by Valentina Gonzalez
Do you feel like there is just so much curriculum to teach that you don’t have time to ask students to stop and talk? Let’s think about that. Why don’t we allow students to discuss the content we’re covering?
Do you feel that if you let students talk, they might get off topic? This used to happen in my classroom. I noticed especially that the students farthest from me were the ones furthest from the topic.
Perhaps you feel that letting kids talk creates a noisy environment. Or maybe you feel that there isn’t enough time for students to talk.
These are common concerns among us as educators, especially if we’ve tried the typical “turn and talk” method with students. However, QSSSA is about to change the way that you and your students use “talk” in the classroom forever!
Nearly ten years ago, I went to a training and received a book called 7 Steps to a Language-Rich, Interactive Classroom by John Seidlitz and Bill Perryman. This book and the training introduced me to QSSSA for the first time.
Before this, I used to use traditional turn and talks, or I would call on my students one at a time. It sounded something like this:
Me: Who can tell me why the setting was important in this story? Marcus?
Marcus would answer while all the other students tuned out. After many instances similar to this, my students realized that we were playing a sort of question-answer game, where I would ask a question and call on one student to answer. No one else really needed to pay attention.
Thinking back on this experience, I realize now that my English learners who needed time to process and translate were suffering most with my questioning technique. I asked the questions too quickly and didn’t give them time to process or translate. It’s possible that many of them gave up on trying to answer any of my questions at all. But QSSSA changed everything.
QSSSA is a method for structuring conversations that can be used in any grade level or content area. Any teacher can use QSSSA to engage students in academic conversations. The time frame is flexible based on the needs of your discussion. Some discussions last 5 minutes while others are meatier and require an extended talk time. QSSSA is easy to implement with little prep work needed, yet the benefits for students rock!
How to Implement QSSSA
1. Q: Question
Crafting effective questions takes practice and time, and it doesn’t happen on the fly. Begin by crafting an open-ended question, and avoid questions that are closed and offer only one correct answer. Thought provoking questions are the best for structured, academic conversations. If there is specific vocabulary that you want students to use and learn, include it in the question. Post the question so students can see it and easily refer back to it during their conversation.
Example open-ended questions:
- If you were (insert character’s name), would you have made the same decision? Explain why.
- How would you solve the problem/equation?
- After reading the chapter/book, what surprised you most?
- What is one moral or lesson from the book so far?
- Based on the experiment, what can you conclude?
2. S: Signal
Tell students to give you a response signal such as standing or giving a thumbs up when they can respond to the question. I like to use hands on hips and “thinkers chin.” This step is critical for 100 percent participation. When you begin to implement this step, it may take longer than you would like, but don’t be tempted to skip it. Kids may test you. Over time they will learn that you expect everyone to participate. Remember: it’s not about “just getting the right answer;” it’s about thinking and learning. Gone are the days when we ask a question and call on one kid to answer it while everyone else zones out.
This step ensures a sufficient amount of wait time or think time for English learners who may be processing and translating the question and stems. Keep in mind that students who are learning English as a second or third language are cognitively capable but may need linguistic accommodations to level the playing field. English learners can achieve with the proper supports and scaffolds.
3. S: Stem
Next, provide students with a sentence stem to use when responding to the question. As a class, rehearse how to say the sentence stem. This rehearsal not only helps students understand that they will need to use the stem, but also helps if students aren’t quite sure of how to say some of the words. This prepares everyone for success. Some students benefit from using word banks, pictures, or other reference points to help them complete their thoughts.
- If I were (insert character’s name), I would have___because…
- To solve the problem/equation, first I___then___next…
- What surprised me most was…
- One moral or lesson from the book is that…
- Based on the experiment, I can conclude___because…
4. S: Share
Now that all the students are ready, group them and let them share their answers. Grouping can take many forms. It may be a group of three or four, or it could be A/B partners. The important part here is that students know how they will share with their peers. Explicitly give instructions for sharing, so students who are reluctant to speak will understand the expectations while those who may dominate the conversation will also understand where to draw the line. Some classes need a live demonstration of what the conversation looks like. I’ve used myself and a co-teacher to share with students how partners will stand, face one another, and take turns talking. I’ve also used students to demonstrate these norms.
Sharing in small groups or with a single partner lowers the affective filter. English learners may find it difficult to share with the whole class, but sharing with one peer may be more manageable.
Share time also gives the teacher an opportunity to listen in on conversations. The teacher can wander through the crowd and take notes that will guide the next steps in instruction. If there are misunderstandings, the teacher will have the opportunity to clear them up.
Note of caution: As you listen to conversations, be careful of your feedback. Often saying “Good job” can halt a discussion by making students feel they have completed the task. To keep conversations going, try feedback like, “You’re on the right track. Can you say more?” or “What else can you tell us about that?”
5. A: Assess
The final step in QSSSA, is assess. This simply means that the teacher will RANDOMLY call on a few students to share their answer with the whole group or provide an opportunity for students to write down their thoughts. Now remember, they’ve all been given the opportunity to share in small group (which helped to lower the affective filter). That opportunity also provided a listening experience for them, so they may build on their initial answers.
This step enables us to hold our students accountable for their learning by 1) not always calling on the same kids or 2) requiring students to record their answers in writing.
More than Turn and Talk
When we scaffold, teach, and foster academic conversations using QSSSA in our classrooms, students understand expectations and are set up for success. We are able to build environments that create a sense of community as students hear from more and more classmates over time.
In today’s world of easily accessible information, students are able to Google and search just about anything at the touch of their fingertips. What Google doesn’t provide is an opportunity for intelligent student-student conversation. That’s something we can do in our classrooms, and students are able to stay on topic using academic, content-specific vocabulary.
Whether you are a Kindergarten teacher, a high school algebra teacher, or a music teacher, I challenge YOU to try this amazing technique with your kids! And let us know how it goes. While you’re at it, check out the hashtag #QSSSA on Twitter to see it in action!