Teacher talk

Listening to the teacher can be active learning - children in rapt attention, making sense of what you say, as you speak. University lecturers often rely on this for their effectiveness. However, pupils and students still need time later to reorganise and store the new ideas. They make brief notes during the lecture, they discuss it afterwards with one another, they follow things up online or in reference books and they produce their own written record of it in the privacy of their study. Lectures like this may be effective for highly motivated, resourceful university students and a few pupils and sixth-form students in school. But for most of our science lessons with most pupils we can rely neither on this 'rapt attention', nor on their ability or motivation to discuss and make notes for themselves following the lesson. A general rule of thumb is that children's attention span, even when there are no issues of behaviour management, is their age in minutes. Listening, watching and even practical work are more likely to be intervention activities, where the teacher is revealing a scientific story. The real learning, reformulation, comes through the activities that follow. This chapter will focus on the role of talk, and role-play - these are the easiest reformulation processes for pupils, and therefore the ones we should start with. Reading, writing and maths come later (Chapters 9-11).

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