Classroom Talk, Social Disadvantage and Educational Attainment: Raising Standards, Closing the Gap

On 17th September I took part in the Induction Day for a new project designed to maximize the quality and educational impact of classroom talk. The project is a joint initiative between Robin Alexander (Cambridge Primary Review Trust) and Frank Hardman (Institute for Effective Education, University of York). It’s funded by the Education Endowment Foundation.

The project builds on Robin Alexander’s work on dialogic teaching and on the best of international research (including the ‘Towards Dialogue Project’ upon which Better than Best Practice is based). It aims to ‘improve the quality of classroom talk as a means to increasing pupils’ engagement, learning and attainment in contexts of severe social disadvantage’.

There are two phases of the project. The first phase (the development phase) has just begun and involves 60 teachers in the Barking and Dagenham Local Authority. Over the course of the 2014-15 academic year, these teachers will take part in a professional training programme using video, print materials and in-school mentoring. The induction day launched this phase of the project, and all participating teachers received a pack of support materials, including a copy of Better than Best Practice!

All teachers received this pack of support materials

All teachers received this pack of support materials

Better than Best Practice forms part of the professional development programme. Each term an episode/chapter from the book will be used as the basis of a study session, involving two participating teachers and a mentor. During the induction day, we introduced this format by running small group workshops using Episode 2. It was fantastic to see teachers working with materials from the book, and more importantly, to hear that they found them useful! Participating schools were also given video cameras (together with tripods and microphones) because the teachers will be recording their own classrooms, and using these recordings to stimulate reflection on their own teaching practice (using a model similar to that outlined in Chapter 12).

I’d like to thank Robin Alexander and Frank Hardman for inviting me to take part, and I’d also like to thank all of the participating teachers for making the day such a success. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone again as the project progresses, and in particular, to hearing about how they’re using the book, and how they’ve found the experience of recording their own classrooms.

In the second phase of the project, the training programme will be rolled out to 60 primary schools and will be subject to an independent randomised control trial (undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research). Although there is evidence that a dialogic approach to teaching and learning can improve pupils’  motivation, engagement, participation and understanding, there has not yet been a UK randomised controlled trial (RCT) to assess its effectiveness. If the results are positive, it is anticipated that the approach will then be scaled up for national dissemination. Exciting stuff!

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