14 August 2011

Teacher Talk Two

In my previous post I defended teachers delivering content rather than using content from the Internet. Today I'd like to extend on the last point I made about some teachers overdoing the teacher talk.

Recently professor John Hattie told a group of teachers at a professional development seminar to "Shut up and listen". This message comes from his research into expert teachers. In his 2003 paper, Teachers Make a Difference, he identifies teacher talk as one of the factors that differentiates expert and experienced teachers.

Making time for thinking within the class environment is essential across all subjects. Teachers need time to plan not to talk in their classes so that thinking can take place.

There are a number of ways to reduce teacher talk but it may be diffiuclt to accomplish if the teacher is unaware of how much time they spend verbalising in the classroom.

A Year 10 student I know well (who attends a different school to the one at which I teach), was telling me the other day about her difficulties in improving her writing for English. She related how her teacher spends almost all lesson "talking" and the students complete written responses at home. When she submits the work, she receives a brief written comment. I think what she was trying to say is that she would like the opportunity to write in class time and receive immediate feedback as the process was occuring. To do that her teacher has to talk less.

In talking less we give students time to think, reflect and respond. The teacher in the above scenario could give students a block of time for editing and rewriting when work is returned. Perhaps the students could form editing groups and offer each other suggestions on their work prior to rewriting. Many theorists agree on the value of resubmitting work and the value of tinkering (see earlier post).

Some years ago I stumbled across a dept of Ed document for primary school teachers with a formula for helping students improve their writing. It is called the POWER method: Plan - Organise - Write - Edit - Rewrite. I have found this incredibly helpful in getting students to consider their own writing and how it can be improved.

The key, however, has been to allocate class time to the process. This gives students an opportunity to think, perhaps talk to each other about their work, and quiet time for rewriting. The teacher talk is reduced and all conversations become much more individualised.


  1. I think as teachers we often underestimate the value of silence in the process of thinking and learning. I used to be very nervous when my students were too silent! I have come to realise that they need the quiet to think, plan and then to put those thought processes to paper/screen. They appreciate the time given to think as they aren't quite sure themselves of how to create an environmment which allows them to learn.Thinking and responding are learnt skills and we are the role models in teaching kids how to best create an environment for that to happen

  2. I love silence and find that students appreciate it too. Good point Maryanne.