IATEFL 2017: Developing teacher talk

I’ve just watched Jamie Keddie’s talk entitled ‘Developing Teacher Talk’. I was excited about this one. I’m a fan of Jamie’s site and I recently watched his TEDx talk On Videotelling. Here’s a link to the talk (can’t embed again).

Keddie knows how to warm an audience and started at his anecdotal best in this talk. He was a model of good storytelling – reminding me a lot of a former colleague who was just as engaging. He started with a couple of stories about misunderstandings he (or people he knew) had encountered – barmaids mistaking ‘pints of lager’ for ‘pina coladas’ and a family member referred to as ‘a hungry old man’ rather than ‘a hundred year old man’.

These highlighted the point that anecdotes are a compelling way to introduce a topic. Keddie is known for his interest in using video in the classroom – he pointed out that teachers often use videos as a way to introduce topics when a story from the teacher could be just as effective.

He suggested that teachers might want to avoid storytelling as they are conditioned on initial teacher training courses to think that teacher talk time (TTT) is a bad thing – storytelling being such a TTT heavy activity. He thinks this attitude should change – deterring a teacher from using their voice is like telling a hairdresser that using scissors is bad.

He posed questions to the audience:

  • Do you think TTT is inevitable? (silence suggested yes)
  • Do you think it is expected? (yes)
  • Is it essential? (yes)
  • Is, therefore, ‘teacher talk time’ something that should be developed? (pretty much yes)

He made a good point about the key to developing TTT being ‘awareness’ on the teacher’s behalf. Teacher talk isn’t necessarily a monologue. Teacher talk values 3 things – 1 voice and 2 ears.

A few other points about teacher talk were mentioned:

  • Teacher Talk has an image problem – its frowned upon in general
  • What constitutes Teacher Talk is vague

For a sort of ‘image overhaul’ of TTT, Jamie suggested the following:

  1. Stop calling it Teacher Talk Time
  2. Embrace storytelling
  3. If you’re a teacher trainer you should continue to give out the TTT mantra (i.e. that it’s bad) but word it like this, quote:

‘An essential skill for any teacher is to be able to speak less and use their voice sparingly. But that doesn’t mean that teacher talk is bad… When you leave the nest and fly away you have to constantly work on your classroom communicative skills and you have to have honed the effectiveness of your teacher talk’.

Keddie mainly seems to advocate being more open to teacher talk, perhaps the teacher finding their voice and trainers being less obsessed with a student-centred classroom. He may even be suggesting that lots of teacher talk doesn’t mean a classroom isn’t ‘student-centred’ – there are so many ambiguities with such terms.

The take home points (the three suggestions) weren’t really actionable as such. Calling TTT something else only masks it and probably just creates another bit of jargon. ‘Embracing storytelling’ is pretty vague, but seeing Keddie’s solid modelling of storytelling makes me feel it’s a tool I underuse. Suggesting that trainers encourage teachers to hone their teacher talk is a fair point, but in what way?

Overall, I enjoyed the talk. I think it’s hard to establish Keddie’s main point: he said we should embrace teacher talk, but then also pointed out that what constitutes teacher talk is a little vague. I think ‘embracing storytelling’ would have been a better title, but then there weren’t any practical suggestions related to this. I like Keddie’s style, because he’s passionate and very charismatic. I’m sure he’ll refine the points from this talk further to offer something that teachers can implement, after all his website and books show a pretty good track record with that!

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