Speaking in Parallel: Dualistic Dialogue in the Learning Space

Posted: March 5, 2014 in Education, Pedagogy
Tags: , , , ,


Since coming to the UK just over a year ago I have had the fortune of spending much of that time deconstructing years of teaching practice (my own) and forming potential ideas for the years to come from the new things I am seeing and learning. As I have thought about teaching I have been particularly interested in working out how I have functioned, am involved in and how I wish to form involvement in students understanding of terms, concepts and the learning experience that are provided for them. One aspect of particular interest to me has been how students develop knowledge and understanding of what is said, discussed and delivered to them verbally. How do they hear, recognise and remember?

Setting the teacher in me aside you might ask, why is this important? Firstly I am Australian, speak with a reasonable Australian accent, am teaching students in a school in England and need to be easily understood by students of an extensive range of language backgrounds. Several times in lessons I have been asked, “do we sound, like, so English to you?” and mostly my answer is “No, not really. In this room there’s 30 different accents that all sound different to me”. But beyond this surface level accent is the underlying need to have clear diction in the way you talk and present if you wish to be understood. This is heightened by the need to be able to get subject contextual language, the topical lexicon if you like, to make clear and simple sense to my students. As any teacher can argue, there are times it can be hard to make even the simplest concepts make simple common sense, but more about this later.

Secondly, I believe in the value of language and speech. I feel that these skills are one of the most underestimated life skills we can develop. Language is powerful and provides people with the ability to articulate and explain. It allows for collaboration and the sharing or further development of skills and knowledge. It provides us with ways to offer insight and feedback. Yet I also believe that it is not only about the development of higher order language, “Posh Talk” as I have been informed over here. We have to value the communication that occurs between friends and families, between people in the streets and in different generational or regional dialects. This includes the colloquialisms of different ages too.

So how does all this relate to my earlier statement that I am interested in how students develop knowledge and understanding through verbal discourse? How in turn can this lead to increasing their grasp and development of language skills? What have I learnt or done to help this?

For me the answer is simple. I have developed my skills to talk in parallel, to explain concepts in a mixture of both high language and casual talk, to break the complicated down into the simplest possible forms and finally, to use as many bad analogies and examples as possible to reinforce facts with verbal visuals. This mixture is completed by the students. It is the students that are required to redefine the concepts we learn about. They are the ones who have to make sense of it all and explain back. They are the ones who realise that they have to articulate their thoughts and knowledge in both posh talk and normal language. The students have to engage in, and own the development of their own verbal vocabulary. They are the ones who have to master the written response. It is in this moment that the talk moves from parallel explanation to dualistic dialogue. Now is when the students are learning and teaching back. They are developing skills that accommodate their daily need as well as the requirements of formality. They contribute back into lessons and enhance the learning of others by delivering their own explanations to enhance and enrich the content taught. It is also the point at which the teacher becomes the learner.  Recognising the value of listening and noting the ways the students describe and explain is critical. This has become the keystone of how I have tried to develop my skills and understanding of contemporary language. Even when I have had to consider it from an international perspective.

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