The impact of ‘visibility protocols’ on raising the quality of pupils' exploratory talk in the secondary classroom

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Campbell, Alexandra
Koon, Sam
Tomsett, Clare
Educational Level
ISCED Level 3 Upper secondary education
Geographical Setting
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Background and Purpose: The participating teachers identified that, in the context of English and Classics lessons, pupils’ confidence and competence levels when engaging in Exploratory Talk can sometimes be poor. Accordingly, they wanted to develop an activity that could be used and adapted in different subject domains.
Aims: Recognising that exploratory talk is a tool that promotes cognitive engagement, the teachers wanted to support secondary pupils in being able to develop these skills so that their understanding of the course content would become more sophisticated and nuanced. They also wanted them to become more aspirational in the way that they articulated themselves, and decided that introducing different ‘visibility protocols’ was a way of achieving these aims.
Study Design or Methodology: The teachers used a research lesson study design, across three observation cycles, using three case students in each one. In total, there were 34 pupils participating in the lessons that were observed (24 in one class, and 10 in another). In the first and third observation cycle, the same case students were used. The pupils had been identified as being at different levels in terms of their academic ability and exploratory talk skills: high academic ability and high ‘talk’ competency/confidence, high academic ability and low ‘talk’ competency/confidence, low academic ability and low ‘talk’ competency/confidence. The project involved taking post-lesson feedback from pupils in the form of an evaluation form. After each lesson, the participating teachers also took part in reflective discussion, which both helped to form qualitative data and which informed the adaptation of the methodology.
Findings: By giving pupils clear success criteria for exploratory talk, some pupils were able to evaluate the quality of other peoples’ talk showing increased metacognitive awareness. Additionally, a ‘visible talk activity’ enabled some pupils to develop a better understanding of the skills required in the context of exploratory talk. The element of low-level threat that was involved also motivated some pupils to perform well. Indeed, it was noted that across the talk activities, some pupils demonstrated increased participation and confidence levels.
Implications for Practice: Methodologically, research lesson study is now starting to become embedded as a professional learning tool in the research school, due to the benefits realised through this for staff and student learning. Additionally, with regards to the research focus, the particpating teachers now have a sequence of ‘talk activities’ that could be used within lessons in their subject domains, and adapted to meet the needs of particular classes. Finally, beyond the immediate context of the school, and with some adaptation, it is felt that this sequence of ‘visible talk’ activities could work in different contexts (e.g. key stages, subjects).
Keywords (free text)
oracy, self-regulation, metacognition, visible talk, exploratory talk
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