A first step towards talk-rich learning

Photo by Jarosław Głogowski on Unsplash

As a trainee teacher back in the 80’s, I attended a fascinating conference about Oracy.  I was inspired by a wide range of ideas about how a talk-rich curriculum could support powerful learning.  The National Curriculum (introduced a year later) included ‘speaking and listening’ but the statutory assessments for reading and writing that followed, led to oracy taking something of a back seat.

In the intervening years researchers like Robin Alexander or Dr Nadia Siddique have continued to evidence the importance of building a strong oral culture in schools.  In response to concerns such as the way teachers limit rich talk by seeking predictable answers, Alexander created his theory of ‘Dialogic Teaching’ which defines the characteristics of effective dialogue.  Reflecting on her recent analysis of the Philosophy 4 Children programme Siddique talks about how opportunities to talk are an important way of nourishing a child’s natural curiosity and supporting the social, emotional and cognitive development of all children, and in particular the least advantaged. 

Thanks to the researchers, oracy is now firmly back on the agenda.  But as with any new demand, and with teachers under increasing pressure of one kind and another, the question in many people’s minds is how to find the time to become expert at teaching this on top of everything else.  There is undoubtedly a lot of interesting theory to explore, but my first response would be to suggest that we might be more experienced in using dialogic principles than we realise, and that tapping into this capability will achieve a good deal before we have found the time to read the books or attend the training.

When I work with teachers to help them build a talk-rich learning culture, the first thing I suggest is that they exchange as much teacherly talk as possible for a way of talking we all use in other contexts.  I encourage them to talk more like the curious, imaginative people they might be with a group of friends or colleagues.  They might ask genuine questions (rather than questions with predictable answers), they might share half-baked ideas (rather than present as the expert), they might respectfully contradict someone else or be open to the possibility that their idea is not as good as an alternative one.  In short I encourage teachers to allow dialogue to take shape in a more authentic way.

When teachers model what effective and engaging dialogue involves they notice children gaining the confidence to join in and build their own skills.  Safe in the knowledge that speaking and listening is not about getting something right, children instead enjoy a kind of collaboration where one question to leads to another and where we all get cleverer as a result.


If you would like to to attend a short workshop about how to create a talk-rich learning culture please click here.  If you are interested in bespoke CPD for your school please message Lizzie via the Contact page.