Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Importance of Talk and Collaboration

Tired and weak from a sleepless night of coughing and waking to blow my nose to achieve five minute increments of clear breathing, I spent this past Saturday in an unusual way—idle.  I sipped tea, sucked lozenges, and burrowed under the covers…with my computer on my lap.  I spent the day surfing the web and mining little gems here and there. 

One “find” that I came across was a podcast by Jennifer Allen, a literacy coach from Maine and Franki Sibberson, a library media specialist from Ohio.  These are two of my favorite educators and I jumped at the chance to listen to them talk together.  In this brief interview, Franki queried Jenn about her work as a coach, specifically the job of helping veteran teachers outgrow their best ideas.  It was interesting to hear her ideas about working with teachers to perfect their craft after so many years and if you’re interested in hearing what she had to say, you can listen to the podcast or read that transcript at  What stuck with me, however, was the notion that Jenn shared that in order to refine their practice, the thing that veteran teachers crave most is “collaboration and talk.” 

Hours after first listening to this intriguing conversation, I found myself watching an interesting TED video featuring Dr. Sugata Mitra from India.  As an educational researcher, Dr. Mitra has done some ground-breaking work about how people learn and people’s motivation for learning.  He’s famous for putting computers with internet access in slum walls and rigging up video cameras to watch what poor, undereducated children do with this technology with little to no instruction. Fascinatingly, these children played with it until they figured it out.  Dr. Mitra discovered that once one gets it, he shares with others.  How did these children learn?  Through collaboration and talk. 

For me, a theme was clearly emerging.  People, not just veteran teachers, crave collaboration and talk.  When we talk to others, we merge our thinking in ways that leads us to important “a-has”  that inevitably expand our minds.  As our minds expand, we refine our thinking which leads us to be more productive—no matter our practice or trade.

As a staff developer, I work with a lot of teachers who crave the opportunity to collaborate and talk with others.  It is a common lament that there simply isn’t enough time to sit down to share ideas.  And the bottom line is, they’re right. 

That said, that’s not an excuse not to talk and collaborate.  Technology has given us the tools we need to extend our conversations beyond the walls of our classrooms..  Any teacher wanting to engage thought-provoking conversation can log on to the internet and venture into the world of educational chats and discussion boards to engage in amazing collaboration and talk.    If you don’t know where to go, I suggest starting at the Literacy Builders Discussion Boards.  Our boards are ready and waiting for you to share your thinking.  This week I added an “issues in reading workshop” thread that I hope you will log on and contribute to.  While you’re there, check out the other threads as well and become part of collaborative community that wants to help all of us feed our innate desire to talk in order to “outgrow our best ideas.” 


Laurie Diamond said...

It is so true that teachers crave collaboration. As a brand-new Literacy Coach, I just spent the week conducting four grade level meetings, from first through fourth grade. I am a trained Reading Recovery teacher and for years have been cast in the role of a primary reading specialist, so I had to educate myself quickly on working with students in the upper grades. We are trying to move upper grade teachers more in the direction of small group instruction. A number of teachers asked for recommendations for short texts that could be read in one or two lessons. There is a wealth of nonfiction material available but I'd love some suggestions for short fiction texts, ranging from levels L through Q. Look forward to hearing from you!

Kim Yaris said...

Laurie,after a full day of coaching, I can honestly say, once again, that teachers crave collaboration. The opportunity to sit and talk and bounce ideas around give birth to better ideas. Better ideas lead to better instruction. It's a win-win proposition. As for your teachers looking for short fiction texts to support their reading lessons, I recommend you check out the "Teaching with Literature" ( section on our website. We know the value of short texts because we use them all the time!