Archive for Tag: teacher talk

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 5

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know that the past 4 posts have focused on a struggle that is common to many teachers, reducing the amount of time we talk in the classroom, also known as TTT. This is something I readily admit to struggling with, but I found that by considering several scenarios containing examples of problematic teacher talk, I’ve learned a lot about how I can reduce the amount of class time I spend talking and increase the amount of class time my students spend talking.

Scenario 7

Scenario 7

This scenario, a version of which I found in Walsh (2002), contains an example

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Monday, February 15, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 4

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In my past few posts, I’ve shared some strategies for reducing Teacher Talk Time in the classroom. I know I have a bad habit of talking too much. But, I also know that when I am talking, my students aren’t, and that’s not fair to them. Keeping that in mind, I’ve been presenting a variety of scenarios that contain common examples of TTT gone bad and sharing experts’ suggestions for making TTT count.

Scenario 5

Scenario 5

Ah, the challenge of answer checks! As with previous scenarios in this series of posts, you don’t even have to read the conversation to know the teacher is doing the lion’s share of the talking.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 3

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In my recent posts, I’ve shared some thoughts about ways to make Teacher Talk Time (TTT) count in the classroom. Every time I am yakking during the lesson, the students aren’t, so I really need to make sure that the time I do spend talking is valuable. In the research I did for a professional development session I facilitated, I came across many examples of “bad” teacher talk, which I think provide an interesting jumping off point for a critical evaluation of my own TTT habits.

Scenario 3

Scenario 3

Oh jeez. Reading this conversation is like jumping back about 20 years when I was a brand spanking new teacher in Korea. In one of my first experiences with

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 2

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In a recent post, I talked about my struggle with keeping my Teacher Talk Time (TTT) in check. I had the pleasure of facilitating a professional development session on the topic for Montgomery County Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL), and I wanted to share some of the research I came across.

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the debate that has dominated the discussion about TTT. After doing a fair amount of background reading, I have arrived at the conclusion that while excessive TTT does reduce students’ chances to practice the language themselves, good TTT can provide a valuable model and can take the positive format of explicit instruction. As Harmer (2007) points out, “We should not talk simply about the difference between STT [Student Talk Time] and TTT, but also consider TTQ (Teacher Talking Quality)” (Harmer, 2007, p. 38).

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 1

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I feel like I should start this post with a disclaimer. I love to talk. I love telling a funny story to a rapt group of listeners. I love the feeling of being the center of attention. For this very reason, I struggle with reigning in my Teacher Talk Time (TTT) in the classroom. After all, there is almost nothing more enticing to a gabber like me than a captive audience of students who laugh appreciatively in (mostly) the right places and appear to hang on my every word. So, because I can really get carried away, I have to work hard to avoid turning every lesson into “The Tamara Show.” That’s why, when I was given the opportunity to facilitate a professional development session for the Montgomery County Coalition for Adult English Literacy, I leapt at the opportunity to learn a bit more about strategies for keeping TTT in check.

A Bit of Background

In the literature I encountered, there seemed to be two camps when it comes to TTT. Opponents of TTT rightly point out that too much TTT discourages authentic communication. Teachers “speak more, more often, control the topic of conversation, rarely ask questions for which they do not have the answers, and appear to understand absolutely everything the students say, sometimes before they even say it” (Musumeci, 1996, p. 314). Does that sound familiar? It does to me.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Note to Self: Just Zip It! Let Students Conduct the Conversation

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Like many teachers, I am an extrovert. I love to be the center of attention, surrounded by rapt listeners hanging on my every word. This characteristic can be useful in education. After all, no one likes a teacher who mumbles, head down, while hiding shyly behind a podium.  However, in language teaching, most experts agree that too much teacher talk time (TTT) can be detrimental to students’ learning. As an English instructor, an observer of other teachers, and a French student, I know this to be true, but I still have to work really, really hard to remember to zip it. 

The Dreaded Semi-Circle Conversation

When I first started teaching many years ago, my idea of the perfect conversation lesson involved the students sitting in a semi-circle with me in the center directing the discussion. When I thought about it, though, I came to realize that conversations didn’t actually happen like this in real life. I don’t tend to line my friends up in a semi-circle and ask them questions one by one, do you? Therefore, this kind of teacher-led conversation does nothing to prepare students to participate in the messy, conversationalist-driven interactions of the real world. 

Small Groups Work

I realized that I needed to step back, zip it, and let the students negotiate the interaction by themselves. Small groups of 3 or 4 (research suggests this is the optimal size for conversation groups) can conduct natural conversations without having a moderator present. In my classes, I have only 2 rules:

  1. They can never be “done” talking — they have to keep the conversation going (they can change the topic) until the time allotted for the activity is reached, and 
  2. They can’t allow an excessively long silence (for native speakers the max is 3 seconds) to sneak into the discussion.  

Tips and Tricks

Keith Folse has written a fantastic book (The Art of Teaching Speaking, University of Michigan Press) that is just bursting with suggestions for instructors. Some of my favorite tips include having students write about what they are going to say the night before, remembering to teach the language for the task as well as the language in the task, and including a number of closed tasks that require students to work toward an answer rather than just talk about a subject.

I also try to remember never to plan a whole-class activity that could be done just as well in small groups, and I tend to avoid the “summarize your conversation for the class” wrap-up that often bookends a lesson. In my experience, students are much less interested in what other people talked about and much more interested in talking themselves.

Skill of Making Conversation

Making conversation involves a set of culturally specific skills that should be taught in class to help students better maintain a discussion without teacher guidance. Students, especially those living in a native English speaking community, need to learn strategies like active listening, holding the floor, jumping in without being asked a direct question, latching on to the previous speaker’s sentence, recognizing when a speaker is releasing the floor, disagreeing, changing the subject, sharing talking time, etc. Not only will covering these skills arm students with strategies for success in the real world, but they also get the added bonus of walking out of the class having learned something new, rather than just “practiced their conversation.”

Loosening the Zipper (a Little)

However, although I come down firmly on the side of less TTT, especially in my own classes, I don’t think the teacher should disappear from the interaction completely. As a French student, I greatly enjoy listening to the anecdotes and personal stories of my teacher. When she wanders the room listening in on our conversations, I occasionally pull her into the discussion. Likewise, when I move from group to group, I allow myself to participate in my students’ conversations from time to time. I try not to direct the conversation myself, but I offer my opinion and show enthusiasm for or disagreement with what others say — just like I would in a social discussion. Involvement in a conversation is very different from domination, so I advocate for loosening the zipper just a little.