Interaction as Teacher Talk
Talk vs. Active Participation
Talk and the Tool.
Talk and Learning Styles
Talk and what it means to the classroom teacher.
Interaction as Teacher Talk
The intent of my participation in this research was to observe the children
interacting and only intervene when requested to by the students themselves.
That was the intent but as the data shows, I couldn’t help myself
but be a teacher. I made a conscious effort to stay out of their discussion
and space, however the data shows that I as teacher interacted with the
With Team A during the first recorded session, I added my voice to their
1. response to silence about the tool “What are you trying to
1. response to extended silence “Have you got enough ideas now
to pick up your pen?”
1. initiated forming intention question to extend idea “perhaps
2. response to extended talk about spelling “Just spell it how
you think and move on.”
1. direct question from children about the tool
On reviewing the session I reflected on how I interacted with Team A based
on the identified special writing needs of these boys and my teacher’s
view of them as learners. In observation of previous writing sessions,
Adam had spent twenty minutes starring around him, five of those minutes
without his book open. He spent ten minutes hunting for a pencil during
which time he gave spelling help to a desk mate, went to the window and
discussed the weather when heavy rain started, and asked for a sharpener
and a rubber. After twenty-eight minutes, when the classroom teacher reminded
them they had seven minutes left, he wrote two sentences and received
feed forward when interacting with the teacher. In the last four minutes
of the lesson he wrote two words, rubbed out one, wrote two, rubbed out
one in a continuing pattern.
Tui, during his observation had moved to the couch with his friends and
started brainstorming his ideas. When the recorder was placed next to
him it recorded that he was reading aloud ideas, asking questions about
his writing, giving compliments, asking for clarification of other ideas
he could write down, and writing while spelling and saying the words aloud.
As a group they continued telling each other what they were doing, listed
things done, discussed dictionary findings, read aloud, and made comments
to clarify ideas. Even with this intellectual community of writers talking
about their writing, Tui spent three days adding to this brainstorm to
organise his thoughts and ideas. During this time he actively sought out
the teacher for feed forward.
In Team A’s first session I was instinctively forming and acting
on a list of strategies I could to use to enhance their talk. This was
in response to periods of silence in which neither talked, or in which
one child talked to themselves while using the tool and the other starred
into space. However on reviewing the tape in which only 1 of the 6 Teacher
Talk interactions were initiated by myself, I reflected that my intervention
stemmed from a bias based on my professional knowledge of their levels,
my observations from the class and a lack of understanding about them
as talkers. I removed myself from their conversations.
In the middle and last recorded sessions there were zero Teacher Talk
instances. Tui asked Adam to ask the teacher how to... and he said no
and showed Tui how to do it.
For Team A, in observation of their classroom experience, both spent the
teacher’s modelling session looking at the floor, fiddling with
clothing or objects. Neither volunteered ideas or answers in teacher-led
discussion, however when asked to share with a partner they were active
in discussion, finding it hard to stop when directed.
Teacher talk usually follows an initiate-respond-evaluate pattern (IRE)
where as peer discussion does not. The teacher initiates the discussion,
children respond and the teacher responds/comments/moves on (Bacon and
Thayer-Bacon 1993, Watson and Young 1986). Teachers use “didactic”
IRE talk because of its efficiency and usefulness in establishing a base
of information and knowledge. When the learning environment relies almost
exclusively on this it’s harmful as children stop engaging in the
learning and become passive receptacles.
teacher controlled practice offers limited opportunities for children
to generate ideas; to draw from their own experience; to adopt the
roles of actor, tale teller, reader, writer or critic or even to understand
the purpose of writing (Grainger, Goouch and Lambirth 2005).
Team A, I had continued the classroom IRE talk with my own teacher-led
“didactic” interaction with them. Bacon and Thayer-Bacon (1993)
put talk into three categories in their research; teacher-led discussion
“didactic” talk; disruptive, distracting talk; and free-flowing,
stimulating reflection “real” talk. Through my Teacher Talk
interaction I was filling talk space with didactic talk rather than letting
then find ways to fill it with real talk.
According to Bacon and Thayer-Bacon (1993) I was using effective and open
mentoring to shift the control of the learning to the child. However the
other two recorded sessions show that mentoring by the teacher was not
needed to allow Team A to lead their own discussion and understand the
purpose of the learning. What was needed was the scaffolding of time and
space to allow them to develop their own ways to sustain talk. By leaving
them alone to use the modelling session and their own experiences they
were active learners who created their own ways to interact and enhance
their ‘real’ talk.
Teacher Talk vs. Active Participation
In the classroom environment Adrian is an attentive listener, often using
‘fiddles’ and objects to occupy himself in IRE discussions.
He is eager to share ideas, experiences and answers, often becoming impatient
with having to wait and bored with the slow speed of discussions. When
released from the mat he is active in discussion with others.
In observation of Dee in the classroom she has the appearance of an active
listener, however she is often left staring in the direction of the teacher
after the children are released from the mat, showing that she may spend
the time during IRE discussion in her own creative mind. She is not a
willing participant in IRE discussion, however is very active when sharing
For Team B being active participants is an important part of their personalities
and learning styles. The teacher ask- children respond- teacher reacts
cycle is ill adapted to their real active learning. The discourse has
the teacher doing all the cognitive work of the lesson, and being the
only participant actively involved in the analysing, generalising, synthesising
(Watson and Young 1986, McCormack 1987, Cazden 1988). For Team B the link
between the teacher’s modelling IRE talk of the writing process
and their own learning talk needed to be done by the learners themselves.
During any teacher’s modelling session each child is processing
the information in one common way. Their short-term memory (STM) stores
incoming information and determines the value of that learning for later
on. STM sorts each piece of information into the long-term memory (LTM)
by associating the bits of information through: 1) rehearsal or repetition
2) associations or relations. Information not sorted into LTM is forgotten
Each child in my study was processing information
at their own pace even though they were involved in collaborative work.
brain is innately social and collaborative. Although the processing
takes place in our students’ individual brains, their learning
is enhanced when the environment provides them with the opportunity
to discuss their thinking out loud, to bounce their ideas off their
peers, and to produce collaborative work (Wolfe and Brand 1998, p
Through removing the teacher’s IRE talk and in my case, the teacher,
there was scaffold in terms of time to process the new information. My
teacher role was to scaffold that processing time through letting them
initiate Teacher Talk and by leaving them use talk in their own way and
at their own pace.
In their first recorded session Team B initiated only one question about
the tool; in the middle session, one about the timeframe; and in the last,
zero Teacher Talk. There were many looks my way and comments as Organisational
Talk that involved my name. At times they looked confused that I was leaving
them to it and had not come over to talk to them about talk levels and
behaviour. In the environment of silent writing they are not silent, they
enter many different discussion groups, and as a result the classroom
teacher moderates their talk and behaviour.
The video recordings are very entertaining to view as they interacted
with me through it with reflections on how their session had gone. With
regards to my data these comments are Personal Related Talk, however as
they often were preceded with a look in my direction they appear to be
directed towards me as the viewer of those videos.
right with that”
“I think we haven’t done a very good today, a very good
“but we’re still doing our best”
“yeah that is great”
“ah, that’s good, that’s great”
As Dee started to internalise her understanding of my actions and accepted
that I was not going to change my interaction with them and moderate their
talk and behaviour, she looked my way less and took more of an active
part in her own learning.
In the pre-interview Adrian had a negative view of himself as a writer.
“...writing I don’t like it much ... I don’t think I
will be an author.”
He found it hard to think of ideas and start a piece.
“Ms (named) gave me the idea, I didn’t know what to write
about. I introduced my rabbit on the first day so she said maybe you could
write about your rabbit.”
After a term of modelling sessions, writing time and feed forward provided
by the classroom teacher, which involved many comments involving positive
self-image and ‘real’ talk in the shared teaching space, Adrian
had this to say about himself as a writer. Sound
For Adrian having the control of the amount of teacher interaction and
therefore Teacher Talk, and being able to freely talk to Dee about his
life, thoughts and writing, made the writing process more enjoyable for
him and allowed him to access his bulk of ideas. Being able to do this
with humour and laughter turned him on to the writing process.
Children have hundreds of topics to write on from their own life, it’s
the nature of human beings to have experiences. As teachers it is our
role to value those experiences and help children ‘get them out’.
Manning (1999) talks about being a teacher with a box of ‘story
starters’ for the child who had nothing to write about. She expresses
strongly to teachers to throw out that box and become more active in the
role of teacher in freeing the writing voices of our students.
For Adrian the freeing of his writer’s voice was a combination of
a writing programme that reflected his learning style of discussion, play
and supported independence, and the positive classroom environment developed
by his teacher. This idea is also explored with regards to the teacher’s
role in modelling humour and laughter in the writing process and Team
B’s adoption of those strategies in the chapter on Personal Talk.
Teacher Talk and the Tool.
In Team C’s recorded sessions the instances of Teacher Talk were
about the tool, as the computer had a tendency to crash on them. When
the children came into the shared teaching space the computers were set
up with their work open, so when the program crashed they initiated Teacher
Talk. I had not shown them how their files were stored and therefore they
lacked the knowledge, and to some extent the experience, to problem solve
the issue by themselves. At each of the instances of the programme crashing
I opened it up for them and didn’t talk them through the process,
as a consequence each repeated crash was followed with the same Teacher
My role in the program crashing was of technician, and I made that call
at the time due to my intention to be a researcher not a teacher. On reflection
I see the positives and negatives of that small choice. It was positive
in that I maintained my role of observer and researcher rather than teacher.
Negative in that by not teaching Team C the skills to manage the crashing
program they were unable to problem solve and manage themselves each subsequent
Teacher Talk and Learning Styles
For Team B removing the teacher from their learning catered for their
preferred learning style and ability to develop their own learning direction.
Team C’s preferred learning style was more teacher orientated. In
class observation both girls are talkers throughout the writing process,
sharing ideas, compliments, comments, feed forward and social chat. In
the environment of silent writing they are not silent, they are involved
in discussion throughout. They actively engage in talk when forming their
intentions to write, writing and publishing. Due to their consistency
in social and work behaviour the teacher leaves them to converse.
In Team C’s sessions there were many comments said louder than necessary
and looks in my direction in the attempt to engage me as part of the discussion.
Whether to check and see if by a silent reaction they must be on the right
track, or to share their ideas with me for feedback/forward or personal
acknowledgement. Many times I pretended not to hear their discussion,
sometimes moving position in the room, and at other times I catered to
their learning style and interacted with a smile or nod. There was no
change of this over time, which leads me to reflect that their silent,
visual or oral interactions with me were based on personality rather than
a development or learning stage.
Teacher Talk and what it means to the classroom teacher.
I found it very ‘eye opening’ to learn from my data how I
instinctively interacted with the students based on identified learning
needs and observations. As a classroom teacher myself, I learnt from this
that we teach a lot (IRE), and perhaps don’t allow our students
time to learn. As a researcher the data shows that these children:
were able to use their talk to improve their interaction when the
teacher was removed from their space and talk
• adapted slowly to the removal of the teacher as behaviour
and talk regulator
• sought interaction with the teacher silently, visually and
orally based on their personal learning style needs
provided the space and time for the children to learn by removing the
continual teaching of the classroom environment.
Students need time to digest, think about, and act on their learning;
connections need time to strengthen. Therefore, adding more content
makes little sense. Each learner probably has an ideal number of ideas
that he or she can learn in an hour. This number is based on the subject
matter’s complexity and novelty and on the learner’s background,
motivation, and learning skills (Jensen 2000, p 79)
Each child, depending on personality, enjoyment levels, emotion, previous
experiences, feelings, well-being, learning abilities, location, energy
levels and many other influences on learning, will have their own level
in which their brain’s ability to process information and experience
stored in the STM is not optimal. For my research teams, sustained Forming
Intention Talk with only child initiated Teacher Talk allowed them to
“talk themselves into understanding” (Douglas Barnes’s
phrase referred to in Watson and Young 1986)
The next chapter, Forming Intentions, explores the curriculum-based learning
that took place when the students were given time for sustained talk and
whether their discourse has them actively involved in their own learning.