Leela KoenigHead of Oracy

Oracy as a life skill

Monday 30 Oct 2017

Our take on the latest research: how oracy can improve classroom discussions, critical thinking and the development of life skills

It’s been a great few months for research projects looking into the impact of oracy in schools. Building an evidence base for oracy interventions is an important and necessary part of building the case for oracy in general, so we are keen to share our ideas about these three research projects.

The Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research (CEDiR) group hosted a presentation of the findings of two large-scale research projects, on the impact of introducing structured talk to the classroom.

The Impact of Dialogic Teaching

The first research project was presented by Dr Jan Hardman. Her team marked thousands of hours of classroom talk before and after receiving teacher training on Dialogic Teaching developed by Professor Robin Alexander. Funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the research found that students made an additional 1-2 months of progress when their teachers had received the training.

Besides increased attainment, the team also found something quite remarkable. They noticed a marked improvement in the variety of ways in which students expressed themselves. Where before, students made brief contributions to classroom discussions, they were now able to give both longer contributions, and more critical ones. They challenged, queried or further elaborated on other students’ points, showcasing an increased ability to verbalise critical thought.

The Value of Reasoning as a Team

The second piece of research was presented by Professor Christine Howe, and there were plenty of interesting findings there. The research focused on the link between the quality of dialogue in a team and student outcomes on a series of tests (SAT and PASS). Firstly, they found no correlation between dialogue practice and SEN or EAL status. Students were not significantly affected by this status in how they participated in group dialogue. A tentative conclusion here could be that the quality of one’s critical thought isn’t exclusively linguistic. You don’t need a sophisticated vocabulary to have a variety of critical thoughts.

The research also found no significant links between classroom dialogue and SAT scores. However, they did find that the more a student participates in a team and their participation consists of Elaboration or Querying, then there is a positive link with improved outcomes. This shows that reasoning together in a team has an impact on the ability of a student to do well at tests.

Life Lessons

The idea that reasoning together helps students do well at tests is important. Yet a new report from the Sutton Trust, called Life Lessons, shows us that academic attainment is not all that employers or teachers care about, and that top grades do not mean you are ready for the world of work. If you are having trouble communicating effectively (and are possibly therefore low in confidence) then you stand less of a chance to thrive in your job. The most disadvantaged get the least opportunities to attend a debate club and hone their skills in reasoning together in a team. Closing this opportunity gap might help to produce lifelong impacts: helping student in tests, interviews and in any job they choose.


Join in the debate by following the ESU on twitter, @ESUdebate.