Where Literacy Meets Geography: Using Talk Moves to Engage Students in Geographical Data , pp. 6 of 8

Articulating answers in a geographical manner

Dialogic teaching provides a testing ground for students to articulate their original answer as a tentative contribution (Mercer & Dawes, 2008) which the teacher or other students can then work on to improve collaboratively in verbal and written formats. As summarised in Table 3, the majority of students indicated that Talk Moves had a positive effect in encouraging them to express their thinking regarding the data. Although there was no drastic increase in the proportions, having been through 2 research cycles, 92.68% (n = 82) of students felt that their ability to describe the data to the class was increased and 93.90% (n = 82) of them were more confident that they could describe the relationships in the data.

In the lessons powered by Talk Moves, the teacher drew on his/her language knowledge for content teaching (Morton, 2018) to initiate the correction of students’ use of vocabulary, invite students to use appropriate geographical terms or clarify the meanings of the terms, and encourage them to describe the data and reason using academic language that is precise and concise. Talk Moves such as “So you are saying that…” or “I wonder if you mean…” allowed the teacher to revoice the students’ ideas by replacing their vernacular language with the specialised language that is conventionally used by geographers. The teacher would also lead other students to repeat and improve on the responses by asking “Can you repeat what Student X said in a more geographical way?” By employing Talk Moves, the teacher was able to model a disciplinary way to describe and account for geographical data, and allowed students to help one another using the language knowledge they learned or brought into the classroom. As the teacher and students get accustomed to such interactive modes, it will foster a more collaborative learning environment for the class. Most importantly, the teacher nudged the students to use their linguistic resources, which in the long run has the potential of increasing students’ awareness in not only what they are answering but also how they should elaborate their ideas to the class (Gibbons, 2001).

Students’ classroom participation

Dialogic teaching requires both teacher and students to take on new identities in the classroom. The teacher needs to use a variety of questioning techniques to elicit students’ opinions on other students’ responses, while students are expected to be active listeners so as to understand their peers’ answers and make meaningful contributions or extensions to the discussion (O’Connor & Michaels, 2019). This is how dialogue can be sustained. However, it takes time to achieve this change of students’ role because they are used to taking teacher’s talk as the most important source of information and waiting for teacher’s evaluation of other students’ responses. Some students may have discomfort in pointing out other students’ mistakes and challenging them (Robins, 2011), because again, it is usually considered the teacher’s job. This could be the reason why I did not see a noticeable increase in the percentages in this set of questions except Question 12 (see Table 4), though a large number of students still believed they made improvement. Roberts (2013) suggested that teachers discuss with students to set explicit ground rules. These ground rules can include “listen”, “show respect”, “be considerate”, etc., and teachers need to remind the students of the rules if necessary. Over time, a conducive environment will be created for the students to feel safe in commenting on other’s mistake or misconceptions (Ho, Wong, Leong, Talib, & Lim, 2017) and offering their ideas without waiting for the teacher’s “standard answer”.

Writing a geographical account based on data

Going beyond classroom discussion, I measured the effect of dialogic teaching in translating students’ talk to writing. Statistical results in Table 4 suggest that students were generally positive about their improvement in writing an account based on the geographical data, but most of the percentages were lower than 90%. It is not a surprise that the Talk Moves approach did not have a similar level of impact on students’ writing as on the other variables (i.e. “analytical skills for geographical data” and “articulating answers in a geographical manner”). Myhill and Jones (2009) argued that the patterns of writing are more subtle and may take longer for students to acquire. Writing is still a salient issue in Singaporean students’ geography learning. They struggle with explaining their thoughts effectively (Hassan & Toh, 2018) and coherently (Sukimi, Lim, Tamsir, Tan, & Wong, 2018) through writing. Teachers, as well as educational researchers, need to take students’ difficulties in writing into account when exploring the connection between talk and writing. For this variable, I looked into the proportions within a class and identified that in Class 1, 24% more students thought that they could write a well-organised answer in response to questions about data after Cycle 2. This gives future research an interesting direction – how teachers adapt Talk Moves to guide students in structuring their argumentative writing.

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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