Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oral Langauge in the Classroom

Musings about Oral Language

As a teacher of teachers, I feel like it's my job to model the types of teaching practices that I would like for pre-service teachers to use with their own middle school and high school students. But I don't always know if I am the best model, especially when it comes to my use of oral language in the classroom. 

I think I am good at giving students structured opportunities to talk with each other in partners and small groups, but I am not sure about my use of oral language in whole-class settings. 

To be honest, a lot of times I feel a little guilty if I talk for more than 5 minutes straight, because I think to myself that I am modeling teacher-centered learning--that old adage of being "the sage on the stage" instead of the "guide on the side." For instance, today I began the class by talking about the six traits for about 10 minutes; then students worked in small groups to evaluate writing; and then I talked for another 10 minutes on what research says makes good writing instruction. 

I know there are some professors who lecture the whole time for every class period, which is something I definitely don't do, but then there are teachers like Jim Cangelosi who ask their students to lead every class, which is something I don't do, either. 

I wonder if and when teacher lecture is ever a positive thing. Does the answer have to do with teacher personality? That is, to some extent, should teachers teach in the way that feels best to them and fits their own skin and personalities? For some teachers, that might mean talking a little more, and for others, it might mean talking a little less.

I think that sometimes in education we go to the extremes. There are extreme models of learning on both sides of the teacher-centered and student-centered continuum. In some models of learning, students get to choose everything they study. For instance, I could say I liked horses, and then it would be my teachers' job to design a curriculum around that (e.g., I could learn about ratios through calculating feeds). On the other extreme, there are teachers who do not deviate from their planned calendars for the whole year, and they don't account for students' interests or their pace of learning at all. To me, realistic education and quality education is somewhere in between. 

Perhaps the same is true for oral language. For me, depending on the topic that is covered and depending on the constraints of the class, it is unrealistic to have whole-class discussions where the teacher rarely talks. But it is also boring to have the teacher talk the whole time. So maybe for most of us the answer will be somewhere in between.

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