Talk about talking

Although supposedly geared more towards slightly younger students, our DP Lit group found these talking points about group talk  on the Thinking Together website a great way to reflect on the value of speaking out and sharing our thinking.

Everyone agreed to disagree that “You are naturally good at talking, or not, and nothing can be done about it”, with a consensus that the quality and frequency of oral contribution and participation CAN be developed, just as the vast majority of other skills. Likewise, there was total agreement that “Everyone can learn how to be part of a learning conversation”. Of course, this is surely fundamental to “Learning together, growing together, each making a difference”. Some very interesting points were raised regarding the statement “If you share what you know out loud, other people will do better than you”, as students felt that as a learning group, our SHARED goal is to help everyone achieve their full potential. As a group, we acknowledged that inevitably, there will be a difference in academic abilities, but this should not be allowed to affect our motivation to strive towards reaching our common goal.

Group Dynamics

Our Inquiry Group, looking into Group Dynamics as one aspect of Talk and Engagement, met for the second time this week. We discussed how we might best make headway with our Statement of Inquiry and our Inquiry Questions:

SOI – A willingness to talk and engage is essential for student learning.

IQ 1 – What factors influence group dynamics?
IQ 2 – To what extent can teachers influence student participation?

We surely all agree that every class or group, has its own distinctive dynamics, determined by the various unique individuals within it. This is particularly obvious to those of us who teach or have taught the same course or lesson to two different groups, with entirely different outcomes and experiences. What works well in one context, might not work at all in another. Students bring with them their own expectations, values and attitudes, thereby creating a unique one-off community or group, which is also influenced by the culture of the school itself.

Groups may have some quiet members and some who are more vocal, and this will automatically affect the level and quality of the classroom interactions. Apart from the individual personalities of the students, factors such as age, gender, gender balance in the class, cultural background and social class play a role. In addition, the individual’s general intellectual ability, language ability, natural aptitude for the subject matter, range and types of previous experience and particular learning style will also have an effect, as will any pressures from home, pressures from peers and overall self-esteem. Of course, there will be additional factors contributing to the overall group dynamics and these may or may not change both on a daily basis and over time.

We must also bear in mind that we, as teachers, are members of each group we teach. The way our students view us and our role within the class is an important factor in how they will react to a given situation. Students come with different perspectives, as do we, and it’s important for us all to recognize how the sharing of these views helps to develop everyone’s understanding of the topic or subject being addressed.

Although it might be possible to recognise some of the factors that influence group dynamics, it might be more challenging to address the extent to which we, as teachers, can influence student participation. Whilst acknowledging imbalances in the levels of contribution and engagement, we need to find ways to address them. Creating a classroom environment that fosters respect and welcomes diverse viewpoints and approaches to learning to help support the growth and development of all learners in the classroom will be a starting point.

Some further ideas here.

Grammar matters

There has long been a great deal of discussion about how best to deal with grammar, spelling, punctuation and general language accuracy. There’s no doubt that it’s important to acknowledge that these things matter at all stages of language development, but can we make it fun too?

My DP Literature students enjoyed watching and discussing “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody, Word Crimes.

It made us all think a little more about common language errors we see and hear around us every day, and to reflect on why these mistakes are made. We also questioned the role social media plays in affecting (not effecting) our language accuracy.

If you haven’t come across it already, you might find useful. It suggests a number of interesting ways to deal with grammar in a classroom situation, whilst heightening student engagement with songs, games, visuals and infographics.

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly


The power of fiction in promoting multiculturalism

Thinking about language learning in our international school context, I couldn’t agree more that “We have the ethical responsibility to create schools where multilingualism and multiculturalism are not simply respected but promoted and where authoritarian leaders who demand conformity to past traditions of linguistic culture and privilege are replaced by those who hold a pedagogical approach that is inclusive and open to all other cultures” (Gallagher, 2009).

In our DP Literature class we explore a number of works in translation, allowing us a privileged window into cultures other than our own. One of the novels we look at is set in Egypt, and while sharing our knowledge of the country and its people prior to reading the text, it is clear that there is a tendency to stereotype.

The Turkish author, Elif Shafak’s, Ted Talk on the Power of Fiction was an ideal springboard for class discussion around stereotyping, cultural differences and international mindedness. Having been a student in an international school environment herself, Shafak comments on language acquisition (in her case English) and how the language of fiction connects us all. Her idea that we shouldn’t be teaching students to write about what they know, but about what they feel is an interesting one.

Bringing reading to life and life to reading

Being a lover of literature, and recognizing its role in on-going language development and enrichment, I thought again about what exactly makes it such a powerful art form. Literature inevitably speaks subtly different meanings to different people. Two readers are unlikely to react identically to any given text. This means that each learner’s interpretation is valid. It also means that a wealth of meaningful interactive discussion is likely to ensue since each person’s perception is different. With students all having a different interpretation and needing to justify their thinking, a genuine exchange of ideas can take place in the classroom.

However, some students can be reluctant to voice their opinions, so how best to encourage the less vocal ones to take more risks and share their thoughts with others, whilst also being open to other’s ideas, and making relevant connections with their own lives? In doing so, one would hope that they learn more about themselves in addition to improving their communicative competence and cultural awareness, especially as the literary works we explore deal with issues and experiences that affect all human beings. Literature does not trivialize or “talk down”. It is about important things that mattered to the author when he wrote them.

It will be interesting for those of us in DP Literature to delve further into the magical process of literature whereby symbols on a page transmit such powerful thoughts and feelings to others.