Talking to learn

7th February 2003 at 00:00
A disturbing statistic says that, in any week, 60 per cent of secondary pupils don't have a conversation with an adult in school. Some get into trouble because they don't know how to speak appropriately. We've found that developing class talk builds students' social skills and helps them learn.

Open up your questioning. Ask fewer, but better, questions. Start building in thinking time before an answer. A typical question sequence might start like this: "I want you to tell me some of the reasons the First World War broke out. Take 30 seconds to think about your answer, or discuss it quickly with a partner."

I see better, more developed responses when students have time to organise their thoughts. Shy students gain confidence from a brief reassuring discussion with their neighbour.

Get them to reformulate information for different audiences: "Imagine I'm a 10-year-old and explain the process we've just learned about."

Make class talk more collaborative. Get them asking each other questions, commenting on each other's answers, helping each other to solve problems, reviewing and summarising each other's views.

Teachers recognise that we only really know whether we've understood something by teaching it. Pupils need regular opportunities to do the same, working in small and larger groups to teach, assess and coach each other.

Classroom talk is one of the most powerful tools we have. We need to learn to feel confident about doing less talking ourselves and create the right ethos for pupil talk to lead to pupil learning.

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmund, Suffolk, and co-writer of Writer's Toolkit, see below

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