At some point, all teachers have experienced the struggle against student chatter in the classroom – so how can student conversations be structured to enhance learning?
Many teachers, ourselves included, have found it challenging to create opportunities for students to speak to one another in meaningful ways about class content, but with ties to achievement, the student-centred classroom, differentiation, and many international standard sets (including a significant portion of the CCSS), communication and speaking skills are essential to the 21st-century student. Research also strongly suggests that when learners are exploring a concept for understanding, trying to answer a question, or trying to solve a problem, they are more successful if there is an opportunity to engage in dialogue with another learner. With this in mind, we recently led a team of our colleagues in an endeavour to increase opportunities for structured student conversations, and we discovered for ourselves the significant impact speaking and listening activities had on our students.
Our research was conducted through a project with the ACS Centre for Inspiring Minds with the goal of providing teachers with the time and resources to create, reflect, and share effective methods in student dialogue. We included students to get perspectives from all stakeholders in the learning process; they provided us with valuable data on determining the effect of participating in structured speaking activities:
69% of the students surveyed believe that speaking or listening is the most important academic skill (over reading or writing). However, 73% reported receiving the least amount of classroom instruction on how to effectively speak or listen; research on language use has shown that approximately 40% of class time should be used in dialogue in order to maximise effective learning.
We found increased interaction opportunities lead specifically to the following: