When we say “talking to report,” we mean the kind of talk that is most often the default talk in classrooms. “Here’s the answer I got to the math problem.” “Here’s the evidence that the character is nice.” “Here are ten facts I learned about the Civil War.” It often sounds like an
end rather than a beginning. It is talking to share results or research, report out on work already completed, or to provide one-way information. And it’s true that we don’t want this to be the only, or even primary, kind of talk kids engage in. However, we realize that there are times when this is, in fact, a valid and useful purpose for talk.
We think that if kids and teachers take this kind of talk seriously as a genre rather than as the default, talking to report will get better and it won’t be the only kind of talk in the room. In an effort to work on talking to report as a genre, it might be tempting to sort kids’ reporting into “good reporting” and “bad reporting” or, more accurately, green-light reporting—reporting that opens the door to other kinds of talk—and red-light reporting—reporting that stops the conversation in its tracks.
We argue, however, that this is a false categorization. Any fact or idea that is reported—“A lobster can live up to one hundred years” or “The sun is ninety-three million miles from earth”—can propel further talk or it can sputter and stall the conversation. What happens in a conversation, whether it takes off or stays put, is both a talker thing and a listener thing. To put it plainly, it’s not only about what the kids are saying, but also about their purpose, their audience, and their talk moves.
When Is Reporting the Purpose?
Sometimes, talking to report makes sense. There is, after all, a job out in the world called “reporter,” so there’s certainly value in reporting information. It’s worth thinking about when reporting makes sense as the purpose for classroom talk, and how to make it better. To think about when we want students in our classroom to spend time reporting on information, it might help to think about when in our lives reporting is the goal. Are you letting someone know that a train is delayed? Is someone catching you up on a project at work that you missed part of? Are you and your partner discussing new information you’ve learned reading a childbirth book? Did you mention the latest news story about Syria and someone asked you to fill them in on the backstory?
Looking at these examples, we could say that talking to report might
make the most sense when
- You have information to share that’s important to your audience (like
the train delay!)
- You are, or your conversation partner is, new to a topic and trying to
get your facts straight (like with the childbirth book or the Syria news
- You are trying to fill in some gaps or catch someone up, for yourself or
other team members (like with the work project or the Syria news story).
It seems likely that in our classrooms, we’ll find that there are some occasions when talking to report is precisely what it makes sense for kids to do, and so when conversations feel lifeless and flat, “reporting” talk isn’t necessarily the culprit. One thing that does tend to make “reporting” feel uninspired is that kids tend to overuse this type of talk—they’re reporting when that isn’t, in fact, the most helpful purpose, or isn’t the intended purpose of the conversation. Helping kids see when this talk is useful is half the battle. The other half is
helping kids do it better.
Perhaps you will decide to collect data capturing snippets of kids’ conversations across the day in a variety of different settings. Doing this will provide guidance on where to begin the important work of teaching your students the times when talking to report makes sense and how to report in ways that are meaningful and, if appropriate, memorable.
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Shana Frazin is a former classroom teacher and currently Co-Director of the TCRWP Classroom Libraries Project and Senior Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She has led leadership groups on strong readers and higher level comprehension as well as taught institutes on the teaching of reading, writing, and content area. Prior to joining the Project, Shana taught third, fourth, and fifth grades in Pasadena and Los Angeles Unified School districts, and was a faculty member at Pacific Oaks College. You can find her on Twitter at @sfrazintcrwp
As a Senior Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Katy Wischow supports elementary and middle schools not only in New York City but also across the nation and the world. She has been an adjunct instructor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, teaching graduate courses in literacy education. Katy earned her MA in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College and taught for many years in Newark, NJ. Katy is passionate about curriculum development, using the arts to develop literacy, and creating strong cultures of talk in classrooms. She is on Twitter at @kw625