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Preface to the Online Edition

Becoming Our Own Experts was first published as a fat printed book with a red cover in 1982. It is the bringing-together of papers written between 1974 and 1979 by a group of teachers, self-styled the Talk Workshop Group, at Vauxhall Manor School, an 11-18 girls’ comprehensive school whose buildings were on two sites in Vauxhall and Kennington, south London. The papers constituted an example of teachers researching the interactions of language and learning in their own classrooms, a process sometimes known as ‘action research’.

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Talk Workshop Group: an Introductory Paper

by Stephen Eyers and John Richmond

Our theory, our 'expertise' is in making sensitive inferences about an actual classroom experience, in noticing what is really going on. If the expert in the more usual sense, who stands back a little from the everyday reality of the classroom in order, ideally, to get a wider view of the scene, has a role in this process of discovery, it is simply to help the classroom teacher to discover more fully what is already there.

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An Account of some of the Languages Spoken at Vauxhall Manor School

by T.F. Minker

In the microcosm of the school, would it be too much to hope that we can encourage a balance of judicious conformity and intelligent independence, an attitude neither defensive nor aggressive, but confident and eclectic, appreciating the pleasing diversity of mankind, enjoying a great variety in the context of a greater unity?

Would it? Yes I suppose it would, since the children we teach frequently bear a marked resemblance to the human race and often soak up our own prejudices even before they devise their own.

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Four Papers

by John Richmond

…the only living educational interchanges are those where, as time passes, the teacher learns as much as the learner; where ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ are interchangeable titles.

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Reading Development in a Fifth-Year Girl

by Helen Savva

C. was born on the 9th October, 1960. When she left primary school and came to Vauxhall Manor in 1972, she had a reading age which fluc­ tuated between 6.0 and 7.5. She was re-assessed in the same year and her reading age was recorded as 6.3. Her reading age was again tested in January 1976 when she was in the fourth year and it was recorded as 5.9. Without wishing to attach too much importance to reading ages, it seems clear that for her entire school career C has been effectively a non-reader, and that far from improving, she has made no progress and may have regressed.

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Two Papers

by Ray Booth

…a lot can be gained from regarding the pupil as an active participant in the making of meaning rather than the passive receiver of preformulated knowledge.

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Five Girls: Classroom Interaction and Informal Speech

by Dennis Searle

This paper brings together two related sets of observations. The first half of the paper reports on the results of following five girls through one day of classes each and trying to describe the language demands which the school made on them. The second half provides a look at each of these girls talking informally about their lives and tries to illus­trate some of the language resources these girls used.

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Talking in Class: some Language Activity in Four Subjects

by Theresa Cato, Stephen Eyers, Chris Ireland, Sheila Rosenberg

To learn means to develop a relationship between what the learner knows already and new knowledge being encountered. That is why pupil talk is important; not just pupil-to-teacher talk, but pupil-to-pupil talk.

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Writers in School

by Stephen Eyers with Mike Rosen

There is a great deal of writing done in school: we can observe much of it being produced. School writing is often incompetent, usually ephem­eral and largely repetitive. For most pupils, writing improves very slowly or not at all and we, their teachers, facing the work of reluctant pens, know that there are many writers outside the school who them­selves wrestle more intensely with the work of their own pens than we seem to do.

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Extracts from Early Work in Factually Dominated Subjects

…in the first months of working together, we spent a lot of time simply making tapes, audio or video, of talk in each others' lessons, and meeting to muse on what we saw and heard. We include here extracts from transcripts of videotaped talk in commerce and maths, and audiotaped talk in chemistry, with some notes and contextualization.

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Writing, Dialect and Linguistic Awareness

by Alex McLeod

We still need to know more about how children's writing abilities develop. We are fairly sure, now, about what the goals are. They may be summed up, too simply, of course, as the growth of a range of abili­ties which enable a person to write fluently and effectively for as wide a variety of purposes as s/he needs. We measure these abilities by their products, in a number of ways; by deciding, for instance, to award a certain grade in an examination, or to publish a poem or a story. But very little detailed study has been done of the way children develop these abilities. It was once thought that if you offered suitable models, young writers would be able to imitate them. (Spend all your nights reading Addison and you will become a master of English prose.) Few teachers hold this view nowadays, though most still believe that reading is probably the most important influence in the development of writing. But we still know very little about what happens as a child slowly progresses from one word to one sentence, then to a story, and from there to a Grade 1 in O Level English or a story published by Centerprise or Black Ink.

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