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Research School Network: Build back brilliance in your learners: talk more, do less Siobhan Campbell, one of our Evidence Leads in Education, considers the importance of talk for children’s learning

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Build back brilliance in your learners: talk more, do less

Siobhan Campbell, one of our Evidence Leads in Education, considers the importance of talk for children’s learning

by East London Research School
on the

Socrates said Better do a little well, than a great deal badly.”

I have a horrifying image of what any number of children might be experiencing in the months and years to come in primary schools across the country: labelled as lost’ or behind’ or the covid cohort’ they move like ghosts, waiting to be recovered to life’ by a suite of interventions. With each passing day their progress becomes more of a struggle and they feel more alienated from their curriculum, their peers and their futures.

We don’t need to rush to do too much to’ these children. All we must do is give children the right conditions for learning. After all, Happy children learn.’



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Talk: laying strong foundations

There is extensive evidence around the impact of language development on achievement. Similarly, social and emotional development has a positive impact on learning. Talk is an important mechanism in both of these areas. Children need our enthusiasm, our optimism and our belief in them. We can give this through the language environment we cultivate in our classrooms every day. Please, don’t bring negativity to their doors with: we need to cover learning you missed”, or we’ve got a lot to fit in because…” Start every lesson with the vitality of the best teacher you ever knew and ever dreamed you could be.Open children’s hearts and minds. To educate means to lead out’. The more talk we facilitate in our lessons, the more children participate in learning. Make the classroom a safe place for contributions and ensure active participation is an expectation for every child in every lesson.

Talk more: building back strong learners


Not only will a classroom rich in dialogue improve wellbeing but, importantly, understanding is underpinned by language.The first recommendation of the EEF’s Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1 Guidance Report is to develop Speaking and Listening skills and wider understanding of language:

Language provides the foundation of thinking and learning and should be prioritised.

The EEF also gives details on the evidence and impact of oral language interventions and of collaborative learning in which it highlights that approaches which promote talk and interaction between learners tend to result in the best gains.’Talk can be developed in a whole host of high impact ways, with metacognitive talk being one, significant intervention. Just do what you do, but detail your thinking process out loud and establish a dialogue with the children through questioning. Classroom dialogue is a rich assessment opportunity.

Talk back

A quick glance at the EEF toolkit will tell anyone who doesn’t know that feedback is the intervention with the highest impact and it comes at very low cost. The best bit is that verbal feedback involves no extra time outside of the main lesson. You must know your subject and know your children well to leverage this opportunity. What could be more uplifting for a child recovering’ their school life, than a warm voice recognising where they have excelled themselves, understanding the hurdles they overcame and gently nudging them to the next level. That needs to be your voice, their teacher’s, who know them and believe in their potential.

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