(Some of our Oracy Leaders at a Voice 21 ‘Oracy Across The Curriculum’ training event)
Building a community of readers, writers and talkers (and listeners!) is at the heart of our mission as a school. These three life-skills are so integrated that it is often hard to think about the development of one without considering its connection and impact on another. As James Britton (Educationalist, 1970) once said: “Reading and Writing Float on a Sea of Talk”.
So far this year, we have started to ‘sow the seeds’ in the building of our Reading Community (see previous post) and it is now that we turn our attention specifically to Oracy. Our decision to use this term is largely due to the partnership we have started with Voice 21 and the importance of establishing a shared language about developing talk-related skills. The State of Speaking in our Schools report, produced by Voice 21, summarises its findings by saying:
• Oracy can be defined as the development of children’s capacity to use speech to express their thoughts and communicate with others in education and in life, and talk through which teaching and learning is mediated.
• Teachers recognise that oracy can represent both learning to talk and learning through talk.
This was our starting point; we began by exploring what ‘Oracy’ means to our school community and what it currently looks like. The feedback showed that we believe lots of talk activities happen in lessons, but of particular interest were people’s feelings about some of the barriers to developing talk further. These included:
- Students having poor listening skills
- Behavioural issues
- Students’ lack of confidence
- Off-task chatter
- A fear of speaking in front of peers (being judged and looking silly)
- The classroom environment
- Language issues/lack of vocabulary (especially with regards EAL students)
- More confident students overshadowing others
- Lack of maturity
- The need to create a culture of talking
- MFL – fear of mispronouncing words
- Experience – not enough opportunities
- Time for talk activities (pressure of covering specification content at KS4/5)
- Looking at the curriculum as a whole (rather than individual lessons)
- Misuse of language
- The development of talk skills is usually associated with English (and not Maths for example)
- The dominance of teacher talk
- Explicit teaching of talk skills needed
- Unsupervised pair talk often leads to unproductive chatter
- Fear of ‘lower ability’ students not benefitting
- Trying to keep students on track
- A shortage of resources to support the development of talk
- Challenges of ‘capturing the learning’
- The low status of Oracy (Government, student and teacher perspectives)
- Cultural differences (especially with regards the physical elements of talk – i.e. eye-contact)
- Having something to say
We have also started by developing our knowledge of talk-related research, looking in particular at the work of Robin Alexander (Dialogic Teaching), Neil Mercer (Exploratory Talk) and Lyn Dawes (Talking Points).
A group of Lead Practitioners across the school have now been to their first Oracy training event with Voice 21 and have since shared some of their learning in a whole-school Professional Learning Briefing. One of the ideas communicated was the idea of having similar ‘Guidelines for Discussion’ in every classroom across the school so that we continue to develop a shared language and set of expectations around Oracy:
- We give proof of listening
- We respect others’ ideas
- We build, challenge, summarise, clarify, and probe each other’s ideas
- We are prepared to change our mind
- We invite others into our discussion
- We try to reach shared agreement
Several classroom activities to develop talk were also shared and used during the session including Back-to-back, Fed in facts and Story Telling/Mapping. Click here for a more detailed and visual explanation of this.