Research School Network: Accountable Classroom Talk Hydeh Fayaz explains how she has used professional development to create accountable classroom talk at St Matthew’s. 


Accountable Classroom Talk

Hydeh Fayaz explains how she has used professional development to create accountable classroom talk at St Matthew’s. 

by St. Matthew's Research School
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To develop oracy practice at school, I returned to my implementation plan. I had established that I needed to build on staff learning and continue to unpick understanding of the oracy framework so we could continue to plan and teach oracy within the subject disciplines.

The second recommendation in the recent EEF guidance report suggests that professional development should:

“Ensure that professional development effectively builds knowledge, motivates staff, develops teaching techniques and embeds practice.”

Credible research builds motivation

As part of building motivation I had to set goals that were specific and challenging. Overloading staff is counterproductive and I wanted to be sure that they were capable of moving their use of classroom talk forward.

I started with the research of Lauren Resnick…”. If staff were exposed to this credible source, I knew they would be positive about this new initiative. It would broaden our understanding of talk and make explicit that we need to learn to talk
(oracy framework) but that we can also talk to learn. Exploratory talk is essential when expecting pupils to use their knowledge to reason to take them to a level of mastery. Accountable talk moves learning forward and exploratory talk leads to presentational talk for a lot of our pupils – a perfect place to start when thinking about our context.

Our training focused on three key aspects of Lauren Resnick’s research. I gave each group in the room responsibility for reading each section. They then fed back to colleagues so as to make the learning explicit. By reading the research and sharing it, colleagues had time to understand it before they were expected to put it into action.

The three important aspects I had identified as immediately important at St Matthew’s were accountability to the community, accountability to standards of reasoning and accountability to knowledge.

Accountability to the community

Resnick explains that children who often opt out of talking do so because they think their answer is not worthy of airing. This needs scaffolding. Once they have felt successful, they become more motivated to participate. While most practitioners want to enable this, Resnick gives clear guidelines for how we can do this systematically. Her headings are:

  • Distribute responsibility
  • Distribute participation
  • Structure thinking together
  • Model clarifying and verifying students statements (revoicing can happen here)
  • Value errors

Accountability to Standards of Reasoning

One key thing for us to move forward was children’s accountability to standards of reasoning. At St Matthews, our aim is for every child to wrap their tongue around difficult vocabulary, explain their thoughts and participate in messy exploratory talk so that they know and remember more. This part of the research helped staff to see how that was possible in every lesson across the curriculum.

  • Ask students to elaborate
  • Highlight process
  • Elicit different solutions
  • Give wait time – and show interest in this thinking time.

Again, all of the above seem obvious but explicitly setting and agreeing goals meant staff were engaged in changing certain teaching behaviours in favour of practising new teaching habits. We began to signal and mark moves of reasoning in discussions and deliberately encourage metacognitive talk.

Next year, we will continue to build on this area of accountability by practising going slowly.

Accountability to Knowledge

The final area of research that we explored involved the principles for exploring knowledge. Again, this was distilled into clear, actionable guidelines.

  • Model how valid arguments are made in a discipline
  • Show how to look for appropriate resources to validate their arguments
  • Provide authentic tasks
  • Provide knowledge resources

Unpicking the nuances of valid arguments in the subject disciplines is something we are keen to keep developing.

The clarity enabled meaningful goal setting which in turn led to meaningful application.

Constructing a Toolkit

Taking the evidence, we then made an accountable talk toolkit. Staff thought about the talk moves from the research. We wanted to empower children to know what they were doing and when and to know how to further a train of thought in a conversation.

Constructing a toolkit is about much more than the big flip chart and pens. This was going to provide a schema for teachers and models for children to follow. Children will be empowered to develop their skills of accountable talking over time by joining in. The sentence starters are clear indications that they’re making progress with their talk.

Talk toolkit
Talk toolkit

Classroom Practice

To ensure success, partner talk is brief (when thinking about this, we need to go back to our understanding of think, pair, share as explained in the first part of this blog). Norms also need to be in place, as the research of Robin Alexander makes clear.

Staff were given time to practise and explore the new techniques and to establish norms.

Final reflections

As Oracy Lead, I know that this work is not yet complete but a positive start has been made. We now have a shared language for discussing expectations of classroom talk that is familiar to staff and children across the school. The very youngest children are able to use talk to move their learning forward and to reflect, in a metacognitive way, on their progress.

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