Sunday, November 5, 2017

Building Rapport and Relationships with T.A.L.K. in Middle School

Learning about T.A.L.K. was a great aha! moment in my teaching--one that I've been able to apply with my 6th-8th graders to give more clear and consistent feedback. (I'm still working on how to use it with younger students, but have to consider that conversational output is much less at those levels).

If you're not familiar with T.A.L.K., in brief, it's a framework to encourage interpersonal communication and give feedback on it.  At our school, T.A.L.K. stands for: (T)arget language (A)ccuracy(enough to be understood, using new vocab. structures) (L)istening(being a good, active listener) and (K)eep it going(being a support, active conversation partner).

Before we use it, I have a conversation  with the students where we collaboratively defining what each of those areas look and sound like(ie. "A good listener makes eye contact with their partner, and is focused on what they're saying, rather than using their computer, working on work while their partner is trying to engage them in conversation, a good listener is nodding, or interjecting--"yes, me too, I didn't quite understand").  Then, while we do interpersonal activities, I make my rounds to listen and observe, and over the course of a 5-6 week period aim to give each student at least 1-2 T.A.L.K sheets, depending on the class size and frequency.  Below is the rubric for my upper elementary group(no grades), but for middle school where 7th-8th graders are graded, point values are assigned--4 pts. each area.

In my 7th-8th grade classes, I use T.A.L.K. frequently, and this fall, I've discovered that this framework provides me with a great opportunity to connect with the students individually, focusing on what they can do, and offering suggestions on how they can 'level up' to make it even better next time.  I used to simply hand back the T.A.L.K. rubrics at the end of class, but this year, I'm taking a moment with each student as they leave class to use it for a conversation and a way to connect.  The response has been very positive--most importantly, it's giving me a chance to connect with the students I don't know very well, or with which I don't have the greatest rapport.  During the course of our first marking period, I've noticed an overall improvement in my relationship with the kids, and deeper engagement on their part(asking questions about their learning and asking for what they need--help with vocabulary development, putting sentences together...).

While I don't think T.A.L.K. is perfect(I don't love the accuracy marker), it has allowed my students and me to use the same vocabulary to talk about their learning and connect personally in our first language.

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