“If we are not doing the conversation, we are not learning anything”: Talking about talk in the early years of school

Christine Edwards-Groves, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Christina Davidson, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: Metatalk, or talk about talk, with students is an under-addressed research field, particularly in the early years. Developing knowledge about metatalk and its connection to students’ understanding of their own learning remains taken-for-granted. Studying how metatalk supports students’ understanding about language, while strengthening how this knowledge is applied in lesson talk, is required.

Aim: To understand how metatalk in early years classrooms is a learning resource.

Method: Data is drawn from a one-year Australian study researching dialogic pedagogies. Recordings of discussions in four demographically and linguistically diverse early years classrooms were made. Thematic and conversation analysis of selected lesson segments were conducted.

Results: Findings show developing metatalk early in children’s formal education forms a necessary part of lesson discourse shared among students and teachers, enabling them to build interactional competencies. Analysis reveals how metatalk encompasses i) knowing and articulating, involving mutually-produced and locally-understood metalanguage; and ii) teachers and students sharing in the responsibility for discussions.

Conclusions: Establishing metatalk in literacy classrooms requires a shift in teacher and student practices. Metatalk from the early years of schooling establishes a strong foundation from which to build a shared responsibility for coordinating, managing and contributing to lesson talk as students’ progress. This is necessary for placing students in more powerful positions to contribute to lessons.

Implications for children: Talking about your learning in your lessons shows your teacher how clever you are, it really helps to make your learning “stick”.

Implications for practitioners: Building in focused opportunities for young students to talk about talk and interaction in lessons will not only build on students interactional competencies, but will assist you connect talk to their literacy learning.

Funding: Primary English Teaching Association Australia

Key words: children’s voices, communication, early literacy, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: