Two recent publications from the Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA) have contributed to the topical subject of classroom talk, or ‘dialogic teaching’, which emphasises the ‘natural affordances and opportunities that dialogue gives children to learn.’ (Talking the Talk, p. 4)
Talking the Talk: Snapshots from Australian classrooms examines talking and listening – dialogue – in developing literacy. Theory is combined with insightful classroom examples.
Tell me your story: Confirming identity and engaging writers in the middle years is for working with students in the middle years, combining practical strategies with advice and suggestions for combining home and school identities.
Each develops the growing recognition of the need for different models for classroom interactions.
We use talk to both construct and reflect our thinking. We use talk to build the context for writing.
In the classroom, however, the majority of interchanges between teacher and students are of the ‘IRE’ – Initiate, Respond, Evaluate – model:
Teacher: Can anyone tell me the capital of Australia?
Teacher: Correct. Canberra.
These interactions are the most common feature of classroom talk. However they are invalid as dialogue. The teacher and the students know there is only one correct answer, which the teacher knows already. It becomes a guessing game. It is like a test that only one student can get correct – or not.
Public shaming when the incorrect answer is provided – disapprobation from the teacher, and derision from the students who know the correct answer. All students demonstrate their relief that it was not they who were caught out, so they attack, even subtly, the unfortunate victim.
Students learn the pattern of this type of interaction very early in their schooling. By Year 3, the ‘hands in the air’ after such a question belong only to the students who know the game, and know the answer, so won’t be humiliated. These students are almost expected to provide the response the teacher wants, as this lets everyone else off the hook. They are often responsible kids who are happy to carry that responsibility.
When we want students to write, this sort of interaction contributes little to building the field for students to draw upon. We can enable more positive and educative interactions if we move away from the dully predictable IRE interchanges.
Our students need frequent, structured and purposeful opportunities to share their ideas with each other, and to learn from each other.
The following types of questions and statements were used by teachers conducting research in their own classrooms to elicit extended responses, and open up the possibilities for students’ greater involvement in classroom talk.
After reading a picture or chapter:
‘I wonder …’
‘I noticed …’
‘What do you think?
Herold et al 2018 p.39
The authors expand on this discussion in the article.
Tina Sharpe’s Scaffolding in action: snapshots from the classroom, in Hammond (Ed) 2001includes examples of teacher/student interactions. These demonstrate the importance of the role of teacher questioning when scaffolding for students, and the way a line of reasoning can be developed by strategic extension and reformulation of students’ responses (Chapter 3 pp.40-41).
This entire chapter contains gems of examples to help us see the possibilities in extending student talk:
In all, the scaffolding provided by the questioning and discussion … sets the students up for success in the task.
Sharpe, 2001 p.41
This is what we want our students to bring to their writing.
Here are some simple suggestions to begin, taken from Great Britain’s DfES 2003 advice on Teacher Talk
|choose questions and topics that are likely to challenge children cognitively||merely ask children to guess what you are thinking or to recall simple and predictable facts|
|expect children to provide extended answers which will interest others in the class||tolerate limited, short answers which are of little interest to other children|
|expect children to speak for all to hear||routinely repeat or reformulate what children have said|
|signal whether you want children to offer to answer (hands up) or to prepare an answer in case you invite them to speak||habitually use the competitive ‘hands up’ model of question and answer work|
|when children give wrong answers ask them to explain their thinking and then resolve misunderstandings||praise every answer whether it is right or wrong|
Lefstein & Snell (2011) p.6
The NSW subject syllabuses include speaking and listening across all stages. Every change made to develop our questioning techniques, and the providing of opportunities to put their thoughts into words, can have impact in all subjects.
‘By engaging in a dialogic pedagogy, teachers can utilise the power of talk to shape children’s thinking, involving them in an active process of learning and critical reflection.’ (Alexander, 2005)
Pennington & Reynolds 2018
Dutton, J., D’Warte, J., Rossbridge, J., & Rushton, K. (2018) Tell me your story: Confirming identity and engaging writers in the middle years, Primary English Teaching Association, Newtown
Fisher, D., Frey, N., Rothenberg, C. (2008) Content-Area Conversations: How to Plan Discussion-Based Lessons for Diverse Language Learners Permission requested 8/11/2018
Jones, P., Simpson, A & Thwaite, A. (2018) Talking the Talk: Snapshots from Australian classrooms, Primary English Teaching Association, Newtown
Hammond, J. (Ed.) (2001) Scaffolding: teaching and learning in language and literacy education, PETAA, Newtown
Herold, J., Cusack, Y., Hunter, E. & Lewis, J. (2018) Talking the talk: Using dialogic teaching strategies to develop young children’s talk about text,, in Practical Literacy: The Early and Primary Years, Vol.23,, Number 1 February 2018, pp.38-41, ALEA
Lefstein, A. & Snell, J. (2011) Classroom Discourse: The promise and complexity of dialogic practice at http://www.snell.me.uk/wp-content/uploads/Lefstein-Snell-Classroom-Discourse-chapter-with-figures-pre-publication-copy.pdf retrieved 8/11/2018
Pennington, G. & Reynolds, M. (2018) The Power of Teacher Talk: Developing quality mentoring relationships PETAA Paper 2011