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☰ DIALOGUE: Keep talking, keep learning

Head's Blog

DIALOGUE: Keep talking, keep learning

Posted on March 22 2019

‘Nicholas is a bright boy who has lots to offer but talks too much in class. If he could just keep quiet and listen he would achieve so much more.’ A small snippet from my school report from when I was aged eight at primary school. I will admit, my school lessons were not the most engaging experiences and I found it ironic that I was being told to keep quiet when it was, in fact, the class teacher that did most of the talking. She talked and we had to listen or copy work into our books; children should be seen and not heard.

It is pleasing to see that education has advanced since my school days and dialogue and pupil talk is something we actively encourage at Forest Park. A classroom that’s alive with discussion and debate is one of the most enjoyable places to learn. It’s also the perfect environment for promoting children’s understanding: children are much better equipped to write their ideas down once they have discussed them. Talking helps pupils to gather their thoughts, process information and be able to recall upon their learning at a later date.

Feedback and dialogue have been a key area of focus for us as a school this year and teachers have carefully planned successful ways for children to interact with one another and discuss progress, reflect upon their own learning and offer advice to each other.  For example, at the beginning of most lessons, teachers will ask a question that provokes discussion but isn’t heading towards a single, correct answer. These higher order thinking questions help learners to critically think about the varying answers they could pose to open-ended problems, such as; what is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world? How would you describe an elephant? Who is the most important scientist in the world?

This strategy of open discussion ensures that our pupils begin lessons with 100% participation. We encourage all pupils to explain their answers together, in talking partners, so that every child is actively engaged in learning discussions. A well-posed question can turn the lights on in children’s heads – whereas badly-formulated ones can disinterest them.

We also allow pupils 5 to 10 minutes during lessons to write down everything they know about a given topic to gauge an understanding of previous learning as well as highlighting what the children would like to find out about during the coming weeks ahead. This offers a useful way of making children more confident, independent writers, and brings together thoughts and opinions, which ultimately often leads to a greater depth of understanding.

Pupils regularly address each other (rather than the teacher directly) and open up debates around their learning objectives. An excellent example witnessed just this week was a Year 6 lesson where the children held a mock court case relating to Goldilocks and whether she broke the law and should be sentenced! During our school debate sessions, all pupils are able to contribute to discussions and there is no child dominating over others. When pupils have contributed ideas, teachers again often ask for feedback and the class then assess their own progress.

Thinking time is extremely important for children to prepare and pose answers. When posing a question, we often allow pupils up to 15 seconds to consider their responses. This may be the first time that pupils have come across certain ideas, so thinking time is important to allow them to get to grips with new concepts and gather their thoughts.

At Forest Park, we believe that children need to talk in class, our pupils must be heard as well as seen. For this to happen effectively, we ensure they feel emotionally safe and secure. We ensure they feel positive and confident. We ensure they are given time to think, respond and probe their understanding in an atmosphere that is motivational.

Nick Tucker

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