Lively & Artful Sharings

Mr. Saunders’ class had been doing the sharing component of Morning Meeting since school started in the fall. After several months of daily practice, he knew he could count on sharers to speak clearly on a focused topic, and on their classmates to respond with on-topic questions or comments. Yet in spite of these successes, something seemed to be missing.

Sharings often felt a bit mechanical and the students slightly disengaged. Sharers would say one, at most two, sentences about their topic and include few if any intriguing details. Classmates tended to respond with simplistic yes-no questions or comments that seemed superficial.

For example, in one typical share, Jake said, “This is a picture of my family. We took the picture last weekend. I’m ready for questions and comments.”

“Is that your whole family?” Max asked when Jake called on him.

“Yes,” Jake answered.

“Everyone in the picture looks happy,” Kyla commented.

“Thanks,” said Jake, and then called on a third classmate, who asked, “Does everyone in the picture live with you?”

“Everyone except my oldest brother, who’s off to college,” replied Jake, and then the class moved on to the next sharer.

Dissatisfied with this rote-seeming dialogue, Mr. Saunders started thinking about what he could do to help make sharing more lively and engaging. He decided to try checking in with sharers beforehand. These brief conversations would help the children prepare by encouraging them to think about what they’d say, to rehearse, and to revise.

This simple strategy had powerful results: Soon, children’s speaking began to sparkle with an increased level of detail, vividness, and even suspense. In turn, classmates’ responses gained new vitality. Sharing became a more enjoyable part of Morning Meeting as children got to know each other in deeper ways and practiced more advanced oral presentation skills. Here’s what a typical check-in and subsequent sharing looked like in Mr. Saunders’ class after he had implemented check-ins.

The day before: Initial check-in

It’s near the end of the day and Mr. Saunders is observing as the children finish an assignment. Glancing at the sharing signup board, he sees that Lydia, Seth, and Sarah are signed up for the next morning. Seeing that Lydia has completed her work, he approaches her.

“Lydia, I see you signed up to share tomorrow,” Mr. Saunders says with a smile.

“Yeah,” Lydia says.

“What do you plan on sharing?”

“I’m gonna tell about my new family photo.”

Sensing that Lydia’s ideas for her sharing are fairly undeveloped, Mr. Saunders asks a question meant to help draw out some ideas. “Hmm,” he muses. “What do you most want us to know about the photo?”

“I’m not sure,” says Lydia.

Wanting to give Lydia a chance to try working this out herself, Mr. Saunders says, “I’ll come back in a few minutes and ask you again. In the meantime, do some thinking.”

He then seeks out the other two children signed up to share and speaks briefly with them. When he comes back to Lydia, she has narrowed her topic.

“I want people to know that we had a big family gathering and lots of my relatives came,” she tells her teacher.

“How exciting!” Mr. Saunders responds with interest. “Which particular relatives do you most want us to know about?” Mr. Saunders uses this open-ended question to get Lydia thinking about ways to further sharpen her presentation.

“Well, Zoey was there. We had fun,” says Lydia, her eyes lighting up at the memory.

“Oh yeah, your favorite cousin! You’ve talked about her,” the teacher recalls.

Then, seeing an opportunity to tie academic learning with this social experience, Mr. Saunders says, “Remember we’ve been learning about how a good story has details? See if you can tell some details about what made your time with Zoey so fun.” As he walks away, Lydia looks deep in thought.

Mr. Saunders tailors his check-ins to individual children. Some students, like Lydia, need to be drawn out. Others are brimming over with many unrelated details and need help focusing their talk. Still others have just the right amount and type of information and benefit from just a brief rehearsal with their teacher.

Arrival time: Final check-in

The next morning, when Lydia bounds up to the classroom door, Mr. Saunders gives her a reassuring pat on the shoulder and says, “Are you ready to share?”

“Yep, it’s gonna be great!” Lydia replies as she steps into the room.

Similarly, Mr. Saunders offers a few quick words of encouragement to the other two sharers as they arrive. As with the initial check-in, Mr. Saunders individualizes this final check-in for the specific child and situation. Usually, any needed prep and rehearsal have been done, so the most helpful thing from him is an upbeat “You can do it” or “I can’t wait to hear you share!” to show his confidence and enthusiasm. But this “day of” check-in is not too late for some substantive coaching, should a child need it. The key is for the teacher to know the children and what’s appropriate for each child.

The sharing: Engaging details, probing questions

After Lydia and the other children finish their morning tasks, the class gathers for their Morning Meeting. They begin with a ball toss greeting and then briefly review the responsibilities of sharers and audience as they move into the sharing portion of the meeting. Lydia begins.

“Last weekend we had a family gathering at my aunt’s house. Gazillions of relatives were there from all over,” she says. “My cousin Zoey—you’ve heard me talk about her—she was there, too. We played all kinds of games, ate lots of food, and at the end of the day we all posed for this picture.”

As Lydia displays the photo for the class, she exclaims, “I’m ready for questions and comments.”

“That must have been exciting for you,” says Hannah when Lydia calls on her. “What was the best thing you and Zoey did?”

“Zoey and I were attached at the hip all day. At least that’s how my mom describes it. We got to be on the same team for this huge volleyball game. She’s really good.”

Lydia calls on John next. “What’s the farthest any of your relatives came?” he asks.

“I’m not really sure, but my father’s sisters came from Texas. They had to fly on two planes. Everyone else drove, I think.”

Lydia calls on Kyla. “What kind of food did you like the most?” Kyla asks.

“We had these spring roll thingies my aunt made,” Lydia says, showing the spring roll shape with her hands. “She was born in the Philippines and always makes stuff from there when we get together. There was a special sauce we dunked them in.”

Two more students share before the class moves to the next portion of Morning Meeting. All three sharings were not only focused, but truly engaging. The sharers offered interesting details, and audience members responded with probing and broad-ranging questions and comments.

Powerful results from small changes

Mr. Saunders’ brief conversations with the sharers beforehand helped elicit these lively, even artful, sharings. Pre-sharing check-ins require just a few minutes and use techniques that teachers already employ in other parts of the day—such as open-ended questioning, reminding, rehearsal, and supportive language. Given this simplicity, these check-ins can quickly become part of a teacher’s daily practice. Used consistently, they help students rise to a new level of enjoyment and learning in sharing with their classmates.

Andy Dousis taught third and fourth grade for ten years in East Lyme, Connecticut. He’s the co-author of Doing Math in Morning Meeting and The Research-Ready Classroom.

Tags: Sharing