Sandi Novak, Ed.S.

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When and How Often Should Students Discuss? Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 8

Sandi Novak

We know that employers want workers who can communicate well and work effectively in groups. We also know that the area of language arts includes speaking and listening standards. Yet, these speaking and listening standards often ride in the back seat with the reading and writing standards driving the work. Providing the skills needed in the workplace while building our students’ confidence requires making the decision to increase quality student-led discussion in your classroom.

Preventing “Off Roading” Discussions
Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 5

Sandi Novak

Have you ever listened to a small group discussion and didn’t recognize the topic? When students first engage in discussions on their own, they sometimes veer off topic and don’t know how to bring the conversation back. This is a common challenge that can be addressed by ensuring discussion worthy topics are considered, setting appropriate time limits, and offering supports that will help when discussions get side-tracked.

Discussion Worthy Topics

Students need important and enough content to talk about during their discussions. They need to know how to begin a discussion with a talk-worthy question or prompt. At first, the teacher can generate a question to get the discussion started. Shortly after the students have had some practice with talking together on their own in small groups of 4-6 members, they should generate their own thought provoking question or idea to get the discussion started. 

Preparing for Student-Led Discussions

Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 7

Sandi Novak

In Part 6 of this blog series, Setting the Stage for Student-Led Discussions, I shared that student-led discussions are most successful when consistent structures are in place and clear expectations for discussions are articulated and modeled by the teacher. Now that your classroom environment is set up for student talk, you may be wondering about grouping strategies and skills students need to be effective group members.

Setting the Stage for Student-Led Discussions
Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 6

Sandi Novak

As you prepare for a year filled with many opportunities for students to talk, you may reflect on your past experiences and wonder how you might enhance your classroom environment to set students up for successful experiences with student-led discussions. Four things come to mind when I think about the rituals and routines that need to be present for students to engage in meaningful talk.

The classroom climate must value student voice.
We need to understand what quality discussions look and sound like.
We need to explicitly teach students group membership behaviors and communication strategies while expanding their knowledge of important content.
To engage in meaningful dialogue, students need to read, view and listen to deepen their knowledge of important content. 

How to Grade Small-Group Discussion, Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 9

Sandi Novak

Often, teachers wonder how they should grade students to hold them accountable during discussions. A conversation with one teacher illustrates the questions many teachers ask. She said, “I want to include more student-led discussions in my classroom, but I don’t know how I would grade their work to hold them accountable. They won’t speak up if they think they aren’t receiving points. How might I grade individual students for their work during discussions? What criteria should I use to grade them as they engage in discussions?”

While I believe specific feedback related to criteria taught during the focus lesson gives students more information than the points they receive in a grade book, many schools still report using grades. Therefore, rubrics or checklists developed during whole-group instruction provides the best resource for this type of grading.

My core mission is to prepare and support school leaders and teachers to enhance outcomes for all students. Well-trained leaders improve the achievement of all students. Effective leaders build a school team with a sense of urgency, drive and commitment. I am dedicated to the ongoing development of such leaders.

I aim to help educators master literacy enhancements within their school systems. Drawing on my experience developing proven programs, I work with school systems large and small, urban and rural. I understand the daily demands of school leadership and the unique role that school leaders play.

​​​New Blog

If you have incorporated the ideas from my past blog posts into your instructional practices and still find your students’ discussions lack substance, it may be due to the feedback they are receiving. Feedback is the topic of my latest blog. Check it out!