Research School Network: Strengthening Rigour in Classroom Talk Hydeh Fayaz, ELE, explains how an analytical look at oracy is allowing learning to flourish


Strengthening Rigour in Classroom Talk

Hydeh Fayaz, ELE, explains how an analytical look at oracy is allowing learning to flourish

by St. Matthew's Research School
on the

When talk is harnessed, children flourish. When I studied French at University, there was one thing I would always dread – the weekly French Oral Seminar. I had a strong schema of vocabulary, the past perfect conjugations nailed and several witty colloquial phrases right on the tip of my tongue. Unfortunately, I could never muster the courage to get the words out. I no longer reach that impasse when talking aloud, however it did make me reflect on the power of articulating your knowledge, the power of being able to share what you believe, the power of oracy.

For many schools across our nation, the APPG report on Oracy highlighted how this skill needs to be prioritised. One can assume that if there is noise in the classroom, then talk is happening. But what kind of talk? How purposeful is this talk? Is it talk that deepens understanding or talk to fill the time?

At St Matthews, we knew that the post-pandemic return was the moment to stiffen the rigour in the talk that was happening in our classrooms. We know that talk is biologically primary (John Sweller), which is a blessing because unless our children have Speech, Language or Communication difficulties, we do not have to teach them how the muscles in their mouth, and their vocal chords work. However, it can also present a challenge and a distraction. Skills which are innate still need to be harnessed in order to ensure the children are learning to talk and learning through talk (Voice 21).

To continue our journey, I began with an implementation plan. What was it exactly that our pupils needed to be reminded of, and what was it that our teachers needed to understand in order to create, teach and harness purposeful talk? Our curriculum at St Matthews is teeming with opportunity to talk. We are a Talk for Writing Training Centre, promote a knowledge rich and enquiry-based curriculum within the foundation subjects, run debate club, young people’s parliament – so how can we ensure we optimize these learning experiences? Accountable Talk, Dialogic Teaching and of course the Literacy guidance reports and Evidence Review were just some of the research I drew upon.

Making the Implicit Explicit

Think, pair, share’ and Turn and talk’

Think Pair Share’ is a wonderful tool. Taking inspiration from Tom Sherrington and Walkthrus, Kate Jones and Dylan Wiliam, I thought about how it could be developed and how I could make explicit the nuances of turn and talk (a much pacier technique from Leverage Leadership) to staff. It is a tool that practitioners so often use but which can mutate to a point where children kind of move their body, sort of listen and maybe understand what their partner is saying to them. We make sure that:

1. The question is planned and purposeful (e.g. in Year 1 – what is the difference between a reptile and a mammal). The key vocabulary is displayed (e.g. cold blooded, warm blooded, scales, fur, hibernate, habitat etc). Thinking time is clearly displayed on the slides.

2. When it’s pair’, we turn and face. Here is where the implicit norms of listening are taught and modelled. During a PD session, staff discussed what listening looks like and the behaviours it requires (reactions, clarification, eye contact, note taking). We expect this from our pupils too. Through the pair’ element, the active listening toolkit is brought to life.

3. Share’ then becomes a moment for whole class listening and collaboration, where cold calling is expected

So What’s the Teacher’s Role Here?

Agreeing goals with staff

In order to create that culture where exploratory talk can flourish (Oracy Cambridge) a foundation of trust needs to be established, so it is not necessary to hear from every pair. We can value peer to peer talk. If teachers see certain children puzzled, they adopt a role (instigator or clarifier). If I am listening to an interesting discussion, I can model the role and value of summarising.

Think pair share 1

Narrowing our focus has been key to the success of Think Pair Share across the key stages. The Effective Professional Development guidance report outlines the mechanisms of effective PD; agreeing goals with staff has been fundamental to drive this practice forward so that it becomes habit and expectation.

Think pair share 2

The success of Think Pair Share has also allowed me to intelligently adapt the process in order to further enrich the children’s experience. The stages of Think Pair Share are now an opportunity to model and hear meta-cognitive talk which is on display in every classroom.

Think pair share 3

Think Pair Share helps to develop both children’s receptive and expressive language. It is here that our carefully designed curriculum and the development of vocabulary is able to blossom. Christine Counsell says that vocabulary size is the outward sign of the inward acquisition of knowledge’. This caused me to really look at my practice and think: I have taught complementary and analogous colours – did every child in that lesson wrap their tongue around those key definitions and that key concept? What did I do in order to ensure that those words within that subject live in the child’s mind not just as a definition but as 100 images and stories?

Does every single child in my class know the vocabulary within the disciplines?

If not, do they have the language to share they don’t know? Or clarify the meaning of something for their peer who is struggling?

Thinking this way helps all teachers to plan next steps in oracy in a focused and targeted way.

Coming soon: part 2

Creating an accountable classroom

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Conference - 8th February 2022 9:30am - 3:30pmonline

Oracy in Action

Developing Purposeful Talk in the Early Years and Key Stage 1
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