In the book Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning Peter Johnston writes about the importance of teacher talk with students. He notes, “Teachers have very different ways of thinking about who they are, who their students are, and what they think they are doing, and these ways of thinking strongly influence the language they use automatically” (p. 82).
Talk is the engine that drives learning in any classroom. By focusing on conversation, colleagues and coaches can assist their peers by teasing out some of those patterns that are most helpful to (or most inhibit) the growth of the learning community.
Observing talk in classrooms is the first step toward helping teachers understand the language they use automatically. It is one thing to acknowledge talk is crucial in classrooms; far harder to analyze, reflect upon, and move toward changing talk patterns.
The guide includes some possibilities for classroom observations focused on talk. You can start by asking the teacher what he or she is noticing about talk in her classroom before the observation:
*What kinds of talk are encouraged?
*When is talk encouraged?
*What is the teacher working on in his or her own language with students? (i.e., more open-ended questions, longer wait time)
*What does he or she want you to observe and note in the classroom?
*Is there a particular student or group of students he or she would like you to focus on?
*Is there a specific time he or she wants talk observed?
Once you have a sense of the teacher’s interests, you might try some of the alternatives in this eGuide to traditional notes during classroom observations, and see how they affect your view of talk among teachers and students. It’s always a good idea to ask the teacher who will be observed to pick the focus in advance. That way, he or she has more interest and investment in your findings.
This eGuide includes five different options for observing talk in classrooms. If you are honing your observation skills, you might want to try out a different strategy each week, or switch from one strategy to another frequently to see which gives you more helpful data over time.
If you are collaborating with a team of colleagues intent on diversifying observation methods, you could try one new strategy a week, and set up a meeting or study group time to discuss together what strategies proved to be most useful for you and the teachers you observed.
The guide is seven pages long. You can download it by clicking here.
Johnston, Peter. 2004. Choice Words Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.