Chalk and Talk

Believe it or not I hadn’t heard of Chalk and Talk until a couple of years ago. I never heard the phrase during my PGCE, but most teachers I know are very familiar with the phrase – and it’s often seen as a very unpopular method of teaching.

I recall my own GCSE History lessons in particular. They would usually consist of 30-40 minutes of the teacher talking about a topic and writing notes on the blackboard (yes, I am that old…). We would go through two or three sheets of A4 lined paper per lesson making notes and / or copying what was written on the whiteboard, followed by answering questions from a text book, cloze exercises, etc. At the end of the 4th Year (that’s Y10 in old money) I had a pretty full lever-arch file full of notes all ready for revision.

Nowadays it’s all about chunking, scaffolding, pacey lessons, engaging students, starters, plenaries, mini-plenaries, mini-starters, checkpoints, self-assessment, peer-assessment, kinaesthetic activities and so on.

I’m not suggesting the old method had none of these things, nor that these newer* ideas are a bad thing – but the lessons we had (in a mixed ability class in an inclusive secondary school, no selective grammar stuff here) were formulaic, taught rather than facilitated, taught engagingly and helped me to learn an awful lot of stuff. I enjoyed them.

That said, we are encouraged to teach in a more modular style these days – do this for ten minutes, then think about that for 5, then reflect and move on to something else. The idea of standing at the front of the class and talking to (at) them is generally frowned upon. And yet…

My GCSE Computing students have been learning to program in Python for about 6 weeks now. We’ve looked at various concepts (input, output, variables, assignment, selection, iteration and comments for those who are interested, although it’s not essential to my point) and while some students are away with it and are really enjoying themselves there are a couple of students who are struggling. And you know what they asked for? A lecture.

They asked for me to spend at least 1 full lesson with a pen and a whiteboard just talking through some of the concepts so that they can make notes in a book. We have discussed the concepts as I’ve introduced them, I’ve written them a text book with all of the concepts explained, with examples, and we’ve done lots and lots of practical exercises and written tasks. All chunked, evaluated, reviewed, with starters, with plenaries, with checkpoints, etc. But what these students want is for me to do what my History teacher did all those years ago. To stand at the front, to tell them what I need to know (albeit in an engaging manner) and to let them write this stuff down in their own words.

So talk and chalk. It’s not an anathema to teachers, nor to students. It’s another valuable tool in our arsenal and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

* I’m aware that these concepts aren’t necessarily “new” as such, but certainly they are more prevalent in lessons and lesson planning now than they were 15 years ago when I was in Y10

 

Image attribution: That Huge Lecture Theatre! Originally uploaded by teddy-rised

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5 thoughts on “Chalk and Talk

  1. Variety is the spice of life, as Roy Huggins would say. Every method is viable as long as it helps the students learn and what they are looking for (as it appears to me) is guidance on the knowledge aspects so they can then go away and do the more interesting stuff.

  2. Andy Hampton says:

    As a Head I have often seen teachers wrap up the learning with impressive bells and whistles but have Failed to actually teach anything at any point. They feel ashamed to stand and deliver which I encourage them to do, albeit briefly and pithily. For myself I usually tell my students, ” I’m going to spend a few minutes now telling you about this so you’ll understand. I’m going to teach you!”

    • Ultimately the method of delivery is only as good as the learning behind it. There are many times that I, as a huge enthusiast, when it comes to variety; using tech in the classroom; breaking kids in to groups; independent learning etc, etc… come back to chalk and talk. After all, sometimes it is important for us to remember that we are the experts in the room and as Mark has experienced (our) students want to learn from us.

      I think that you are hitting the nail on the head Andy when you suggest that some teachers feel ashamed to stand and deliver, perhaps because of current trends in schools and from Ofsted to focus on these 20 part lessons with multiple reflective plenaries and time spent unpacking how you learned on top of what you learned. This in my opinion is divisive as it makes some teachers whose methods may be deemed by some to be “old school” stand out like pariahs for not following the heard. It also limits the opportunities for deep learning that can come from listening to an expert; or from an extended project where the students work on an activity for a full 30 minutes <– "What! You can do that – how will you know if they are learning anything?"

      Teachers need to be allowed to focus on the learning and decide, for every piece of learning that they believe a student needs/wants, what the best method of delivery/learning will help their students walk away with a confident understanding.

      It's time that everyone – students, parents, teachers, heads and the government got on board with the idea that not one person / body knows exactly what the right way to learn is. Maybe then we could all get down to the business of collaboration to celebrate and improve all methods of learning and teaching because they each have their place.

  3. Dughall McCormick says:

    “But what these students want is for me to do what my History teacher did all those years ago. To stand at the front, to tell them what I need to know (albeit in an engaging manner) and to let them write this stuff down in their own words.”

    Although I’m sure this is usually a legitimate desire, I do sometimes worry that this ‘just tell me what I need to know’ attitude is a sad symptom of the standards/results driven system.

    • While I know what you mean and I’ve come across it more than once, I think this case was genuine. The students in question weren’t following what I was trying to do in practical (programming) sessions and wanted some notes to refer to and a more clear explanation of the mechanics behind what they were learning (rather than “can you stop trying to teach us the course and just tell us the answers”). In the process of doing so I realised I had glossed over some key concepts too quickly and actually the 1 hour lesson yesterday (that took me about 3 hours prep time) did an awful lot of good (at least I felt so… time will tell). I wouldn’t say they’ve all ‘got it’ just yet, but we’re a step closer and the momentum is in the right direction.

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