Conversational Competence in Students


We are heading into the winter vacation - a time typically marked by more time together as a family, a time that will hopefully lead to more conversations within families. As you look to spending time with your child(ren) over the winter break keep in mind the need to proactively shape the interactions you will have. Whether travelling, or staying at home here in Dakar, it is a wonderful time to change routines and focus on reinforcing, or developing, new habits.


Students in Secondary School at ISD spend a good deal of time on electronic devices, and do so in ways that makes learning more productive. For example, in Grade 6 last week 20 students in Ms. Rabin’s class were able to have a more productive simultaneous brainstorming session online about how they had changed as a result of their time in Lampoul on their trip than had they all tried to do so in conversation. Further, students are much more efficiently able to edit their work in a Google doc than on paper; however, there are also times when some key skills suffer if/when students’ spend too much time on electronic devices.


There is an engaging article in The Atlantic written by a teacher, Paul Barnwell, who argues that students are losing their ability to have a conversation because of their over-reliance on devices leading to an inability to effectively engage in real-time talk. In light of key events that will necessarily present themselves in our students’ lives later in life - college interviews, job applications, negotiations with colleagues at work - Barnwell presents the question:


Is there any 21st-Century skill more important than being able to sustain confident, coherent conversation?


While there may be skills equally important, the fact remains that our students must become conversationally competent. A perfect time to help develop these skills presents itself during the winter vacation when the pace of life slows down, and the opportunities to engage in prolonged conversation present themselves. According to Barnwell’s article “one in three teens sends over 100 text messages a day” and over ½ of teenagers communicate using electronic devices while “only 33 percent regularly talk face to face.” During the vacation it is important to structure time whereby your child actually meets with their friends, and, perhaps, at certain times does so without their phone.


As you look to finding ways to shape your conversations at home you may want to begin the process by watching Celeste Headlee’s TED Talk - Ten ways to have a better conversations.


No matter where the winter vacation takes you and your family, we hope you have a good rest, and engage in good conversation.

The International School of Dakar

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