All Saints Catholic School 6th and 7th graders participated in a "talk tournament" last week as the culmination of an historical fiction unit, where they worked in book clubs.
For this project, they had to read and discuss a short story. The idea was that whichever group could talk the longest, stay on topic, and not let the discussion be dominated by one person, would win.
A talk tournament? A prize for being able to talk the longest? Sounds like the perfect project for middle schoolers. But being able to listen as well, and ask questions? That's a skill that is crucial, especially today.
"They all did such a fantastic job that I couldn't even pick a winner," said Mrs. Pollak, the Middle School English Language Arts teacher. "They applied so much of what we've talked about through this unit - and even the whole year. They came to the discussion with theories but welcomed other ideas, and many of them changed their thinking. They listened to each other, asked questions, went back into the text, and even redirected each other into the text. And those are just the speaking and listening skills. They employed so many literary analysis skills, too."
Rather than limiting classroom talk and using it solely to check comprehension, discussion is crucial to develop thinking. But effective, collaborative discussion, listening to others with attention and care is a learned skill. And one our middle school students are learning to conquer.