Grand conversations are effective instruments of instructional design and learning, which may be easily integrated into any type of curriculum content. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is an excellent example of the book that can be used in elementary school grand conversations. To make grand conversations even more effective and interactive, they may also be combined with shared reading. In grand conversations, elementary school learners develop necessary interactions, which lead them to developing extensive reading and comprehension skills.
Focus Paper on Grand Conversations Introduction Grand conversations are effective instruments of instructional design and learning, which may be easily integrated into any type of curriculum content. Grand conversations are particularly important for the development of communicative skills in learners. The use of grand conversations is integrally linked to student-centered approaches, providing students with additional opportunities to speak, express their thoughts and opinions, and study the most problematic curriculum topics in depth.
In elementary classroom, grand conversations may be used as the means for studying literary texts and developing extensive connections between literature themes and student realities. Elementary school teachers pay special attention to the development of literacy and communicative skills in young learners. By linking reading to discussion and exploration, education specialists are trying to develop more effective approaches that would motivate young learners to read, and communicate their views in classroom.
“Grand conversations are discussions held by the entire class community. What makes grand conversations different from other forms of whole group activities is that the teacher does not direct grand conversations” (Buis, 2004). Thus, the teacher’s task is to choose the content which is the most appropriate for classroom discussion, and to set the tone of the group conversation, which will further be directed by learners and will help them investigate the plot, the theme, the characters, and the setting of the original text in more detail.
Unfortunately, teachers tend to use more traditional standardized strategies in text analysis; a short-lived conversation is a widely acceptable teaching technique that may save time during the lesson but does not improve student knowledge in class. However, it is not enough for a teacher to understand the importance of grand conversations in class; it is essential that elementary school teachers develop effective and multifaceted approaches, to give students an opportunity for practicing their communicational skills.
As teachers, we cannot guarantee that our small students will be able to understand all literary implications of particular texts. That is why it is important to develop meaningful chains that would help learners understand the content, the context, and the idea of a literary work. The book to be discussed should be written in simple language and should be close to what children feel, see, and do in their daily lives. “The book should be enjoyable, of superior literary quality, engage student interests, allow for good discussions and invite students to revisit them over and over again” (Buis, 2004).
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is an excellent example of the book that can be used in elementary school grand conversations. To make grand conversations even more effective and interactive, they may also be combined with shared reading of the most interesting passages. A sample grand conversation may start with a simple question: “Do you think that Huckleberry Finn could live in our society? ” This question may further be extended to discussing the similarities between Huckleberry Finn’s realities (clothes, behaviors, thoughts), and those of contemporary learners.
It is expected that students’ answers will not be limited to “yes” or “no”, but will encourage other students to express their thoughts and develop reliable connections between their personal experiences and those of a literary character. Children will be free to discuss their best impressions, feelings, or their favorite clothes. It is expected that by the end of the discussion session, children will be able to determine, what makes Huckleberry Finn different from them. Choosing a picture book would also facilitate the discussion and drive learners’ imagination, giving elementary students a special feeling of “reading joy” (Buis, 2004).
As teachers, we should also be prepared to the situation when learners’ experiences and opinions differ and are even be opposite to each other; as a result, we will need to use available instruments for turning this opposition into the subject of a detailed discussion. Grand conversations will further engage all learners into a risk-free environment, and expose them to the world of classic literature through the prism of their most pleasant life experiences. It should be noted that “participation in a discourse community is crucial for the cultivation of deeper levels of vocabulary knowledge.
Language learning is fuelled by students’ curiosity and their desire to connect and communicate with others” (Buis, 2004). For grand conversations to be effective, it is important that the teacher does not limit the discussion to one single interpretation of the book. Children should be encouraged to express their ideas about the plot, the meaning, and the importance of particular passages. Although grand conversations are not directed by the teacher, some scaffolding may be appropriate to motivate and encourage young learners.
Traditionally, students are not involved into active group discussions in class; they are used to the situation where teacher carries the main load of talking. As a result, students may be prevented from supporting conversation at deep levels. Several grand conversations will be required to ensure that students have fully understood the meaning of Twain’s text and that they are able to formulate their thoughts as applied to the context, structure, and the meaning of the plot.
Every new text distracts students from digging deeper into particular literary elements, but attracts their attention to new events within the story; that is why several literary conversations will help young learners concentrate on particular meaningful elements that will gradually lead them to understanding the real or virtual place of Huckleberry Finn in his and in our time. Conclusion Grand conversations reveal the new facets of elementary students’ communicative skills and abilities.
This type of instructional methodology helps revisiting the most interesting literary texts and exploring them through the prism of learners’ personal experiences. In grand conversations, elementary school learners develop necessary interactions, which lead them to developing extensive reading and comprehension skills and provide them with unlimited opportunities for sharing their comments and offering new ideas in classroom-wide discussions.
References Buis, K. (2004). Making words stick: strategies that build vocabulary and reading comprehension in the elementary grades. Pembroke Publishers Limited.
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