Talk Turkey

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Time to talk shop: how much do you value and prioritise oracy?

Time for a 5 point winter check:

  1. You have oracy written into the school development plan? Tick.
  2. You have appointed an oracy champion? Tick.
  3. You have a common name for oracy across the school so consistency is king? Tick
  4. You use a wide variety of formative assessment approaches to boost skills in oracy? Tick
  5. You have an oracy curriculum in place with discrete oracy sessions? Tick

Cough, splutter, sneeze! Pardon, what was that? No, no, no, no and no did you say? Don’t worry, you won’t be alone.

We Need to Talk!  

According to ‘Oracy: The State of Speaking in Our Schools’, a report by the think-tank  LKMco, oracy may be valued by teachers, but many ‘drop it’ over other skills just to get through other content.

“Almost one in five teachers state that the frequency with which they initiate talk-based activities is sometimes limited by the fact that their school prioritises pupils producing written work.”

Unfortunately written work can still be prized over ‘talk’ and some teachers, understandably, might just shy away from using talk-based activities because they think that OfSTED are going to give them a good kicking if there isn’t much to see in books!

That’s one of those OfSTED myths and even if you weren’t convinced by this being the case, then the ‘talk’ evidence can still be collected – video technology makes this easy, as well as photographs and diary logs. Right enough, talk has to speak up. It needs to push writing to the side, dig its heels in and establish some parity. No excuses.

Forget tangible outputs, let’s talk.

Concept Cartoons   

There are bucket-loads of talk-based activities that you can use to champion oracy and, without a shadow of a doubt, the most effective tried-and-tested resource I have used to promote talk, reasoning and learning conversations are concept cartoons.

These are peer discussion talking tools par-excellence, and if you haven’t used them yet, they’ll blow your socks off!

So, what are they? Originally invented by Stuart Naylor and Brenda Keogh for use in science lessons, concept cartoons are problematic-style drawings which present a range of viewpoints about subject ideas involved in everyday situations.

They are a visual argument. The characters all have different ideas and put forward alternative viewpoints inside speech bubbles, providing provocations for thinking and progressing ideas. Pupils are then invited to join in the conversation by saying what they think.



Talk it Through

Concept cartoons are designed to kick-start and fuel learning exchanges and encourage learners to work out what they know, what they partly know and what they don’t know.

Pupils can agree or disagree with the statements presented in a cartoon, and by talking together they can bring ideas to the surface: some of these might be wibbly, wobbly, erroneous, misconceptions or ideas in embryo.

What makes them so dynamic, is that they enable you to get what’s inside the heads of pupils out and into the open for a good airing and hearing.

Maths Talk 

I began adapting concept cartoons for my own purposes within maths lessons, because I found them to be a unique means of combining teaching, learning and assessment and an easy way to get children motivated and excited about their maths.

I was so convinced by concept cartoons as powerful formative assessment tools, I began developing my own to address maths misconceptions.

Concept cartoons are crafted to access ideas, to puzzle, to prod understanding, to kindle discussion and to instigate thinking. These highly visual learning tools provide pupil-friendly frameworks that are especially effective for encouraging children out of shallow end thinking and into the deep end.

From here I then worked with the creators of concept cartoons and together we produced Concept Cartoons in Mathematics Education, a rich collection of 130 concept cartoons in maths for KS2 and KS3.

Each character has a different opinion about the maths being discussed and all of the possible answers are plausible and highlight common learner misconceptions. Learners are invited to join in with the discussion happening in the cartoons with the aim of upgrading their thinking.

Concept cartoons can be used in one-to-one conversations as a stimulus for focused work or whole class discussion, to help find out about the ideas that children hold and the reasoning which underpins their ideas.

They are a particularly effective tool to employ with children with Special Educational Needs and children who lack confidence in putting forward their views in certain contexts.

Know What You Are Talking About

Concept cartoons can also play a useful role in the professional development of teacher subject knowledge and understanding.

Colleagues will find these a valuable tool to review and develop personal subject knowledge, by asking questions that they had never thought of asking themselves.

So, as well as helping to understand the kinds of misconceptions and uncertainties that pupils have, teachers can use them as a mechanism for identifying their own uncertainties. As part of preparation for teaching, teachers can use the concept cartoons to review their own understanding and ensure that they can justify adequately which alternatives are correct.

Good Talking With You

Does oracy sit in the middle of everything you do?

Concept cartoons will certainly help get everyone talking and they definitely deserve a place in your oracy curriculum, especially for making some parkour leaps in conceptual understanding. You can easily create your own concept cartoons or buy them commercially.

You can find out more about concept cartoons research here.

John Dabell writes for Teacher Toolkit.

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