Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Talk for Learning

In classroom learning and teaching, a large proportion of time is spent in talking and listening. Being one basic medium of classroom interaction, talking should play a crucial part in the process of learner development. But how important is it? Does the quality of talk accord with the quality of classroom learning?

Being the medium of classroom learning/teaching, language plays a significant role in affecting the kinds of opportunities for knowing and coming to know as well as in encouraging collaborative group work (Wells, 1999:114). Wells (ibid) insists that when talking in groups or whole class, pupils can learn a great deal from each other and present the significance of what they have done and come to understand in front of the teacher. Likewise, Nystrand (1997:29) points out that certain kinds of classroom talk creates more opportunity and flexibility for students to contextualize and assimilate new information.

Various kinds of talk are unlikely to contribute equally to student learning. Barnes

(1992:126) distinguishes two functions of talk between presentational and exploratory talk. Presentational talk, on one hand, focuses more on the needs of the teacher than on the student’s own ideas. It usually occurs when teacher is trying to seek answers from students to test their understanding of a topic already taught. On the other hand, exploratory talk enables learners to ‘try out ideas, to hear how they sound, to see what others make of them, to arrange information and ideas into different patterns’ (ibid). Because much of the talk elicited from pupils is essentially presentational, Barnes

(1992:126) proposes that teachers consider when and where to employ presentational or exploratory talk and ensure a balance of them


Alexander, R. J. (2000). Culture and Pedagogy: International Comparisons in Primary Education, Oxford: Blackwell

Alexander, R. J. (2004). Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom talk, Cambridge: Dialogos

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