Thursday, August 7, 2014


Sparklle SLP has been doing a great series this week on "pushing-in" and I thought I might "push" passed my technological fears and limitations and "push-in" to the discussion (thank you Sparklle for the tutorial)! I have been pushing in to the classroom in some form or other for thirty-one years (YIKES!!).  I have had some great experiences and some, shall we say, not so great experiences.  I can relate to SLPs who have had to conduct whole group lessons in order to access the classroom.  I can relate to those who have been viewed as intruders and effectively ignored when allowed into the inner sanctum.  I know how uncomfortable it can feel when SLPs are relegated to the role of passive observer.  I know the frustration of being scheduled to push-in, only to find your students missing or contending with schedule changes or students reading silently.  I understand the challenge of targeting goals, keeping data, and feeling as though your time is not being used effectively.

I truly want push-in to work; it makes sense!  As an SLP working in the schools, my job is to help students with speech and language difficulties access the curriculum.  Where is the curriculum?  Why, it's in the classroom proper.  Naturally, some pull-out is completely appropriate and necessary, but in the context of the Common Core State Standards, it just makes sense.  The thing is, I always want it to be an effective use of my time with my students.  The challenge, then, is how to make that happen.

My friend and soon to be "academic conversations mentor," Carly, recommended a book called Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings (I really want to underline the title, but my daughter tells me the correct MLA formatting is italics), written by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford (available on Amazon here).  I believe this approach has the potential to make push-in a powerful experience for SLPs, students, and teachers.  In a nutshell, Zwiers and Crawford describe academic conversations as "sustained and purposeful conversations about school topics" (1).
Available on Amazon here
The first chapter outlines the rationale for integrating oral academic language in the classroom vs. the "trivial pursuit" strategy for learning.  The reasons are compelling, in particular that "oral language is the cornerstone on which we build our literacy and learning throughout life" (7).  The use of academic conversation expects that students collaborate, express their ideas and listen as they learn to "communicate with purpose" (13).  I love that line "communicate with purpose."  Isn't that what we desire to instill in our students?  Academic conversation not only allows for in-depth interaction with content, but it improves cognitive agility and gives students the tools they will need for the future.  In fact, the authors reason that the communication skills honed using this approach dovetail with what employers outline as the skills and qualities they desire in their employees.  The benefits of academic conversations are far reaching and encompass categories of language and literacy, cognitive, content learning, social and cultural, and psychological.

Zwiers and Crawford provide the recipe for getting started and provide the framework for academic conversations drawing on the five integral core skills; elaborate and clarify, support ideas with examples, build on and/or challenge a partner's ideas. paraphrase, and synthesize conversation points. The book effectively explains how to create lessons, design conversation tasks, train students, and develop academic grammar and vocabulary thorough conversation.  Academic Conversations is a comprehensive book, rich with examples on how to integrate purposeful conversation into language arts, science, and history.

This all sounds awesome!  How am I going to do this?  I tend to jump in with both feet, however, I think I need to reign myself in and take baby steps.  First I need to seek out a couple of teachers who want to try this in their rooms.  I work with some amazing people and I am certain this won't be a problem.  I would like to start in fifth through eighth.  Not that the little ones are too young to start this level of conversation, I just need to get good at it! It will be of paramount importance that we meet every week to discuss what is happening in the classrooms and how best to incorporate practice. Zwiers and Crawford provide absolutely fabulous activity suggestions  and mini-lessons for getting started and I suspect I will be camped in those chapters for a while.  As SLPs, we hold the keys to the conversation kingdom and I am excited about the potential that academic conversation promises for the future of education.
Click here for free conversation prompt bookmark


  1. I cannot thank you enough for linking up! I truly enjoyed your post, experience, and recommendations. I can't wait to use the bookmark! Academic conversations will be on my must read list!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! It is a great read. You won't be disappointed!