Where Literacy Meets Geography: Using Talk Moves to Engage Students in Geographical Data , pp. 3 of 8

Dialoguing to be geo-literate

Roberts (2013) defined geographical talk as “talking about the subject matter of what was being studied or investigated” (p. 96). In a dialogic classroom, the teacher invites students to be a contributor to the dialogue. When students are engaged in geographical talk around data, the teacher uses dialogue to support students in organising their thoughts, clarifying, identifying evidence to support their opinions, reasoning, summarising (Zwiers & Crawford, 2011; Lambert & Balderstone, 2010) and eventually writing which are core literacy skills in geography that students should acquire. Also, as students are immersed in the geographical dialogue, it enables students to practice geographical specialised language that they have been exposed to, using sources such as the teacher, learning resources (e.g. textbooks and worksheets), and their peers (Zwiers & Crawford, 2011). The use of appropriate geographical language should be encouraged in students’ geographical talk and writing in order to effectively and accurately communicate their ideas. With the increased amount of student articulation (Boyd & Markarian, 2011), the teacher has “something” to work on, which means the teacher can assess students’ responses and develop a more discriminating disciplinary discourse together with the students. It would be a lot more difficult for students to develop these geo-literacy skills and geographical language skills in a teacher-centered monologic classroom culture due to the lack of practice.

Talk Moves

To build a dialogic geography classroom is, no doubt, a big challenge because it involves changing entrenched habits for both students and teachers (Bignell, 2012). Students need to practice active listening in order to build on one another’s responses and the teacher needs to make strenuous effort to improve their questioning skills and structure their talk to meet students’ learning needs. Michaels & O’Connor (2012) outlined four goals that teacher can work towards:

  1. Help individual students share, expand, and clarify their own thoughts;
  2. Help students listen carefully to one another;
  3. Help students deepen their reasoning;
  4. Help students engage with others’ reasoning.

They also provided strategic questioning frames for teachers to support students’ participation and reasoning. Grounded in the theories of dialogic teaching, and Michaels and O’Connor (2012) and Zwiers & Crawford (2011)’s work, the English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS) adapted Talk Moves for local primary and secondary classrooms (see Appendix A). Each Focus Area can be adapted by the geography teacher to facilitate talk around geographical data. For example, Focus Area 3 – Probe for reasoning or evidence – can be used to prompt students to provide evidence from the data to support their argument, and Focus Area 4 – elicit a student’s view on another student’s idea – requires students to identify the missing parts in another student’s reasoning and complete it with more evidence or prior knowledge.

Talk Moves have been incorporated by Singapore teachers in biology (Ho, Wong, & Rappa, 2019), mathematics (Vijayakumar, Wong, Adams, & Lee, 2015), and geography (Vijayakumar et al., 2015) classrooms. These studies suggested that teachers became more conscious in their use of Talk Moves to facilitate students’ knowledge construction. However, very little empirical evidence, especially quantitative evidence, has been provided on the usefulness of Talk Moves in engaging students in geographical data analysis from the student’s perspective. This led me to ask if the use of Talk Moves enhanced students’ geographical literacy (including analytical skills for geographical data, articulating answers in a geographical manner, writing a geographical account based on data) and students’ classroom participation.

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

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