Oracy in the Curriculum
How can teachers support oracy in their classrooms?
Speech and communication lies at the heart of classroom practice. It is the predominant way in which teachers provide instruction and support to their children and is central to how most students engage with the curriculum.
A recent article studied by English faculty members at Sandal Castle examines how teachers can support oracy in the classroom, drawing on research commissioned by Voice 21, an organisation working with UK schools to support the teaching of spoken communication skills, and undertaken by LKMco, a think tank working across the education and policy sectors.
What is ‘oracy’?
Oracy can be seen as an outcome, whereby children learn to talk confidently, appropriately and sensitively. The article focuses on oracy as a process, whereby children learn through talk, deepening their understanding through dialogue with their teachers and peers (Alexander, 2012). Oracy involves teachers and their classes thinking carefully and deliberately about the sorts of spoken language they are using, and this will vary across subjects and with different age groups. Different types of talk will be appropriate at different points in the learning cycle, and Robin Alexander outlines five key types of ‘teaching talk’ (Alexander, 2008):
- Rote: imparting knowledge by getting students to repeat key pieces of information to impart facts, ideas and routines.
- Recitation: using questions to test students’ knowledge and understanding, to check students’ progress, and stimulate recall.
- Instruction: telling students what to do and explaining key facts, principles or processes in order to transmit information.
- Discussion: encouraging the exchange of ideas within a class, to share information.
- Dialogue: using structured questions and discussion, helping students deepen understanding of key knowledge, principles and processes.
What are the benefits of developing teachers’ and students’ oracy?
Developing classroom talk has a wide range of benefits on the outcomes of children during school, and beyond. In particular, structured dialogue during lessons, where students are encouraged to participate verbally and given space and time to reflect upon and discuss complex ideas, is linked with:
- Cognitive gains, including improved results in English, maths and science, the retention of subject-specific knowledge, and ‘transference’ of reasoning skills across subject areas (Jay et al., 2017);
- Personal and social gains, including attitudes towards learning, enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence, and a reduction in anxiety (Hanley P et al., 2015); (Gorard et al., 2015), and;
- Civic engagement and empowerment, increasing children and young people’s ability to debate issues, while also increasing understanding about social issues and ability to manage differences with others (Nagda and Gurin, 2007).
Recent Education Endowment Foundation-funded evaluations indicate raising the quality and rigour of classroom talk has a range of positive academic, personal and social outcomes. (Gorard et al., 2015); (Hanley P et al., 2015), and in terms of teachers’ confidence (Jay et al., 2017).
We have looked at the work of School 21 to support our work in school.
Learning through talk: Deepening subject knowledge through oracy
What could an oracy-rich classroom look like and how could it support students to refine their subject knowledge and develop their understanding?
At School 21, in Stratford, East London, teachers provide students with opportunities to learn, both to and through talk. In practice, this means that students are encouraged to develop and revise their understanding through sustained and productive dialogue with their peers. When engaging in discussion, for example, students must have a system for turn-taking, and they must ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute and that when somebody speaks, their ideas are respected. Introducing ‘ground rules for talk’, as advocated by Dawes et al. (Dawes et al., 2004) has been particularly effective at teaching students the conventions of group talk and ensuring that everybody’s voice is valued.
To ensure that the contributions students make to group discussions improve their reasoning and develop their understanding, students are also taught a number of ‘talk moves’ or ‘roles’. These encourage students to develop and interact with their own and other’s ideas by, for example, challenging, clarifying or probing a group member’s idea. Students are also taught to build or elaborate on each other’s ideas, rather than merely stating their own thoughts with no relation to what has been said previously. They are taught when to introduce a new line of enquiry or summarise a discussion and are encouraged to consider how these ‘moves’ can help further their thinking as a group.
The Oracy Framework, developed in conjunction with teachers at School 21 and Cambridge University, provides a lens through which to view the oracy skills required to engage in effective group talk, and can be an effective way of framing the teaching of these skills ((Mercer N et al., 2017); see https://impact.chartered.college/article/mercer-identifying-assessing-student-spoken-language-skills/)