Talking about Teacher Talk (briefly)

As a teacher and teacher trainer, Teacher Talk Time (TTT) is a subject raised often. Too much TTT, reduce TTT, how can we limit TTT. These sorts of comments won’t surprise many who read this blog. It seems we all, collectively seek to reduce our TTT. Why? Because we are developing student-centered classrooms, and running student-centered activities and the whole idea of TTT starts with teachers, so obviously TTT is bad.

But we all aren’t Caleb Gattengo. Even if we wanted to be, is The Silent Way what’s best for every ESL and EFL classroom in the world? If so, what gives with all the alternative methods?

No…even if we’re all silent way masters. In reality, what we’re really talking about here is teacher effectiveness, and how TTT can become Teacher-centered instruction and diminish our effectiveness as language educators.

So, if we aren’t limiting TTT, what are we doing here?

When working with teachers, I find it most helpful to focus on what the TTT is all about, rather than the amount. For what purposes are teachers talking? Are we explaining or demonstrating? Are we providing contextual examples or simply playing “knower-in-chief” so the students feel like they’re in good hands? Are we talking because we feel it gives us control? Because it allows us to ‘cover bases’? Because we don’t trust the students? Because we don’t trust ourselves? Our plans? Our methods? Are we talking because we have a clear objective or we’re reacting to something we’ve seen or heard? Are we talking for classroom management? Are we aware of what we are saying? Are we aware of what the students understand? How do we know what they understand?

In reality, TTT is critical, and the demand for it depends on the level of the students, the particular class and the purposes of the teacher. Students, let’s remember, are in the class because they need guidance.

Yes, teachers should strive to develop student-centered classes, but this doesn’t mean teachers don’t talk.

Teachers need to be aware of their sandbox. The sandbox is where we all get to play. It’s where the teachers lead students to play. The sandbox is the totality of language students engage with/listen to/are expected to produce. TTT needs to stay inside the sandbox. Teachers need to be aware of the language they’re using. Grading it is a skill. Managing language, staying inside that box, is a practice- only time, focus and effort improves it.

The next question may be, How do we define the sandbox? First, needs assessment. Which quickly turns into continuous assessment. A teacher’s obligation is to their students. And if a teacher starts playing outside the students’ sandbox, how can they be expected to find success. We must collect evidence in order to discover what is happening in relation to this sandbox. To do that, teachers need to observe, note, record and generally step out of the way. And that, stepping out of the way of our students learning, may be the hardest part of working with TTT. Giving up control is never easy, and handing over the responsibility for learning to the students feels…hard, in many ways. But they’re the ones walking the path. They’re the ones engaging in their sandbox, and when we’re gone, they’re the ones who have to communicate for their needs. We’re only providing the time and knowledge necessary for them to succeed in doing so.

If a teacher maintains a rigid sandbox, how can students flourish and demonstrate what they know. Where is the goldilocks zone? There is no clean answer. And that is why I love teaching. Every context, every scenario demands a run through the ELC, preferably in the company of engaged educators, with critical reflective practice being the rock from which everyone stands.

There is no easy answer to TTT, except that is it necessary, should be intentional and is consistently affected by a number of factors. As with everything in life, it’s done best when it’s done with forethought and consideration.