PETAA PAPER 211

Mentor and mentee

The Power of Teacher Talk: Developing quality mentoring relationships

By Gill Pennington and Margaret Turnbull

Setting up mentoring relationships in order to share and extend new skills and practices is a long tradition. Nearly 3000 years ago, in the Greek classic The Odyssey, Homer describes how the goddess of wisdom, Athena, took the form of a respected male elder, named Mentor, to provide advice and counsel to Telemachus, the son of Ulysses. In the process, such nurturing relationships were given a model and a name: A mentor provides a protégé with guidance to promote his or her success in the wider world (Wedin, 2003, page 41).

Within high performing education systems around the world, models of mentoring are now well established as part of successful professional learning programs in schools (Jensen, Hunter, Sonnemann & Cooper, 2014). These programs of intensive teacher mentoring and coaching involve regular classroom observations, reflection and feedback. Shanghai, for example, runs mentoring programs for all its teachers, focusing on the diagnosis of learning needs, subject-specific pedagogy and classroom management skills.

And yet OECD research shows that while many countries engage in mentoring programs, these are not always done well (cited in Jensen, 2014), and the authors warn that not all collaboration amongst teachers is good, with too much time spent on administrative issues. The purpose of effective mentoring — and indeed other forms of professional collaboration — must be to improve student outcomes, allowing teachers to learn from each other through shared practice and reflective feedback.

In a review of research examining conditions for professional learning that impact positively on student outcomes, Timperley (2008) concludes that sustained improvement in student outcomes requires teachers to have sound theoretical knowledge, evidence-informed inquiry skills, and supportive organisational conditions.

Using our own experiences of successful mentoring, this paper explores ways of improving the quality of such relationships in schools by focusing on professional dialogue, extending understandings of the value of talk in the classroom to teachers’ professional discourse. We draw on research into both dialogic pedagogies and effective professional learning to frame our approach to setting up mentoring relationships.

The first section explores oral language as a tool for learning, providing some of the theoretical knowledge which we believe will be helpful for teachers who wish to inform and challenge their pedagogical practice.

The second section examines changes to traditional notions of mentoring, identifying key characteristics, and providing examples, of effective support and guidance for teachers, followed by a framework which may be helpful for the setting up of sustainable mentoring relationships within and across schools.

The value of oral language: enhancing teacher talk in the classroom

Within everyday discourse there are plenty of references to the benefits of talking together. We socialise by catching up for a chat or a chinwag, we problem-solve by talking it over and we enter into discussions at the beginning of a business agreement.

Related publication

Talking the Talk: Snapshots from Australian Classrooms

ePub  | Print

‘If we value the opportunity to help students so that they might see themselves as capable doers and thinkers, then we will equally value the role of professional talk as a way of building teachers’ capacity to see themselves as capable and reflective practitioners.’

In the first years of life, young children demonstrate a developing mastery of their home language by talking about their early experiences, exploring, describing and sharing their growing knowledge of the world and their place within it. Their early attempts at conversation are greeted with delight and encouragement by care-givers, who seamlessly model effective turn taking and extend the dialogue by confirming and requesting new information or introducing different and challenging vocabulary.

But as children begin formal schooling, opportunities to extend this kind of spontaneous exploratory language often become more limited. Children’s talk is subject to established patterns within the classroom as they are encouraged to listen to the teacher and talk at particular times and in particular ways. The dominant structure in most classroom talk sequences has been described as the Initiation-Response-Evaluation/Feedback (or IRF) exchange (Gibbons, 2002; Edwards-Groves, Anstey & Bull, 2014), where the teacher initiates a topic, a student responds and the teacher evaluates the response (‘that’s right!’ or ‘nearly …’) or provides a particular type of feedback (‘well done!’ or ‘good try!’). Within this structure, the teacher controls the talk moves and — more significantly — decides what is relevant to the focus of the inquiry (Cazden, 1988). While such interaction patterns can at times be very useful, it is clear that teachers often end up talking much more than their students, thus denying them the chance to engage in extended and productive dialogue.

Reflecting on this pattern of talk might lead to ways of extending the dialogue in a mentoring relationship, allowing teachers to explore not just the ‘what’, but also the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their pedagogy (See Examples 1 and 2). ​

EXAMPLE 1 A typical IRF interaction might be:

 T
What is this shape?
 S Hexagon
 T Good work!

EXAMPLE 2 Extending the IRF:

 T What is this shape?
 S Hexagon
 T That’s correct. How do you know?
 S It’s got six sides.
 T Right … now turn to your partner and talk about what else you know about hexagons.

The notion of language — and in particular, talk — as a mediating tool for learning derives from a sociocultural perspective on development: Vygotsky (1978) proposed a close connection between language as a cultural tool used in social interaction and the use of language as a psychological tool in the development of cognition. Learning thus originates in the social mediation provided by interactions; in the classroom, it thrives in collaboration with a more competent other — usually the teacher — through assisted performance and in the context of shared activity. Mercer (2000) sees talk as the principal tool for creating this framework for learning, with productive dialogue assisting students to, for example, question, recap, reformulate and elaborate on their growing knowledge and understanding. He identifies an ‘intermental development zone’ (IDZ), a shared communicative space constituted through dialogue where teacher and learners can think (and talk) together through the activity in which they are involved. While Mercer applies this model to classroom teaching, such dialogic interaction also has value for teachers engaged in professional dialogue within a mentoring relationship, considering together issues of pedagogy and classroom practice.

The more recent emphasis on the role of oral language in learning is well documented (Myhill, 2006; Alexander, 2008; Wegerif, 2011; Edwards-Groves, Anstey & Bull, 2014), with the benefits of the ‘dialogic turn’ in classroom talk analysed extensively within the latest PETAA publication Talking the talk: snapshots from Australian classrooms (Jones, Simpson and Thwaite, (2018). As part of this introduction to talking about teacher talk, we also include reference to research into ‘becoming’ in classroom talk (Dufficy, 2005), work that explores how patterns of communication frame for students the kind of learners — and people — they are, and can become. Through more open forms of classroom dialogue, Dufficy argues, students are assisted to develop critical thinking, respect for the viewpoint of others, courage to put forward a new idea and ‘resilience as they come to see uncertainty and mistakes in thinking as the very building blocks of thought itself’ (page 77). His insights into the role that talk plays in the emotional and affective development of bilingual learners can also make an important contribution to contexts of mainstream classrooms and teacher professional learning. If we value the opportunity to help students to take cognitive and linguistic risks so that they might see themselves as capable doers and thinkers, then we will equally value the role of professional talk as a way of building teachers’ capacity to see themselves as capable and reflective practitioners.

By engaging in a dialogic pedagogy, teachers can utilise the power of talk to shape children’s thinking, involving them in an active process of learning and critical reflection.’ (Alexander, 2005)

Teachers talking over coffee

Improving talk between teachers

We have briefly outlined the value of developing new patterns of talk in the classroom. By engaging in a dialogic pedagogy, teachers can utilise the power of talk to shape children’s thinking, involving them in an active process of learning and critical reflection (Alexander, 2005). For the purposes of our current focus on mentoring, we now summarise these ideas by considering Alexander’s conditions for dialogic pedagogy and relating them to talk between teachers in the context of their own professional learning.

The first of these criteria suggests that learning should be collective: teachers can be encouraged to deal with learning tasks together, having agreed on a common goal or focus of enquiry, thus making their inquiry purposeful. Interactions should be reciprocal, where all participants listen to each other, sharing ideas and viewpoints. In contrast to traditional roles of novice and expert, the professional learning enacted through talk can evoke more symmetrical relationships, with individual knowledge and expertise shared according to the context of the task. A dialogic pedagogy is supportive, creating an atmosphere of cooperation where ideas are freely articulated without fear of being wrong, encouraging all teachers to see themselves as worthy contributors. Finally the knowledge and understandings that evolve from professional discussions are cumulative, building on shared ideas and connecting them to form coherent beliefs and practices which can be translated into teaching frameworks and whole-school policies.

Mentoring: extending dialogue for sustained teacher learning

Teaching is a complex practice: the development of teaching proficiency is, therefore, far more than the mastery of a set of decontextualised skills, knowledge and understandings. Walker (in Furlong and Maynard, 1995) describes teaching as the ‘orchestration of variables’ (page 31) recognising that the develop-ment of professional knowledge is not something to be scripted or packaged as a one-size fits all. Good professional learning supports teachers to select, adapt and develop evidence-based teaching practices that meet the needs of students in their particular teaching sites without compromising curriculum integrity. It builds teachers’ confidence to deal with the many competing pressures to adopt the sometimes simplistic commercial solutions to complex classroom challenges. Furlong and Maynard (1995) warn against the limitations of competency training which ‘produces people who are able to teach but who do not understand what (or why) they are doing’ (page 32).

They describe the need for professionals to ‘develop habits of mind including the ability and commitment to critically examine their own practice. In other words, they need to learn to reflect’ (page 33).

Quality mentoring relationships have the potential to meet such challenges by supporting teachers to critically reflect on their practice. This can move teachers from an intuitive form of teaching, a kind of ‘knowing-in-action’, to a more conscious awareness of decisions that inform practice, what Schon (1987) sees as ‘reflection-in-action’ (page 28). Schon describes how the reflective practice is strengthened if it is systematically structured and supported by an experienced practitioner.

Two teachers in conversation

EXAMPLE 3

In a morning maths lesson, students are giving a routine report back to the whole group but this time there is what Schon calls a surprise, an unexpected outcome, which does not fit the teacher’s ‘knowing-in-action’. A new student has been unable to complete the report back, thus challenging the teacher’s assumptions that ‘all students can automatically complete a report’. Later she reflects with one of her mentors about the lesson, thus clarifying her understandings:

 Mentor So why do you think this student was unable to complete the report?
 Teacher Well on reflection I guess she’s not used to it … I presumed that all classes follow this practice of reporting back but maybe she hasn’t had to do it before …
 Mentor And is there anything else which might impact on her attempts to complete this report?
 Teacher Well … she’s an EAL/D learner … not a new arrival but she hasn’t had the experience of English that the other students have … I suppose that would make her more apprehensive.
 Mentor So let’s think of other ways she might get her message across …
 Teacher Well how about I get her to show, rather than report on, her results …
 Mentor Good idea … and maybe she could partner up with someone so she learns how to say it with them? How about you try that tomorrow when I’m visiting the class and we can see how it goes?

Together, through exploratory talk, they develop new understandings and new approaches to the problem that the teacher may not have considered if working alone. Over time the learning is cumulative, with the potential to develop a broader repertoire of strategies to respond to the increasing diversity of students in the class. The supportive interactions within mentor relationships allow teachers to verbalise inner thoughts, thus transforming intuitive teaching into more considered and systematic practice.

Importantly, the traditional view of Homer’s mentor as the sole keeper of wisdom has evolved into a broader notion of distributed knowledge. Expertise no longer resides exclusively in one person but develops through professional collaboration, inquiry and reflection, with knowledgeable others sharing their experience and skills within the particular environment of the learning. In effective mentoring relationships different individuals are invited to take on the role of facilitator of reflective practices, a role which develops in response to local contexts and opportunities. So, in the same way as dialogic pedagogy represents learning as a negotiated co-construction between teacher and student (Alexander, 2005), we see this kind of professional learning co-created through purposeful interactions between teachers within a designated dialogic space.

Characteristics of successful mentoring relationships

Venn diagram for Sayings, Doings and RelatingsMentoring can be enacted in a variety of participant structures – pairs, small groups or larger teams within and across schools. The goal in effective mentoring is to create learning-focused interactions that utilise substantive talk and dialogic pedagogies to build inclusive learning communities where participants have shared responsibility in learning and teaching (Timperley, 2008).

In this paper we adopt the ‘sayings’, ‘doings’ and ‘relatings’ framework used by Edwards-Groves, Anstey and Bull (2014) to describe the interactive space for student learning and apply it to teacher professional learning. They use this framework to understand the nature of interactions that exist in the classroom to build learning. From our own experience working with teachers, the same framework can be applied to understand how mentoring practices are formed through talk that takes place:

  • ‘through sayings in semantic space where people make meaning
  • through doings in physical space-time where people do things at particular times both as individuals or as a collective
  • through relatings in social space where people interact with one another’ (Edwards-Groves, Anstey and Bull, 2014, page 157)

In this representation, the three key elements (in Figure 1 adjacent and described below) overlap in the centre zone which creates the space for mentoring relationships to occur. We will now step through the model taking our ‘distinctive project’ as the desire to boost the quality of classroom talk.

Alexander describes a repertoire of talk practices used in the classroom to develop ideas and language, and to build knowledge and understanding and substantive dialogue (2008).

SAYINGS: Professional dialogue to develop understandings

Woman in discussionThis dimension of the model focuses on the creation of dialogic space where talk about oral language can happen. Alexander (2008) describes a repertoire of talk practices used in the classroom to develop ideas and language, and to build knowledge and understanding and substantive dialogue. These talk practices enable teachers to enhance interactions both in the classroom and in their mentoring relationships.

Teachers engaging in learning talk

Sustaining, extending and deepening thinking — In group discussions, teachers can be invited to extend their explanations by stating reasons or giving evidence. Consultancy protocols provide a set of ‘rules’ which structure a conversation. Even in the most compatible interactions these are useful for ensuring everyone has a say. In this ‘last word’ protocol each person is given the floor for one minute to explain their point and give reasons. Others in the group have one minute each to respond before the first person has the final word. This enables teachers to build on ideas and provide elaborations or reasons to substantiate their claim.

EXAMPLE 4

Teachers working on the same year group are reviewing work samples to decide whether there is evidence of student improvement as the result of an intervention. Each teacher reviews the samples making their own annotations. Each teacher has an opportunity to describe what the student has achieved and the next steps for teaching, before the original teacher has a chance to add the last word.

Open questioning — Open questioning can invite teachers to think more deeply about a topic. In the same way as our earlier example demonstrated ways of extending the IRF with students, this type of questioning provides an intellectual push to teachers, assisting them to develop multiple perspectives on a topic.

EXAMPLE 5

A teacher is leading/mentoring a team discussion to reflect on a collaboratively developed lesson and inform refinements before it is implemented again. The lesson aims to create opportunities for students to use descriptive language. The questions from the mentor are open ended:

  • What did you notice?
  • How was this lesson different from others?
  • How did the classroom interactions change?
  • What did you notice about students’ language?
  • How did students use descriptive language in their interactions?
  • How could you adapt the lesson to encourage great use of descriptive language?
  • What did you notice about students’ behaviour?
  • What did you notice about your own behaviour/feelings?

Linking to prior learning, pointing forward to new learning, recapping — In an effective lesson a teacher will often begin by making reference to learning in a previous lesson or to students’ out-of-school experiences so that new learning is linked to students’ existing schema. Classroom interactions also point forward, linking new learning to broader learning goals and the curriculum. Such interactions are powerful in building a conceptual framework for better and deeper learning. The same strategies can be applied to cumulative professional discussions connecting new learning to existing theoretical frameworks, learning goals and whole-school policies.

EXAMPLE 6

Articulate shared teacher learning goals: Our stage team identified a shared goal of improving students’ learning outcomes in numeracy through developing their reflective talk about learning. As a team, we decided we needed to develop better understandings of numeracy development and a broader repertoire of reflective talk strategies. These were articulated and displayed in the professional learning room. Over time the team recorded its progress, documenting student progress as well as our developing understandings and teaching repertoires.

EXAMPLE 7

Structured team meetings: Team meetings can be structured to ensure an explicit focus on teacher learning with an introduction summarising learning goals and learning from previous meetings and finishing by recapping new learning. Regular moderation workshops examine and analyse maths work samples including videos of student interactions engaged in early numeracy activities. The moderation activities not only highlight the areas of support for students but also build teachers’ understanding of numeracy development and enrich their repertoire of teaching practices.

‘... collaborative teaching that engages in cycles of action learning strengthens the mentoring relationship ...’ Davison (2006)

Teachers in conference

DOINGS: Arrangements of actions and activities to support interactions

This dimension of the model (see Figure 1 above) focuses on the creation of school structures that support the systematic reflection and dialogic interactions for successful teacher mentoring. These ‘doings’ involve setting up dedicated space, time, tools, processes or people required to sustain mentoring. Such systematic approaches to mentoring provide structured opportunities for collective, purposeful and cumulative talk and build a culture of reflection that impacts on both teacher and student learning. Systems for building sustained mentoring relationships include cycles of learning and action, team teaching and action learning, and lesson study.

Cycles of learning and action

There are numerous approaches to structuring cycles of learning and action but all involve a cycle of planning (collecting evidence, deciding on a focus and planning actions), acting, observing (observing practice and collecting data) and reflecting (analysing observational data, and deciding next steps).

EXAMPLE 8

A whole-school program of action learning: A team of grade teachers have participated in the Teaching English Language Learners (TELL) whole school professional learning program. As part of the course teachers participate in action research to explore an aspect of the course as it applies to their student cohort. School A wants to investigate the potential for oral interaction to improve writing. With the mentoring support of their EAL/D regional consultant, they collect evidence of student interactions and samples of student writing as baseline data. Drawing on knowledge gained through the TELL course, they develop a number of teaching sequences to scaffold student interaction and create more opportunities for purposeful student talk. The external EAL/D consultant is engaged to work with the team to observe, reflect on and revise lessons sequences. With strategic questioning the consultant prompts teachers to reflect on the course learning in relation to their own learning goals. The action research is completed only after the team presents their research findings – a process that helps them analyse their evidence and articulate their learning.

EXAMPLE 9

School clusters in action learning: Instructional Leaders in a local cluster of schools identified shared concerns about learners in the early years who did not seem to be progressing as expected. The Instructional Leaders, acting in a mentoring role, planned a collaborative program of action research involving teams of Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 teachers across their schools. While the professional learning was jointly negotiated and the learning goals and theoretical underpinnings were identical, the initiatives undertaken were particular to each school team. The resulting learning from the action research was richer because of the quality of the interactions between the high number of participating teachers and instructional leaders.

EXAMPLE 10

Sustaining action learning (Handover): The University of Western Sydney’s Fair Go Project supports schools through a process of action learning to increase student engagement. It is implemented over a series of action learning cycles aiming to gradually build capacity of the school team towards increasing independence. In its first iteration an academic acts as a critical friend, developing the knowledge base and the system of action learning. As the action learning is implemented, teachers in the same school ‘shadow’ the mentor so that the action research can be expanded to other teams across the school for sustained whole school change.

Team teaching and action learning

Team teaching partnerships have the potential to evolve into effective mentoring relationships strengthening both teachers’ expertise and student learning. Davison (2006) argues that collaborative teaching that engages in cycles of action learning strengthens the mentoring relationship and builds a culture of learning in the classroom.

EXAMPLE 11

In School B team teaching was typically seen as a way of integrating the specialist EAL/D teacher and subject or class teacher expertise to effectively teach language in the context of curriculum learning. An action learning process was introduced by the instructional leader as a way of supporting the mentoring relationship between the EAL/D teacher and the Stage 1 class teacher. The teachers collaboratively implemented an action research process and after observations and data analysis decided to focus on developing students’ oral language to improve literacy skills. With this as a shared goal, their teaching became more purposeful, focusing each lesson on observing student interactions and progress. Their planning time was used to analyse work samples, reflect on their teaching practice and plan next steps to refine practice. Over time they were less focused on their separate roles and separate expertise and more focused on their shared learning. It was the shared goals and reflective practices of action learning that built a strong two-way mentoring relationship.

Lesson study

Lesson study applies to the process and principles of action learning at the micro level of the lesson. After initial discussion, teachers collaboratively identify a pedagogical focus and together design a lesson to realise their learning goals. The lesson is taught collectively and evidence collected and analysed. The group refines the lesson on the basis of the shared analysis, engaging in critical questioning and joint reflection. To extend the richness of learning from the lesson study process expand to teachers in other local schools. When sustained over time, lesson study provides another structured opportunity for collective, purposeful and cumulative talk.

EXAMPLE 12

Flow diagram for the sequence of processes in lesson study

Example 12 Source: NSW Department of Education and Training (2009)

A whole school model for teacher action learning

‘Teachers as researchers’ was the name of a whole school initiative established to engage all teachers in a process of action learning. The structure of regular stage team meetings provided targeted time for each team to engage in action learning cycles. Stage teams came together in whole school meetings dedicated to action learning. In the whole school meetings teachers reflected on common learning goals for students and realised the collaboration across teams deepened their understanding of teaching practices and strengthened the culture of learning in the school.

Example 13

With progression toward deeper learning across weeks and terms

 TERM  WEEK 3
 WEEK 4
 WEEK 7

Term 1
Identifying a focus and planning

Introduce the Teachers as Researchers plan at a full staff meeting.

Stage meetings to discuss Teachers as Researchers.

Stage meetings to plan possible focus areas.

Term 2
Implementing and reflecting on practice

Whole school meeting
to share Stage teams’ focus areas.

Stage meetings to plan strategies.

Stage meeting to reflect on strategies.

Term 3
Implementing and reflecting on practice

Whole school meeting to share ideas.

Stage meetings to plan strategies.

Stage meeting to share and reflect.

Term 4
Analysing and evaluating

Evaluate the Teachers as Researchers plan with school executive.

Whole school meeting to share learning and evaluate the Teachers as Researchers process.

 

‘In respectful interactions the language and structure of the interactions create the environment that allows everyone to contribute equally.’

Teacher discussion

RELATINGS: Sustaining a dialogic culture

This dimension of the model (see Figure 1 above) focuses on the affective dimension of talk. Alexander’s conditions of dialogic teaching promote effective social interactions in the classroom through emphasising supportiveness, collectivity and reciprocity. ‘Relating’ extends this interpersonal dimension by including respectful interactions, inclusive language, increasing agency and influence, relevance and resonance.

A repertoire of practices to support the affective dimension

Respectful interactions

In respectful interactions the language and structure of the interactions create the environment that allows everyone to contribute equally. Careful planning for mentoring interactions can ensure everyone’s voice is heard: a mentor partner can play a strategic role by providing a meeting agenda and including clear roles for those contributing and allow participants to focus their thinking, craft and rehearse their responses.

For example, to prepare for work a sample moderation meeting teachers are asked to come with a writing work sample to discuss. The shared focus is on persuasive writing and so explicit questions derived from the curriculum help to scaffold the teachers’ work sample annotations. Questions included: How has the student managed the purpose of the writing task? What persuasive devices have they used? How well have they engaged the audience? What language features have been used appropriate to the purpose? What feedback would you give the student? All participants should have adequate time and support to prepare so that they can contribute. The meeting structure can be structured using protocols that ensure everyone has equal speaking time.

Strategic questioning

Fran Peavey’s (1994) approach to strategic questioning aims to increase participants’ agency and influence. The process requires active listening and careful questioning so that the ideas emerge from the participants. When a ‘neutral’ common ground that accommodates different views (and occasionally strong feelings) exists, respectful interactions and productive knowledge building can be fostered. Strategic questioning involves using ‘long lever’ questions (such as What do you see? What do you feel about? How could it be?) that encourage the other teacher to creates their own options, to question their assumptions and find a way around or through a problem. This is in place of short lever questions (Why don’t you … Did you think of … You could try … That happened to me once and I ...) where the questioner is providing the solutions. In strategic questioning, ownership of the new information is with the person who is answering the question. Energy for change is generated in the communication process.

Inclusive language

Language is a powerful tool for building inclusion in a mentor relationship. It can be used to create a sense of being valued, respected and one of the team (included) or of being undervalued, disrespected, and an ‘outsider’ (excluded). Inclusive language is language that is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of particular people or groups. It is also language that doesn’t deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from being seen as part of a group. In a mentoring relationship it is important to use language that supports all members of the group to feel included as valuable contributors. Equally, when talking about students it is important to model positive respectful language that reflects aspirations for all students and is respectful of difference.

When interacting within the mentoring team or talking about students it is useful to keep the following generic questions in mind:

  • Is it necessary to refer to personal characteristics such as sex, religion, racial group, disability or age at all?
  • Are the references to group characteristics couched in inclusive terms?
  • Do the references to people reflect the diversity of the intended audience?
  • Is the use of jargon and acronyms excluding people who may not have specialised knowledge of a particular subject?

Creating a sense of relevance, resonance

As a teacher we know the importance of linking new learning to previous learning and the need to make learning relevant by building on a student’s existing schema. With adult learners this is equally as important. Successful professional learning uses examples from the participating teachers’ classrooms to make learning relevant. For example, when presenting a workshop on oral language, the use of videos of student interactions from participant teachers can serve to exemplify the power of student talk.

Opening up the third move in IRF (Initiation, Response, Feedback) has the potential to open up the dialogue between mentor and mentee and provide teacher participants in the dialogue with more interactional rights. If the mentor is leading the conversation and controls the content through closed IRF interactions, it can serve to maintain the mentor in the position of knowledgeable other. Rather than closing the conversation with an evaluative comment, the mentor can open up the dialogue and ensure a more balance / equitable interaction between teachers by asking for clarification, elaboration or explanation and probing a teacher’s response.

IRF has the potential to open up the dialogue between mentor and mentee and provide teacher participants in the dialogue with more interactional rights.(2008).

EXAMPLE 1 A typical IRF interaction might be:

 T1
How did your reading comprehension lesson go?
 T2 It was OK
 T1 Great

EXAMPLE 2 Extending the IRF:

 T1 How did your reading comprehension lesson go?
 T2 It was OK
 T1 That’s great. What worked well in the lesson?
 T2 I used a new activity and some of my weaker students were able to use prediction skills to make sense of unfamiliar vocab.
 T1 That sounds exactly what Fran was looking to do with her students. Do you mind if she comes in to observe next time you do a similar lesson?.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that talk is a powerful tool for learning. Within the classroom it has been shown to facilitate and extend productive interactions, providing students with opportunities to describe and consolidate their shared experiences, to develop and articulate new ideas and viewpoints, and to build their capacity as effective and critical communicators. The power of talk can also transform and enhance professional learning settings.

We have shown how principles of dialogic pedagogy can contribute to the professional development of teachers. Successful mentoring relationships are built on a foundation of purposeful and supportive talk, providing a framework for teachers to reflect on the ‘sayings’, ‘doings’ and ‘relatings’ that constitute the learning culture within their classrooms. Mentoring today thrives in a variety of participant groupings where knowledgeable others lead conversations to guide and challenge their colleagues. Effective mentoring networks, within and across schools, can utilise this shared communicative space to build teachers’ capacity to think and talk together, navigating their way productively through issues of curriculum and pedagogy.

References

About the authors

Gill Pennington has worked as a primary school teacher and multicultural education consultant in the south western region of Sydney. She recently completed her PhD in story telling in a multilingual community and is currently project managing research into the impact of ICT on the teaching of writing. She is a council member and past president of ATESOL NSW and is currently teaching at the University of Sydney.

Margaret Turnbull is currently working as a Senior Policy Analyst in the NSW Department of Education. For several years, she worked as an Instructional Leader at Villawood North Public School in South Western Sydney. Her work in this culturally and linguistically diverse school has focused on leading learning around effective pedagogy and assessment practices through action learning processes. Previously, Margaret worked as the coordinator of the EAL/D program in NSW Department of Education, leading assessment, curriculum and research projects and policy development for EAL learners.