Something to share
So we're speaking---but are they really listening?
Ask colleagues to work in groups to decide whether the statements in the table below are always, sometimes or never true.
Encourage them to explain how they can be sure.
Ask them to consider the following questions as they try the activity:
- Who talked the most? Who spoke the least?
- Did they have a role in the group? What was it?
- Did anyone feel uncomfortable? If so, how could this have been avoided?
- Did people tend to support their own views, or did anyone take up and improve someone else’s suggestion?
- Has anyone learnt anything? If so, how did this happen?
Have any of them used an activity such as this before? (A similar activity is referenced in Issue 2 of the magazine, within ‘Group Work’).
‘Speaking and Listening’ has been the buzz phrase in primary education for a while now, but have teachers really changed their practice to support pupils in the development of effective speaking and listening skills in mathematics? Rosemary Sage (Lend us your ears, 2003) claims that 60% of our time in everyday life is spent listening, 20% speaking, 12% reading and only 8% writing. If this is indeed true, then it is vital that we establish rules and guidelines in the classroom, and instead of assuming children will ‘collect’ the skills they need as they grow, actually TEACH children the speaking and listening skills they require.
Picture the scene… Year 2 children are gathered around their teacher’s feet on the carpet at the start of a mathematics lesson. The teacher is asking a variety of questions requiring recall of number facts, as well as the occasional explanation of method. Another question is posed, and after a few seconds’ thinking time, several hands shoot in the air. When directed by the teacher, two children take turns to give their different responses. A third child, when asked, gives the same response as the first.
How do we as teachers often respond? Many of us have been guilty of a response such as, “Weren’t you listening?... Brian just said that!” In actual fact, the child may have been listening very carefully, internalising the meaning of the question, carefully working out their response, before raising their hand to share this with the group. The fact that the answer is the same as another child is simply coincidental.
In 2003, every primary school received a box of materials entitled Speaking, Listening, Learning: working with children in Key Stages 1 and 2 (DfES 0623-2003 G). Among the materials for supporting teachers in this area, it mapped out a progression of objectives for the direct teaching of speaking and listening in ALL areas of the curriculum. Sadly these materials are no longer available (unless you, your school or your local authority have kept a copy), but, at the time, it clearly suggested that speaking and listening should be given a higher profile. In many schools this has remained a focus in teaching.
Discuss with colleagues how much emphasis they place on speaking and listening. Encourage them to share the strategies they use to incorporate this into their mathematics lessons. You might find it helpful to list their suggestions on a flip chart or whiteboard.
Share this quote from the Speaking, Listening, Learning; working with children in Key Stages 1 and 2, Handbook:
“…children use speaking and listening to solve problems, speculate, share ideas, make decisions and reflect on what is important.”
What do colleagues think? How could they change their practice to ensure opportunities for collaborative problem solving are a regular part their lessons?
Pose questions such as:
- To what extent are speaking and listening skills already taught explicitly across the school? In your class?
- How can you adapt your planning of mathematics to include opportunities for the teaching as well as practice and consolidation of these skills?
There is now a far greater emphasis on ‘divergent assessment’, where teachers spend time observing pupils at work, listening to their mathematical discussions and assessing their understanding.
It is vital then that as teachers, we work towards ensuring that all pupils are equipped for, and are given the opportunity to, communicate their mathematical understanding to us and their peers. The skills of speaking and listening are paramount to effective mathematics teaching and learning.
“…to confine children to mathematical tasks where the language skills of writing and reading predominate over those of talking and listening is unlikely to maximise mathematical growth.” (from Bullock Report, 1975, cited in Maths Talk, Mathematical Association, 1987)
- Try, where possible, to plan speaking and listening activities regularly into your mathematics lessons and spend time observing the children as they work together.
- Take time to share ideas and good practice with others – we all have something to learn!