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How to make students talk better in your classroom

This year I have been given the exciting opportunity to take part in a research project between University of Oslo and University of Cambridge. The research aims to develop new knowledge that helps us to understand how students and teachers use dialogue within the classroom. This research involves using the new technology ‘Talkwall’ ( devised by the University of Oslo.

I was initially attracted to the project as I am always keen to try out new technologies in my classroom and I was interested to explore the use of Talkwall as a tool for facilitating dialogue between students.

With my Year 7 Geography class, I began by asking them to consider what they thought about the purpose of talk in different contexts. From this it became apparent very quickly that, although students enjoy engaging in dialogue, they don’t know how to participate in class discussions effectively. I asked my class to consider how they might talk together in groups in ways that would develop their learning. As part of this discussion, I asked them to devise a set of ground rules for talk that they could refer to in lessons every time they were given a dialogic task;

I have found these rules to be fundamental when asking students to be dialogic within Geography. We refer to them every lesson and these ideas are beginning to become instilled in their use of language when they talk to each other.

As part of the research, I have been using Talkwall with my class to encourage them to be more dialogic. This has involved many different aspects but I have been focussing primarily on asking students to develop their ideas by asking questions such as ‘Why? How? Why do you think that?’ and to build on their own, and other students, initial ideas. I have found the use of Talkwall particularly useful for allowing students to engage in conversation around an activity and to share ideas. They can share their ideas on Talkwall and they are then able to use, edit, comment or develop their own contributions, as well as other student’s. These tasks have generated excellent discussion within groups – the fact that their ideas are all projected on the screen encourages students to post good quality contributions as they know that their peers and teacher will see them! Talkwall also allows students to select ideas and ‘pin’ them to their own wall where they can examine statements in more depth, either as a class or in groups.

As a result of this research I have been able to evaluate my own use of dialogue with the classroom; considering how I communicate with the students and how they communicate with each other. My Year 7 group have already made significant progress with the quality of their group discussions and I am excited to continue to use Talkwall to engage, enthuse and encourage my students to become more dialogic within Geography.

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