The Truth About Teacher Talking Time (TTT)

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

An unfortunate stigma has been attached to Teacher Talking Time (TTT) in recent years. A common misconception is that the more a teacher talks, the less effective their lesson will be. This is simply not true. Teachers MUST talk to their students during lessons – for many and varied reasons. In today’s blog post I will describe the best ways to make use of Teacher Talking Time within the classroom. 

Accompanying Podcast Episode:

The official consensus

Unfortunately, the official advice published by much of world’s most respected educationalists is misleading at best, and downright inaccurate at worst. Just take a look at these examples:

  • TTT often means that the teacher is giving the students information that they could be finding out for themselves, such as grammar rules, the meanings of vocabulary items and corrections. Teacher explanations alone are often tedious, full of terminology and difficult to follow. There may be no indication of whether the students have understood.” – British Council
  • “Some EFL/ESL researchers say that students should speak for 70% of the lesson. Teachers should speak for 30% of the time. Of course, some lessons may require longer explanations on the part of the teacher. Or other lessons may only require a minimal amount of explanation, and 90% or more may be devoted to conversational activities. But this 70/30 figure works well as a goal in most classroom situations.”Kostadinovska-Stojchevska et. al, International Journal of Applied Language and Cultural Studies

The majority of the research on TTT has been carried out in English teaching/EFL/EAL settings – yet the conclusions derived are overwhelmingly extrapolated to other subject areas. This, in my opinion, presents everyday teachers with a double-edged sword: bad conclusions to begin with, applied to subject areas beyond the scope of the available research.

Teachers MUST talk to students

Let’s address the British Council’s statement on TTT first – that TTT replaces student-led inquiry all too often, and that teacher-explanations can be tedious, and that there may be no indication of whether the students have understood the content.

This simply isn’t true for most teachers. We are not robots that deliver monotonic talks from lecterns. We use voice inflections, quick-fire questioning, repetition of key words, movement and mannerisms and we are vigilant in checking that students have understood content along the way by providing directed tasks, such as worksheets, learning games and live quizzes.

Let’s also address the student-led research point the British Council makes. Project work, group explorations and directed investigations that encourage students to discover content for themselves work well for low stakes classes that have moderate, or simple content to get through in a large amount of time. Problems arise, however, when teachers try to do these exploration/student-led discovery tasks on a regular basis with advanced-level students who have massive amounts of content to get through in a limited amount of time. Such teachers often find that they fall behind schedule, because such tasks take up large amounts of time, and that students pick up big misconceptions and incomplete knowledge along the way. This time could be better spent on teacher-directed tasks, such as slide presentations, focussed explanations using the smartboard and past-exam papers, that offer clarity in a timely manner.

The 70/30 rule proposed by Kostadinovska-Stojchevska et. al. is also impractical in most subject areas, most of the time. Just think about all of the reasons why teachers may need to talk within a lesson:

  • To welcome students into class and begin starter activities, or to provide initial instructions – e.g. “Good morning, Year 10. Please take your seats and please log on to Google Classroom”
  • To offer verbal feedback in real-time via the live-marking process
  • To praise and encourage students
  • To provide instructions for project work, such as experiments, practical work, model building, group creation tasks, homework, etc.
  • To prompt students in real-time as we’re walking around the room – e.g. “Joshua, don’t forget to underline the title”, “Marisa, please highlight the key equation”, etc.
  • To explain things – e.g. by writing out worked solutions on the whiteboard/smartboard and describing the rationale for each step of the process
  • To sanction students and have those necessary one-to-one conversations, and to use effective behaviour management techniques (such as building rapport and using questioning to bring students back on task)
  • To direct and manage spatial learning tasks
  • To teach! (I know, what a shock!). We need to talk when describing, explaining, comparing and evaluating the content that the students need to learn for their tests and assessments (especially for advanced-level students).

As we can see from this list (and I’m sure there are more examples that you can think of), teachers need to talk A LOT during every lesson they deliver. In fact, one could really push some buttons within educational circles by stating an obvious truth – that effective lessons actually involve lots of TTT, as opposed just to the small amount we have been led to believe.

Conclusion

A shift in focus needs to happen within the teaching profession – from TTT to variety of tasks delivered in lessons. All too often, lesson observers cite excessive TTT as a weakness when, in actuality, lack of variety may have been a factor in lowering the effectiveness of a lesson.

TTT in-and-of itself is not detrimental to learning: it’s the ways in which we use our TTT that matter.

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK). Richard is the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know

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