Where Literacy Meets Geography: Using Talk Moves to Engage Students in Geographical Data , pp. 2 of 8

A geography classroom should provide ample opportunities for teachers and students to engage in meaningful socialisation around geographical data and communicate with one another using geographical discourse. This paper sets out to investigate the relationship between talk and students’ ability to analyse and account for geographical data.

Talking to learn

Though the geography classroom is replete with talk around geographical data, geography teachers might still face difficulty in scaffolding students’ active engagement with data (Seow, 2015). This could be because students are not given enough opportunities to engage with the task. Here “engaging students” implies more than just providing a task for them to work on or showing them stimulating learning resources. As much as they are important in triggering students’ interest, if the task/resource is not unpacked by encouraging students’ talk in the classroom, students will still be playing the role of passive listeners and knowledge receivers instead of as active learners. Alexander (2004) argued that “children, we now know, need to talk, and to experience a rich diet of spoken language, in order to think and to learn…Talk is arguably the true foundation of learning (p. 9).” Students need to talk to learn. However, classroom talk is often asymmetrical (Mercer & Dawes, 2008) with the teacher taking an authoritative role to impose his/her way of thinking and the students following (Morgan & Lambert, 2005).

This led me to think about the quality of classroom talk. A “noisy” class involving multiple questioning and answering exchanges does not necessarily guarantee learning. A closer examination of such classroom talk will show us that it is the teacher who controls the knowledge construction. Teachers’ questions are usually less cognitively demanding questions (Kawalkar & Vijapurka, 2013) and a teacher may be satisfied with surface-level answers which contain information often from students’ memory and are not built on one another’s ideas. In other words, such interaction lacks depth (Zwiers & Crawford, 2011). As a result, unengaged students remain quiet and high-achieving or active students always give good answers, leaving the teacher no choice but to move on to the next question. On the contrary, dialogical teaching assumes that “knowledge is something people do together rather than an individual possession” (Lyle, 2008, p. 225).

A dialogic classroom aims to construct common understanding by offering structured, cumulative talk that prompts, provides guidance, and reduces choices, risks and errors (Alexander, 2004). The goal is to conduct an authentic dialogue that is more extended, equitable and meaningful. It exerts the power of talk to foster productive students’ engagement, and scaffold and extend their thinking (Alexander, 2004), and eventually advance their understanding and lead to deeper learning (Michaels & O’Connor, 2012).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!