Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk: Researching Oral Language in the Classroom by Karen Gallas, et. al. from Language Development: A Reader for Teachers (2002)

This chapter from the Power and Hubbard text was written by Karen Gallas and her teacher-reseacher colleagues tracing their work over the period of several years. (Gallas has also written “Talking Their Way into Science”, 1995.) I included this chapter because it gives us insight into the complexity of “teaching language skills.”

The authors note a number of domains of oral language in the classroom: greeting, salutation, negotiations, instructions, questions, explanations, discussions, small talk, science talk, book talk, discussing writing, talking about a painting reading a poem, telling a story…to mention a few. The examples range from the talk of kindergartners to 7th graders.

Early in the chapter, the authors note:

 “Talk is an inherently social act. In classrooms, however, teachers generally corral language by defining when children talk, what they are supposed to talk about and for how long. We also have implicit rules governing how talk can be used across classroom activities, requiring students to crack these code, as it were, and develop a language kit of discourses to suit the needs of different contexts. But the school is a site of may discourses in contact including both those discourses that come from students’ cultural background—their out-of-school ways of talking, reasoning, and valuing—and the many specialized discourse that are a part of the academic domain.Math, science, social studies, art, gym, music, books studies, and writing workshops all stand as distinct discourse that children must master. But discourses, by definition are complexly situated, socially, culturally, and historically.” (p. 130) (Bold mine)

 It is not clear why we consider “talking” such a natural ability. It seems there is much to learn about “talking” and how to help children develop the oral language skills necessary for school success, even as early as kindergarten. Gallas and her colleagues offer us many aspects of language development to consider:

 Gallas: Talking the Talk; Walking the Walk


*MULTIPLE GENRE (greetings, negotiations, discussions, explanations, story telling, etc.)

*Background: ways of talking, reasoning, valuing. Discourse involves values and viewpoints

*Kids have MULTIPLE INTENTIONS when they talk

*Need to BRIDGE between home and base based ways of talking (different expectations)

*START WHERE KIDS ARE AND HONOR THEIR INTENTIONS. Work to understand what they understand.

*Acknowledge tension/create balance between discourses

*Give kids a “point of entry” in a conversation

*Social dynamics influence learning