Chalk Talk at Educon 2.4 led by Sean Nash

So one of the most practical ideas I got at Educon came from Sean Nash's session where he used a "Silent Chalk Talk" to get those of us in the session engaged, thinking and sharing about the idea of shifts in education.  This Chalk Talk protocol, practice, activity...whatever you want to call it, was new to me and I really like it.  He gave us a general topic and we silently "talked out" our ideas with the chalk.  It was brilliant.  And by the end of the allotted time we had to write on the board (giant poster made w/butcher paper hanging over lockers outside the classroom), it was completely filled with ideas, arrows, lines, etc.  Next, we went back to the classroom and debriefed the experience.  The overall sentiment was that of excitement.  I think most of those that participated in the activity, including myself, found it really worthwhile and meaningful.  I knew right away that the Chalk Talk activity was something I wanted to share with the teachers I work with and this week, I got my chance.

8th grade students adding their ideas to the board during their first chalk talk experience.
I went into a teacher's class to help her plan for her unit of study on the Middle Ages.  I figured beginning a new unit would be a perfect time to introduce the "chalk talk" so I pitched the idea to her, shared my experience with it and she agreed.  Her students just finished learning about the fall of Rome and now they are moving into the study of the Middle Ages so we decided to pose 2 questions for the students to engage with during this activity as an intro into the unit.  The first question activated prior knowledge and asked for explanations for the fall of Rome.  She posted that and allowed them 10 mins or so to put their thoughts on the board and to make connections.  They silently filled the board and then discussed their ideas briefly before beginning the next silent chalk talk phase.  The next question was much more open-ended and simply said "So Now What?"  The goal with this was to see if the students could predict what happened in Europe after the collapse of Rome.  This phase was met with much more excitement as I noticed the students rushed to the board more quickly than they did with the first question.  My thought is that because they were free to think about this open-ended question for themselves and because they knew they didn't know the "right answer" to the question, they were safe to share their "maybe this happened" ideas.  Every student shared at least one idea and most shared a few.  Collectively, they totally nailed it and I think this will give them a great foundation on which to start their conversation tomorrow on the beginnings of the feudal system.  I even heard a few say they really enjoyed this activity.  The only downside was not having enough time to fully debrief all their ideas, but they will dig deeper tomorrow.    

In this case, Chalk Talk provided an experience in which all the students participated.  Besides helping them articulate their thinking, I believe it allowed them to experience the power of collaboration and witness the value that comes with sharing ideas in a safe space.  I can say that the Chalk Talk is a great activity for all grade levels...really for all learners.  Now that I have a great example to share from within our school, we can promote the Chalk Talk with more teachers and hopefully I can model it for them by using it in a professional development session soon.  Have you used "Chalk Talk" with your students/faculty?  If so, share your experience in the comments! 

For more info on the Chalk Talk Protocol and suggestions on how to get started, check out these sites: