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Ask A REL Response

November 2020


What research has been conducted that shows the most effective ratio of teacher talk to student discourse in early grades reading instruction?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on the most effective ratio of teacher talk to student discourse in early grades reading instruction We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the most effective ratio of teacher talk to student discourse in early grades reading instruction. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Connor, C. M., Kelcey, B., Sparapani, N., Petscher, Y., Siegal, S. W., Adams, A., Hwang, J. K., & Carlisle, J. F. (2020). Predicting second and third graders' reading comprehension gains: Observing students' and classmates talk during literacy instruction using COLT. Scientific Studies of Reading, 24(5), 411-433.
    From the abstract: "This paper introduces a new observation system that is designed to investigate students' and teachers' talk during literacy instruction, "Creating Opportunities to Learn from Text" (COLT). Using video-recorded observations of 2nd-3rd grade literacy instruction (N = 51 classrooms, 337 students, 151 observations), we found that nine types of student talk ranged from using non-verbal gestures to generating new ideas. The more a student talked, the greater were his/her reading comprehension (RC) gains. Classmate talk also predicted RC outcomes (total effect size = 0.27). We found that 11 types of teacher talk ranged from asking simple questions to encouraging students' thinking and reasoning. Teacher talk predicted student talk but did not predict students' RC gains directly. Findings highlight the importance of each student's discourse during literacy instruction, how classmates' talk contributes to the learning environments that each student experiences, and how this affects RC gains, with implications for improving the effectiveness of literacy instruction."
  2. Dwyer, J., Kelcey, B., Berebitsky, D., & Carlisle, J. F. (2016). A study of teachers' discourse moves that support text-based discussions. Elementary School Journal, 117(2), 285-309.
    From the abstract: "In theory, engaging students in discussion helps them learn how to understand and think critically about texts. Researchers have sought to identify effective features of teacher-led text-based discussions by designing specific discussion-group programs and investigating their influence on students' comprehension in upper elementary classrooms. However, little is known about how early elementary teachers guide students' participation in and learning from whole-group text-based discussions. Because of the potential value of such instruction for developing reading comprehension, this study examines how early elementary teachers used effective discourse moves to support students' engagement with and understanding of texts. We developed and examined the validity of a measure comprising 10 research-based discourse moves called Support for Students' Learning from Text (SSLT). It was used to code text-based comprehension lessons in second- and third-grade classrooms. Findings indicated significant associations between teachers' everyday use of SSLT discourse moves and students' comprehension and vocabulary achievement."
  3. Hattan, C., & Alexander, P. A. (2020). Prior knowledge and its activation in elementary classroom discourse. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 33(6), 1617-1647.
    From the abstract: "The purpose of the current study was to: (a) examine the frequency of prior knowledge (PK) activation in elementary classrooms while students were engaged with text, (b) investigate the relevance of students' responses to teacher prompts, (c) explore the nature of teachers' and students' prior knowledge activation utterances, and (d) investigate whether there were discernible routines in the interactions between teachers and students when activating PK. Participants were 6 teachers and 99 students from a private elementary school in the mid-Atlantic. An analysis of classroom discourse suggested that teachers infrequently prompted students to activate their prior knowledge during reading. Yet, when teachers did prompt PK, they asked about a prior lesson most often, or about a specific text, students' world knowledge, or their personal experiences. Students then responded to their teachers according to the prompted referential frame. Additionally, four routines of classroom discourse were identified in the data including "nonresponsive," "question-answer," "simple feedback," and "interaction" routines, with less elaborate routines being most common and primarily occurring at the beginning of lessons."
  4. Murphy, P. K., Greene, J. A., Firetto, C. M., Hendrick, B. D., Li, M., Montalbano, C., & Wei, L. (2018). Quality talk: Developing students' discourse to promote high-level comprehension. American Educational Research Journal, 55(5), 1113-1160.
    From the abstract: "Students often struggle to comprehend complex text. In response, we conducted an initial, year-long study of Quality Talk, a teacher-facilitated, small-group discussion approach designed to enhance students' basic and high-level comprehension, in two fourth-grade classrooms. Specifically, teachers delivered instructional minilessons on discourse elements (e.g., questioning or argumentation) and conducted weekly text-based discussions in their language arts classes. Analysis of the videorecorded discussions showed decreases in teacher-initiated discourse elements, indicating a release of responsibility to students, whereas students' discourse reflected increased criticalanalytic thinking (e.g., elaborated explanations or exploratory talk). Importantly, statistically and practically significant increases were evidenced on written measures of students' basic and high-level comprehension, indicating the promise of small-group discourse as a way to foster individual student learning outcomes."
  5. Olaussen, B. S. (2016). Classroom discourse: The role of teachers' instructional practice for promoting student dialogues in the early years literacy program (EYLP). Universal Journal of Educational Research, 4(11), 2595-2605.
    From the abstract: "Understanding that classroom discourse is important for reading comprehension and critical thinking is emerging. The aim of the present study was to analyze what teachers say and do, to promote discussion at a teacher-led station in the Early Years Literacy Program (EYLP). The EYLP is a program for reading instruction, organized at different stations. This program was chosen because a teacher-led station is the only place during the 60-minute session in which students talk with an adult. The other stations are self-instructed. We used a case study design, with video observations of two Norwegian first-grade teachers. The teaching sequences were analyzed from two theoretical perspectives: the teachers' ability to promote an "extended discourse" and the teachers' ability to use "all-purpose academic words." Extended discourse is characterized by decontextualized language use, promoting turn-taking and discussions of rare words. All-purpose academic words are abstract words adult speakers use in discussions, such as achieve, adjust, challenge etc. The results show that both teachers had positive initiations of extended discourse, but the time used for these activities was brief. Use of all-purpose academic words was scarce. How to promote classroom discourse and its consequences for students' learning is discussed."
  6. Pilonieta, P., & Hathaway, J. I. (2020). Kindergartners' strategic talk during partner reading. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 36(5), 397-417.
    From the abstract: "This descriptive, qualitative study seeks to contribute to the corpus of early literacy research by examining the role of comprehension strategies and teacher scaffolding on kindergartners' talk during partner reading. Although comprehension is a robust line of inquiry, previous research has focused on comprehension strategy use by students in the intermediate grades and above. The purpose of this study is to describe kindergartners' abilities to enact comprehension strategies and their use of those strategies with a partner and in small group discussions during various reading experiences. Findings suggest that kindergarten students can read strategically by encouraging both comprehension and decoding strategies while reading. Implications for teachers and future research are discussed at length, including the importance of strategically scaffolding young students during reading instruction and providing a variety of authentic opportunities for students to practice their use of comprehension strategies."
  7. Wei, L., Murphy, P. K., & Firetto, C. M. (2018). How can teachers facilitate productive small-group talk? An integrated taxonomy of teacher discourse moves. Elementary School Journal, 118(4), 578-609.
    From the abstract: "Small-group discussions in which teachers and students interact with text are common in language arts classrooms. As documented in the extant literature, teacher discourse moves affect how the discussion unfolds and the resulting quality of the talk. What is not present in the literature is a unified lexicon or taxonomy for defining and classifying the various kinds of discourse moves teachers routinely enact during small-group discussions to promote comprehension. As such, the purpose of the present review is (a) to synthesize research on teacher discourse moves across the various discussion approaches that aim to promote high-level comprehension and (b) to forward an integrated taxonomy of teacher discourse moves. The taxonomy was developed and iteratively refined through card-sorting activities and used as a coding rubric for classroom discussions. This integrated taxonomy is a noteworthy advancement for practitioners to facilitate their classroom discussions and for researchers studying the effects of small-group discussions."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Teacher talk compared to student discourse, early grades reading instruction
  • Teaching methods, teacher talk, student discourse, early reading instruction
  • Teacher role, student discourse, early reading instruction
  • Elementary school students, discourse analyses, teacher role

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.