exactly what happened in that moment, which was nice. Because I didn’t have to collect anything. I didn’t have to spend an hour going over realizing they don’t know Clover.
FRIEDEN: And then being upset about it too, because that, I take that personally. I shouldn’t, but I do. And then I collect less work, but students do more. So it’s a real collaboration now too where I’ve always heard “guide on the side” and didn’t really know what it meant.
FRIEDEN: I’m starting to feel like I know what it means now.
GONZALEZ: That’s fantastic.
FRIEDEN: Yeah. And then I guess, yeah, so that’s pretty much how things are now. I guess my next steps are, a challenge I’m noticing is they, some of them struggle, I would say a lot of them, at a certain point, they struggle to initiate contact with people.
FRIEDEN: And they said this in a survey, a lot of them they fear being wrong in front of their classmate. So that’s something I have to work on.
GONZALEZ: You know, I kind of see, I almost see both of those as going hand-in-hand too, because initiating a conversation that is the, you’re risking getting rejected in some way, and I feel like, and I hate using the expression “kids today,” but I feel like this is with people in general in 2018, we are getting worse and worse at having face-to-face conversations. Like I’ve met adults that I’ve interacted with online who can’t function face-to-face. Like they’re weird face-to-face, and it’s like, “Oh, come on.” And I think we need to be giving them practice in class and almost giving them scripts, because you have a script to go by, and it’s like, “Oh, okay. I understand how to do this.”
GONZALEZ: And then you don’t have to follow it anymore. But people don’t necessarily even know how you do that. So that’s really valuable work is to teach them directly how you start a conversation.
FRIEDEN: Yeah. And, well, for me, I’m thinking academically too, that there’s tremendous benefit in getting past some of those social awkward, socially awkward stuff and really just learning how to interact with another human being —
FRIEDEN: — will actually enrich your academic life too.
GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. And you know, the more they do that, I would think the less they’re going to be afraid to be wrong, because the more you just talk with people one-on-one, the more you realize, everybody’s a little insecure, everybody has misconceptions about things, and so those conversations have way, way more value, I think, than even see on the surface.
FRIEDEN: Yeah, and I kind of have this half-baked idea too that I’m going to do with research this year. Because one of the things with real inquiry and research, I’m kind of off on a tangent, but I’ll bring it back, I promise.
FRIEDEN: So one of the things that I struggle with is like, look, good research means you’re going to get, you’re going to ask a question, you’re going to follow it, and then you’re not going to like where it goes, or you’re going to read article No. 4 that negates article No. 1, and you’re going to want to crumple that one up. And I said, “That’s good research.”
FRIEDEN: But that’s not, school is mostly like getting through a worksheet, and then you’re done. But that’s not how it works. So I’m thinking this year I might, I need to sort of visually show them how that works.
FRIEDEN: I think I might buy like a fancy wastepaper basket, and I’m going to say, “Hey, fill this up with your bad, like the things that you don’t like. We’re going to try and fill this up with all of the canned ideas. We’re actually going to throw them in here.”
FRIEDEN: And we’ll say, “Look, we’re doing good research.” So I need to figure out how to create some kind of signal to them, like they’re doing good things —
FRIEDEN: — when it feels like it’s wrong or off.
FRIEDEN: Like, “I’m confused.” “Good.” Give them some kind of signal, like that’s a good thing.
FRIEDEN: Because acknowledging that’s huge.
GONZALEZ: Maybe you just make a big bulletin board, and they’ve got to just write, like, scraps of paper on, “I thought this, and then I came across this article, and it completely blew that out of the water, and now I don’t know what to do.”
GONZALEZ: Like, sharing those moments where they fell down and other people be like, “Oh yeah, that happened to me too.”
FRIEDEN: Yeah, or even like, somebody else would pick up and say, “Oh, try this.”
GONZALEZ: You’re right.
FRIEDEN: So then they’re, “Yes!” And then they’re collaborating together.
FRIEDEN: Now the ideas are, yep.
FRIEDEN: That would be great.
FRIEDEN: Also, any suggestions your followers might have would be great too.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay.
FRIEDEN: So feel free.
GONZALEZ: They often have the best ones, so. Okay. So anything else that you want to share about this process before we wrap up?
FRIEDEN: Yeah, I mean like the — so those were the challenges, but I guess the big value is, and the students are saying this too, even though they’re struggling through the discomfort, they say that it’s exposing them to ideas they wouldn’t have considered, had they just been asked to do it alone or kind of respond on a worksheet.
FRIEDEN: And so they’re seeing new points of view, whether they agree with them or not, but it’s actually influencing them. And one, I had one student who actually wrote a lengthy response saying that, “You know what? I don’t know if I’ve changed my mind, but I just told myself, ‘For the sake of this, I’m going to be open,’ and it’s actually changed the way I think about this issue,” which was, I mean.
GONZALEZ: That’s huge.
FRIEDEN: My teacher nerd heart was singing that day.
GONZALEZ: Oh God, I bet. Man that’s —
GONZALEZ: You need to save that one and laminate it.
FRIEDEN: I think I will. But yeah, I really think too, I’m just barely scratching the surface on what I can do with this. And I’m just going to keep refining. So, you know, if people like it, keep coming back, and give me some new ideas. We can build something really cool here, and it’s —
FRIEDEN: — talking, interacting, and connecting one idea to the next, from one day to the next, and just being comfortable with their own discomfort.
GONZALEZ: Speaking of following your progress on this, let’s tell people where they can find you online.
FRIEDEN: Yes, I have a website, MakeThemMasterIt.com, and I’m at, my Twitter handle is about the same, @MakeThemMastrIt. I had to take out an “e” in “master” because they wouldn’t let me put it in there. And then if, this is not necessarily related, but I do, I did write a book last year about writer’s notebook, it’s called “Make Them Process It: Uncovering New Value in the Writer’s Notebook.” You can find that on Amazon, and I do have a free course on my website to help people with that. It’s the same kind of idea of like, hey, we’re not done with our thinking, but this is more of the writing side of it.
GONZALEZ: Nice. Got it. Great.
GONZALEZ: Great. Well thank you so much for basically putting this in front of me on Twitter, and then being willing to dig into this and share it with people. I think that, I don’t know, I think a lot of teachers are going to be excited about this.
FRIEDEN: Oh yeah, well thank you so much. I’m really excited to do this interview. So I appreciate the opportunity to come and talk about something I’m doing in my classroom. It’s nice to feel validated.
For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click podcast, and choose episode 109. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.