Posts Tagged ‘Progressive Education’

It’s good to talk

February 4, 2014 3 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching styles and talk in lessons recently. This is due in no small part to the fact that I’ve recently completed an assessment on the subject.

One text I read whilst researching my assignment was; “Towards dialogic teaching: rethinking classroom talk”, by Robin Alexander. One thing that struck me from this text was a comment he had about the progressive vs traditional teaching debate. The debate has raged for decades, traditionalists being billed as people who believe teachers should talk and pupils should listen, and progressives being billed as people who believe teachers should hardly talk and that lessons should be a series of student led tasks based around enquiry learning.

The debate goes on and people get very passionate about it, but I think in reality most people would agree that a mix of activities from both sides, when appropriate, is what is required. I firmly believe that as teachers we need to be planning and delivering appropriate lessons. There isn’t magic formula that will work for everyone, so we need to chose the right thing for the right class.

The point Robin Alexander made in the book was about the extremes. He postulated that both sides of the debate fall down majorly, and for the same reason. That reason being that both sides require either the learners, or the teachers, to be passive in the lesson. His idea is to create a dialogue in the classroom which enables teachers and learners to be actively involved. To create teacher-student and student-student conversations which make all parties engage with the conversation and hence the content of the lesson.

This idea seems to make a lot of sense. Talking is how we learn, it gives us a way to make sense of the world around us and helps us organise our thoughts. When we are young we cannot internalise this process. That’s why young children, such as my 18 month old daughter, commentate as they go through life. She does it less now, but a short while ago we had a 24-7 running commentary! (“Walking…running…all fall down. Eating, sandwich, jumping” etc). This is part of the learning process, and we still do it as adults, but not always out loud. In many ways I’m doing it now, writing this blog. It’s helping me set my thoughts on this topic out in a more coherent manner!

So with that in mind, it would seem logical that talking in lessons is a good thing. But that it needs to be the right talk. Last week my year 11s were completing a task on circle theorems, and one group of four boys were having a fascinating discussion around one of the problems, reasoning with each other around the question and postulating which theorems would get them the correct answer. It was immensely satisfying for me, as there teacher, to be able to listen to it. This sort of talk is vital, and is exactly the sort of thing Robin Alexander advocates.

This idea of active engagement in conversation on the subject matter is something that I think we need to be embracing. It already plays a major part in my A Level and year 11 lessons, and I intend to try and incorporate it more in my other lessons. We don’t need to eliminate talk from our lessons, we need to ensure it is the right type if talk. I do, of course, realise that this should be used as well as other styles, where appropriate.

Robin Alexander’s book is well worth a read, its pretty short and very affordable and if you’re interested in teaching then I’d suggest giving it a go.

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