Recently, I was reading an article in May’s edition of ‘Report’ Magazine. The article, ‘Conservation up for debate’ inspired me, and ignited a need to explore and question the need to teach Speaking and Listening skills, explicitly, within the curriculum.
The article was penned by TV presenter Michaela Strachan, and although her passion for conservation is admirable, it was her comments on the application of ‘debate in the classroom’ that really caught my eye.
Strachan referenced the well-known Chinese proverb: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand” to support her ideas about conservation and debate being taught in the classroom.
However, to me it emphasised the need to model and practice the art of debating from an early age - in the same way we model and practice essay writing. This stronger focus on debating is relevant to the current KS3 and KS4 curriculum and examinations I’m delivering. In the article, Strachan states that ‘every opinion needs debating’, and that although relying on emotion and passion can mean for enjoyable experiences - it isn’t enough. Instead, it is far better to ‘involve the kids by getting them to debate issues’ and to ‘get them researching the facts themselves and have a class debate’. Strachan’s insistence got me thinking…
With Speaking and Listening’s value currently hanging by a thread for KS4, from the Government’s point of view, I began thinking about how to explore debating at KS3. I completely agree with Strachan’s view that ‘when telling an audience about an emotionally charged subject, it is only fair to give both sides a voice’. We deliver this repeatedly when teaching pupils the skill of writing ‘to argue’ - but I think when doing speaking and listening I am guilty of focusing on purposes to inform and persuade, neglecting the need to teach pupils to verbally articulate balanced responses.
So, on reflection I asked myself: What can I do to change this?
One of the key preparations is to create a safe environment in which pupils can take risks, with confidence, and this can often be done in collaboration with the students - encouraging them to decide on the rules to create the right climate for learning.
Another change can be focusing on the importance of creating relevant, skills focused success criteria that are used consistently across the department (and school). In his excellent book “(2012) The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson”, David Didau details the importance of clear success criteria. I’m already a big fan of the s.c. and I include it in all independent tasks, but Didau succinctly explains that ‘without them [success criteria] students will struggle to do what you want’ and that the success criteria ‘tells them how’. Didau builds on this saying that ‘ideally, what we want are success criteria which move students from surface to deep understanding’.
Therefore, I believe that it is through modelling; deconstructing live examples; creating a safe environment, and clear success criteria that we can deliver the concept of debating effectively, and encourage students to apply these skills themselves.
How have you successfully taught debating? What strategies and activities have you employed?
Something we’ve focused on in recent department meetings is how we, as individual class teachers, can reduce the amount of ‘teacher talk’ that’s happening.
Our acting HoD set us an interesting challenge before half term, to record the amount of time we ‘teacher talk’ in 6, 1 hour lessons. We then had to reflect and consider, a) at which points in the lesson were we talking the most and why? b) how did the pupils’ behaviour change at different points? and c) what strategies might we be able to employ to reduce the talk?
On reflection, I realised that for me the biggest amount of ‘teacher talk’ was at the start of the lesson, where I was setting up the context of the lesson and the task. One way I’ve dealt with this in the last few months is through the use of ‘bell work’ (see earlier post). This strategy enables students to be actively engaged immediately and independently, as the task requires little or no elaborate instruction from the teacher.
Here are 2 recent examples:
Both of these activities allow for complete independence as soon as the pupils enter the room. If they are unsure, I direct them back to the board or to ask their table or teaching assistant (where applicable).
The use of bell work means I can set up the lesson, deal with issues and sort register etc. without eating into the learning time.
Another strategy which has helped me to decrease ‘teacher talk’ is to give very clear, concise instructions visually as well as verbally. This means using the PowerPoint/ Smartboard to support my task instructions clearly. For an example, see below:
The reinforcement of the LOs and clear instruction means that I can spend more time supporting individual students, rather than repeating and reexplaining tasks.
Of course, there are other strategies to employ. For example, you can use students as teachers, or set tasks up so that the ‘dialogue’ is in the style of verbal football. But I’m interested in other ideas.
What strategies do you see as useful in cutting ‘teacher talk’ and increasing the pupils’ time spent engaged in independent activity?