Oracy articles in Impact Issue 3/Summer 2018

I’ve now read the three articles in the Chartered College of Teaching’s Impact journal – Issue 3 Summer 2018. This edition of the journal focused on developing effective learners (which was also the theme of the Third Space event in Oxford back in July 2018). The articles I read explored oracy/classroom talk which is the theme for my literature review and for a collaborative enquiry group I am leading at my school next academic year.

  • Speaking up: the importance of oracy in teaching and learning (Will Millard)
  • It’s good to talk: moving towards dialogic teaching (Daryn Egan-Simon)
  • Dialogic RE: Oracy for the 21st Century (Antony Luby).

Will rightly says ‘speech and communication lies at the heart of classroom practice’. The article focuses on the process of ‘oracy’ as opposed to the outcome where ‘students learn to talk confidently, appropriately and sensitively’. Daryn Egan-Smith and Will mention the work of Robin Alexander and his important (and ‘pocket-sized’) book ‘Rethinking Classroom Dialogue’. Alexander argues that ‘dialogue should be viewed as the true foundation of teaching and learning’, by ‘utilising the power of classroom talk to challenge and stretch students’ thinking’. Will includes Robin Alexander’s five key types of ‘teaching talk’: rote, recitation, instruction, discussion and dialogue. The five seem progressive to me, with recitation being the least engaging and interesting. Daryn highlights that ‘dialogue not only has greater cognitive potential for students but also demands more of a teachers’ subject knowledge and pedagogical skill’.

Thought: I wondered if an activity where colleagues would record a section of their lessons where talk was taking place, and we could listen ticking off the type of talk we hear. We could probably then work out what type of talk predominated and if we were ever reaching the dialogue stage.

‘Structured dialogue during lessons, where students are encouraged to participate verbally and given space and time to reflect upon and complex ideas’ has shown cognitive, personal/social gains and civic engagement and empowerment. Education Endowment Foundation research has demonstrated positive outcomes particularly for those on free-school meals and in terms of teachers’ confidence. Daryn writes that ‘developing collective dialogue is through the creation of a democratic community of enquiry, providing a dialogic space to agree/disagree, challenge, question, appeal to reason and allowing possible self-correction’.

Over half of teachers surveyed in a poll said ‘they model the sorts of spoken language they expect of their students, set expectations for their students’ oracy, and initiate pair or group activities in most of their lessons’. Some teachers discussion activities more than others, including ‘essay-based subject teachers’. ‘One particular type of verbal interaction that features heavily in whole-class teaching is teacher-led recitation, in which the teacher asks a question, a student responds, and the teacher evaluates their answer. Studies of classroom discourse suggest this form of interaction is highly prevalent throughout schooling, and that the questions themselves tend to seek predictable answers’.

Thought: If this approach is so prevalent – teacher asks question, student responds, teacher verifies correct or not (‘guess what is in the teachers’ head’ questioning?) does that mean it is the most effective? Are there other approaches we could be trying more explicitly to improve outcomes? Can we have a palette of approaches that might be better in certain contexts/subjects?

Some teachers avoided the use of oracy-based activities ‘for fear of making shy or under-confident students uncomfortable. Consequently, the students who might potentially benefit most from such activities miss out’. Thought: I wonder if teachers label students as shy/under-confident early in the teaching of them. Are they told by other colleagues of these students in advance, and then do they consciously plan to avoid causing them any uncomfortable experiences? Should teachers be engaging in oracy-based activities without any preconceptions, and being brave to promote them despite some students being shy?

Will mentions some felt talk wasn’t tangible evidence, and high volumes of writing were more desirable forms of evidence. Thought: I do think we should make use of mobile devices to document discussions. Why not record these activities so the evidence can exist and students (and teachers) can reflect on it and make targets for subsequent oracy-based activities?

Will suggests six ways teachers can support student oracy: ground rules for talk, modelling talk (including tone and etiquette and not only content), asking great questions to encourage different forms of thinking, scaffold interactions, feedback provided on both what and how students speak, and to seek feedback from colleagues. Thought: Already these six things provide a usefully succinct and achievable intervention, but it would be great to discuss as a group what we might try to include. For the collaborative enquiry group, I will lead next year, it will be interesting to discuss how often we give feedback on how students talk. I expect rarely.

‘Promoting oracy in the classrooms has the potential to help diversify and strengthen pedagogy and deepen learning’, and Will writes about the work in Eastwood Primary School using video to encourage reflection on classroom talk. Amy Gaunt asks ‘what could an oracy-rich classroom look like and how could it support students to refine their subject knowledge and develop their understanding?’ I like how there is potential for dialogic teaching to allow for deeper learning, as Daryn writes by ‘involving ongoing talk, with the teacher and students building on each other’s contributions, weaving them into coherent and logical lines of enquiry’. Amy explains how at School21 students ‘are encouraged to develop and revise their understanding through sustained and productive dialogue with their peers’. Students are also taught ground rules, and talk roles so they can engage effectively including how to challenge and probe in discussions. Thought: Amy mentions how Year 7 science was taught through the use of stories to encourage discussions. I had chance to see this in action when attending the Chartered College Third Space event in Oxford (July 2017) and attended Amy’s session. I thought there would be some interesting uses of this in music, and it would be a great discussion point for the CEG next year to see if this could be trialed in subjects. I liked the final quote ‘we talk to discover, then we communicate what we have found out, backed up by subject knowledge and key vocabulary that we have developed through talk’.

‘Dialogic teaching is based on authentic open questions designed to promote inquiry and reasoning, encourage thinking and move learning forward’, writes Daryn. These activities needed to be ‘well planned, implemented and skillfully facilitated’ and not something of a ‘free for all’. Daryn notes that ‘choosing the right topic can really enhance the dialogue by engaging and enthusing students to want to contribute more to the lesson’. Thought: I wondered if we would need to discuss what topics lend themselves to oracy-based activities and if when we pursue our CEG we think about this carefully. It might help to explore when it definitely would not help, or could be a hinderance. Daryn writes that ‘dialogue has the potential to energise, motivate and enhance students’ critical and creative thinking through collaboration, interaction, cumulative questioning, argumentation, cognitive processing and self-regulatory behaviour’. Thought: excitingly this seems to be ideal for a school that is highly-selective, with students that need and should be stretched through talk. I can see through reading these articles in Impact that there is merit in investigating the use of dialogic pedagogy.

Anthony Luby, in ‘Dialogic RE: oracy for the 21st century’ highlights the work of Neil Mercer in championing dialogic approaches in the classroom. Anthony focuses on cumulative and explorative talk. Anthony provides a transcript of an impressive conversation between two students, revealing that when students are given space and time (and a safe space to converse) they are able to flourish. I like the prompt sheet mentioned in the article and I wondered if this might be another useful activity for teachers to experiment with in the CEG next year. Anthony highlights the importance of ground rules too, and also the potential for the next generation of teachers to embrace the use of technology in encouraging dialogic approaches (though I’m not sure if the use of twitter counts as oracy, but perhaps classroom ‘talk’ can be experienced in written form if the dialogue is happening in real-time). Thought: in a school that encourages the use of mobile-technology there is definitely scope for some teachers to investigate how this might support dialogic strategies.

Three very good articles that reference some key writing that I can explore next for the literature review assignment.

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