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Richards and Rodgers (2001) suggest that there are essentially four methods of teaching which are speaking, listening, reading and writing. An effective teacher achieves a good balance between these four methods throughout their lessons. As speaking and listening are two of Richards and Rodgers (2001) methods of teaching, it is evident that all teachers need to include speaking and listening in their lessons (DES, 1975 cited in Corson, 1990).
Literacy "involves the integration of speaking, listening and critical thinking with reading and writing" (Wray, 2001, pg12).
"Literacy is the set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society and in learning, through the different forms of language, and the range of texts, which society values and finds useful"
Literacy can take many forms including mathematical expressions, websites, graphs, scientific symbols, signs, body language and cartoons (Paterson, 2007). Speaking and listening are intrinsically interlinked since there is no benefit to speaking if it is not being listened to, even if that means listening to oneself.
Speaking can take place in a variety of ways within the classroom. These primarily include questioning, pair work, collaborative group work or whole class discussions. Each of these is suited to different tasks or situations and the success of the activity depends on the planning skills of the teacher (Capel et al, 2009). In terms of how the talking begins, planned talk or questioning is more likely to result in an informative discussion as more preparation will have taken place. Incidental talk at any time during a lesson can be equally as useful but can also more easily lead to idle chat (Capel et al, 2009).
Listening is often considered as a skill which is very difficult to perfect (Lewis and Graham, 2003). Wragg and Brown (2001) state that there are four different types of listening; these are skim, survey, search and study. They believe the types of listening range from little awareness to trying to search for the underlying meaning of what is being said. The reasons for these four types of listening could be due to the amount of information which can be conveyed through speech and the challenge of the listener having to process this information (Capel et al, 2009, Wragg and Brown, 2001).
In order for literacy to be taught effectively there needs to be some consistency across the curriculum (Paterson, 2007). Literacy should not just be the responsibility of the English department, as it applies to all learning and subjects cannot be taught effectively without speaking and listening. For example, to get a good grade in an exam or essay requires the student to have a good understanding of literacy (DfES, 2003).
The Department for Education and Skills (2003), also states that for there to be effective literacy strategy across the school there needs to be a common framework which enables all subjects to work together to achieve the common goal. All subjects need to have the same standards to ensure consistency. The National Literacy Trust (2010) state that every school needs to have a literacy co-ordinator who should be responsible for providing training, recognising the needs of other subjects and developing teacher confidence and enthusiasm.
It is important that teachers have the correct opinion with regard to the inclusion of literacy in all subjects ensuring that they regard reading or speaking aloud as ways for students to learn subject content rather than just generating additional workload (Paterson, 2007). Although perhaps taking longer to plan than other activities, speaking and listening tasks could actually save the teacher time as students can take responsibility for some independent learning and creative thinking, which can be followed up by group discussion or questioning.
To ensure that the speaking and listening within the classroom is valuable and effective, it is important to make sure that a variety of questions are planned in advance and these questions are aimed at differing abilities to ensure that all students have access to the curriculum (Capel et al, 2009). Open questions should be used to get a better understanding of students' knowledge as they require a more detailed and comprehensive answer. Throughout the lesson some pupils should be targeted as it is a good way to assess their level of understanding. Another area which should be considered is pupil response time as some students may take longer to respond not because they do not know the answer they could just be thinking about it (Corson, 1990, Capel et al, 2009).
There are some advantages and disadvantages to having discussions within a classroom. Some advantages are that teachers can get a more detailed understanding of a student's comprehension of a particular subject area or topic. Fassinger (1995) discusses how speaking and listening can invoke concentration, keep students involved and is a proven confidence builder. However, a disadvantage is that the teacher would be unaware of where the discussion would end up and it could go off track. Teachers also need to take care to avoid sensitive issues with open discussions (Capel et al, 2009).
Part of the role of a teacher is to give students feedback on their work to help them to learn and develop further (Murphy, 1997). However, the assessment of a student based on speaking and listening alone can be difficult simply because it is arduous to evidence (Brooks, 2002). For example if the student was relatively quiet and did not say much the teacher may assume that they are not achieving their goals. Too much speaking within an assessment could mean that the conversation has become more general and the student could be talking a lot but not covering a topic in depth.
In conclusion, having literacy skills allows people to connect to our society. Richards and Rodgers (2001) state that there are four methods to teaching; speaking and listening account for half of these methods. There are a variety of different ways in which speaking and listening can be used within the classroom to raise and measure achievement and understanding.