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Inspired Insights: Sharing in the Classroom

My first week at Inspired Teaching Demonstration School, two years ago, I was struck by the number of opportunities each student had to share (aloud) something about themselves or a meaningful school project. I was amazed at the time that was devoted to letting students share whatever they felt was wonderfully important to them. I had a thousand reasons to smile that first week.
I'm revealing my age when I say that my elementary school education in the 1960s provided few chances for students to talk unless the teacher asked an academic question (and was looking for that one correct answer). While I have always considered my school education to have been good, it certainly was narrow in its approach. There were “x” number of facts and rules to learn (memorize?) each day, each year. It certainly didn't allow much room for Inquiry and Imagination.
At ITDS, opportunities for sharing start at the beginning of the day, during Morning Meeting, run throughout our daily academic subjects, and continue to the very end, at Closing Circle. Sharing is important for social-emotional learning as well as academic learning and achievement. Many have argued that nurturing social-emotional learning supports greater academic learning.
Having a 4-year-old in my classroom share during Morning Meeting how she spent her weekend is giving her the building blocks to speak, debate or act in public as a middle schooler. Additionally, the student receives this positive message: "I matter in this classroom." By having a second-grader do a partner chat after working on a social studies project, he learns how to look at another person and express himself, avoiding the potential reluctance to share with the whole group. By having a seventh-grader work on a science project in a group of four, she has the opportunity to voice her theories and test them with partners.
Perhaps the most important moment to share happens when teachers introduce a new topic and ask students, "What do you already know about pollution/comets/angles/public advocacy/Washington, DC?" The answers fill our whiteboards, and the ensuing conversation steers student-centered learning. (I remember my elementary school teachers fondly, but, believe me, no one started a lesson by asking us what we already knew.)
If you have a chance to visit ITDS, be sure to listen to students who are sharing. You'll understand in a moment why, two years later, I still have a thousand reasons to smile every week.