Issues in Education (Reflective Blog 4): What’s the use of Teacher’s Talk?

Posted: November 9, 2011 in Education

Research has shown that teacher’s talk dominates 70% of classroom talk (Cook, 2000 ; Chaudron, 1988). Hence, I guess the question is not so much as what is the use of teacher’s talk as is what kind of teacher’s talk is useful. I surmise that it is the kind of talk that makes for comprehensible (not comprehensive) input, the kind that enhances (not controls) learning, and the kind that engages (not disengages) learners.

Comprehensible input from the teacher means that the teacher’s talk is not going over the heads of the students. It means starting at where the students are (could be ground zero for some) and working one’s way to building a schema that is meaningful for and representative of the class.  This is in direct opposition to a comprehensive talk where the teacher wants to finish the curriculum and is moving at ultra-fast speed, leaving the learners far behind.

The kind of teacher’s input that enhances learning would be one where the teacher questions, queries, challenges and displaces the learners’ pre-conceived knowledge of the subject and places them in a position whereby they are forced to think critically and commit themselves to the rigour of searching for and arriving at their own answers. Ironically, the concept of ‘silence’ could be essential here; being silent over a certain issue and not imposing his/her views, the teacher could be inculcating a culture of independent learning. 

Teacher’s talk that engages the learner’s attention are the ones that allow learners to interrupt, comment, ask for clarification, and so on.  Hence, a teacher’s talk is more than mere input from the teacher alone; it is also the distinct art of eliciting open-ended responses from the students, of getting them to talk so that comprehension can be checked and understanding of the subject assessed.

Research has shown that teacher’s talk has a recurring IRF pattern and it is in the F-strand (Nassaji and Wells, 2000) that teachers can exercise the kind of talk that will not only instruct but enhance, engage and expand the students’ space of learning (Tsui 2004).  All in all, I personally feel that a teacher’s talk is of paramount importance since a teacher’s voice is his/her essential realia – an extension of his/her authenticity as a knowledge expert wanting to share, his/her humanity as a communicative being wanting to relate and his/her role as a learner wanting to learn meaningfully in the classroom context. 

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