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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Talking and the Eleven Plus Lesson

There is saying in education that a lesson is made up of two thirds talk. To some that appears to present a perfectly reasonable ratio. Then comes the crunch statistic – and the important number is that two thirds of the talking is taken up by the teacher. In a class lesson, therefore, the teacher is talking for four ninths of the lesson – or for around twenty five minutes in an hour or around thirteen minutes in thirty minutes.

Teachers also feel the need to question their children on what has been taught. In a carefully prepared lesson – after all the talking and the questions – there must be little time for actual work.

This statement them promotes another series of questions – what is work in an eleven plus question? Is it listening to a teacher talking? Is it working through a series of exercises? Some children will want to break the `lesson’ by looking in a dictionary to understand the meaning of any new and unfamiliar words. Other children will simply nod silently when an explanation is offered and then want to do more questions. Eleven Plus preparation then becomes doing more questions one after another. Conscientious work will vary from lesson to lesson.

When parents are working with their children towards the eleven plus there are likely to be two extremes. One could be: “Do the paper, mark it and then bring it to me so we can go over any problems.” This could be a paraphrase of: “Do the paper, mark it and then take the paper to your teacher or tutor.” The shortened version then becomes: “Do the paper, take to your tutor to be marked. Your tutor will go over any problems.”

Other parents will want to sit beside their children working on the paper together – question by question. Their child therefore gets immediate feedback. This builds great rapport. The benefit of the close relationship between patent and child is immediately obvious. The problem comes in the examination. If the child is so used to working `together’ then everything could fall apart in the examination when there can never be any outside help.

It is unlikely that there will have been much of an opportunity for any research into how many words a child will speak in a typical eleven plus lesson. First of all there can be no typical eleven plus lesson – unless the teacher or tutor is lecturing. Secondly part of a lesson could be new or difficult work where there would be a need for many words. On easy or familiar work the parent or teacher would naturally need to speak less.

Perhaps the only words that need to be monitored are those when the child deviates from the lesson. Every one knows that a child learns best when he or she is stimulated by something of interest. It would be wonderful for children if the content of an eleven plus course could be challenging as well as interesting. Many bright children won’t want lessons that are totally dependant on a torrent of words from the parent or tutor. After all we could easily check the veracity of this discourse by simply asking are children:

“Am I talking too much?”

This then leads to another truism: “Never ask a question if you do not already know the answer.” After all your child may slip through your defences and give credence to the statement: “Never ask a question if you do not want to hear the answer.”

In your next lesson why not sit down with two stop watches. Time how long you talk. Encourage your child to time his or her words. No one can say what the right balance is – but the end result may be illuminating.

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