Podcast: Should Teachers Even Talk?!

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Teacher talk. It was good, then it was bad, now it's good again. Are you confused? We are! We look at teacher talk from four different perspectives - time, aim, language and quality (or TALK for short).

Quotes from this episode:

ESL EFL Teaching Tip: Reduce Teacher Talk and Increase Student Talk in the Classroom

Professor John Hattie discusses the importance of Teacher Talk Time.

Teach Like a Champion - Reduce Teacher Talk Time (TTT) and Increase Student Talk Time (STT)

Axl Rose on Jimmy Kimmel live


Should Teachers Even Talk?! - Transcript


Tracy Yu:  Hi, everyone, welcome to our podcast.


Ross Thorburn:  Hi. Something we do a lot on this podcast is...


Tracy:  Talking. [laughs]


Ross:  Exactly. Something that teachers are often told not to do is...


Tracy:  Talking.


Ross:  Yeah, right. I put teacher talk into YouTube and here are the short clips from the beginnings of three of the videos on the first page of YouTube.




James:  Hi, I'm James and this week, I have three tips on how to reduce teacher talk time in the classroom.


Man 1:  What percentage of time do you talk in your class? The typical research shows that we as teachers talk somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the time. Maybe we need to reduce that.


Man 2:  In this video, we're going to talk about how to reduce your teacher talk time.


Tracy:  It's really interesting. Seems the information kind of negative in terms of the teacher talk. Why is that?


Ross:  The general attitude in the industry a lot of the time is teachers should talk less so students can talk more. There's lots of other people that actually say the opposite. Penny Ur, who you know I'm a big fan of, she in her book "100 Teaching Tips" says that teachers should talk a lot.


Our friend Dave Weller, he's got a blog post called Why I love Teacher Talking Time saying that sometimes it's really good for teachers to talk more.


Tracy:  Instead of discussing three questions, this time we are going to look at...


Ross:  Four aspects of teacher talk.


Tracy:  They are...


Ross:  First one is...


Tracy:  Time, and then how much time that the teacher should speak in the class. The second one...


Ross:  ...is the aim. Why are teachers talking? Third...


Tracy:  ...is language and what language they are using when they are talking. The last one...


Ross:  ...is the quality of what teachers are actually saying. Is it things that are going to be useful for the students or not.


Tracy:  They are T‑A‑L‑Q, no?


Ross:  T‑A‑L‑K.




Tracy:  Kwality. TALK.






Tracy:  The first part is time. Like you mentioned at the very beginning, I think a lot of teachers were told, "Reduce your teacher talk time." What will that mean?


Ross:  I think before we talk about what it means, we can talk about why people say that. There's a misconception that the less teachers talk, the more students talk and the more students talk, the more students learn. I think that's a massive over‑simplification of what makes a good language class or what leads to language learning.


Tracy:  Yeah, because sometimes teachers, they do need to talk more. [laughs]


Ross:  Exactly. I remember, for example, observing classes before and marking teachers down for teacher talk because they didn't talk enough. They needed to explain something more to their students, for example, and they didn't talk enough.


Tracy:  That's interesting.


Ross:  I've heard of crazy policies from somewhere you used to work. Did they not have like, they even made a ratio of how much teachers were allowed to talk in some classes to how much students were allowed to talk, which to me is just absolutely nuts? It's crazy.




Ross:  I heard teachers talking about like, "I wasn't allowed to correct a student error because my company won't let me talk more than whatever is 10 percent of the time in class." If you're doing a class that's focused on listening, then I think it's OK if the students aren't talking very much and the teachers' talking most of the time.


It probably depends a bit on the level as well. If I was teaching very young learners, I'd probably end up talking a lot more than if I was teaching advanced level adults.


Tracy:  I think you mentioned a lot why teachers need to talk. Also, on the other hand, when you think about when teacher...


Ross:  ...need to shut up.




Tracy:  Yeah, don't need to talk that much. For example, we also experience the silence. You see the students struggle in activities or learning process. I think teacher naturally want to facilitate and give a lot of support to the students and then move on to the next stage. That few minutes or few seconds are so precious just to let them to figure out and ask each other, have a discussion.


Maybe use a first language and they can clarify the meaning. I think that's really, really important for the learners. Digest information by themselves rather than passively accept the concept from the teacher. Naturally, we are teacher, we want to help people, so we always want to give them more rather than...


Ross:  Rather than figure it out themselves.


Tracy:  Yeah. Don't steal that moment from your students. Another thing that I usually suggest to teachers is actually instead of statement, asking questions.


Ross:  Can you give us an example?


Tracy:  For example, if I say, "Hey, Ross and Tracy, you did a very good job. Well done. And you used these words correctly and you used these tenses very well, blah blah blah." You can just ask a question.


Ross:  You would take that and instead, you say, "Oh, guys, what do you think you did a good job of there, how did you manage to complete that activity?"


Tracy:  Yeah, something like that. You are giving the students more chance to reflect on what they did and how they did it rather than you summarize what you saw.






Ross:  Let's talk about the aim. Why should teachers talk? What is the aim in teachers' talking in the class? [laughs]


Tracy:  I think there are some fundamental functions of teacher talk. Number one is giving instruction. The second one is probably clarification.


Ross:  Explaining?


Tracy:  Yeah, explaining. What else?


Ross:  Correcting errors. I think eliciting as well, we mentioned that earlier. Asking questions to get the students to reflect or to say things. Building relationships and building rapport with the students. Little things making jokes, trying to use people's names. All those things help to reduce student anxiety and all that kind of stuff.


Especially with young learners, storytelling is a big one. I know Dave Wellers is a big fan of that. I think all those things together are giving students comprehensible input, which is going to help them learn the language.


I think I've read Stephen Krashen talk about this, and say that one of the main things that students are paying for or getting out of a language class is someone that's speaking in a specific way that's tailored to them. You are paying for a professional that's really good at changing the way they speak for the students. All those things together should help the students pick up language.


Tracy:  I also think about how your language help you and the students personalize lesson or the content. For example, we watched a class together the other day. If you remember in the video, the teacher basically went through all the PowerPoints.


Ross:  Yeah, she was teaching how old are you but didn't actually ever take the time [laughs] to ask the students how old they were.


Tracy:  Yeah, I think that's a great opportunity to personalize the materials and also make the lesson more engaging relating to the kids. Like how old are you and how old is your mom, how old is your best friend? This kind of thing, and that's definitely necessary teacher talk.


Also, a lot of people are actually using PowerPoint. It seems so much information included on the slide. I think that's also indirect teacher talk. Maybe teachers think, "OK, I put everything on the PowerPoint, and I don't say anything, that means I reduce teacher talk time," but actually it's not.


Ross:  We mentioned there then some good aims for why you might talk, good reasons why you might talk. What are some bad reasons why teachers talk?


Tracy:  Just repeating themselves?


Ross:  Yeah, or even repeating the students. Echoing.


Tracy:  Yeah. I think I have different ideas about echoing. I don't think it's that bad sometimes because especially with younger learners, you probably want to emphasize something, so you have to repeat. I don't think it's all bad. It seems echoing is such a taboo word in teaching, but I don't think it's that bad. Sometimes, you probably want to say something to reinforce some positive behavior.


Ross:  It does actually sometimes happen in real life. Actually, I can play an example of...this is Axl Rose from Guns n' Roses being interviewed. Check how often the interviewer echoes what Axl Rose says.




Jimmy:  How old were you when you moved to Hollywood?


Axl Rose:  I think 19.


Jimmy:  19 years old, and you came by yourself?


Axl:  Yeah, I hitchhiked out here.


Jimmy:  You hitchhiked, wow. You hitchhiked. How long was it before you guys started making money as a professional musician?


Axl:  A few years after we got Appetite going.






Ross:  Let's talk a bit about language. I think it's something that pretty much all new teachers, and certainly I had a very difficult time doing was grading my language, which just means simplifying what you say for the students.


Before I went to university, I lived in one fairly small town my whole life. Before I went to university, I don't like I realized what words that I used were words that only me, my family used, words which only me and my friends used, words which are only from that town, words which were just...Scottish.


Tracy:  Aye. [laughs]


Ross:  Yes, that's one for yes. Maybe I knew that but for example, word like, messages, like, "Go to get your messages." Where I'm from, that means go and do your shopping, like your weekly shopping.


Tracy:  Really?


Ross:  Yeah, or right now you could say, so it's five past 8:00, you could say right now it's the back of 8:00. I remember saying something that to someone at university, "I'll meet you at the back of 8:00," and the person said, "What does that mean?" I was like, "Back of 8:00, like 5 past, 10 past 8:00." They have no idea.


That process of learning to grade your language, it's very difficult to pick up quickly.


Tracy:  Yeah, that's a very, very good point. Actually, I'm doing training, usually we focus on language, and we try not to use difficult words but how do we define difficult words?


Even you're teaching in the same foreign country, but different level students and different area they probably exposed to certain topics or things or access to Internet and what they, what they encounter every day is so different. It definitely takes time for people to realize what...


Ross:  What's easy and what's hard?


Tracy:  Yeah.






Ross:  Let's talk about the quality. The thing I wanted to bring up here is the idea that students come to class, and you know the classic joke of the student says to the teacher, "Oh sorry, I'm late." Teacher says, "Why are you late?" The student said, "My dog dead today," and the teacher says, "Your dog died today. Now go and sit down." Is it not funny?


Tracy:  I've never heard that.


Ross:  It's like the teachers correcting the student instead of responding to them naturally. This idea that you want to respond to the students naturally in the class because that's how people are going to respond to them in the outside world. You don't always have to be in this teacher mode where you are giving instructions or correcting errors. You can respond to them like a real person.








Ross:  Hopefully, that helped as a bit of a model. Instead of saying that teacher talk is good or teacher talk is bad, I think when you come to think about teacher talk, you can look at it in those four different aspects. How long are you talking for, the time? Why you are talking, so what's the Aim? What Language are you using? Finally, is it good Quality or not, so T‑A‑L‑K.


Anything else, Tracy, before we finish?


Tracy:  When we're a little baby and [laughs] we can only handle a small amount of food, but we have maybe more times every day. Maybe I don't know four or five meals per day and when we grow up and we have more food each time.


Ross:  Fewer meals altogether.


Tracy:  Yeah, so I'm thinking maybe it's similar to teacher talk. With different group of learners like young learners, you probably want to use teacher talk a little bit...


Ross:  At a time maybe but more for the adolescent.


Tracy:  Yeah, with adult learners, maybe each time that they can handle a longer period of time and then try to reduce the number of time that we are using big chunk of teacher talk.


Ross:  Great. Thanks for listening everyone.


Tracy:  Thank you, bye‑bye.


Ross:  Bye.