When teachers are trying to improve their practice they are faced with a huge amount of advice, hints, tips and “experts”. Fads come and go and teachers are often bewildered by what to “try” next. However, what has stayed constant since the dawn of the classroom is that students will talk (a lot) . Even if they are painfully forced to sit in silence, they will still communicate. Enhancing and directing this talk is crucial to improving students learning and achievement. This blog explores the reasons why classroom dialogue is so important and gives some practical advice on how to improve the dialogue in your classroom.
The diagram below has grabbed a lot of attention on Twitter:
It has easily beaten @TKATLEARNING’s next most popular tweet on boys achievement with 62 retweets, 24 likes and 4,333 impressions in just five days. It is clear that teachers have an interest in the dialogue that happens in their classroom. This is not surprising really when you consider one of the principle jobs of a teacher is to manage and manipulate the talk which happens everyday. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous happens within a couple of exchanges and a few seconds on a daily basis.
Talk dominates the school environment. Teachers talk to the whole class while making asides, listening to individual conversations, talking to the TA, whilst dealing with the message from the duty pupil while taking the register and flipping their powerpoint; multi-tasking which would challenge the most hardened Trader on the floor of the New York Stock exchange. But what of the students? What do they talk about? How are they involved in their own learning via talk? and importantly how can teachers maximise the discussions in their classrooms to ensure that students can’t “hide” from discussions and learning?
Before we look at how we can maximise students talk by changing the dialogue pattern in our classrooms let’s just consider why we should. At it’s most simplest discussion aids learning, of course you can learn without discussion but we are hard-wired to listen and learn. If we can increase the effectiveness of discussion there is a reasonably good chance we will improve the learning which happens. In addition to helping learning, discussion aids engagement and achievement. If students are allowed to “opt out” by not talking and not answering questions it is likely that we will unwittingly but nevertheless increase the achievement gap in our lessons.
Of course there are those students who despite never or rarely contributing to class discussions or verbal questions will still ace the test (we’ve all had the odd class that are like this and at first seem a blessing, but in actual fact drive us mad with their lack of talk) but arguably encouraging them to talk in front of people is a skill they need. It is clear that class discussion is an integral part of learning and teachers must try to maximise it.
How is this achieved? Firstly it is hard. The often cited statistic that the average wait time teachers leave between asking and either having answered or answering the question themselves is less than a second is always interesting. It shows how instinctive it is to carry on with a practice which is less than optimal. By just increasing that wait-time by just 2 more seconds will dramatically increase learning for all students, leave it five seconds and watch how many more students are able to answer. But changing practice is hard. Even if you are skilled at spreading the questioning and discussion by a technique such as “Pose, Pause, Pounce, bounce” it is sometimes tough to get round all students (not that this is always desirable or necessary) and we often slip back into the Initiation- response feedback cycle where as teachers we pose a question listen to the question and then respond to that student.
Talk for Writing is a strategy that enhances student talk to positively impact on writing and achievement. If students across the school are shown how to use talk correctly, as well as listening this will positively impact on their writing achievement and the classroom environment. A class that can listen to each other, critique and discuss is a joy to teach.
So how do we move from the dialogue pattern shown in A to the one shown in B? Here are five of the Trade Cards that you can be used to improve dialogue to improve learning and achievement. The key to all of these is to practice this deliberately for an extended period of time. Remember practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.
Trade Card 1: Speed Dating
An oldie but certainly a goldie! – Set up speed dating regularly so that students can talk and share what they know, and you can listen in and reshape the lesson depending on what you hear.
Trade Card 2 : Hot Seating
Another classic. If you want to put students on the spot (and you should) increase student dialogue in the classroom and allow you to understanding what students have understood you can’t go wrong with Hot Seating.
Trade Card 3: Rally Robin
Peer tuition has once of the highest effect sizes of all strategies you can use. In other words if you get Peer tuition right the learning and results of your students will go through the roof! Rally Robin, when done regularly and with guidance can be a highly effective at getting students talking and learning.
Trade Card 4: You say we pay
This is s a great way to get students to really think and listen. It’s a great “game” but will also increase the dialogue in the classroom between students. You just stand back and watch (and importantly listen)
Trade Card 5: Quiz Quiz Trade
Another superb way to encourage not just talk but peer tuition. This little gem of a technique like the others requires the teacher to talk less and encourages students to engage.
All these Trade Cards are useful, try them out, practice them for an extended period of time so that you and the students work out how to maximise their potential.