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Why is Measuring Student Talk Important?

Carlyn Coffey
Carlyn Coffey

May 16, 2022

How involved and engaged are the students in a classroom? How do you know? Student engagement can be a difficult classroom metric to decipher. While so much is unknown about the signs of student engagement in course material, researchers agree that a relationship exists between communication, thinking, and learning.

Speech and thought are related in more ways than it first seems. There’s a reason that after you communicate a concept orally-perhaps explaining it to someone else-it seems solidified in your mind. It’s easier to internalize ideas if we’re able first to verbalize them, and the same is true for students in a classroom.

This isn’t a new idea; for decades, “classroom talk” and its effect on learning has been a focus of study in education. In fact, student participation in class discussions is a sure sign of a healthy classroom. Increased student participation in classroom talk is even correlated directly with better student achievement, not to mention faster and more effective learning for students! Research has found a positive correlation between increased time devoted to classroom discussion with higher test scores and improved writing assignments.

However, teachers do as much as 89% of the talking in any given classroom, not leaving a very large window of opportunity for students to get a word in, or feel motivated to do so.

What is teacher talk time?

“Teacher talk time” is simply the percentage of time that teachers spend talking in the classroom in relation to their students’ percentage of talk. Teacher talk time and “student talk time” could be important metrics for improving student comprehension.

Findings suggest that each individual student’s talk time is positively correlated with outcomes like test scores. However, everyone benefits from a talkative classroom. Both silent and vocal students experience improved learning outcomes in classrooms where group discussions occur.

Progress

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How can we focus, not necessarily on a drastic reduction of teacher talk time, but on an increase of student talk time? Teachers with this focus could shift the total percentage of time that students are actively and verbally engaged in the classroom.

Six Ways To Get Students Speaking Up In Class

The simplest way to get students to start vocalizing their thoughts in class is to create opportunities for ideas and questions to be shared. But remember, the quality of participation matters. The goal is to draw out students' thought processes and ideas, not simply their repetition of what has already been said.

1. Use High-Frequency Conceptual Press

    Instead of correcting or even affirming a student’s answer to a question you’ve posed, respond to student contributions with requests for further clarification or elaboration. If a student provides an incorrect answer, fight the urge to instead request the correct answer from a different student. Ask how the student arrived at their conclusion, and avoid narrowing their thought process by simplifying your original question.

    The same is true of a student who answers correctly. Provide them an opportunity to elaborate on how they arrived at their correct answer. This will further solidify the process of learning they just completed for themselves and their classmates. Press on by asking, “How do you know?” or by turning to the rest of the classroom to see if they agree, disagree, or can add on.

    2. Track the current rates of talking in your own classroom

    Just knowing where you stand regarding classroom communication can create a drive to reduce teacher talk time and improve student talk time. Once you’re aware of the current state of talk in your classroom, you can easily construct goals for improvement.

    Many teachers attempt to demystify their current talk habits by simply creating audio recordings of classroom discourse. However, the process of actually extracting useful information from recordings like this can be lengthy and non-specific.

    Instead, using software to record classroom talk can simplify and add context to the data collection process. In fact, Vosaic, a platform for video analysis and coaching, can instantly automate speaker analysis. Vosaic can automatically distinguish between 10 different speakers in any given video or audio recording and provide you with a breakdown of how long each speaker is talking, both by total time and percentage.

    This can be a great way to quickly see not only the total amount of time that a teacher speaks compared to students but how much time individual students are speaking (or not speaking) in class discussions. The knowledge of this data can also expose which students are getting called on most often.

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    3. Increase open discussion time

    Making open discussion time a regular fixture of your class can form students’ expectations of how much they should be communicating. Once students come to expect that open discussions will happen in conjunction with most, if not every, lesson, they may be more likely to stay engaged in anticipation of sharing their own opinions.

    4. Use open-ended questions

    To draw more words out of your students, avoid asking questions that only require one word in response, such as “yes or no” questions. Try options like “Why do you think that?” or “Tell me more” if student responses are a bit short and underdeveloped.

    5. Give opportunities to develop quality participation

    Because the quality of participation matters, create space for students to think. They will subsequently feel more confident sharing their ideas, and you can avoid calling only on the few students who regularly raise their hands. This can take the form of asking students to write responses first or to share their thoughts with a friend before they’re expected to convey them to the whole classroom.

    6. Extend wait times before answering your own questions

    While no teacher likes awkward silence, students hate it even more! Lean into longer pauses before further attempts to draw responses from students. One last-resort option could be to give the class a light at the end of the tunnel by requesting that a specified number of students share their thoughts. Your script can sound something like this:

    “Let’s hear from three more people and decide if we agree.”

    If you've already asked a student, refrain from answering a question yourself or shuffling it off to a second student.

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