‘Chalk and Talk’ or Technology. Do I Have a Choice? (Part One)

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”

— John Dewey.

Image credit: katrinalopez on FlickrSome rights reserved.

Recently I shared one article on the Facebook (FB) group, Learning innovation Circle (LIC) and asked for comments from the members. The article, “’Chalk and Talk’ Might be the Best Way to Teach After All”, sparked the idea for this brief article.

The article I shared on FB described the ‘finding’ of seventy teachers from the UK who visited Shanghai to investigate why Chinese students perform so well in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from “chalk and talk” approach, rather than the much hyped ‘student-centred learning’ and the collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.

To those champions of student-centred learning, including yours truly, the conclusion of the observation came as a shock. Should I be disappointed or celebrate this ‘finding’? The first thought that came to my mind was, hmm…well, maybe I will take this with a pinch of salt. My first thought was, what do PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS actually measure? Do these tests sufficiently measure the overall intelligence as well as other skills and values that good education system should impart in the student? In my humble opinion, these tests are not necessarily good estimates of the value of teaching, simply because they are less connected with what is actually taught and the way in which it is taught. I’m of the opinion that no standardised test can ever test real world knowledge and skills–that’s a myth!

Let me quote some of the thoughtful comments posted in the comment thread.

“Malaysia needs to be concerned about its poor results, and those results are likely because of a reliance on an educational system that favours chalk and talk and teacher-centred environments that do little to teach students to think critically. The Shanghai/Pisa situation is wrought in controversy and results are seriously biased by the Hukou system that is still practised. Shanghai and China have very unique characteristics that must be considered before drawing any conclusions about their ‘effective’ teaching practices”.

“Firstly, let’s think about what we could mean by “chalk and talk”? Isn’t this about teachers using the black/white board, electronic board, flip chart, slides, videos, etc? This is where the “teaching” of concepts need to be effective and teachers need to help students master the concepts or else…. If you have watched Khan Academy videos, you will see that they represent the “chalk and talk” that we need. Learning happens after good teaching. Chalk and talk is usually first, followed by other approaches to engage the students.”

“I agree that we need to look at what ‘Chalk and Talk’ means but it generally is associated with the traditional teacher-centred approach where teacher is telling. Khan Academy is a lot of Chalk and Talk but they definitely are not the panacea of effective teaching strategies. The flipped learning, collaborative learning, and a plethora of other strategies are definitely what is needed I think. I also think that a bit of Chalk and Talk might be necessary but the problem is one of balance. In every single one of the public classrooms I have been in in Malaysia Chalk and Talk is the order of the day. And it doesn’t serve our students well”.

This is my own input to the discussion which lead to the title of this article:

“Yes, chalk and talk is still prevalent. I would like to reiterate that we can strike a balance with multitude of instructional strategies, blending the traditional approaches and technology. The bottomline is to achieve effective learning while fostering high order thinking. It takes a lot of effort though, for teachers have to put a lot of thought in the effective instructional delivery”.

I believe a ‘good’ teacher builds a repertoire of practices that suits individual learners at different times, which is why teaching well is exhausting. There is not just one way to teach. The “one size fits all” approach in regard to individuals and subject matter is not conducive to effective learning or teaching. This is where the role of technology can help to add value in engaging and enriching learning experiences of our students. Notice that I used the keyword “add value”. Many so-called disruptive technologies have promised to revolutionise education, but so far none has. The reason is simple —technology is a tool — “a fool with a tool is still a fool”. Technology is not a silver bullet. We still need good teachers trained and guided to use technology as one of the tools to add to his/her repertoire. There are many other ‘non technological’ ways of engaging students—demonstration, practical exercises, discussion, debate, storytelling, etc. The bottomline is, the role of teacher is even more important in student centred learning environment, i.e., as a facilitator and as a learning designer.

*Continue onto Part Two of this article. 


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Chalk and Talk or Technolody. Do I Have a Choice? by Dr. Abd Karim Alias is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.