Teachers’ dilemmas with classroom talk: A Critical Enquiry.

Valerie Coultas, School of Education, Kingston University.
This study sought to explore English teachers’ understandings of the challenges of classroom talk.

There are many different challenges that emerge when teachers try to promote this type of learning. I wanted to focus on teachers’ understandings of how talk works in the classroom.

Today in the UK the ‘talk for learning model’ is under attack and the focus has returned to the promotion of Standard English and presentational talk. The aim of the study was to make teachers’ intuitions and insights available about the place of talk and what they have found challenging about organising talk for learning.

This study used autobiography and life narrative approaches to produce a number of Case Studies that focused on teachers’ dilemmas with classroom talk. 6 teachers took part in the study and they were interviewed twice. The first interview discussed the role of talk in their own language learning. The second interview focused on a critical moment in a lesson where they had attempted to plan for learning talk.

The analysis of the case studies suggests that a teacher’s own experiences in education and their values influence pedagogy and specifically their approach to talk. They reveal the challenges of dealing with conflicting power relationships within group work and during whole class dialogue and consider some solutions. The era, context and school ethos are shown as particularly powerful factors in influencing pedagogy.

Where teachers in this study suggested that talk works well:

  • Learning together through authentic conversations both in and outside the classroom
  • Careful planning as a pre-condition, thoughtful choices of topic and a ‘real group’ task
  • The importance of the teacher feeling relaxed to handle whole class dialogue well
  • Small group discussions and exploring whether and how teachers might intervene
  • The teachers suggest that ‘play’ and going into role can promote effective talk
  • Teachers working ‘horizontally rather than vertically’. ‘A sharing ethos and the sharing of difficulties or challenges with talk, as has been attempted in this study, is very empowering for teacher development’ (Cathy, Group discussion, Appendix 6).

The teachers also had many ideas for how curriculum and assessment could value talk more.

Previous research: Constructive Talk in Challenging Classrooms (2007)

See this link https://eal.britishcouncil.org/eal-sector/key-eal-research-2010-onwards

As a follow on from this research, a new project has now been established at Kingston University with European Teacher Educators in the Comenius Association entitled Stories, book talk and intercultural learning.


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