Talk only talk in relation to English will

Talk has been defined as using spoken language to express views, ideas or emotions and as a method to converse with others, (Oxford University Press, 2018) however in relation to education talk has been defined as ‘not a one-way linear communication but a reciprocal process in which ideas are bounced back and forth and, on that basis, take children’s thinking forward.’ (Alexander, as cited in Grugeon, E. ; Hubbard, L., p.241) As of 2013, spoken language has become an imperative aspect in English as the National Curriculum outlines that children must have clear opportunities to engage in talk throughout their whole school life; talk should therefore be a daily aspect of children’s learning. Browne (2009) went as far as to argue that talk is fundamental across the curriculum and should be integrated into all aspects of children’s learning due to its far-reaching benefits.
However, for the basis of this essay only talk in relation to English will be discussed and how this is presented in the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013). Since Alexander referred to talk as reciprocal this essay will examine the role of talk in group work and questioning in order to explore whether through these methods of talk learning is enhanced. Allington Johnson and Day (as cited in Dickson, 2005, p. 109-110) recognise talk as the most influential technique for teachers to employ in the classroom to augment pupils’ learning. Utilising talk through collaboration and questioning can therefore engage students in lessons and improve their learning experience. Since talk is such a powerful tool it can also advance students’ academic skills such as their writing ability. This essay, in order to examine the far-reaching effects of talk, will also consider whether talk has a significant impact on writing development and therefore plays an integral part in children’s English lessons.
Talk plays a role in group work as it provides students with a chance to express their views as Vygotsky (1986, p.87) stated that ‘what a child can do with assistance today she will be able to do by herself tomorrow’, suggesting that through discussion learning is enhanced. It is specified in the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) that children should have the opportunity to work in different sized groups as working in this way generates talk. Hamm & Adams (2002) claim that group work focuses on each student’s strengths rather than their weaknesses which increases the student’s confidence so that they become actively involved in the learning process. Once they are participating in group activities students talk more to one another which, as a statutory aim in the 2013 National Curriculum, teaches them skills such as listening, debating, contributing to discussions and evaluating the opinions of others. (DfE, 2013) However, group talk may not be beneficial because CREET (n.d) demonstrate that in groups one child may dominate leaving most of the group silent, or group talk may be unproductive and off task. Due to this, collective talk can lack value for the group members and create numerous complications which disturb the appointed task. Research by Rosen and Rosen (1973) found that group work can be taught by allowing children to interact with one another over several months and through this their learning can become more productive as they acquire an understanding of how to work together successfully. This can then lead to improvements in communication, children building upon each other’s suggestions and practicing using discussions so they can explain their ideas confidently to an audience (DfE, 2013). Despite this, it has been found that once an adult leaves the classroom group work can fail and the children can go off topic (Dawes, 2018); this may only be enhanced by the group having worked together for months meaning that talk may distract from the learning process. In order to promote effective talk, Mercer and Dawes (as cited in Allott ; Waugh, 2016, p.19) advise that teachers create rules for classroom talk so that the children are aware of the expectations of collaborative work. If these rules are learnt by the students then talk can be useful when working as a team, regardless of whether the teacher is present or not, as the children are aware of how to use group discussions profitably (DfE, 2013). A further way in which collaborative talk can be managed is through group size. Brock and Rankin (2008) support this statement as they demonstrate that no group should be larger than five children in order to allow ample talk time between students. Similarly, Blatchford (2003) found that groups of four to six children worked more effectively than larger groups displaying that teachers should plan to use smaller groups when appropriate. However, the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) suggests that comprehension skills develop from discussion with the teacher and so it may not be interaction with other pupils that matters, instead talk with the teacher should be focused on. In contrast, constructivist theories, such as those presented by Piaget, display that collaborative working is useful because students learn through an interaction of their experiences and their thoughts. (Kerry, 1998) From these theories it can be noted that social interactions underpin learning irrespective of whether the conversations are between the teachers and the pupils or the pupils discussing a topic together. Ideas are produced from talking to others regardless of who the pupil expresses their opinions to and therefore group communication results in students developing their knowledge. To conclude, these arguments present that when rules are successfully put in place and group sizes are controlled, talk plays a beneficial role in group work which results in learning.
Questions are, like group work, a useful tool in the learning process as they not only challenge students but are also the most frequent prompt used to start conversations in the classroom (Brock ; Rankin, 2008) proposing that talk is enhanced by teachers effectively using questions. There are two main types of questions, open and closed; closed questions provoke a simple response whilst open questions require a more developed and thoughtful answer. It can be argued that open questions are more useful than closed questions because they lead to children furthering their knowledge and understanding of a topic. Evidence for this view has been provided by Galton, Hargreaves, Comber and Wall, (1999) who discovered that closed questions only demand simple recall with a set answer, thus no real learning is taking place. Teachers should therefore create discussions and model effective talk through using open-ended questions (Jewell ; Pratt 1999). This view supports the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) which proposes that children should be able to justify and express their thinking which can be done through discussions stimulated by open questions. Additionally, if teachers model effective questioning then this will mirror the curriculum as the children will learn to ask questions through imitation. However, questions are being used incorrectly as from experience it has been noted that teachers mainly use closed questions which require one-word answers and sparingly ask open questions which allow student discussion instead of the teachers dominating the dialogue. Research also reflects this as Smith et al. (as cited in Allott ; Waugh, 2016, p.55) ‘discovered that in more than one in three of the lessons they observed, no open questions at all were asked, while highly effective teachers asked significantly more open questions than other teachers.’ Thus, questioning is a beneficial classroom tool but it is not being used to produce advantageous dialogue. Further support for this comes from Geekie and Raban (1993) who reveal that talk is not encouraged in classrooms as teachers control conversations, ask most of the questions and limit the students’ responses. Due to this the classroom environment means that the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) objective of children using discussions to learn is not being practiced. However it is important for teachers to use questions as when open questions are utilised effectively they can result in positive debates and the children posing their own questions. Baumfield and Mroz (2010) demonstrate that encouraging pupils to ask meaningful questions can lead to learning; this therefore meets the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) objective of using questions to provide students with the opportunity to practice speaking clearly in Standard English. Rather than being beneficial, research has revealed that talk can make children feel distressed as Allott and Waugh (2016) found that some children do not speak frequently in the classroom and so using questions to persuade them to talk may cause them to feel uncomfortable and, consequently, talk less. In order to overcome this, teachers should expand children’s curiosity through questioning and offer them time to talk so they feel comfortable in doing so. (Harvey, 2002) Moreover, to improve questioning Dillon (as cited in Baumfield ; Mroz, 2002, p.130) suggests that systems such as Bloom’s taxonomy which propose a hierarchy of questions should be used. This begins with questions that provoke more simplistic thinking and demand restricted answers which are suitable when teachers introduce questioning. The child then progresses to being asked questions which require greater thought, deeper understanding and deliberation and so this gradual movement ensures that the students are comfortable answering these questions. Therefore this hierarchy of questioning exhibits that teachers should use closed questions which provoke lower order thinking so that they can then build up to generating more detailed thinking through using open questions which impact learning more constructively. All of this conveys that positive talk can be produced by questioning but only if questions that demand higher order thinking are eventually used and the children are given the chance to ask questions alongside the teacher. Thus, questioning can stimulate learning but only when used appropriately and in line with the 2013 National Curriculum.
The National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) not only supports the use of questioning but also contains a section on writing and how, in English, teachers should focus on developing each student’s writing ability. However, before children can write they are capable of speech. (Hall, 1989) Therefore these skills may be linked as Britton (1970, p.164) stated that writing ‘floats on a sea of talk,’ displaying that without talk writing cannot flourish. Support for this statement is provided by Riley (2006) because children must first be able to talk so that they are aware of the ways in which letters represent speech which is significant when developing writing. Integrating talk into each year group’s lessons is therefore vital; this is especially true of early years as Waugh and Jolliffe (2017) present that children must read stories aloud repeatedly to provide themselves with a wealth of oral experience which will prepare them for writing. Additional support for this is presented by Campbell (2002) who exhibits that play with language, speaking through rhymes and participating in repetitive chants and songs helps children to develop a phonemic awareness which positively impacts their literacy skills including their writing. Similarly, the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) suggests that for children’s writing to be constructed successfully they must be aware of sounds and letters and these are taught through phonics which are learnt through speech. Even though talk may lead to writing, this may not be beneficial as instead several complications may arise. Kress (1994) revealed that since children speak first they learn the rules of grammar relating to speech before they learn the rules of writing. These grammar rules are considerably different and so the children may include the language of speech in their writing making it of a lower quality. Due to this the pupils are not capable of meeting the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) aim of using grammar correctly in their writing as they may have the misconception that they should write in the same way that they speak. If children cannot separate talk and writing then this may actually have a negative impact on their learning. In contrast, Perera (as cited in Fisher, Myhill, Jones ; Larkin, 2010, p.16) discovered that children can separate their speech and their writing and are aware that different language and grammar is utilised. However, Perera’s research only observed eight-year-old students and so it is possible that children who are younger than this may confuse speech and writing which supports Kress’s research. On the other hand, talk is important as the curriculum requires students to discuss their writing with the teacher and their peers in their class and they must be capable of reading their written work out loud, thus even if talk does not directly result in writing it is still involved with writing in the learning process. In contrast Allott and Waugh (2016) reveal that writing should be a silent activity in order to allow children to focus on their work and so the classroom environment should limit talk to minimise the number of distractions. Talk should therefore be separated from writing so that both of these methods of learning produce the best outcomes for the students. Overall it can be seen that talk is essential in writing (Jolliffe, 2014) and due to this talk should be implemented in classrooms to aid children in developing and improving their writing if the grammar of writing is clearly taught to children and separated from that of speech.
Through this essay it has been concluded that both group work and questioning enhance talk in the classroom and therefore result in learning. In order for them to be successful they must be managed by the teacher in the classroom and there must be clear and planned opportunities for the children to participate in these frequently. Activities, such as these, which create talk result in children improving their writing or learning how to write; therefore, talk helps pupils to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013). All of this evidence suggests that talk plays a crucial role in children’s learning and, consequently, in English it is important for discussions to take place regularly for students to develop valuable skills which evolve from talk. Using dialogue can also allow children to progress as learners as once they can communicate successfully with others and work collaboratively, they become confident in themselves which then enables them to work independently in a more effective way. The overall benefits of talk are so extensive that they have not all been covered in this essay.
Due to the limit of this essay, one aspect of talk that has not been explored is the cross-curricular impacts of dialogue as emphasised by Browne (2009). It has been suggested that talk does not just play a role in English but also in subjects such as mathematics and science presenting that talk is weaved through the 2013 National Curriculum. Additionally, this essay has not investigated how in the early years talk plays a role in storytelling as Corbett (2008) put forward that storytelling is a powerful instrument which can raise children’s progress in literacy. In further essays these topics will be explored to investigate the overall role of talk in learning. Without being aware of the whole role of talk and its range of impacts a final conclusion can not be drawn.


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