It’s possibly the one thing we take most for granted and think least about unless we’re being observed and then, suddenly, we think about every word we’re saying and speak far too much. The following is a response to issues raised from a real observation regarding teacher talk. This was my initial response, via email:
KR: My immediate thoughts are, it’s all about how effective teacher talk is in enabling the students to make progress. 30 seconds at the wrong pitch could be too long. The two issues are: Does the teacher, by talking too long, lose the engagement of the class/prevent them from thinking for themselves and secondly, when the teacher does talk, is it effective in explaining/clarifying/stretching challenging/linking learning together? We should be wary of a hard and fast rule. There may be occasions where more (effective) teacher talk is necessary but the teacher needs always to be aware of how it is “going down with the kids”.
I want to add to that now:
KR: First of all, unless our intended audience is listening, it doesn’t matter what we say. Secondly, what we do say is crucial to learning so it really is the most important aspect of our teaching. We use it to build rapport; build relationships, praise; discipline; inspire; explain; clarify; check; question; stretch; challenge; link learning together.
Dave also responded to the comments raised by the observation. I have included his thoughts and given my reply:
DP: Whilst a teacher is talking, students are (hopefully!) listening. Listening is an important but essentially passive activity as opposed to doing (e.g. writing, drawing, reading, making, performing, running). That’s the main reason to ensure that we only use it when necessary.
KR: We can turn listening into an active activity if the students know that they are going to have to do something in response to what they have heard. In other words, they must process the information. After an explanation, get them to do something with it first, e.g. P&S, rather than simply write it down. In a practical lesson, students can check understanding before practising or after practising.
DP: I’d also pose the question: what types of classroom activities lead to greater independence? I wouldn’t necessarily put listening at the top of the list, but you could argue that having to listen to a teacher for a significant amount of time would require greater resilience.
KR: Effective teacher talk, leading to greater student knowledge and understanding could and should lead to students being able to be more independent in the future. We would also hope that, usually, at some point in the lesson, there are activities that help to develop independence.
DP: On the point of how much and when? That depends entirely on the lesson objective and the structure of the lesson. There can be no hard and fast rule, therefore. Although, the overriding principle remains – only use teacher talk judiciously.
KR: If they’ve started to glaze over, stop talking. We might think what we have to say is important, they obviously don’t.
David Didau in an excellent book ‘What if everything you knew about teaching was wrong?’ investigates the use of teacher talk. He says ‘If students are going to learn anything worthwhile, teachers absolutely must talk… Pupils’ academic progress depends on their ability to think in academic language… Effective modelling us impossible if teachers are afraid to speak. Instead of trying to shut teachers up, maybe we should be training them to improve the quality of their talk.’
Ask yourself three questions this week:
Am I talking too much?
Could someone else say it?
Is what I am saying helping the learning (but not too much)?
Any comments for discussion?