Reduce teacher-talk time for effective learning

While getting students talking in the classroom – at least about their learning – has proved quite a challenge to many teachers, having them verbalize what they’re thinking about is critically important. Even when the learning has been turned over to the students, it’s still tempting to spend too much time giving directions, repeating important information, and telling students how they did instead of asking them reflect on their work. How can we turn ‘teacher-talk’ time (TTT), during which students are passive, into productive student talk?

While getting students talking in the classroom – at least about their learning – has proved quite a challenge to many teachers, having them verbalize what they’re thinking about is critically important. Even when the learning has been turned over to the students, it’s still tempting to spend too much time giving directions, repeating important information, and telling students how they did instead of asking them reflect on their work. How can we turn ‘teacher-talk’ time (TTT), during which students are passive, into productive student talk?

Firstly, use “Think-Time” and “Wait-Time” Skillfully in the Classroom. Most teachers wait for less than a second for a student response to their question before directing it to another student, reframing the question or providing the answer. Some students may be able to fire off a rapid response, but this is not always the case. Some may need time to understand and process what you’ve said/asked. So if you want to speak less and get them to speak more, you’ll have to give them those precious seconds they need. It may be hard at first for you and the other students to take those few seconds of silence, but it’ll be worth it. Resist the temptation to bail your students out—silence can often mean they are formulating their answers carefully.

Secondly, using elicitation rather than explanation will also help you reduce TTT. Students often won’t need to be “told” if they are presented with clear examples and guiding questions. When we tell students the answer, they passively receive it. If students don’t remember a word, for example, try to elicit it from them and feel free to give them clues. This kind of guided discovery leads to better understanding and more successful learning. Similarly, you can use effective questioning to engage them. The most important teacher word is “Why” followed by “How” and “Tell Me”. Such words promote thinking and conversation.

Further still, incorporate more group work into the lessons. The easiest way to cut down on TTT is to use group activities. Students often feel more at ease when speaking with their peers than when speaking in front of the class. Whether you have your class practicing a dialogue or writing an introductory paragraph, have the students work in groups or pairs; they will learn from each other and enjoy the time more—they certainly won’t be able to fall asleep at their desks like they sometimes do during a lecture. There are even listening activities that can be done in groups to decrease TTT. Group work allows you to go around the classroom listening to all your students. You can equally answer individual questions and provide more specific instructions to those who don’t fully understand the material.

In addition, move from the front of the classroom. It’s easy to get in an instructional rut when you stand at the same place near the board all day long. Try occasionally sitting on the side of the classroom or in an absent student’s desk and say, “I need someone to go up and demonstrate ___ for us.” Because students are used to the person at the board facilitating the lesson, they are likely to talk for much longer than if you stay at the front and they’re in their seats answering you. You can even remain sitting among the class once the student is done demonstrating and ask follow up questions from other students instead of commenting on the students’ demo yourself.

Teacher centered strategies that have the teacher taking a central role in the classroom have no place in a modern classroom. For enhanced learner centered learning to occur, the TTT must be reduced completely using effective engaging strategies.

The writer is a Language Consultant

 

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