Teachers' narratives of classroom talk: what are the challenges?

Coultas, Valerie (2015) Teachers' narratives of classroom talk: what are the challenges? (PhD thesis), UCL Institute of Education, .


This study seeks to explore English teachers’ understandings of the challenges of classroom talk. A key assumption is that while many teachers and researchers view talk for learning as valuable, there is still a problem when it comes to actually using talk and small group learning widely. There are many different challenges that emerge when teachers try to promote this type of learning. Rather than study classroom discourse therefore, I wanted to focus on teachers’ understandings of how talk works in the classroom. This was the problem I wanted to research in more depth. I start the study with my own talk autobiography. I reflect on my own life in education and my life as a teacher in urban schools and highlight the role of talk, language and learning in my intellectual development. Having done this I identify the questions I wanted to ask teachers. I wanted to hear their stories of talk as pupils and as teachers. I chose to talk to six teachers at different stages of their careers in different phases of education. Later, I return to the teachers and ask them to video a lesson and identify what I am calling ‘a critical moment for talk’. We then evaluate such moments collaboratively. The study is sociocultural in approach. Further, the life narrative case studies draw on traditions of practitioner and feminist research with the aim of making teachers’ expertise more visible in wider debates about classroom talk. The analysis of the case studies suggests that a teacher’s own experiences in education and their values influence pedagogy and specifically their approach to talk. They reveal the challenges of dealing with conflicting power relationships within group work and during whole class dialogue and consider some solutions. The era and context are shown as particularly powerful factors in influencing pedagogy. Today what I refer to as the ‘talk for learning model’ is under attack and the focus has returned to the promotion of standard English. The aim of the study is make teachers’ intuitions and insights available about the place of talk and what they have found challenging about organising talk for learning.

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