The power of talk

Discussion is worth a 1000 worksheets

I remember the days when a quiet classroom was a good classroom. However silence is not always the best learning environment. Teachers frequently think that their best tool of the trade is a worksheet. There may be a place for using this tool occasionally but the more I read the English syllabus two important points become apparent.

Talk underpins learning. Even in Early Stage One students are asked to express an opinion about texts read and to give reasons for what they like and dislike in texts. There is an expectation that students respond to what they hear, read and view. As students learn to engage in conversation they can build on the ideas of others and so their initial understandings change and develop. We want students to be able to accept different points of view and be challenged by the thinking of others in order to synthesise new ideas.

There is an expectation that students become increasingly sophisticated analysts of written, spoken and viewed texts. Understanding that texts have different layers is a difficult concept in itself. In order to explore and understand a text thoroughly students learn to unpack the layers of author’s purpose, the intended audience, how visual and written information work together to make meaning as well as the literal and inferred meanings in a text. By Stage Three this reaches the sophisticated point of being able to address how a text is positioning the reader.

Unpacking these layers in a text is best achieved through structured conversation facilitated by the teacher building on students’ understanding. Everyone’s understanding grows through rich talk about text.

Recently an anonymous comment appeared on a course evaluation. ‘Conversation is worth a thousand worksheets.’ I couldn’t agree more! As teachers of every grade we need to hone our skills of facilitating classroom talk that is rich and meaningful.