“So basically, yeah, we said that you can use this so get rid of that, but its better innit to use this for the sand.”
Hmm. Not quite what I wanted my Year 7 to say when explaining how to separate a mixture of sand, salt and water.
How many times have you asked pupils from your class to feedback on a discussion, hoping that they will be able to articulate a thorough summary of the key points they argued over? And how many times have you been disappointed that they fumble for words, refer to all objects as ‘this’ and ‘that’, and use hardly any of the key words that you spent the whole of the previous lesson emphasising? I am definitely guilty of this, and have been frustrated by it, without really reflecting on what the specific problem was and how I might go about dealing with it. Sub-consciously, I might later ask a more articulate pupil to report back on a discussion, tricking myself in the process, that progress has been made, and that my pupils can give better explanations. No, no, no!
The problem lies in the fact that whilst I am expecting my pupils to articulate a scientific thesis and discussion, I am not doing any explicit planning or teaching to support them with it. It seems obvious to me in hindsight, but if only I had scaffolded the discussion to make explicit to my pupils exactly how I was expecting them to feedback their discussion, they might actually do it.
So what was my solution? A speaking frame.
We often give our pupils writing frames, which might include sentence starters and key connectives to scaffold coherence into their work, but I am beginning to discover the power of speaking frames. The speaking frame is used by pupils to report back a discussion, and it is amazing just how much of an impact it had on pupils’ articulacy.
So, back the task that I set my Year 7 pupils: I gave them a set of equipment, and a mixture of salt, water and sand. I asked them to discuss exactly how they would separate the mixture.
The result was incredible. I was so surprised at the difference that it made. One pupil’s response sounded something like this:
“The aim of our discussion was to find a way to separate salt, water and sand. To begin with we discussed how we would separate the sand. We then moved on to discuss how to separate the salt from the water. We all agreed that we would use a funnel and filter paper to separate the sand… ” etc.
Compare this to the first sentence of this post, and you can begin to appreciate the possible impact of the speaking frame. If we expect our pupils to do something, we need to firstly make it explicit, by modelling it and by sharing with them exactly what we expect. Secondly, we must scaffold it, especially if it is a skill they struggle with, and then give them ample opportunity to practice and give feedback.