Quality Talk is an approach to conducting discussions that promotes students’ high-level comprehension of text, where high-level comprehension refers to critical-reflective thinking and epistemic cognition about and around text. The approach is premised on the belief that talk is a tool for thinking, and that certain kinds of talk can contribute to high-level comprehension.
Quality Talk comprises four components: an ideal instructional frame; discourse elements; teacher modeling and scaffolding; and a set of pedagogical principles.
1) Instructional Frame:
The instructional frame represents a set of conditions we consider fundamental for promoting quality talk about text. An important feature of productive discussions is shared control between teacher and students, where the teacher has control over choice of text and topic, but students have interpretive authority and control of turns (i.e., an open participation structure). Students need to be encouraged to make spontaneous, emotive connections to the textual experience (i.e., a personal, expressive response) while reading to acquire and retrieve information (i.e., an efferent stance). Further, students must adopt the position that knowledge is constructed, rather than objectively known, and necessarily requires scrutiny.
2) Discourse Elements:
The second component of the model emphasizes the discourse elements teachers must recognize and promote during productive talk about text. Foremost among these are discourse tools that foster critical-analytic thinking—asking authentic questions that invite a range of responses, building on students’ contributions, and asking questions to elicit high-level thinking. These discursive elements also include questions to elicit connections to other texts and to personal experiences. We contend that explicitly teaching this content to students through Quality Talk “mini-lessons” of the various discourse elements will result in students’ strengthened understanding and use of these important discourse features.
3) Teacher Modeling and Scaffolding:
Teacher modeling and scaffolding refers to ways in which teachers initiate students into productive talk about text. We have found, as have others (e.g., Jadallah et al., 2011), that teachers need to provide temporary support in the early stages of student group discussions so as to initiate students into the kind of talk that promotes critical-analytic thinking and epistemic cognition. There are no generic teacher moves that apply to all texts and topics, as the necessary supports are contingent on the content of the text and the momentary ebb and flow of discussion.
4) Pedagogical Principles:
Pedagogical principles comprise understandings about language and pedagogy that we consider essential to fostering a culture of dialogic inquiry in the classroom. The ultimate goal is for students to take responsibility for co-constructing their own interpretations and responses to text. As such, it is fundamentally important that students have a robust understanding of the elements comprising quality discussions; hence the need for the discourse element mini-lessons.