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This essay outlines my developing personal philosophy and is informed by research and personal experience. It will critically analyse the importance of 'talk' in the classroom, with a particular focus on the four core curriculum areas, inclusion (including gender issues) and issues implementing effective practice.
My philosophy centres on the development of a productive, safe, and happy learning environment. I need to equip pupils with transferable skills to develop "autonomous learners who value and can apply their education in their adult lives," (Kyriacou, 2001, p. 164). This follows Rogers' (cited by Williams, 2009) view that it is important to facilitate learning "rather than direct teaching," and echoes Rose's (2009) proposals that we must develop a "love of learning for its own sake," (p. 27). I agree with these assertions that teachers must "create supportive learning environments where pupils would grow to love learning," (Rogers, 2009). Such an environment must recognise the importance of self esteem, creativity, good relationships, inclusion, cross curricular approaches and humour.
A learning environment must be created that develops a sense of "purposefulness and confidence in learning," (Kyriacou, 2001, p. 111). Pollard (2005, p. 130) suggests developing children's confidence and self esteem is important as "this affects how children experience school and their openness to new learning." Therefore, I avoid humiliating children through shouting, as this can leave "powerfully engraved" memories and adopt a calm, authoritative but respectful manner, following Hayes (2006) principles of "forbearance and moderation," (p. 4). In addition I aim to foster an atmosphere that accepts mistakes as a "part of learning process," (ATL, 2010), and offer a "springboard for progress" (Hayes, 2006, p. 127), by facilitating a "have a go" (p. 130) and "can-do" (p. 13) approach, without "tolerating low standards of work," (p. 13). I think it is important that children learn to develop "strategies to rectify... mistakes.. [in order] to solve them in future," (ATL, 2010). Hayes (2006, p. 4) states that "children who have a positive view of the situation are more likely to learn effectively than those who have negative ones," and Pollard (2005, p. 131) believes a positive ethos in the classroom "involves constant attempts to build on success." My demeanour in school is always one of positivity, cheerfulness and optimism, always challenging children to reach further goals. I encourage them to have a similar attitude, eradicating negativity and low confidence.
For example, on placement, an exceptionally bright child would start each answer with 'this might be wrong, but...'. Over the first few weeks of placement I encouraged her to be more positive and believe in what she thought. I used praise a lot, particularly in front of the class to boost her self esteem. I personally believe praise is of major importance in building an encouraging classroom environment. It is suggested (and I concur) that "children respond well to an adult who displays a positive attitude and belief about what can be achieved and celebrates small successes rather than highlighting minor errors." (Hayes, 2006, p. 129).
I believe in a creative approach to the curriculum as recommended by OFSTED (2010a, p. 4) and Jones and Wyse (2004, p. 9) who suggest "good teaching utilises a range of different ways to structure lessons and sequences of lessons." I believe creativity engages pupils and brings natural "enthusiasm and excitement" into the classroom (Jones & Wyse, 2004, p. 5), which is encouraged by OFSTED (2010, p. 14a) through creative teaching. Craft (2005, p. 18) suggests creativity "focuses on the learner and includes giving the child many choices over what to explore and how," and links to the NACCCE (1999, p. 6) who suggest "creative education involves a balance between teaching knowledge and skills, and encouraging innovation." This also facilitates the inclusion of group work as Loveless (2005, p. 32) suggests "creative people rarely work in isolation."
Another important aspect of teaching and learning is the establishment of good working relationships between child and teacher. Kyriacou (2001, p. 101) states "the relationship between teacher and pupils is of fundamental importance to effective teaching," which is supported by Pollard (2005, p. 119) and Hayes (2006, p. 10). These relationships are based on "mutual respect" (Jones & Wyse, 2004, p. 6) which Kyriacou (2001, p. 108) also acknowledges is an important aspect of practice. It is suggested "all children want to be valued, respected and treated fairly," (Hayes, 2006, p. 5), and that "they respond best when they feel that they are being treated like important individuals." (p. 4). Hawkes and Farrer (2004) found this to be "the most effective way of building a positive climate and good relationships." Once a positive relationship is developed children will then be motivated as they "want to please their teachers," (Hayes, 2006, p. 16). Good working relationships with parents are also vitally important to children's success. Research shows that "parental involvement... has a significant positive effect on children's achievement," (Deforges & Abouchaar, 2003, p. 4). My aim is to be approachable to both parents and children and I look for opportunities to initiate conversations with parents. It is suggested that teachers must maintain "a dialogue while needs are identified and interventions planned," (Langley-Hamel, 2007, p. 179) and the teacher-parent relationship has to be strong to ensure issues can be discussed openly for the benefit of the provision for the child.
I am also committed to inclusive practice and ensure the "individual needs of the child, the specific nature of the task or activity and the way I teach are considered carefully when planning an individual lesson or series of lessons," (Ivett, 2007, p. 28) ensuring all children in my class make progress. Although children with SEN can be most commonly considered the group that needs to be included, Pollard (2005, p. 361) acknowledges all the groups that need to be included as "disability, gender, race, social class, age and sexuality." I achieve this, not only through differentiation, but through the way I relate to the different groups in my class. For example by discovering outside hobbies and interests as children get excited when teachers "take an interest in their life beyond the school fence" (Hayes, 2006, p. 4). The DCSF (2010) suggest the "differences in boys' and girls' performance patterns are a matter of national concern". An example of my inclusive practice was encouraging enthusiasm for reading by allowing boys to read football magazines in 'reading time'. This is seen as good practice by both the Literacy Trust (2010) and the School Library Association (Brown, 2008, p. 11).
The Rose Review (2009) highlighted the benefits of "high-quality subject teaching and equally challenging cross-curricular studies," (p. 20). Research has shown this approach to be engaging and motivating (Andrews, 2003; OFSTED, 2008, p. 10; Vogt, 1997) and is an approach I have adopted. Whilst in school, I taught a numeracy lesson in the context of the literacy topic: Harry Potter. Feedback from pupils highlighted their enjoyment and engagement.
Finally, for me the most important part of education is having fun. Children should enjoy coming to school, and should be able to have "the occasional giggle" (Hayes, 2006, p. 4) with their teacher and peers. It is believed that children like teachers who have a sense of humour, (Hayes, 2006, p. 4; Kent, 2010), and this is seen as beneficial for engagement in lessons, (Maddern, 2010; Salwak, 2010). The DfES (2003, p. 18) suggest "Raising standards and making learning fun can and do go together," and I believe it is a teachers responsibility to do this.
Whilst in school, I began to look at the use of talk as an effective method for teaching, learning, and raising standards.
Barnes (1992, p. 126) defines two types of talk. Presentational is "focussed on the expectations of an audience," where as exploratory is "often hesitant and incomplete; it enables the speaker to try out ideas, to hear how they sound, to see what others make of them, to arrange information and ideas into different patterns." Cordon (2000, p. 25) summarises exploratory talk as "more concerned with working things out." Alternatively, Pollard (2005, p. 294) defines four types of oral classroom communication, these being "exposition, question-and-answer exchanges, discussions, listening." They explain that "discussion aims to explore" and is "informal in style," (2005, p. 306) and Hayes (2006, p. 136) adds that discussion requires "verbal contributions" from different pupils allowing them to "approach a topic from a variety of directions." A further definition is offered by the DCSF (2008a, p. 6) who suggest "book-talk," exploring children's "responses to a text as readers," and "writer-talk...the articulation of the thinking and creative processes involved in all stages of the act of writing." They stress that it must not be a "barrage of closed 'comprehension' questions." I believe talk is a child centred process where they are encouraged to share ideas, opinions and knowledge to enhance each other's learning.
There has been a growing awareness of the importance of talk in recent legislation and guidance. Currently, the National Curriculum (DfEE, 1999, p. 20) promotes communication as a "key skill" across the curriculum with the English Curriculum (p. 50) offering clear opportunities for developing them. In the proposed New Curriculum, Rose (2009, p. 75) emphasises the importance of children talking "clearly and confidently about their thoughts, opinions and ideas," by categorising it as essential for learning and life. Other research emphasises the use of talk as a life skill (Dawes, 2001, p. 132) and for adult work, (Harvey, 1968, p. 22; Pollard, 2005, p. 308; Yard, 1989, p. 9), thus making a clear link to its importance in achieving the Every Child Matters [ECM] (DCSF, 2009) outcome of "economic well-being." In addition further guidance, such as Every Child a Talker (DCSF, 2008b) and the Bercow Report (DCSF, 2008c) also emphasise the importance of good communication skills. The Primary National Strategy [PNS] (DfES, 2006, p. 15) highlights the necessity to "explore, develop and sustain ideas through talk" and OFSTED (2010b, p. 11) found that effective implementation of the National Strategies allowed pupils to benefit from working and talking together.
The role of talk in children's development has been the subject of debate and (sometimes) disagreement over many years. Chomsky (1975) believed all children are born with a natural ability to learn a language and Piaget (2006) believes language is used by children to develop their cognitive skills. Alternatively, Vygotsky (1986) suggests language precedes cognitive development and subsequent learning and Barnes (1992, p. 127) highlights him as one of the first psychologists to "stress the role of talk in organising our understanding of the world." Bruner (1983) extends this, emphasising language as the most important means of learning. Tough's (1979, p. 138), early analysis that talk can "provide the basis for the development of concepts," remains relevant today. The National Oracy Project (1989, p. 3) suggested "information and knowledge...cannot be transferred like a cargo being loaded from one ship on to another". Both Tough (1979, p. 124) and the National Oracy Project (1989, p. 3) suggest children must acquire knowledge through talk for learning to be effective. Whatever the exact role of talk in development its importance is established. Further research looks specifically at its use in the classroom.
Archaically, it had been "believed that children should be seen and not heard," meaning "Victorian classrooms were very quiet places," (Fidge, 1992, p. 7). Pollard (2005, p. 285) acknowledges how silent classrooms were "synonymous with well-controlled classrooms in which children are thought to be working hard and focussing." Clay (2009) highlights classroom noise as "the bane of most teachers' lives," but suggests in some instances it is "not only desirable but essential." Interestingly, Percy (1993, p. 20) found that "the overall noise level in the classroom went down," when the children were using talk partners. Hodgkinson and Mercer (2008, p. xi) describe talk as "the most important educational tool for guiding the development of understanding and jointly constructing knowledge," and likewise is described as "central," (Pollard, 2005, p. 285), "crucial," (Smith, 2008, p. 86), and "fundamental" (Dawes, 2001, p. 131) to children's learning and thought development, although Grugeon (2008, p. 1) highlights the danger of taking "talk for granted." Dawes (2008, p. 13) later acknowledged that talk "has a real impact on learning," helping "children to articulate their own ideas, hear new ideas, and so move on in their thinking." Further research supports the view children can expand their learning through sharing ideas with each other, (Hayes, 2006, p. 139; Loveless, 2005, p. 32). Shreeve (1989, p. 25) suggests "we talk with others to come to terms with ideas we are trying to understand" and Hodgkinson and Mercer (2008) support this suggesting talk helps children "make sense of what their peers and teacher mean." Barnes (1992, p. 125) proposes this is due to the "flexibility of speech" allowing us to find "new ways of arranging what we know, and... to change them if they seem inadequate." It is believed therefore that we learn by "verbalising" (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2005, p. 229), and that talk "provides children with access to knowledge and new ways of thinking," (Dawes, 2008, p. 2), which could help "convert" this to understanding, (Yard, 1989, p. 10). Whilst on placement, talk was valued and utilised in most lessons, allowing children to digest new information and support each other's learning.
Different methodologies can be used to promote talk. The use of collaborative talk has been found to be effective by OFSTED (2009, p. 27) for "establishing meaning," (Lyle, 2001, p. 67) and enabling children to "make meaning of what happens," (Dawes, 2001, p. 127). This can be through group work, talk partners or as a whole class and OFSTED (2009, p. 16) found "collaborative learning and... work in pairs and groups generated a great deal of productive talk." Group work usually involves four people (Medwell et al., 2005, p. 136) developing social skills through working together "articulating complex ideas, and acting as a spokesperson," (Brissenden, 1988, p.9). Gillies (2004) found that two important benefits of talk in group-work were pupils "feeling motivated to participate and achieve... [and] engaging in higher-order thinking skills" because they are able to "effectively scaffold one another's learning," (Dawes, 2001, p. 128) by bouncing "ideas off each other," (Cosh, 2008).Talk partners are another method for encouraging classroom talk. This is where children generally talk to either a pre-specified person or whoever they are sitting next to. They are described as "popular," (Ward, 2009, p. 36), "successful and easily organised" (Smith, 2008, p. 95) and help children "clarify and develop their ideas," (p. 95). Fidge (1992, p. 8) found "paired work is often ideal for encouraging participation and interaction," and this was supported by Pollard (2005, p. 285). Ward (2009, p. 36) highlights how this method can be effective, but cautions "teacher and pupils can sometimes just be going through the motions." Therefore, it is important to establish with the children the importance of talk for developing our understanding, and encourage full participation. During placement, the use of both group work and talk partners was found to be successful for sharing ideas, developing teamwork and securing learning.
Talk can contribute to the raising of educational achievement in the core subjects. Smith (2008, p. 95) recognises that talk partners can be used "in all curriculum areas". Goodwin (2001, p. xiv) and Dawes (2001, p. 131) both acknowledge the importance and advantages of using talk across the whole curriculum, and Dawes (2008, p. 116) adds that children can "articulate their thoughts and ideas, challenge others and negotiate new understandings." The use of verbal presentations in any subject allows the children to consider "appropriate form for the audience," (Wray, 2006, p. 90), and Pollard (2005, pp. 280-281) encourages the use of "specialised language of each subject," whilst cautioning that children may be using this with "no real understanding." Carrington (2005) highlights how "talk raises standards" and should be utilised across the curriculum, which supports Evans' (2001, p. 70) view that "children learn through talking about things that are meaningful and relevant to them." This may suggest why children find using talk "enjoyable" (Dawes, 2008, p. 11) (DCSF, 2008b, p. 2), supporting my philosophy and the ECM outcome 'enjoy and achieve'. Indeed, OFSTED (2009, p. 27) found "discussion was often vigorous and lively" emphasising the pupils engagement and enjoyment of talk which would support children's learning effectively. The PNS (DfES, 2006, p. 65) encourages children to "share ideas and explain their reasoning" and Smith (2008, p. 96) suggests explaining mathematical methods to a partner is "the real test of learning and understanding." Yard (1989, p. 9) also highlighted the benefits of working with other children, suggesting pupils can be of "invaluable help to each other," and supports Brissenden's (1988, p. 8) view that talk can develop learning through "clarification, developing greater awareness, borrowing ideas from other's children, extending or refining the available language." Furthermore, Wray (2006, p. 90) suggests talk may provide a "link between the children's previous understanding of mathematics and the new concepts being introduced."
Scott (2008) emphasises how talk can help develop scientific thinking, suggesting this is because it "helps pupils to change their view of the world by constructing new meanings for themselves," (Carmichael & Scott, 1989, p. 6). They recommend an elicitation process to uncover initial thoughts, a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of these ideas, before reviewing the learning afterwards. Feasey (2007) encourages the use of "science talk partners" where "children can discuss their ideas, learning from each other," and OFSTED (2010a, p. 20) found discussion and debate "successfully engaged girls in science" supporting earlier findings that discussion was engaging as pupils were "alert to the possibility that the teacher might ask them to comment," (OFSTED, 2009, p. 28). It also offers "a terrific opportunity to find out what children really think," (Dawes, 2008, p. 33) helping to clarify scientific understanding particularly. This inclusive aspect particularly supports my philosophy that everyone in the class should have access to learning.
Talk also supports all aspects of literacy not just speaking and listening, as it "provides a basis for a written form and the related skills of reading and writing," (Tough, 1979, p. 5). Whitehead (2004, p. 206) believes the "significance of talk for literacy cannot be overstated as it underlies all aspects of language." Talk prior to the commencement of writing was effective for raising the standard of written work, (DCSFa, 2008, p. 2) and OFSTED (2009, p. 50) highlight this as effective practice, suggesting "talk was often a way of improving pupils' writing, giving them the chance to rehearse their ideas before committing them to paper," (2009, p. 27).
The use of talk can be very inclusive. The DCSF (2008a, p. 21) believe "Talk for writing has a strong contribution to make to the learning and writing development of all children," and Dawes (2001, p. 131) suggests it "enables success for the many rather than isolated attainment for the few." Hayes (2006, p. 139) and Smith (2008, p. 95) both acknowledge how talk may allow less confident children the opportunity for their ideas and opinions to be appreciated and respected by the group, and Medwell et al. (2005, p. 125) suggest it provides a medium for "imaginative and often powerful" work particularly for children who struggle to "express themselves... in written form." It may also support children for whom English is an additional language by allowing them to "share ideas... [with a partner] before contributing to a larger group." (Smith, 2008, p. 95). It may also "challenge and extend... [the] thoughts and ideas" of gifted and talented pupils, (DCSF, 2008a, p. 22). However, research found more complex issues with gender and talk finding that girls "were far more task-specific," (Jarmany, 1991, p. 24) and "particularly keen to participate," (Myhill, 2006). Conversely, boys may struggle with discussion, (Jarmany, 1991, p. 24), and "were more likely to be off task," (Myhill, 2006) yet still "dominate the public forum," (Moss, 1992, p. 115). Talk did however increase engagement of boys who were "previously reluctant writers," (DCSF, 2008a, p. 2). Therefore, research advocates the use of mixed groups (Jarmany, 1991, p. 24; Kemeny, 1992, p. 111; Mercer, Dawes, & Wegerif, 1999), but with established, gender specific "rules about talk... without being negative about either's speech behaviour," (Jarmany, 1991, p. 24).
A major issue with classroom talk is supporting "quiet children," (Dawes, 2008, p. 121) who are seriously disadvantaged, compared to their peers as they may not benefit from this method of teaching, (Pollard, 2005, p. 285). Research has shown "high achievers tended to participate more than low achieving pupils," (Myhill, 2006). The main reasons for abstaining from discussion maybe due to increased "feelings of embarrassment," (Pollard, 2005, p. 285), or a feeling of "inadequacy," (Hayes, 2006, p. 139), leading them to remain silent rather than risk exposing weaknesses. Successful teaching develops participants "confidence and skills," (Pollard, 2005, p. 311) and Medwell et al. (2005, p. 136) recommend encouraging them to make "contributions in small groups" rather than the whole class.
Conversely, some children are "naturally talkative and dominate conversations to the detriment" of others, (Hayes, 2006, p. 139). Smith (2008, p. 95) agrees stating "children can be so enthusiastic about putting their own ideas forward that they forget to listen to their partner's view." Warren (2005), further highlights children's inability to work together, believing they are more interested in their own thoughts and views. Therefore, Williams (2004) suggests establishing rules such as "ensure everyone is involved, share ideas, extend ideas and listen to each other."
Effective use of classroom talk needs an "adoption of a whole-school approach" (Smith, 2008, p. 88), OFSTED (2009, p. 27), however, found "oral work... [was] rarely used," despite finding an increase in "emphasis on teachers' planning for talk," (OFSTED, 2009, p. 38) The review of the curriculum suggested schools should re-evaluate "how effectively they provide opportunities" for talk "across all aspects of the curriculum," (Rose, 2009). Furthermore, research by Wells (cited by Cohen et al., 2005, p. 230) found pupils "speak more at home... there talk is more complete, more child-initiated and more extended." Both the DCSF (2008b) and Rose (2009) acknowledge the essential role of parents in academic achievement. Schools should consider ways to develop range and opportunity to talk, so creating an atmosphere similar to home.
Research by Young (1992, p. 80) suggests "teachers often perceive themselves as offering pupils a chance to express themselves but that this is not supported by observation." Talk was generally found to be dominated by the teachers asking "mostly factual questions" (Myhill, 2006), more concerned with the "smooth running and management of the classroom," (Pollard, 2005, p. 279), and children not engaged in "challenging discussion." This may be due to teachers feeling "under pressure to cover curriculum objectives," (Myhill, 2006) and that they " associated talking with wasting time" and "feared that classes would be full of chattering rather than purposeful conversations," (Goodwin, 2001, p. x). In some cases children may "find themselves out of favour with teachers due to their reluctance to commit ideas to paper," (Hayes, 2006, p. 57), totally misunderstanding the purpose of talk. Conversely, Cohen et al. (2005, p. 244) found some teachers may "accept as relevant... anything that the students say...[rendering] the discussion inconsequential." Therefore, effective teachers will find a balance between challenging what the pupils say, and including talk prior to written exercises.
Learning through talk is most effective when child centred discussions take place, (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2005, p. 243), as this may "help activate children's understanding before they undertake the task," (Wray, 2006, p. 90). Pollard (2005, p. 287) recommends "rejecting whole-class teacher-directed talk in favour of small-group child centred talk," and this is supported by Fidge (1992, p. 6) who suggests teachers must create "an investigative rather than didactic approach to learning... where open-ended, exploratory talk is encouraged." Additionally, Pollard (2005, p. 285) emphasises the importance the children becoming "active participants in the discourse of the classroom," for effective and successful learning to take place, supporting my belief of creative, explorative learning. In future practice, I will follow Barnes' (2008) suggestion to allow more time for exploratory talk to help develop understanding before asking children to present what they have found.
Another aspect of effective practice is creating a positive environment that encourages talk. Barnes (1992, p. 126) found learners unlikely to participate "unless they feel relatively at ease, free from the danger of being aggressively contradicted or made fun of." Fidge (1992, p. 6), Evans (2001, p. 69), and Medwell et al. (2005, p. 135) all agree on the need for a supportive environment. It is recommended that "tables and chairs arranged in groups," (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2005, p. 244), encourage interaction with the teachers role "to develop a classroom environment that encourages the growth of purposeful talk," (Medwell, et al., 2005, p. 135). Furthermore, the classroom environment must be trusting, (Fidge, 1992, p. 6) (Dawes, 2008, p. 146), value all contributions (Fidge, 1992, p. 6) and be "non-threatening" (Evans, 2001, p. 69). It is also highlighted that a "sensitive and trusting relationship... is the most powerful and effective strategy to stimulate talk," (Smith, 2008, p. 91), suggesting creating a "kind of amnesty" to ensure "all voices are heard without prejudice," (Dawes, 2008, p. 146). Pollard (2005, p. 302) highlights how using humour within interactions creates a calm rather than anxious atmosphere, strongly echoing the views of my philosophy.
A concern for teachers is the potential for conversations to "drift off into irrelevance," (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2005, p. 232). Research by Percy, (1993, p. 19), found children's "talk... off task", which was echoed more recently by Dawes (2008, p. 78). Having a clear purpose to the discussion with relevant and obvious learning outcomes was suggested to combat this (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2005, p. 244). Research also found "where children are encouraged to talk amongst themselves... much learning often takes place through focused, on-task discussion," (Evans, 2001, p. 71), suggesting teachers may be better stepping back and allowing talk without teacher input, with pupils "organising the environment," (Fidge, 1992, p. 11), supported when necessary.
In conclusion, talk has an important role to play in the primary classroom allowing all children to develop understanding of concepts across the curriculum, supporting achievement, implementation of the ECM outcomes and raising standards. Effective practice can be inclusive, but it is important to support quieter children, girls and other vulnerable groups.