Research School Network: To talk or not to talk? It depends on the question! How can teachers ensure that talk is purposeful and not just conversation?


To talk or not to talk? It depends on the question!

How can teachers ensure that talk is purposeful and not just conversation?

by Blackpool Research School
on the

Classroom talk is one way to scaffold pupils’ metacognitive strategies and knowledge. But how can teachers ensure that talk is purposeful and not just conversation? In this blog, we will explore three ways teachers can use questions to elicit deeper metacognitive thought.

Ultimately the goal is for children to engage in metacognitive self-talk as part of being a reflective learner, asking questions of themselves as they engage in a task in the classroom. Teachers can scaffold this through asking questions, using a key element of Robin Alexander’s Dialogic Teaching approach:

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Knowledge of Task

In the example below, which is taken from the EEF’s Metacognition and self-regulated learning’ guidance report, the teacher’s questions scaffold the pupils to reflect on their awareness of their knowledge of task.

The question, What was tricky about the questions?’ promotes pupils’ reflection on how challenging they found the task and to refine exactly which elements of the task were most difficult.

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Knowledge of Strategies

The teacher also scaffolds the pupils to consider their awareness of strategies that they are using to complete the task in the classroom. By providing feedback following the pupils’ responses, the teacher can suggest strategies that the pupil could use to complete the task: Perhaps we need to make a list of questions to help get us started…’.

Knowledge of Self

Pupils need to reflect on their own abilities and on their motivation to complete tasks. The teacher scaffolds this for the pupils by asking them to consider how confident they felt after they had developed the list of questions.

By carefully considering the questions asked in the classroom, teachers can guide pupils’ thinking, scaffolding productive talk to encourage pupils to develop and share their awareness of strategies, their interpretation of the challenge of a task and their develop their understanding of themselves as a learner.

Planning Questions to Scaffold Self-Talk

To further prompt discussion around the role of questions to scaffold and guide pupils’ metacognitive self-talk, it may be useful to consider which element of metacognitive talk children find most challenging and focus teacher talk upon this first. Here are some examples of questions that could scaffold metacognitive self-talk in each element:

Knowledge of Task

  • How challenging are you finding the task?
  • What are the most difficult aspects of the task?
  • Are there some parts that you find easier than others?

Knowledge of Strategies:

  • Have you done anything like this before?
  • What could you do to get started?
  • How could you get help?

Knowledge of Self:

  • Have you done anything like this before?
  • Do you find it hard to keep focused?
  • What do I know/​remember about the topic that can help me?

The EEF have created accompanying tools to support teachers in considering effective questions to use in the classroom at each stage of the metacognitive process. You can download the Questioning Habits tool using the link below.‑1.0.pdf?v=1701168052

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