Literacy is now defined as communication, reading and writing. For me, it is no coincidence that they are listed in that order. I see Student Talk and the first and greatest starting point to improving literacy. If I can encourage articulacy, complexity and sophistication in dialogue, then I can demonstrate it in writing and I can analyse and evaluate it when reading.
Kids develop evaluation, critical and analytical skills verbally – this is demonstrated every time I overhear a teenage conversation. These skills are intrinsic to the teen psyche. I want to tap into that and exploit it in my lessons. I believe students can learn to write well by having opportunities to talk well.
I also believe that given the opportunity to be more opinionated, more included, more valued, students will engage more and learn more in my lessons.
I choose a bunch of different strategies and activities to increase student talk in my lessons. Here are a few that have worked well.
The class coach – here a nominated student acts as team coach for the whole lesson. I allowed them to be in charge of rewards and sanctions, as appropriate. They summarised our learning, asked questions to the class, clarified knowledge.
The secret success of this, is it doesn’t matter who you choose. I made an effort to choose both the nosiest, most disruptive kids as well as the timid, meek ones. Once the class realise they are engaging with a peer, rather than me, they love it.
50 questions in 50 minutes – this was a hard strategy for me. When I get excited about a text or an idea, there is sometimes no stopping. The idea behind this strategy was to limited my enthusiasm, in order to allow students more space to enthuse.
So I did not allow myself to speak during the lesson at all, unless it was to ask a question. I worked out in advance about 70 questions that would led students through the learning experience, but I had to build enough leeway in that we could go with them and their answers.
My questions were not all higher ordered questions or particularly enlightened but at the end of the lesson, when I asked “what did you learn today?” The answer “that we don’t need you to tell us stuff.” Yes!
Again, it takes some preparation and nerves of steel. And I did end up using the evil eye more than once but it didn’t take long for the kids to work out that I wasn’t going to help them, or tell them what to do. So they asked each other. They figured it out and go on with it. They realised they didn’t need me, that had learnt all the skills already and just need to use them.