Recent research, together with advances in understanding about how the brain works, supports an understanding of how learning is enhanced by talk. This talk needs to take a variety of forms to optimise learning, including peer-peer talk and scaffolded dialogue with an adult who both understands the subject being learnt, and also understands what the learner knows and understands already.
Debra Myhill from Exeter University cites the following episode which took place during a study into the role of talk in primary classrooms:
What happened when teachers let their pupils take control of the classroom talk?
In another critical moment, the teacher relaxed control by allowing a dialogue to develop between several pupils when a child’s answer to the mathematical problem posed by the teacher showed a misunderstanding of how to express answers in pounds and pence. In the sequence below (taken from a Year 6 numeracy lesson) the teacher asked a follow-up question that probed the child to think whether the response offered was accurate. When the child responded ‘No’, another child offered an alternative solution involving the correct use of pounds and pence. This response then prompted another child to offer a correction, even though the correction was incorrect.
Teacher: What if the bill is £46.25, what is the bill each?
Child: £23, 12.5
Teacher: But if I said £23 12.5, does that look right?
Child: Can you say 23 pounds 12p remainder 1?
Child: Remainder 2 actually.
From Talk, talk, talk: teaching and learning in whole class discourse, Debra Myhill
How much do you think teachers need to lead dialogue in the classroom?
Is there an argument for children leading the dialogue?
What is the difference between scaffolding learning and helping learners?
Make a note of your thoughts in your Personal Learning Space.
Robin Alexander from Cambridge University, has reported on large-scale international research into comparative teaching styles and their relative successes. His website give some information about this.
His work suggests a number of key ideas including:
- that in the most successful classrooms, learners do more talking than teachers
- that the role of the teacher is to support the learning through skilled dialogue
- that mathematics in particular is most commonly taught using a disparate, teacher-led model
- that most questions are asked by teachers.
You may also like to listen to the action research that Irene Wheeldon carried out in her classroom. An article in ATM Mathematics Teaching in 2006 provides the details.
What is the role of talk in mathematics in your school?
Use talk as the focus for some mini action research.
Ask a colleague to observe one of your lessons.
Consider asking colleagues to work in pairs to observe each other using talk as the focus in this way. The outcomes will be a good basis for a discussion on talk in a staff meeting.
Summarise your thoughts on how dialogue can support children's learning in your Personal Learning Space.