Online learning

4 Ways To Increase Student Talk Time Online

August 18, 2020

student talk time

Is Student Talk Time Even Possible Online?

Teachers talk too much. We know this. John Hattie (2012) found that “Teachers talk between 70 and 80 percent of class time”. My own experience observing classrooms reinforces the research.  “Stop talking” is my number one piece of feedback. (And, oh, how I wish someone had said this to me–actually, I wish many people had said this to me many times with great force so that I would have changed my own practice earlier and more often)

Why do we need to talk less?  We know the reasons.  The more students talk, the more they are engaged. 

It’s totally understandable that teachers talk a lot.  Teachers tell me they feel obligated to make sure students don’t miss anything, and TELLING them is the easiest/most efficient way to do that.  Some teachers tell me that they feel like that’s what they are paid to do–They worry that if an administrator walked in and didn’t see them telling/talking at the front of the room but “merely” walking around, it would look like they weren’t doing their job! (More on that in an upcoming post for principals!)

BUT, once teachers stop–or greatly reduce—their talk time, they are consistently amazed by what students are discovering and discussing on their own.

Of course, as the teacher, you are doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes–in how you set up the culture of your classroom and design learning experiences for students.  In many ways, the online forum that many of us find yourself in right now offers ways to hone your non-talking skills and shift the heavy work of learning onto your students.

Here are some tips.

Set Up Discussion Norms   

As you enter the school year, make norm setting one of your top priorities.  Have students reflect on what makes a good learning experience. Norms help set the WHY behind our behaviors with one another.  For example, with adults I often suggest this norm: “Step up/step down”  This asks those of us who tend to dominate the conversation to occasionally “step down” to give others space to talk AND it reminds those who prefer to keep to themselves to “step up” and share their thinking for the greater good. Students can remind themselves to step up and down, gently encourage others to do the same or you, as the facilitator can jump in verbally or–better yet–with an understood hand signal or written shorthand that brings others back to the norm.

Develop Accountable Student Talk Practices

Sure, our students know how to talk, but they don’t really know how to talk to each other. Learning to engage in meaningful dialogue is a skill that can be taught. My go-to resource is the work of Jeff Zwiers, who created accountable talk stems (and nifty placemats) to remind students how to respectfully disagree, build on others ideas and synthesize ideas in a conversation.  Zwiers and Crawford’s tool includes visual representations and hand gestures (such as pulling hands apart to ask a peer to elaborate). 

In a virtual environment, students could use the hand gestures or the class could create a shorthand for each conversation skill to use in the chat.

Use Breakout Rooms to Have Students Talk to Each Other

In a recent Twitter chat,  a teacher claimed that she wanted to use breakout rooms, but needed a way to see and monitor all students.  Well, as far as I know that’s not possible.  More importantly, it’s not necessary.  We don’t monitor our students when they meet in groups to complete projects out of school.  And, let’s face it, we can’t really “monitor” all of our students even when we are all physically in the same room.  So, just get over that.  If we’ve set up norms and created conditions for conversations, students can “monitor” themselves. 

What we can do is make sure each group has a meaningful activity to complete, understands the roles and responsibilities needed (timekeeper, recorder, facilitator, etc) and has learned how to engage in dialogue.

Then, we can drop in.  But, when we do, we MUST remain quiet. You’ve probably noticed that when the teacher joins the group–whether physically or online– there’s a tendency for students to stop speaking to each other and instead direct everything to the teacher for his or her approval.  You can pre-empt that by letting students know that you are dropping in on mute only.  What to do when there’s something you just HAVE TO address? See below. 

Use Chat to Make Your Comments 

When I teach my graduate course online, our sessions are only one hour–and we meet synchronously only every other week or so.  My students may meet more often in study groups depending on assignments and their relationships with one another, but our time together is still precious.  So, I’ve learned to devote the majority of our time to breakout and whole group discussions.  I’m a talker and I could see how much time I was taking away from my students.  I was using more than my allotted 6 minutes.  (How did I get that number?  I have 9 students this summer semester.  We have a 60 minute class. 60 minutes divided by 10 people=6 minutes apiece. Thus, I reason, each of us should have no more than 6 minutes total of speaking time.)

“But Lori”, you might be saying, “you are the teacher!  You have such wisdom to impart! You ask such insightful questions!  YOU deserve more time than a measly 6 minutes.”

Well, first, thank you for those kind words.  And yes, I do believe it’s my job to share what I can to help others make sense of readings and ideas and especially to ask questions that may move the discussion forward.  

So, I do that.  But I do it without talking.  I’ll add a comment or question in the chat. If I’m in a breakout room, I may leave the room immediately after commenting so that the group can use it or not, without having to bring me into the conversation. 

So, there you have it.  A few tips from someone who is constantly trying (and often failing) to step down, shut up and listen better.  

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How do I lead school from my living room?

April 9, 2020

Principal's Office Sign--How to lead your school remotely

This is surreal!

“This just doesn’t feel right! I miss the kids.  I miss the teachers.  I miss visiting classrooms, shaking hands with students as they enter the building, laughing with teachers at lunch duty!”

This, or some version of this, is what I’m hearing from the principals I work with.

Most school leaders hate to be out of their schools.  Whether it’s being called away to a district meeting or staying home sick (a rare occurrence), most principals will do anything to avoid being out of the building.

So, sitting at home–or behind your desks in empty schools–is no doubt a jarring experience. 

Yet all over the country, principals like my friend Anne in Maine tell me the current crisis has raised their game.

In conversations with school leaders over the phone, Zoom, and Twitter, leaders have shared the ways they are making connections, supporting learning, and–perhaps most importantly–demonstrating their own vulnerability.

Here are some awesome examples of leading remotely:

Fostering connection:

  1. Asking teachers for names of students they are concerned about.  Depending on the size of your school, call one or 2 from each class, each week/day. On a schedule that works for you.
  2. Sending a thank you note to each staff member with something you’ve admired about him/her and perhaps never said. One or two sentences goes a long way. 
  3. Creating themed weeks–connect to school spirit and/or school mission

Instructional Leadership:

  1. Dropping in on a synchronous zoom session.
  2. Sharing an article/podcast resource. 
  3. Offering  1:1 office hours with teachers to check in and provide any support or feedback requested

Vulnerable Leadership:

  1. Set up calls with teachers–ask them how you can do more for them–in crisis and not.
  2. Try a new tool publicly.  It won’t be perfect, but that’s ok–we’re all in the same boat right now! 
  3. Use this time to try something new–painting, poetry, etc–and share the results.

Thanks to all who are leading…and sharing!  To share more examples or get some coaching support, you can contact me here.




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Padlet Block Parties: The Jazzed-Up Online Staff Meeting!

April 1, 2020

For years now, great principals have moved away from the nuts and bolts staff meeting in favor of interactive professional learning and dialogue.

While the current crisis likely demands a return to orderly info sessions, there will soon be time to engage with our colleagues around professional matters.

So, why not host a Block Party?

If you’ve ever used this, you know how engaging the Block Party can be.  It’s my go-to opener for staff meetings and professional learning sessions and it’s never disappointed. (I’m a huge fan of protocols and rely on the School Reform Initiative for their great list of resources.)

It goes like this:

The facilitator chooses quotes related to the topic or theme of the meeting.  (You can do this with pieces from one specific article/reading, but I’ve had great luck with these quotes.)

In a face to face meeting, I print the quotes and cut into strips.  (There are usually multiples.)

Then, spread out the strips on a table and allow folks to choose one that resonates with them. Give some thinking time and then have people get up, find a partner and share what they chose and why.  After both have shared, they move on and find new partners. Repeat as long as you wish. (Usually 3 rounds)

In a large group, people share themes, poignant remarks from partners, etc.  

A well-planned “block party” never fails to ignite minds and prepare us for good work.

Now, take the party online…

  1. Create a Padlet in Grid format. 
  2. Put a different quote at the top of each column.  (As many or as few as you want.)
  3. Make sure you’ve adjusted settings to allow for comments and reactions.
  4. Ask participants to make sure they choose at least one quote, comment  on at least one other person’s response and make sure every response has at least one comment. 

Click on the link to access a Block Party Padlet that I’ve pre-populated with relevant quotes.

You’ll need to make a copy.  Here’s a quick tutorial for how to do that. 

I hope this provides a space for meaningful staff engagement.  I’d love to hear reactions and suggestions – contact me here



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How to promote experimentation during the COVID-19 shutdowns

March 19, 2020

There are many, many real challenges associated with these school closings.  I don’t take them lightly and I appreciate the leaders working to ensure equity, provide services and promote a caring culture from a distance.  To those of you doing that, I thank you.

In the midst of this, though, we can find opportunities. 

Now is a time to ask ourselves how we have been constrained by our school calendars and daily schedules.  Now is a time to encourage experimentation and growth so that we might return to school with fresh ideas.

Here are few possibilities…

What if…

  • Instead of teachers meeting with their classes or sections, they met according to interest/need groups?  In high school and middle school, teachers teach multiple sections of the same course.  Why not mix and match students for new groupings? Some might be based on need and teachers could use the time for focused tutorials.  Others might be based on interest and might be more student-led while the teacher observes or facilitates?
  • Teachers dropped in, or even guest-lectured, in one another’s classes?  A fourth grade teacher might drop into a third grade class to get a sense of where her future students stand.  A social studies/history teacher might drop into a math class to get a sense of how his students approach that subject?
  • Teachers paired up to create optional interdisciplinary interactive lectures via zoom? Math and science teachers might come together to show students how their subjects merge.  ELA and History teachers might do the same.

There are so many more.  We have allowed ourselves to be limited by any number of constraints—the length of day and of classes, the limited time for professional interaction, etc.  We have an opportunity right now to go beyond class time and physical walls.  Let’s see what we can do with it.

I would love to hear how others are experimenting…

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