Special issue: Re-thinking oracy

Hudson, Brian and Sutherland, Julia, eds. (2015) Special issue: Re-thinking oracy. Education Today, 65 (3). ISSN 2219-0422

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This special edition is dedicated to the role of talk in learning, particularly in the context of secondary and further education (11-18 years) and to the value of teacher research, with all authors being practising English or language teachers. So what is the current picture on talk? Talking with others is a key way that children develop their thinking and learn. Talk both mediates cognitive development and enables children to be inducted into the cultural knowledge of their society, its ways of understanding, perceptions, values and beliefs. Vygotsky’s (1978, 1986) seminal work on how children develop language and thought, translated in the early 1960s, was developed in the UK by, for example, Barnes (Barnes and Todd, 1995), whose work on whole-class and collaborative peer talk led the way in revealing to teachers some of the conditions and skills needed to establish high-quality, ‘exploratory’ forms of talk in their classrooms. Recent international research has confirmed that such talk can have a measurable impact on students’ reasoning (for example, Mercer and Littleton, 2007; Alexander, 2008), and attainment in English, including reading comprehension and interpretation (Applebee et al., 2003; Murphy et al., 2009; EACEA, 2011), particularly with weak readers (Brooks, 2013; Palinscar and Brown, 1984) and writing (Galton et al., 2009). Collaborative peer talk and dialogic forms of class talk are also associated with motivation and enjoyment of reading (Westbrook, 2013; Garbe et al., 2009, Cremin et al., 2009) and with the development of creativity and creative ways of thinking (Rojas-Drummond et al., 2008). Speaking and listening are also fundamental to students expressing themselves and creating their identity. Thus, dialogic talk can enable marginalised students in English and other subjects to gain a voice, developing their thinking, personal response to texts and confidence, in classroom spaces typically dominated by their more advantaged peers (Sutherland, 2006, 2015; Myhill, 2006). Establishing the conditions for dialogic talk in classrooms - and, significantly, between teachers and school leaders in professional-development contexts - is challenging. It requires teachers not only to acquire sophisticated skills to support students’ development, but to have deep understanding of the complexity of the task. How do teachers enable Bakhtinian dialogic talk that is equal, ‘responsive’ and exploratory, with sensitive challenge, counter-challenge and the gradual elaboration of meaning? And how might existing discourse structures and hierarchies be challenged to enable this, both in the classroom, and, significantly, in the school as a whole? Importantly, teachers’ endeavours in accepting this challenge and developing dialogic talk must be supported by policy. In England, recent policy appears contradictory. The National Curriculum for English (NC, DfE, 2014, p. 3) opens by proclaiming that it ‘reflects the importance of spoken language in pupils’ development across the whole curriculum – cognitively, socially and linguistically’, yet is accompanied by an assessment framework in which talk has been removed from the evaluation of students’ overall competence in GCSE English (14-16 years). It also has an emphasis on ‘spoken language’ as performance or product, undervaluing the weight of research evidence on talk as process, to shape thinking. Students need space to experiment with half-formed, provisional ideas, debated in supportive contexts: structured small-group and dialogic forms of class discussion. Alexander’s (2012) rallying cry for policy-makers in England to place talk at the centre of the entire curriculum appears to have been ignored. This is the UK context in which the writers in this edition set out to research and develop talk in their schools: four of the five are practising teachers and school leaders, whose research was undertaken for their MA in Education or professional doctorate (EdD) at the University of Sussex. These teachers have enacted their strong belief in the power of dialogic talk to effect change in education, by being active members of the research community at Sussex and its Centre for Teaching and Learning Research (CTLR). They have presented their findings and explored implications for practice with other teachers and researchers at the 3rd and 4th Annual Teacher Researcher Conferences at the University of Sussex, established to support impact for practitioner research. Some are also members of our new Sussex Research Network, a partnership between the university and local schools, created to enable teachers to develop skills as Research Leaders, to establish a culture of teacher research in their schools.

Item Type: Edited Special Journal Issue
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Depositing User: Deeptima Massey
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2015 15:59
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2016 12:49
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/58863
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