Talk talk encourages pupils to work together

Talk is defined as ‘Speak in order to give information or express ideas or feelings; converse or communicate by spoken words’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018).

However, numerous other command words for talk have been found; discuss, persuade, emphasize and reveal. Suggesting that talk is used for activities within a classroom to develop learning. Even though talk does not have a designated section within the National Curriculum for English (DfE, 2014), it is necessary to achieve different milestones throughout. This may be through spoken language goals, group work, the ability to show phonics pronunciation or spelling for example. However, a designated section to spoken language in the future draft curriculum proposals of the Programme of Study is being minimised, giving it less of a meaning, even though it is needed for children to learn English (Howe, 2014).

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Outlined within this assignment are the different types of talk evident within the classroom, as proven, different types of talk lead to different outcomes. The use of questioning; how different levels lead to different feedback within English, and the use of talk with children who have English as an additional language, how using/not using talk impacts their learning within a generic English classroom. Curricular discussions within a classroom have been found to improve the development of children’s processing skills and their abilities to form generalised views regarding a subject matter (Dickson, 2005). The Teachers’ Standards emphasise that teachers should ‘guide pupils to reflect on the(ir) progress’ (Department for Education, 2011), this promotes the use of curricular discussions. These discussions become effective dependent on the type of talk that is used within the discussion. Collaborative talk encourages pupils to work together to develop their transferable skills; including reasoning and communication (Dawes, Littleton, Mercer, Wegwrif, & Warwick, 2012).

However, in an analysis of children’s group work, it was found that many of them were not task focused and in most one child did dominate, leading others to withdraw. This may suggest that if a teacher wanted to use collaborative talk then it is evident that this may not come naturally to children and they need to be taught how to work together (Dawes, Littleton, Mercer, Wegwrif, ; Warwick, 2012). However, this statement is contradicted; research shows that using collaborative talk in group work is more likely to produce an increase in task-orientated behaviour and engagement compared to independent work as pupils would work to support one another (Cohen and Lotan, 2014).

Collaborative talk is also promoted within the National Curriculum for English, as within spoken language individuals should be given the opportunity to work within groups of different sizes to develop their competency in spoken language (DfE, 2014). Mercer et al also examined disputational talk where individuals disagree and use individualised decision making instead of working together, there is often a lack of constructive criticism present and only short conversational exchanges; for example, “no, you cannot” (Dawes, Littleton, Mercer, Wegwrif, ; Warwick, 2012). Disputational talk is not seen as an appropriate use of communication within the National Curriculum for English as children should be taught how to appropriately respond to their peers within the classroom and adults (DfE, 2014).

Using short exchanges to answer all questions that the teacher may ask may not be appropriate within the English specification as it will not lead to showing a clear understanding of texts or terminology. Joyce, Weil and Calhoun (Dickson, 2005) completed an investigation into problem solving in the classroom and the type of talk used to find the answer. Evidence suggests that collaborative talk comes more naturally to children than being disputational. As, the most frequent talk used between students was collaborative and least common was disputational (Dickson, 2005), this will help the students to work co-operatively to gain more in-depth knowledge from one another.A type of talk that Mercer also outlines is Exploratory talk. The children are critical yet constructive of one another. Each of their challenges are justified and they can offer compromised ideas, the overall decisions are then jointly made with one another.

(Dawes, Littleton, Mercer, Wegwrif, ; Warwick, 2012). Within the Teachers Standards it is explained that teachers should treat their pupils with dignity, (Department for Education, 2011) using adverbial language like ‘perhaps’ (Grugeon ; Hubbard, 2010) allows children to adapt their own ideas and to not feel degraded if another suggestion is given, which continues their participation within the activity. Mercer also found in his research that those who had ‘intervention’ classes were more likely to use Exploratory language, which led to an increase in the amount that the child could problem solve (Dawes, Littleton, Mercer, Wegwrif, ; Warwick, 2012).

This is beneficial for the children within their English programme of study as they are required to be able to work out (using problem solving) an unknown word when reading and writing (DfE, 2014).As well as having different types of talk within a classroom there are also multiple types of questions that have different levels of effectiveness. Bloom’s Taxonomy outlines six types of questions; evaluation, synthesis, analysis, application, comprehension and knowledge (Sosniak, 1994). Suggesting that as you work through the taxonomy the more in-depth and complex answers the teacher should expect. However, this is a cognitive process and a weakness of this is that they are inferential forms, so are unable to be directly observed (Sudman; Bradburn & Schwarz, 1996).

Teachers are not able to acknowledge whether the student has used a low- or high-level thought process to come to their answer so could not be placed on this scale accurately (Gall, 1970). The need for children to be asked specifically challenging questions for them is shown in research from Elmer and Riley (2001) which showed that teachers of seven to eleven year olds were not asking sufficiently challenging questions (Grugeon & Hubbard, 2010). The National Curriculum states that students should show progression by answering and asking questions to show their understanding (DfE, 2014) therefore, Mercer introduced ‘Interthinking’ where the teacher works alongside pupils to create a joint enquiry with one another to develop conversation (Grugeon & Hubbard, 2010). In Key Stage 1, one of the focus points in the National Curriculum is the development of phonics. Interthinking may be an effective method to use here as it would improve the child’s vocabulary and understanding of words, teachers would have the chance to explain and develop what individual words meant (DfE, 2014).One method of questioning is probing pupils, where the teacher asks questions that help the individual to explore a subject matter in a deeper understanding (Spencer, 2003). In an investigation completed by Shepardson (1973) into teacher directed discussions a significant positive correlation was found between the frequency of probing questions used and pupil’s oral contribution (Hargie, 1978). Suggesting that the teacher probing the pupil will increase their responses given.

This is supported by research carried out by Wright and Nuthall (1970) in which probing was focused on, an experiment was mirrored with 17 different teachers showing that when a teacher asked one impacting question the children gained higher test scores as it increased their thought processes. This was concurrent across all 17 suggesting high inter-rater reliability as the results are consistent throughout. However, it has not been repeated in different school environments suggesting a lack of test-retest reliability (LoBiondo-Wood & Haber, 2014). In the Year 3 and 4 programmes of study for English it is expressed that pupils should be given ‘guidance about the kinds of explanations and questions that are expected from them’ (DfE, 2014) so through the teachers using probing questions it gives the children an example of the in-depth knowledge they are expected to know and what sort of direct questions are expected. Questioning is a two-way process between the pupil and teacher, where the question is asked, and a response is given. It has been found that many of student’s problems stem from a lack of cognitive skills (PERKINS, 1989). The Vygotskian theory suggests that the development of a child’s mental processes depends on mediating agents being present when the child is interacting with its environment, to help them understand.

The Zone of Proximal Development was proposed to show the distance between what the individual would be able to problem solve on their own compared to if they were supported. Vygotsky claims that children learn through imitating those in their environment, this imitation includes anything that the child cannot do independently but can be ‘supported with leading questions’ (Kozulin, Gindis, Ageyev, & Miller, 2003). With this he emphasised the importance of the questions being relevant to the scenario and that they were using the child’s existing knowledge. Vygotsky founded this theory focusing on the genetic analysis of individuals.

However, Da Valenzuela (2006) suggested that the most common focus of research is microgenesis and ontogenesis (Shabani, Khatib.M, ; Ebadi, 2010). The use of a teacher questioning the pupils on parts of English that they need to develop is important as suggested by their zone of proximal development they will start to imitate these questions and ask them to themselves to consolidate their own knowledge. Which is important as stated in the National Curriculum; children should use talk to develop an understanding through speculation (DfE, 2014). Speculating and questioning in English may be a natural process in learning for most children however, between 1997 and 2011 the amount of primary school children who have English as an Additional Language (EAL) has risen by 462290 and is continuing to rise (Demie, 2013).

Previously these children were being withdrawn from mainstream schools due to The Plowden Report (1967) which stated that EAL children needed specialist focused teachers to aid their learning of the secondary language. This was contradicted by a report published by Widlake (1973) where a multiracial class was proposed, some children were not fully withdrawn only partially. Which is supported by Piaget’s Schema Theory, claiming that the EAL children’s home language skills will be transferrable to the English language (Derry, 1996), meaning that they should not be removed from the classroom as they may be able to adapt.

Following this, The Swann Report argued against the practice of withdrawing EAL learners from mainstream classrooms, it found separation to be both educationally and socially unacceptable (Costley, 2013). This focused on the need to teach all children literacy in the classroom up to the same standard whether they were EAL or not. As the National Curriculum currently states that all pupils are expected to ‘speak audibly and fluently’ (DfE, 2014) in standard English to meet their learning goals. However, support from Sheena Gardner (Gardner, 2006) suggests that there should be a medium between the two points both reports made. Suggesting that partnership talk would be best to use in a classroom of EAL learners, where a class teacher works alongside a Language Support Teacher to teach the lessons, this exaggerates the use of talk to explain topics specifically to the EAL students as they have specialist training in talk and presenting these ideas within literacy lessons.

However, currently there is no nationally agreed framework for EAL learners. Assuming English will be learned simultaneously and incidentally with the learning of subject knowledge without a specific focus on language development (Wardman, 2013). This means that there is no required qualification for teachers of EAL in the current curriculum to describe the progression of EAL students. Even though within the Teachers Standards it is exclaimed that there should be a clear understanding of the needs of the pupils, including EAL (Department for Education, 2011). Contrastingly, it is claimed that children can rapidly acquire language (DfE, 2014) suggesting that the children are then more capable of using talk within the classroom as they are able to adapt to their environment. However, even though the Department for Education believes children have this ability, a study from Cummins suggests that it can take up to two years for a child to become fluent in spoken English, so for this period the child may not be able to talk to others within the classroom (Cummins, 2000), hindering their learning.Speaking and listening build the foundations for literacy (DfE, 2014). So, when in an English lesson EAL students should be encouraged to use talk to expand their ideas.

Davies (2009) encourages the use of talk for those pupils who have EAL from an early stage so that they are more conscious of the language, this means that teachers would need to create conversations with these pupils or use partner talk (Mistry ; Barnes, 2013). The White Paper (Mistry ; Barnes, 2013) also suggests that the teaching of phonics is imperative in the teaching of reading. The children will need to pronounce the phonemes in English to be able to attain in reading suggesting talk is important in the assessment of EAL pupils. But, Crosse (Crosse, 2007) explains that EAL pupils have a silent period and talk should not be forced upon them, they should be able to voluntarily participate. Some children may lack the confidence to talk in their class which is why Walker (1987) proposed Makaton to be used with EAL children (Mistry ; Barnes, 2013), the pressure is reduced because they have an alternative to speech. However, links have found that signing could prohibit the development of speech (Makaton Charity, 2008).

As spoken language is a vital part of the National Curriculum and individuals should be able to speak fluently (DfE, 2014) the use of Makaton may not be most effective in ensuring talk is present in the child’s learning. These strategies are in place to develop those with EAL, however, advanced linguists have been found not to be challenged enough within the classroom (Read, 2012), as assessment of language is not frequent or in-depth compared to what it should be, schools are limiting pupils to do ‘as well as they can’ (Ofsted, 2012). So, the language development of pupils should be assessed regularly to challenge effectively.The use of talk is shown to be vital within an English classroom, key research from Mercer (Dawes, Littleton, Mercer, Wegwrif, & Warwick, 2012) suggests that the right type of talk should be used to have a positive impact. Talk is also important in children’s continual development outlined by Vygotsky, questioning that teachers use is important to continue the development of children’s knowledge in understanding of topics (Kozulin, Gindis, Ageyev, & Miller, 2003). Recent developments in changes to EAL children’s learning shows how the curriculum is constantly being adapted, suggesting there are still ways to improve it, and having limited guidelines for teachers to follow for these children is an issue that may need addressing. English in the National Curriculum is a broad subject; however, talk is seen to be extremely important throughout due to the need to discuss, explain and develop features like phonics, spelling and conversation. Due to a restrictive word count, some of the aspects of talk have not been included, yet still hold importance, which reading further into would benefit greatly; the effect of boys, assessment, group work and talk in early years.