EdCafe Rocked the Room!

When in EdCamp Boston a couple of weeks ago, and then at Dialogue 21 this past weekend Katrina Kennett shared an interactive strategy that she uses in her classroom called EdCafe.  As Katrina says, at it's heart, EdCafe is like other interactive strategies we use in the classroom, such as Socratic circles and carousels.  While EdCafe has been used primarily in the high school classes Katrina teaches, I firmly believe that any solid interactive strategy is applicable to all ages; it's our responsibility to break down the skills to determine what to modify and explicitly teach for younger grades.  Upon listening to Katrina's students speak about their experiences as well as experiencing it myself, I was hooked and knew it was an interactive strategy that I had to use with my third graders.

We are in the midst of reading Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson; a favorite book of mine written in verse and one that my students always fall in love with.  At this point of the school year my kiddos are pretty solid in reading for deeper meaning as well as using the Harkness Method to prepare for and participate in conversations about their reading.  Now that it's May they are also pretty comfortable with making choices that drive their learning.  The work I had to do was fairly limited, yet will continue to be scaffolded as the remainder of the year progresses.

Preparing for EdCafe with Elementary Kiddos

A few days ago I hadn't yet introduced EdCafe, but had my kiddos engaged in the hard work of preparing for it.  They are partner reading the book (I don't have enough copies) and are using the Harkness to stop and jot.  I did tell them that their responses had to be pretty elaborate because they would be expected to engage in-depth conversations about their thoughts.  I (re)modeled this for them to ensure that it would get done and sent them off to read and think.   

The next day, I had them choose one of their topics and post-it to our Morning Message; we have been working the entire year on main idea/topic but this can still be tricky.  I went through their post-its and determined which were popular topics and which would provide an opportunity for rich conversation.  I then plugged them into this board (table) that I made.  This one I created on the SMART Board, but I also have a  paper version so that my students can post-it their own topics (post-its don't stick too well on SMART Boards).  

Introducing EdCafe to Elementary Kiddos

I set the tone for group work during Morning Meeting; the kiddos participated in a trading card activity that reinforced how to speak and listen to others, while allowing them to deliberately tweak their original thoughts.  This really decreased the need for me to be proactive as I introduced the concept of EdCafe.  

A quick question allowed me to determine that my students were familiar with the term cafe.  Using that food analogy, I explained to them that their goal was to use this time like going to eat ~ the 1st session is like your appetizer, the 2nd session is like your main course, and the 3rd session is like your dessert ~ and that they were to get full from their conversations about the text.  

Before explaining that they could choose which conversations to engage in, I introduced the rules (expectations) of EdCafe.  
  1. You must begin the conversation with the topic and talk about it until it has been exhausted.
  2. It is okay to change the topic, but you can only talk about the text.
  3. You must talk about the text for the entire time.
  4. Include everyone in the conversation.
  5. Be prepared to share what you got out of the conversation.  What did you fill up on?  (Katrina calls this the take-away.)  
I let them know that because this was our first time doing this, we would be talking for five minutes and writing for two minutes.  When we wrote, we would be reflecting on what we took away from the conversation.  I also let them know that for our first time we would only be enjoying two sessions, our appetizer and dessert.

Facilitating EdCafe with Elementary Kiddos

My kiddos went to their conversation corners as I reminded them to go to the topic they, not their friends, were interested in. They sat down, got into a circle and began chatting.  Because I've taught so many skills this year already, my paraprofessional and I focused on ensuring that the kiddos stayed on task.  Silly us, because they had it under control!  If you happened to come into my room today, you would have seen him and I sitting outside their circles, captively listening without saying a word.  The next time we will eavesdrop to evaluate the conversations.

I have to note that it was also snack time, so they quickly dumped their snacks in the middle of their circles and munched while they chatted.  I was so tempted to throw on some music for them to truly create the cafe experience, but didn't want to distract them with additional background noise.  Truly all they needed were some comfy lounge chairs, coffee tables, and dimmed lighting to make it a coffee house. (Honestly, I would prefer this type of furniture in my classroom.) 

Reflecting on EdCafe with Elementary Kiddos

After engaging in two sessions, we gathered to reflect on the process.  I suggested that they reflect on what they liked or what they noticed was done well.  What I find interesting about these reflections is that we learn so much about our kiddos from what they say.  Really, what they are telling us is what they need to be a successful learner.  Here's what they said:
  • I loved getting to talk to a variety of people.
  • I liked being able to choose which conversation to join.
  • I liked that we got to move around the room. 
  • I liked hearing what other people thought about the book.
  • I really enjoy the book and liked hearing what other people had to say.
  • I noticed we stayed on topic.
  • People asked if it was okay to change the conversation.
  • We shared the floor, we waited for someone to finish speaking before we began.
  • Everyone in our group participated in the conversations.

My Reflections

My para and I kept stealing glances at each other and giving each other big thumbs up.  I have to tell you we were incredibly proud of our kiddos.  The manner in which they were engaged and the social skills they were exhibiting, not to mention the literacy that was going on!  I have to say they did not need us; we sat back and soaked up the conversations.  We had the same observations as the children but also noticed:
  • they referred to page numbers and specific poems in the book
  • if someone wasn't participating, they let them know they were going to talk next
  • they asked each other clarifying questions: Can you say more about that?  Can you give another example?  
  • they changed their minds based on what they heard each other say
  • they valued each other's ideas: I didn't think of that, that's a good point
  • they went deep into the character's relationships and actions
  • everyone participated; an expectation of Harkness, but the small groups made this easier
  • they peer monitored off-task behavior, and used reminders to get each other back in the convo
  • they were engaged
I realized that I needed to limit the number of people in the groups; for me six was a good limit.  This also means that I could probably have three conversation corners (I have a small class this year for this to be possible).  Based on today, I don't think it will be anytime at all before my kiddos will be posting the topics themselves.  I'm thinking that at first I will collect the kiddos' top topic and then let them know when they will be facilitating a conversation corner.  For my kiddos with special needs, I may partner them up.  This also means that I'm going to need to explicitly teach how to ensure everyone is included in the conversation.


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