What influences teachers' decisions about talk in middle years classrooms?

Year: 1999

Author: Cormack, Phillip

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper arises from a two year study involving 11 teachers from six schools which investigated teachers' perspectives on talk in middle years classrooms. The literature on classroom talk suggests a remarkable consistency across school level and subjects of the nature and uses of talk in classrooms. It seems that a quite narrow range of talk is used that is typically dominated by teachers. It also suggests that even with training in promoting alternative forms of talk practices in classrooms, teachers tend to revert to traditional talk patterns beyond the training period. This paper reports on action-research conducted with teachers into how talk isused in classrooms and the ways in which alternative forms of talk, particularly collaborative peer talk, could be sustained. The paper focusses on one aspect of that study which explored what factors teachers take into account when they plan for talk. This is a key issue for middle years reform, where collaborative work is often given a central place in the forms of pedagogy promoted. The research found that there were key differences between teachers and their contexts which impacted on the kind of talk they allowed into their classrooms. These differences related to factors such as the ways teachers 'read' their students, themselves and their institutional context. However, alongside these differences, there were some discourses running across the teachers' reports of their planning and work no matter what the context. These were discourses of 'ability'; 'family or homelife'; and of gender. This paper makes a contribution to research into classroom talk by providingteachers' perspectives on why they do what they do, allowing new questionstobe asked about teaching and learning in the middle years.