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Talk-Less with Isabella Wallace – PP45

The topic of the week is Talk-Less with Isabella Wallace.


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For our first episode of the new academic year, we welcomed award-winning teacher, author and consultant, Isabella Wallace, to the podcast.

Isabella taught in the classroom for 16 years and held senior positions in schools including staff coaching. She became an Advanced Skills Teacher because she didn’t want to get pulled into management, out of the classroom. She enjoyed this role as it led to work across all the Key Stages and across schools. As part of this role and as a result of publishing her first book, Pimp Your Lesson, she began to train teachers.

What convinced Isabella to go into training was the sheer number of poor INSET days she had to sit through in her time as a teacher. In fact, she can only think of one session which was worthwhile.

Isabella believes that training needs to be practically useful and have an impact on classroom practice. It should make classroom teachers’ busy lives easier.

podcast2Isabella explains that the first version of ‘Pimp Your Lesson’ was born out of a desire to help classroom teachers not be so nervous about lesson observation. She talks about her own experience of going into ‘nervous worry mode’ when she knew she was going to be observed. Today, great teaching over time is more valued that single observations so the book has changed its focus towards a focus on each aspect of consistently great teaching, establishing outstanding learning as the ‘typicality’ in your classroom.

Paul asks if there is now any need to ‘put on a show’ for OFSTED inspectors. Isabella points out that any lesson which is observed is naturally going to be different to a standard lesson due to nerves. She warns against using strategies which you have never tried before. Much better is to set up routines in your classroom so that outstanding learning is happening routinely every day so when anyone drops in they just see naturally the amazing things you do.

An ‘unofficial’ piece of advice is to avoid the remarkable things happening in your classroom being missed.

If you are doing amazing things, for example in your differentiation, that even an expert might miss, take the opportunity to make sure the observer knows about it.

Take a minute to speak directly to the inspector and explain how you have set things up in your lesson to make is the bast it can be for all the children. Make it visible to the person who will be judging you.

Isabella’s new book is Talk-Less Teaching. Isabella outlines the basis of the book with is that teachers who talk too much in the classroom risk missing essential information during the lesson about the understanding of learners.

If we monitor and control the amount and quality of teacher talk in our lessons, we can focus on gathering feedback from the learners about their progress during lessons.

This way, a teacher can assess the impact of their teaching as they teach. The book is about teaching responsibly. It’s about not waiting until you take the books in a week later to discover half the class didn’t take in what you were saying. You can use strategies during the lesson to spot who’s ‘got it’ and who hasn’t, who is already streets ahead and who might need some intervention.

Isabella often films lessons. She invariably finds that teachers discover they were talking more than they thought they were. However, the most interesting aspect of these filming sessions becomes apparent when the teacher realises the camera is pointed not at them but at the students. This makes it possible to spot and learn the facial expressions of students – who is engaged, who has ‘switched off’.

Paul often records a teacher and then tells them to see how much they were talking during the lesson. The next week they are only allowed to talk half as much. Then after two more weeks, the time is cut in half again. This is not necessarily to promote more learning but to see how the children react, to see what the behaviour issues are, to see if the children start to become more self-reliant. This is a great piece of action research and encourages teaching to concentrate on the quality of their talk – if they talk half as much it will need to be twice as effective.

Paul asks about teachers particularly in some sixth forms who use a didactic approach but get great results – how can we persuade them to consider talking less? Isabella points out that part of our role is to ‘turn decent people out into the world’ – people who can be self-reliant, pro-active and think for themselves. Isabella says she can almost guarantee that this style of teaching won’t be working for every single pupil. Paul points out that higher education establishments are now looking for so much more than just academic qualifications and we need as teachers to leave our students equipped to take the next step.

In the best lessons, the pupils will ask more questions than the teacher.

This means that students are closing their own gaps, rather than answering questions often from their existing knowledge and understanding.

Finally, Isabella explains that one of the most exiting things she is now working on is her new charity, Reach Out To Schools.

“ReachOut2Schools is an exciting new project which brings together educators and consultants to provide high quality professional development for teachers in impoverished schools overseas. Our objective is simple, but challenging; to facilitate the creation of learning environments that teach children the skills they need today to make for themselves better tomorrows.”

She is looking for teachers and trainers to join the projects – please visit the site and get involved.

@wallaceisabella on Twitter

There is so much more in the episode, please do listen right to the end!

Announcements and events:

Behaviour management online course for STEM teachers

Pivotal Curriculum training

What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

Get involved:

Appear on the podcast yourself by sending in a comment or question via either of the two answerphone hotlines:

Telephone Hotline Telephone Hotline – 0844 579 6949, Mailbox number 23161 Microphone Computer Hotline (SpeakPipe)

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