Quiet! Shhh! Stop talking, Sir, we’ve got work to do!

19 Oct

At a recent meeting we decided that the next focus for our CPD training was going to be on teacher talk, or more importantly, how to reduce it. We all know it’s far too easy to get carried away standing at the front jabbering on about a point and before we know it, we have to squeeze an activity into the remaining 10 minutes of the lesson which we had planned for them to spend half an hour on. The reasons for the ‘chalk and talk’ are numerous. For some it’s about control, believing that by handing ownership of the task over to the pupils the class will descend into chaos and all the pupils will talk about is what they did at the weekend. For others it is because they haven’t planned or created the resources properly and they use talk as a way of introducing knowledge, ideas or concepts rather than getting the pupils to work things out themselves. And for a few it is because they genuinely believe that the best way pupils are going to understand a topic is if they stand in front of them and lecture them, imparting all of their wisdom to, what they believe, is a captive and attentive audience. I am guilty of all of the above but the truth is, there are more behaviour issues expecting pupils to be quiet for the whole lesson and listen to you drone on, there are quick and easy shortcuts to avoid the teacher talk and no matter how entertaining the speaker is, pupils will learn more from DOING.

With this in mind I decided to take the plunge and film my lesson Friday period 5 with a set 1 year 9 group. The lesson’s objective was to learn how to use the future tense to describe what you will be like in the future. I tried to make it as normal a lesson as possible and upon reflection I believe it was a very ‘typical’ lesson for me. I teach better lessons, I teach worse lessons, but I think that it is a fair reflection of the overall experience pupils have in my lessons. When I got home I watched the video and used a stopwatch to time how often I had stopped the class to talk to them, at which point they were passive learners. Yes, there was lots of questioning when I was standing at the front, most targeted, and some good nuggets of information were imparted as well as some tips and strategies but the fact remains that even through the targeted questioning, only 1 pupil out of 30 were ‘active’ at any one period of time whilst I was at the front. How long did I spend talking to the class in a one hour lesson? Five minutes? Ten? Twenty? To my horror it was 27:02! Towards the end of the lesson I set the plenary task and as I told the pupils they had 10 minutes to complete it, I looked up at the clock and there was only 5 minutes left! Had I talked too much? What if I had cut 10 minutes teacher talk? There could have been time for a decent amount of time to be spent on the plenary and some reflection afterwards on the lesson.

We talked in the meeting about RAP – Reflective Active Passive. We weren’t given exact figures on how much time should be spent on each but obviously the less time pupils are passive, the better. By my calculations pupils in this lesson were active learners for a maximum off 55%, passive learners for 45% of the lesson and were not reflective learners at all. So the next obvious question is; reflecting on the lesson, how could I have talked less to increase the active and reflective learning that took place?

I could have flipped the learning and got pupils to learn about the future tense before they even walked through the door. Then I could have done a quick assessment of understanding at the start and set ‘experts’ to teach those that were unsure and worked with a ‘focus group’ that were really struggling or hadn’t bothered to do their homework. This would have allowed more time in the lesson for pupils to be actively learning or applying their knowledge.

I could have made my instructions sharper and quicker, perhaps using more written instructions to set tasks rather than explaining them orally. After setting tasks I always get (and got in this lesson) the classic ‘so what have we got to do, Sir?’ So what is the point in explaining things orally? Why not write them clearly on a PPT and get pupils to read the the instructions?

I could have provided the answers to questions on a worksheet and asked pupils to self assess their work. Why had they got the answer wrong? What rule did they not understand? Do they understand why they got the answer wrong? If not, could they find out why by asking peers or writing questions in their books which I could answer when marking their books? That could have increased the reflective time from nothing to at least something!

Overall I found this a very useful task and one I would recommend. The results can be surprising and the amount of time we spend talking is often underestimated. Moving from passive to active to reflective is not easy to do but the more time we can squeeze out of lessons, the better.

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