Kingfisher Primary School
Focus of case study
Why use the strategy of Talk Partners?
Pupil talk is central to active learning. Establishing talk partners is often the first step teachers take in experimenting with formative assessment, as it is relatively straightforward to embark on and the impact can be seen immediately.
Shirley Clarke 2008
As Shirley Clarke suggest talk partners is the easiest strategy to implement in the classroom first and is generally already happening without teachers realising. I found that I was already using talk partners in the form of ‘discuss with the person next to you.’ Other ideas include the process of ‘think, pair, share’ Therefore, this strategy was easy to adjust to and only small changes within my classroom were necessary.
Using Talk Partners ensures quality talk in the classroom. The main change in the classroom is who is doing the talking. Traditional classrooms is teacher talking to class or individuals and often many teachers usually have a question and response session as part of their lessons; whilst this provides opportunity for individual children to respond using ‘talk partners’ means that there is no opportunity for children to opt out while the confident few so most of the talking and thinking. Many of us are guilty of asking a question and waiting for the children to think and answer through raising their hands, however my research has shown that it is the same few children who are always first with their hands up and do most of the answering, therefore most of the class opt out of listening and thinking as a consequence. I have therefore introduced within my classroom a no hands up policy. The use of talk partners means there is a constant handover to the children when questions are asked or tasks are underway. Children are immediately more motivated to work because they are in charge of their own learning.
Some children feel more confident when using talk partners because they don’t feel any pressure as they are part of a paired response and there is time to discuss. Children begin to give more detailed answers and gradually developing higher- quality talk.
2. Aims and objectives:
- My initial intention was to implement a range of opportunities across the curriculum that would develop speaking and listening skills.
- Ensuring quality talk in the classroom:
- Children need to have thinking time to answer a question, but discussing with a talk partner during that time or using mini whiteboards makes the thinking time more productive.
- Talk Partner discussion needs to be very focussed and not too long. e.g. 30 seconds to come up with one thing you can see in this writing; One minute to think of a good simile for a cat; Two minutes to decide what has gone wrong with this calculation. This avoids pupils losing momentum and going off task.
- My aim was that all children would become fully involved within the learning activities to enable them to make the best progress and, as a result, become more confident independent learners.
- All research shows that when speaking and listening is well developed and encouraged it has a positive impact on children’s learning.
What is “Talk Partners”?
As discussed previously many teachers already use ‘think, pair, and share’ Children are provided with an opportunity to think about a question/ task before they discuss it with a partner and then the results of the discussion probably shared in either groups or whole class situation. I realised I was using this approach without the label ‘talk partners’.
Some positive outcomes of using the talk partners approach are that it:
- Provides more opportunities for quality speaking and listening in the classroom;
- Teachers have more time to listen to children thus enabling teachers to gage the level of understanding and address any misconceptions on the spot, leading to more immediate feedback;
- Greater pupil engagement and less passive listening;
- Enables children think more clearly about what they are doing and children write more as a consequence;
- Enables participation by children who might not be as confident in the whole class situation;
- Ensures all children are involved in the lesson;
- Provides more thinking time;
- Encourages the involvement of boys;
- Enables children to learn from each other;
- Develops better Ethos in the classroom and respect for all;
- Keeps learning fresh. Children get excited at the prospect at changing partners!
3. Actions/ Strategies used
How could I introduce talk partners in my classroom?
- Circle time discussion based around why it is important to talk about and share their learning with each other. It may be worth asking the children to think about what would happen if they didn’t share their learning with anyone.
- Many teachers have found it useful to model the strategy for themselves with their teaching assistant, both good and bad talk partners. Once this modelling has taken place it means that success criteria can be generated and displayed in the classroom.
- Introduce the idea of random talk partners.
- Share the children’s experiences after week 1. Children could complete a questionnaire (See appendices). Teacher could celebrate learning partners of the week in celebration assembly/ certificates.
Why Random talk partners?
- Random talk partners has proven the best way and should be changed either weekly or fortnightly. This constant change means that children appreciate the fairness factor and gain from a variety of social and learning experiences they encounter;
- Share learning with different children and not just the same group;
- Avoids the use of ability groups – boosts confidence of lower achieving children;
- Can be used at any time in any lesson;
- They get to hear and share opinions;
- Make new friends and get to know other people in their class;
- Fun and supporting – if children need help they can ask their partner rather than their teacher. Children can sometimes be nervous about asking the teacher because they have to admit they don’t know. This also means we are developing independent learners.
How do I select the pairings?
- The selection process can be done in a variety of different ways and it is up to the individual teacher’s preference. Some suggestions:
- Children can decorate their own lolly pop sticks and then these are placed in a bag and teacher picks them out at random;
- Photographs of the children put into a bag and picked out at random;
- Using match it cards e.g; ‘high-low’ ‘sugar – spice’
- Random name generator programme (Dan Bunker – Can be found on the Doncaster e-learning portal)
- The selection process of choosing your talk partners can also be used for a number of other AFL situations. For example, choosing which child’s work you are going to show under visualiser, who will answer the next question etc. This keeps the children focussed because ‘it could be me.’
- Most teachers have allowed the children to choose where to sit once the names have been drawn out. Again this is individual preference and as the teacher you could decide whereabouts the classroom the children sit once their names are drawn.
I like the idea but I am really worried about friends being chosen to sit together.
I have used talk partners over two academic years and I have only ever had to separate one pairings once. In one class two boys who were best friends and would always mess about if they were partners for anything ended up sitting together, I was really worried. However these particular boys were my talk partners of the week and I asked why they had been so good together and they stated, “We are learning partners, not friends and we have to follow the success criteria.”
What happens if they end up with the same pair?
If a pair is chosen at random whom sat together the previous week then as a class we decided that their names would be put back in, however it is evitable that children will end up together again and if it wasn’t the previous week then they will be partners again. The idea is that they build on the feedback given last time and continue to develop at being good learning partners.
4. Talk partners into practise
Initially, I introduced the concept to the class, explaining how the talk partners system would work and the rules that must be observed – e.g. sit knee to knee, listen, respond, take turns, share ideas and so on. We had a circle time discussion based around why it is important to talk about and share their learning with each other. I asked the children to think about what would happen if they didn’t share their learning with anyone.
Next, I modelled the strategy using my teaching assistant. We modelled being bad talk partners and the children shared their ideas as to how we could do it properly. Using this modelling process and the children’s idea success criteria was generated with the children agreeing a set of rules regarding respectful speaking and listening. These are displayed in the classroom as a reminder. The idea of random talk partners was introduced and I shared the random name generator programme with the children. They really liked this programme and the fairness factor, they like that it is completely out of my control. There had been some issues at first with children not wanting to sit with certain children but they really like the system now and want to sit with their friends less than before.
At the beginning of each week, I use the random name generator to identify pairings. The children choose which table and where in the classroom they want to sit. At the end of the week the children are given an evaluation in which they complete to determine whether they have been a good talk partner and whether their partner was a good partner. I choose which pair I feel has worked the best and followed the success criteria and gained the most benefit from having each other as a learning partner. This pair is stood up in golden assembly and each child receives a certificate.
At the start of different lessons, either problems were set or questions asked for the talk partners to work through and the pupils were encouraged to share their thoughts and knowledge with their partner to explain how they could solve the problem. Sometimes the children are asked to whiteboards to make jottings and notes to help refine their thinking. Whilst this is happening, depending on the length of the time given I walk around the classroom listening to children’s talk and identifying any misconceptions on the spot, giving immediate feedback. I find this useful for both APP and evaluating the children’s speaking and listening skills. As the pairs are random the children have opportunities over the weeks to work with peers who had different learning styles and ways of thinking to themselves.
A significant advantage in using this approach is that children never have to wait in a whole class ‘hands up’ situation – they always have an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. I would ask the question or set the problem and then give the children their ‘talk’ time before using the programme to decide who will answer the question. This is often open to the pair rather than the individual. I have found that as a pair they support each other in their answering and enabling me to gain higher ordering thinking/ questioning. It has also made it very difficult for children to ‘switch off’ during this part of the lesson, as their talk partner was depending on their interaction and the children always had the sense ‘it could be me.’
I use talk partners in a variety of lessons and have found it particularly effective in literacy, numeracy, science, P.S.H.E. and PE. Alongside talk partners we also use the ‘ask-it’ baskets.
5. What key resources would people who want to learn from my experience need access to?
- Teachers willing to take on new initiatives and improve their own practice.
- Time out of class to plan implantation new strategies.
- Staff meeting time to feedback on progress.
- Shirley Clarke book – Active Learning Through Formative Assessment. http://www.shirleyclarke-education.org
- The support of the leadership team.
- Assessment for learning project meetings/ network meetings – sharing resources and ideas with colleagues from other schools.
6. What has been the impact on learning?
The impact on learning, in a range of subjects across the whole class has been amazing. All children have become ready and willing to talk through their thinking, and are far more able to focus on the task in hand. Social skills are improving and quieter children are being given a voice and a place in the class. The quieter children have made the most progress, and have occasionally even taken on a lead role in discussions. One boy who was usually very quiet actually led a discussion on the effects of healthy eating and was keen to give his views.
There is a better ethos in classrooms, with greater mutual respect. No children are left out, so self esteem is good for everyone. Beginnings of lessons are now more efficient as children link straight away with their partner.
The amount of work produced has visibly increased, and the children are recalling more of their past learning to help them. In their independent class work, the children have increased their ability to solve problems by thinking them through and using what they know, instead of panicking! This has also meant the children are far more receptive to TASC problem solving wheel. The amount of pupil speaking, appropriate to the lesson, has increased dramatically so that ‘teacher talk’ has been reduced.
Children have themselves commented that they no longer get frustrated – instead of waiting with their hands up they can now share all their ideas with a partner and children are more willing to tackle independent tasks more effectively, using strategies they have gained from TASC to solve problems.
Children are more confident to answer questions when they have discussed it with a partner. By asking children to say what their partners said, there has been an improvement in children’s listening skills. Children are empowered to have a go. When giving explanations to lower achievers, higher achievers have to be really clear about their thinking, so each child benefits from the pairing.
I thought that the introduction of talk partners within my classroom may have been initially a problem, however the children were not phased and were really keen to be involved. I think my enthusiasm of the whole assessment for learning strategies rubbed off on the children and the overall atmosphere and ethos in the classroom is generally busy respectful and purposeful. Children like the idea of being responsible for their own learning. I had won the children over, parents were my biggest worry. However at parents evening I explained the benefits and success and explained that it would be weekly even they liked the idea of their children mixing with other children in this way.
- Improving children’s listening and speaking has a great impact on their progress in both literacy and numeracy.
- Children love the talk partner strategy and it has begun to have a positive impact on other subjects.
- Talk partners improves the aspect of problem solving.
- Children value talk for learning and consciously use it to advance their thinking.
- Children’s answers/ questioning are typically extended, demonstrate higher levels of thinking.
- Children develop their thinking and learning from their peers.
- Children are fully involved throughout the lesson and make good progress towards being independent learners.
- Pupils’ work
- More time spent by pupils discussing learning in each lesson.
- Quieter children always involved in learning process.
- Most children, especially boys responded positively to learning styles and strategies of AfL.
- Children are enthusiastic about learning and respond sensitively to each other when giving feedback.
- Children are more focussed and motivated with a greater understanding of their own sense of achievement and learning.
What the children think:
At the end of the half term I gave the children a questionnaire to gain their thoughts and opinions on talk partners. I found that the children are extremely positive about the use of talk partners:
- ‘If you have to talk, you have to think. I get to learn things from other people I didn’t know.’
- ‘It’s better than sitting next to the same person all the time; I get to learn things from other people.’
- ‘I like talk partners because I struggle with reading.’
- ‘We get to work with each other, rather than on our own.’
- ‘You get to discuss things and hear other people’s opinions.’
- ‘I get to know people in my class better.’
- ‘We get to share ideas.’
- ‘It’s better that we don’t put our hands up because sometimes with hands up you can’t share your ideas if you are not picked.’
What has been the impact on teaching?
- I use talk partners daily as a natural part of my practise.
- The amount of speaking and listening has increased dramatically and has enabled me to do more on-going assessment of the pupils’ learning.
- Feedback is more immediate – as the I and my teaching assistant move around the classroom we are able to listen to the children’s discussions and help to clarify their thinking as appropriate.
What I like about talk partners:
- Less teacher talk and more focus on encouraging children to talk.
- Clearer focus for assessment.
- More time spent on assessment through observation in lessons.
- More immediate feedback given to pupils, clearing up misunderstandings.
- Reviewing marking of work practices as a result of the talk partner work, to give clearer feedback to children after their independent work.
7. Plans for the future
- The initial training and implementation of AfL has just been introduced to the whole school and is led by the Assessment Coordinator and Year 5 teacher as a result of taking part in the Shirley Clarke’s learning teams for Doncaster.
- Teachers involved in the research project have worked alongside their year group partner on a one to basis to help them introduce in their classes.
- A class of children involved on the project could help introduce the strategy to other children in school. Workshops could be led and organised by the year 5 children where they produce some displays and each child be partnered with a child from another class to ‘talk’ them through the talk partner process.
- Parent workshops to explain the approach.
- All children in year 2 and year 5 within school are fully involved with AfL, especially peer and self assessment and sharing ideas with “talking partners”. This will be rolled out to the rest of the school initially with a focus on mind set and talk partners followed by the use of learning intentions and success criteria.
- To ensure that AfL is completely embedded in all aspects of teaching and learning.
8. Evaluation and recommendations
- The main message is that talk/learning partners takes time to embed and for the results to be seen.
- All teachers have had different experiences with different cohorts with different cohorts responding to the strategy in different ways and it is important to maintain high profile in it.
- As this strategy becomes embedded throughout the school it is anticipated that the impact will be greater through more effective continuity.
- Most children were found to be receptive and could see the benefits to their learning, but there were pockets or in some cases individuals who were reluctant to take the strategy on.
- This was approached in various ways by establishing that girls and boys use different parts of the brain for thinking and so a pairing with a girl or boy maximises thoughts and thinking processes.
- Sports role models were also used to overcome reluctance, especially with boys.
- Time should be taken to help the children work through any hesitation or reluctance.
If another school wanted to introduce the elements of AFL in their school then I would suggest the essential elements would be:
- Have two or three enthusiastic members of staff to introduce and trail.
- Start small – identify a group / class to work with, where you think talk partners could really have an impact.
- Plan as a team / pair – to share ideas. Research the best approaches.
- Introduce the idea of talk partners to the group / class and establish ground rules.
- Start with one subject and trial talk partners in that subject – preferably daily.
- Monitor impact and get evidence.
- Plan for introduction across whole school.
- Staff training for all staff in school to get them on board and keep it going.
- ENJOY IT! This is my favourite process and I find it really positive and motivating.