University of Leicester eBulletin

Learning Through Talking

August 2003
No 209

50% of teachers and 74% of support staff feel they lack the requisite knowledge and skills in communication to interact successfully with class groups. 40% of those questioned did not like interactive learning that involved them working with others and sharing their experiences.

These were among the findings of the ESCalate Student Feedback Project, funded DfES Learning and Teaching Support Network, which will be presented at the British Education Research Association (BERA) in Edinburgh on 11 September 2003.                       

A course for teachers and support staff, to develop their knowledge and skills in the communicative process of learning, has been devised and evaluated as part of the research project directed by Dr Rosemary Sage, University of Leicester School of Education, in collaboration with Ms Stasia Cwenar, New College, Leicester.

The results have been illuminating, demonstrating that if educators are uncomfortable in interactive situations they are unlikely to use them with their students and offering clear statistical evidence for the necessity for this type of professional development.

The complexity of teaching and variability of the work context confirms that educators need to be reflective problem solvers in order to act appropriately, justifying a course in developing ways of thinking and communicating, rather than training in particular practices. The effect of the course on students in some cases has been dramatic.

A teacher commented:  ‘I allowed the student to talk for 75% of the time with me in contrast to previous lessons where my talk had dominated, giving him no chance to air his views. This was a turning point for the boy. He was a regular non-attendee, and now is a conscientious pupil. His attitude changed once he recognised I valued his contributions and allowed him to discuss ideas’.

Dr Rosemary Sage, Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Education, and Assistant Director of CIREA commented:  “What happens in schools? Teachers talk and pupils listen and then re-present this content in examinations. 

“By and large, knowledge acquired in school helps one to progress and satisfy assessment targets. What is learnt, however, bears little relevance to the demands made by the outside community, which depend on us being able to apply and adapt what we have learnt to new situations.

“To do this we must perceive links between knowledge and solve problems without others supplying either information or help.  There is a growing awareness that we need to focus more on the how of learning rather than the what. This moves us away from the restrictive notions of pedagogy (teaching children) and embraces the principles of andragogy (the art and science of helping people learn).

“This transition requires students to participate in learning, and their abilities to think and express, learn and problem-solve, are utterly dependent on skills of speaking and listening that allow the sharing, refining and reviewing of ideas. This demands that teachers learn how to interact with students rather than transmit facts to them.”

Note to editors:   Further information is available from Dr Rosemary Sage, Senior Lecturer, University of Leicester School of Education, Assistant Director of CIREA, tel 0116 252 5786, fax 0116 252 3653, email

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