Another dot in the blogosphere?

Talk less, listen more

Posted on: October 16, 2015

MOE’s Teach Less Learn More (TLLM) movement is about a decade old. There was a TLLM press release in 2005 and a report card parliamentary reply in 2010.

I shared this misdirected complaint about TLLM in a tweet yesterday.

It is hard to say without a representative survey how widespread this perception of TLLM is among layfolk who are aware of it. However, the eye-rolling and negative tones I observe and hear even among some teachers when I ask them what they think about TLLM is not a good sign.

The layperson who ranted in response to a newspaper report had the wrong idea about TLLM. This person’s focus was content and I summarize the rant in one question: How can teachers teach less content and expect students to somehow learn more on their own without tuition?

One implementation approach to TLLM is to use learner-centred strategies that focus less on the delivery of content by the teacher and more on the discovery, critique, and creation of content by learners. The focus of TLLM in this approach is learning by actively thinking and doing.

Part of the negativity behind TLLM by teachers might be the other factors that prevent them from fully implementing such an approach. What teachers need is professional development on technology-mediated strategies that enable TLLM, time and space to try and fail forward, curricular redesign, and assessment that goes beyond tests and exams. How many of those items on that wishlist can schools say they check off every year?

#DiceTip: Talk less, listen more. Via Ji by, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by 

If schools and leaders struggle to help teachers, then I would like to suggest how teachers might realign their mindsets to help themselves.

Three years ago I reflected on how TLLM should be lecture less, facilitate more. Today I think I will stick to the same acronym and say Talk Less, Listen More.

This does not take away from the fact that teachers still need to “cover” content and get their students ready for exams. However, it does require teachers to listen to what their collective conscience is screaming. For example:

  • Why are my students bored?
  • Are my students learning how to think?
  • What really matters to them in the long run?
  • How do I turn the reprocessing of content into the development of meaningful skills?

To answer these and other equally important questions, teachers need to listen to their students with their ears, eyes, and hands. Ask them in focus groups, watch what they do in everyday life, design lessons for transfer and meaningful engagement.

A teacher needs to be like an anthropologist who collects valuable nuggets about her learners. She is also a participant-observer; she is not just there to study but to also implement change.

This does not require very much more work from teachers. In fact, many of them already do this, although not actively or consciously. They meet with students outside class time. They observe them in the canteen, in public transport, or a mall nearby. They meet with students’ parents.

To Talk Less, Listen More also means having to realign priorities and articulating these to students and their parents. It is less about acquiring content and more about learning how to think and act. For example, what good are good grades if you are a rotten person who cannot communicate effectively?

In everyday teaching, Talk Less, Listen More might mean asking a question and actually waiting for students to answer instead of filling the dead time with more teacher words. Answering your own question teaches students that the teacher will eventually answer her own question and that they need only wait to be spoon-fed.

Teachers need to talk less and start listening to what made them want to be teachers in the first place. It was not to get students to score straight As or to be buried with thank you cards on Teachers’ Day. If they have forgotten what that was, it is time for them to listen to their learners again.

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