Denne studien undersøker hva lærere forstår som god muntlighet (tale- og lyttekompetanse samt kroppsspråk) i og på tvers av fag, samt lærernes oppfatninger om egne forutsetninger for å undervise og vurdere muntlighet.

Denne studien undersøker hva lærere forstår som god muntlighet (tale- og lyttekompetanse samt kroppsspråk) i og på tvers av fag, samt lærernes oppfatninger om egne forutsetninger for å undervise og vurdere muntlighet. Bakteppet er den norske læreplanen hvor muntlighet er en av de fem grunnleggende kompetansene som skal læres og vurderes på tvers av fagene. Vurderingsplanen for denne grunnleggende kompetansen ble imidlertid ikke revidert samtidig med læreplanen; dermed ble ansvaret for vurderingen lagt på hver enkelt lærer. For å avdekke begrunnelsene bak lærernes uttrykte konseptualisering, undervisning og vurdering av muntlighet, ble en retorisk-topologisk analyse av kvalitative intervjuer med ni tiendeklasselærere på ungdomstrinnet utført. Funnene indikerer at lærerne synes arbeidet med muntlighet i klasserommet er utfordrende siden de opplever å ha lite eller ingen utdannelse i undervisning og vurdering av muntlighet å støtte seg til. Lærere verdsetter muntlighet, som har fagspesifikke egenskaper og som samtidig innebærer konsistente trekk på tvers av fagområder. Resultatene viser at lærerne er fremtidsorienterte og fremmer elevenes evne til å uttrykke seg i et trygt læringsmiljø som er et springbrett til myndighet, livsmestring, kritisk tenkning, demokrati og retorisk medborgerskap.

Teachers’ voices on the unspoken oracy construct: “Oracy—the taken-for-granted competence”

This study explores what teachers understand as good oracy (speaking and listening competence as well as body language) in and across subjects, and their perceptions of their own prerequisites in the work of cultivating and assessing students’ oracy.

This study explores what teachers understand as good oracy (speaking and listening competence as well as body language) in and across subjects, and their perceptions of their own prerequisites in the work of cultivating and assessing students’ oracy. The backdrop is the Norwegian curriculum, in which oracy as a key competence is supposed to be taught and assessed across subjects. However, the assessment plan for this key competence was not revised when the curriculum was, leaving the responsibility for assessment planning to each teacher. To uncover the reasoning and judgments behind the teachers’ expressed conceptualization, teaching, and assessment of oracy, a rhetorical topoi analysis was performed on qualitative interviews with nine tenth-grade teachers at the lower secondary level. The findings indicate that teachers find their work related to oracy challenging because they lack education in how to teach and assess oracy. The teachers value oracy, which has subject-specific characteristics that simultaneously entail consistent features across disciplines. The results show that teachers are future oriented and foster students’ abilities to make utterances in a safe environment, which is a stepping stone to empowerment through agency, life-mastery, critical thinking, democracy, and rhetorical citizenship.

Oracy—as a learning resource

Oracy is defined as the interplay between speaking and listening (; ) as well as body language, and is a holistic, fundamental competence in people’s real lives when it comes to their intellectual, social, and emotional development, along with carrying personal, social, and rhetorical civic implications. Thus, oracy becomes essential in the construction of knowledge and reality. In the Norwegian curriculum, oracy is a part of learning in all subjects to guide and express students’ thinking and metacognitive awareness of their thoughts during learning (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, , ). As a key competence, oracy is taught, cultivated, and assessed across subjects. What is being assessed is the construct (). Limited assessment guidelines were provided as part of the curriculum reforms. Thus, teachers were left on their own (). However, Norwegian teachers have taught and assessed oracy since 1883 without standards-driven policies (). Hence, an unspoken oracy construct exists in the teachers’ experienced knowledge base. In the current article, I explore and articulate teachers’ understanding of good-quality oracy across subjects in lower secondary school and their perceptions of their own prerequisites in the work of cultivating and assessing students’ oracy.

Oracy, writing, reading, numeracy, and digital competence as the five key competencies in the Norwegian curriculum are aligned with the OECD DeSeCo competencies (; ).

In the present study, doxa knowledge is defined as accumulated experience through everyday life, which is not closely aligned with theory or testable (). What constitutes the oracy phenomenon across subjects in tenth grade forms the teachers’ oracy doxa. Berge (, , ) developed the term text norms to describe the human sense of textual quality. Doxa is conventionalized as text norms (Berge, , ) for oracy. In the current study, the term oral text norms help explain and give meaning to the criteria regarding the quality of utterances in a specific culture, here being the school culture. The concept of norm sources describes what teachers refer to as sources of their oracy knowledge; the aim is to detect and obtain an overview of what the teachers understand as good-quality oracy, the teachers’ oral text norms, and how oracy norms come to the surface. Thus, this helps teachers voice their varied opinions about the standards related to this competence. To shed light on these objectives, two research questions were developed:

  1. What characterizes Norwegian tenth-grade teachers’ doxa knowledge of students’ good-quality oracy, and how is it expressed and varied through their ways of talking about teaching, cultivating, and assessing oracy?

  2. What are the teachers’ perceptions of their norm sources as the prerequisites for teaching, cultivating, and assessing students’ oracy?

First, I introduce a literature review about the concept of oracy, finding a lack of studies on teachers’ conceptualization of good-quality oracy as a significant gap in the literature. To address this gap, I present theories of oracy, rhetoric as a metalanguage on oracy, and assessment, and then carry out a rhetorical topoi analysis of interviews with teachers. The results suggest that the understanding, teaching, cultivating, and assessing of oracy in schools are very random and appear to be unclear for the teachers since a clear definition of the Norwegian oracy construct and its functions are lacking.

Find the gap

Internationally, “oracy has a low status” (). Therefore, research on oracy is scarce, and the first special issue on oracy in L1 in over twenty years was published in the summer of 2019 (). On the existing literature, conducted an international, systematic literature review on critical elements for good-quality oral language education in secondary school:

A clear oral language skills framework with criteria; the exploration of students’ speaking potential by analysis and assessment of oracy skills; self-, peer- and teacher-feed-back on speaking; observations of and discussions about videotaped speakers; and regular practice with various speaking tasks.

also found that it is crucial to develop students’ oracy throughout the school year to strengthen students’ confidence and speaking experiences.

Internationally, there is evidence that oracy assessment is a difficult endeavor for teachers and that teachers are faced with many obstacles. According to , British teachers find the assessment of oracy both time-consuming and challenging. Teachers find it difficult to make individual assessments of oracy because conversations generally require at least two participants (). Additionally, teachers have questioned whether they even had the competencies needed to effectively assess their students’ oracy skills ().

When it comes to oracy research in Scandinavia, it is fragmented, dominated by small qualitative case studies and divided into two main categories: 1) class-room dialogues (Dysthe, , ; Haugsted, , ; ; ; Sahlström, , , ), and 2) oral presentations (; Hertzberg, , ). Besides these two categories, Scandinavian studies have referred to different types of oracy and didactical approaches, such as students’ conversations, reading aloud, drama, interviews, and debate (; ; ). However, there is limited research on oracy as a key competence. Rather, research has been conducted on several specific types or genres of oracies. Indeed, there is also a distinction between oracy as a discipline and as a condition for learning across subjects, both in Scandinavia () and internationally (). The current study aligns with this distinction, and views oracy as a discipline that needs to be cultivated in the same manner as writing and reading. Oracy is the very foundation for learning in the classroom.

Assessment conversations between teachers after L1 oral exams in upper secondary education in Sweden have been scrutinized in a few studies (; ; ). The results indicate that agreement on the achieved grades is more common than disagreement. Hertzberg (, ) showed that Norwegian teachers found it almost impossible to assess oracy; however, the oral exams kept the teachers motivated to work with oracy. found that teaching oracy in Norwegian schools is not systematic. However, oral presentations are the most dominant form of systematic oracy practice in lower secondary education. showed that the feedback that students receive from teachers is limited to short, encouraging, but less informative comments. Several studies have demonstrated that a metalanguage for oracy and rhetoric is lacking in Norwegian schools (e.g., ; ). also pointed out that research has not provided knowledge of good oracy across subjects in Norwegian schools, calling for research on this topic. attempted to answer this call and explored 495 teachers’ notions of good-quality oracy in a quantitative study; these teachers were examiners across subjects on the final, high-stakes oral national exam in Norway. The results showed a possible summative oracy construct in seven disciplines, as well as a pattern for an across disciplinary summative oracy construct. The present study contributes to the quantitative results with a qualitative exploration of teachers’ notions of good-quality oracy across subjects.

This article is the second of three articles that are part of a parallel convergent mixed methods study (). Even though this article contains quantitative reasoning, a rhetorical topoi analysis is still considered qualitative ().

Conceptual framework

To address this lack of teachers’ notion of good-quality oracy and the related norm sources, I now present oracy, rhetoric, and assessment theories, providing insights into how I combine them to answer the research questions. Because teaching, cultivation, and assessment of oracy are complex tasks, rhetoric as a metalanguage for oracy alone is insufficient for studying oral text norms and is combined with assessment theory as a critical resource ().

First, the oracy and rhetorical concepts are intertwined through the key competencies in the Norwegian curriculum. Giving young people a voice to participate in society shows that oracy education is related to bildung, a German term () that has roots in the Greek notion of paideia, which means formation as “self-formation, education, or cultivation” (). Quintilian stressed that the rhetorical ideal is the goal for education and human existence (). The same ideal can be valid for the more general part of the Norwegian curriculum, where rhetoric is tied to students’ life mastery, critical thinking, rhetorical citizenship education, and democracy (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, , ).

With oracy as a key competence in the Norwegian curriculum reform, teachers’ need to map students’ oral competence across disciplines has been recognized. Thus, rhetoric is used as an analytical framework to have metalanguage on how students’ oracy can persuade teachers to give them a high grade on their oracy performances. According to Aristotle, persuasion occurs within three modes of appeals: the subject-specific content, logos (), the ability to display character, ethos (), and the ability to have emotional influence on the audience, pathos (). A persuasive speech must be adapted to the rhetor or student, topic, audience or teacher, and context (). This implies that to master persuasion, one must know what to say and how to express and deliver it at the right moment, or kairos, and in a manner appropriate for the context defined, or aptum. To adjust the speech means fitting the rhetorical situation, or the recipient’s doxa (). In the educational setting, especially during a student’s presentation, it might be interpreted that the student’s ability to display persuasive rhetoric is tied to taking on an “expert position”, for example, that the student has made the material their own and has independent opinions on the matter (). The “expert position” can be tied to oracy and the ability to speak convincingly, which, according to Cicero, is the interwoven combination of one’s subject knowledge and the art of presentation ().

Second, the teachers’ assessment work is closely linked to their values and ideologies (). Insights into what teachers value when they assess will, in return, provide information in articulating the oracy construct. When it comes to assessment in education, there are two main approaches. Summative assessments inform society on the student’s competence level, as in certification or reporting, while formative assessments are tools for modifying teaching and learning activities (). In practice, the theoretical distinction between formative and summative assessments can be challenging to differentiate (). Furthermore, for the curriculum’s pedagogical design and assessment demands to be comprehended, there is a need for explicit proficiency of the constructs to be assessed; however, curriculums and assessment plans are complex (). Suppose that the expectations of the policies for assessing oracy are implicit. In that case, teachers might rely on their professional judgment, such as in intuition and hunches, which are referred to as taking a “hermeneutical” approach to assessment (), as opposed to using so-called “psychometric” assessments, which are often referred to as numeric scores ().

Third, because oracy is so established in Norwegian schools, it must be possible to find some general characteristics of good-quality oracy representing the teachers’ norms. Therefore, it makes sense to use a topoi analysis because it reveals the teachers’ doxa, which is culturally rooted in the school culture. All teachers are considered as belonging to an assumed discursive and professional community. They have similar educational backgrounds, share the same curriculum, and teach, arrange, and assess oral exams. In other words, loci communes — common places that encourage conforming practices—might exist among teachers (). Locus is the Latin translation of the Greek word topos. The Greek word topos—or topoi in the plural—means a place as a metaphorical determination and is used in rhetoric (). This mental determination is filled with meaning, content, and human experience (). further presented topos as a tool that can invent new human knowledge because topos detects and captures a person’s doxa. In sum, topoi are mind maps and relational concepts that can help us understand a particular cultural context and its doxa, norms, and ideology (). “Rhetoric is a suitable tool to reveal doxa; rhetoric is the means, doxa is the goal” (). Thus, according to , the current study is based on appropriate methodical requirements with a topoi analysis that reveals doxa. Topoi can be made explicit by verbalizing the almost tacit cultural preferences in a topoi analysis (). Since ancient times, there have been several ways of understanding topoi. Aristoteles distinguishes between general topoi, which are related to logical inference forms, and specific topoi, relating to topics in speech. Here, I relate to Aristotle’s specific thematic understanding of topoi which is similar to thematic understanding of topoi and structural topoi. That is, my topoi analysis is a form of categorization.

I prefer a topoi analysis because it reveals doxa (). It adds the desired revelation of the teachers’ doxa in favor of an ordinary qualitative interview analysis.


Participants and Data Collection

The sampling method was based on convenience and voluntarism. Several school districts were contacted, and the school leaders who first wanted to participate were chosen. Two lower secondary schools agreed to participate along with a group of tenth-grade teachers. The participants naturally represented a range of subjects, including age, experience, and education degrees. There were four female teachers and five male teachers, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-60s. The teachers also ranged in experience from novice to well-experienced teachers, as displayed in Table 1. As a group, the nine teacher participants represented almost every subject taught at the lower secondary level. All teachers, except for one, had the experience of being an examiner or coassessor for the oral and written tenth-grade national exams. Eight of the nine participants were examiners, coassessors, or both for the spring 2016 exams.

Table 1. Presentation of the participants


School size



Experience in years


Subjects taught / Roles






Master in Music

English L2 Music





Master in Norwegian L1

Norwegian L1 Religion




Master in Norwegian L1

Norwegian L1

Social Science




Master in Administration

Norwegian L1 Social Science







Master in Physical Education

Physical Education




Master in History

Mathematics Social Science

Science Principal




Master in Norwegian L1

Norwegian L1

Social Science




Master in Biology

Mathematics Science





Master in English

English L2

German L3 Social Science

N = 2


N = 9





Due to ethical considerations, the detailed characteristics of the participants are not included, and the materials have been handled anonymously. The Norwegian Centre for Research Data (NSD) approved the study.

Methodological Approach

The basis for the data collection was semistructured interviews, allowing for follow-up questions (). The interview guide included 28 open questions. Interview duration varied between 19 and 60 minutes. The interviews were recorded and then transcribed verbatim. The unit of analysis was each sequence in the interview, with continuous speech between two interruptions from me. The analysis was performed by searching for patterns and scopes in each unit of analysis. Ideas were informed by the theoretical framework to uncover patterns. The theoretical point of departure for having a vocabulary to describe the teachers’ oracy construct was inspired by Aristotle’s three forms of persuasion, ethos, pathos and logos. The forms of appeals are in a constant interplay and, therefore, hard to divide. To provide transparency here, I will provide an example of, for example, how it sometimes can be challenging to categorize knowledge. In the current study, knowledge is categorized under logos. By placing knowledge under the logos category, it causes a dilemma because the definition of logos can become wider and the understanding of ethos shallower. In ethos, knowledge also plays an essential role in the speaker’s goodwill. That is knowledge of matter, goodwill towards the audience, and knowledge in the sense of the speaker’s moral habit and insight into life, e.g., as it can come to expression in humor. However, even Aristotle needed to divide the three forms of appeal. I view his distinction as helpful and necessary in articulating the teachers’ oracy constructs. Additionally, to differentiate between didactics and formative assessment is challenging because formative assessment is interwoven in teaching ().

The next step was to conduct an abductive qualitative rhetorical topoi analysis (; ) by asking the following: “What is expressed here concerning the teaching, cultivating and assessment of oracy?” (). In this process, topoi (Table 2) associated with conceptualization, teaching, and assessment were examined. I identified a number of relevant topoi in the data material, categorized these into 8 groups according to Table 3, and then counted the number of “hits” in each group (i.e., the number of sequences (data units) that obtained topoi from this group) (; ). Finally, a meaning in each topoi group was generated from the textual units. Throughout the analytic process, the findings were validated by systematically comparing categories and content. To demonstrate the analysis, some quotes are presented in association with the main categories and subcategories in Table 2. I did not develop the 28 interview questions to bring out these topoi, but eight topoi categories emerged. Quotes representative of each of the main topoi groups were chosen. Tables 2 and 3 are created to create transparency of the data. All quotes have been translated into English by me.

Table 2. Examples of utterances and associated topoi (confer Table 3)


Associated main categories of topoi

Associated subcategories of topoi


“Oracy is to be able to express yourself, present something orally, be able to reason orally, be able to argue, and participate in discussions.”

Logos (L):

How persuasion occurs within persuasion—subject-specific content (Aristotle, trans. 2006, 1.2.6).

Frequency and quality (FQ):

Aspects with students’ willingness to participate.

L18: express

L3: present

L20: analytic reasoning/logic

FQ1: participation

L4: argue/discuss


“The students receive more or less a recipe on what good oral competency is. It is all about form and content. The content is supposed to be centered around the topic; it should be rich with content. The form is all about being able to free oneself from the manuscript, have contact with the audience, and being able to speak loud and clear.”

Ethos (E):

How persuasion occurs with the ability to display character (Aristotle, trans. 2006, 2.1.5).

Pathos (P):

The students’ abilities to have emotional influence on the audience (Aristotle, trans. 2006, 1.2.5).

E8: form

L8: content

E6: speak freely

P2: receiver awareness E7: voice


“I did not learn about oracy in my teacher education; neither did my daughter who just took her master’s in teaching.”

Teachers’ norm sources (TN):

Where have the teachers learned what is perceived as good oral competence, as well as how to teach and measure oracy?

TN20: no previous education


“We have to remember that we have students with dyslexia and anxiety, who might dread written work, but by asking them directly, they might be able to answer orally. A safe classroom atmosphere is therefore essential.”

Challenges (C):

Teachers’ challenges with teaching and assessing oracy.

Didactics (D):

Practical and methodological means of mediation (Gundem & Hopmann, 1998).

C9: anxiety

C14: dyslexia

D8: ask questions

C8: create a safe classroom atmosphere


“After students’ oral presentations in English, I attempt to have peer assessment.”

Feedback (F):

Response to the quality of students work.

F8: peer assessment

In the findings section, the distribution of topoi is given. Groups of the teachers’ topoi landscape of oracy, as shown in Figure 1, are first presented. In Figure 2, the values of logos, ethos, and pathos were separated from the overall landscape and calculated into percentages to display the teachers’ cross-discipline understanding of good-quality oracy. The percentage distributions of topoi in groups are calculated following the methods used by Tønnesson and Sivesind, that is, “derived from counting certain words, but mostly based on interpreting utterances to discover the variation and patterns of topoi” (). First, the number of registrations in the data material of the topoi categories were added to obtain a total (Table 3). Second, the number of registrations in each category was divided by the total number of registrations of topoi (resulting in decimals). Third, the decimals were multiplied by 100 to get the percentages. Finally, the decimals (from step 2 were multiplied by 360 (to get degrees and display them in pie charts). The percentages of topoi groups mirror the doxa within the teachers’ conceptualization, teaching, cultivating, and assessment practices. An abductive approach was taken to understand how teachers are involved in their culture, with a clear norm reconstructing strategy, through classification by going from the general level down to the group (school) level and then on individual levels (Figure 3). This classification should be characterized as a “typification” (; ), for example, a description of the typical variations of characteristics within a group or even within individuals. It explores general impressions versus variations and how the overall topic landscape of oracy is connected to the general context, schools, subjects, and teacher.

argued that “looking for regularities is analysis. It is the quintessential qualitative act, and it is common to all traditions of scholarship across the humanities and the sciences.” A topoi analysis falls within other qualitative analysis traditions because it is also used to look for patterns in the data.


The material was gathered through interviews with teachers, not through observations. One challenge is that the teachers, for example, only present their perceptions of acceptable assessment practices instead of their actual practices. However, in the current article, the distinction between the teachers’ actual oracy assessment practices and their perceived ones will not be further pursued.

The fact that I conducted the interviews and interpreted them myself can be a threat to the study’s internal validity. As argued, in qualitative research, the researcher is the instrument and the validity of the research depends on the competence and rigor of the researcher. Thus, suggested that a description of the researcher’s experience and training can be provided. I have been both a teacher in lower secondary school for 13 years and a teacher-educator at the university level for 11 years, in addition to my research training. I have attempted to establish my credibility as a researcher by highlighting any shortcomings and, in doing so, strengthening my role as the research instrument ().

Intercoder reliability was addressed by having one colleague look through the process to verify and support the topoi analysis; thus, this strengthens the study’s validity and reliability. However, the interpretations and grouping of topoi are not indisputable and could have been clustered differently (). The participant sample was based on voluntarism, which might weaken the validity of the study because teachers who tend to be the most favorable toward working with oracy or those working with oracy the most in the classroom are the ones who decide to participate. However, any other option was not possible. It is a tradition in Norwegian schools that the teachers themselves decide to participate in research.


This section aims to answer the research questions. The aim of the topoi analysis was to generate an overall picture, thus, accumulating insights into what good-quality oracy is for the teachers and the underlying norm sources. I present the eight main topoi categories and their subcategories. This section also includes several subcategories, in which the larger the group of subcategories is, the more significant the variation within the main topoi group becomes; see Table 3 and Figure 1. The material shows that the teachers visited a large area of topoi. The variety of topoi might be interpreted as a sign that the teachers groped a little in the dark and, for example, have few specific assessment criteria to adhere to. From the teachers’ perspectives there seem to be a range of challenges related to the work with oracy and the assessment of oracy in Norwegian classrooms.

The eight selected dominant topoi categories tend to be divided between the two research questions, as follows: 1) The teachers’ understanding of good-quality oracy (topoi L, E, P, and FQ), and 2) the teachers’ perceptions of their own norm sources as prerequisites in the work of cultivating and assessing students’ oracy (topoi TN, C, D, and F). In the following sections, each research question is answered separately. Finally, the reader finds implications for further research.

Figure 1. The overall topoi landscape of teachers’ conceptions of oracy

Table 3. The resulting categories from the topoi analysis

L (logos): Aspects with the content, thinking, and language in the students’ oral texts:

The ability to answer questions, argue/discuss, present, see relationships, reflect, content, knowledge (common/culture), content terminology, vocabulary (variations/synonyms), communications, structure, understandable, formulate, converse, analytic reasoning (logic), answering the assignment, relevance, express (be verbal), grammar, flow, pronunciation (articulation/diction), intonation, talk (deeply about), and be concrete. (23 topoi subcategories)

E (ethos): Aspects with the students’ body language and voice:

The ability to show engagement, visualize, use body language, voice, eye contact, speak freely, proper behavior, form, and the ability to be positive. (9 topoi subcategories)

P (pathos): The students’ abilities to awaken the audience’s attention:

The ability to show situation awareness, receiver awareness, persuade, engage, trigger sympathy, use listening skills, be attentive, be spontaneous, to keep the time allowed, timing, social competency, and say the right thing at the right time. (12 topoi subcategories)

FQ (frequency/quality):

The students’ participation/level of activity, raising their hands, and quality of answers. (3 topoi subcategories)

TN (teachers’ norm sources):

Previous education, updated courses, colleagues, curriculum/criteria, experience, hunches/instinct, cooperation in teams, experiencing how colleagues do it, overall impression, feeling of no agreement, no updated courses, no talk about oracy, oracy as important as other key competences, theory behind oracy being lacking, unfit to assess oracy, rhetoric, no previous education, research, no research, feeling of no agreement/various practice, taken for granted that teachers know what it is, unsure, oracy not so important as writing, previous own teachers, personal abilities of assessing oracy, read literature on oracy, oracy universal, oracy in school textbooks, oracy in teachers’ guides, and feedback from students. (30 topoi subcategories)

C (challenges) with teaching and assessing oracy:

Time-consuming, parents, hard to assess, assesses personality, introvert/extrovert, oracy is challenging, being able to create a safe learning atmosphere, anxiety, deep learning/forget, during presentations other students being passive, speeches viewed as too personal, new persons to assess (external examiner), diagnoses, have an overview of the assessment situation, question weighting, see everyone, and not being critical. (17 topoi subcategories)

D (didactics): Practical and methodological means of mediation:

Classroom conversations, dialogue, group work (cooperation), presentations, mobile film recordings, participation, drama/roleplay, ask questions, written test for oral assessment, no oral activity, lack of practice, repetition, practice oral exams, text analysis, from familiar to new, learn by modeling, written work to prepare oral utterances, project work, no long-term planning (spontaneous), vocabulary tests, articulating something learned enhances learning, read, hold a speech, too many written tests, and board games/other games. (25 topoi subcategories)

F (feedback):

As initial oral response, on learning platform at once, on a learning platform after a while, summative assessment, formative assessment, written initial response, better results on oral tests, peer assessment, individual assessment, assessment form, development over time, participation not as a measure for oral competence, students involved in own assessment, and group assessments. (14 topoi subcategories)

Teachers’ conceptualization of good-quality oracy

The data reveal that the teachers agreed upon several good-quality oracy criteria. These seem to accumulate under the topoi groups of logos, ethos, pathos, frequency, and quality. How often the students raise their hands to participate in classroom conversations was often used to adjust the grade. This was found to be a common practice throughout the year as a formative assessment when it came to determining the end of term grades, as well as for summative assessment for the final grade at the end of tenth grade. The teachers claimed that the frequency of participation in oral settings communicates eagerness, enthusiasm, and a willingness to bring something into the everyday classroom community:

Eva: Social science is an oral subject. We have written tests, making the very foundation for the assessment grades. A consequence of a student achieving two Bs is not necessarily a B as a final grade if the students do not participate orally.

The question as to whether effort should count or not arose in some of the teachers’ minds, as in Eva’s case. Some teachers quickly added that frequency, as a quantitative measure, is not enough in itself but must be accompanied by qualitative measures of the utterances, such as content:

Anna: In tenth grade, this expression must contain subject terminology. The first Norwegian (L1) oral assignment at the lower secondary level in the eighth grade could be to talk about, for example, their teddy bear. However, in the tenth grade, an oral presentation could speak about Knut Hamsun and the Neo-romanticism movements or talk about Knut Hamsun’s prosaic lyrical writing style. I would say that this is a good progression.

For teachers such as Anna, there were also qualitative differences in the teachers’ norm basis. More was expected from a tenth-grader compared with an eighth-grader.

The teachers agreed that they aimed to find proof of the students’ knowledge and detect the students’ competencies when assessing oracy. They assessed by evaluating the students’ use of subject terminology and checking if they had a vocabulary that enabled them to express themselves on the expected topics or subjects. The qualitative measures of the utterances can include the ability to reflect and analyze content, make good arguments that build on each other, and develop creative utterances regarding the focus subject. The teachers said they appreciated the students’ abilities to express different kinds of logical rationales, such as deductive and inductive reasoning for problem-solving skills, when expressing knowledge of the subject at hand. Several teachers also said that synthesizing, reflecting, and analyzing the content demonstrated a high level of oracy.

When the teachers were asked about oracy as a key construct, they also very naturally started to include information about what oracy is in the subjects they teach. The content was seen as crucial for all teachers, especially social science teachers. Some English (L2) and German/French/Spanish (L3) teachers claimed that correct grammar and vocabulary were essential; however, students with limited language skills in L3 subjects needed to make themselves understood. In sum, as representatives from all subjects, the teachers valued the content and extended use of subject terminology. Each subject has its own rhetoric, which is expected to be used in the subject at hand. However, correct grammar seemed to be most essential in language subjects.

The most frequently referenced topoi category was logos, here describing the teachers’ value for the aspects of content and language in the students’ oral texts. However, there are 23 topoi in the logos category. At the level of a single topos, the student’s ability to display content was highly regarded. The student’s ability to display character through body and voice (ethos) was also appreciated. The student’s capacity to have an emotional influence on the audience (pathos) by adapting to the room was vital in the assessment process.

Furthermore, a student’s ability to display their character, or developing their ethos, was recognized. The teachers expressed value in students’ nonverbal qualities, such as mimics, gestures, voice, and eye contact, as an essential part of oral competence. Some teachers argued that this was not supposed to count in their subject according to the core curriculum; however, they stated that they were only “human”, so it was only natural to consider these factors in the assessment process. Additionally, the teachers (e.g., Tom) emphasized the students’ abilities to fit the context. The students’ participation in oral settings can also reveal their social interactions’ dynamic abilities. In the teachers’ opinions, this counted as proof of the students’ abilities to establish student-to-student or student-to-teacher (adult) relationships. These settings allowed the students to build their ethos through their strengths and weaknesses socially, personally, intellectually, and “professionally”. This was seen as all about handling the context and culture in a communicative setting, where aptum, habitus and expectations of buildung are central elements in building the students’ ethos. These expectations seem to be handed down through culture and history in the teachers’ norm expectations for buildung. A student has an introductory ethos—or an established ethos—with the homeroom teacher; however, in an exam setting the student has to establish his ethos with the external censor. In sum, the teachers expected interactions in an interplay between three factors: the rhetor, the topic, and the audience or teacher. Even though there were few informants who represented many subjects, indications were found that the teachers valued oracy, which has subject-specific characteristics that simultaneously entail consistent features across disciplines, as found in quantitative research.

Figure 2 illustrates the teachers’ cross-discipline understandings of oracy with the distribution of the three forms of appeal. The topoi of frequency and quality have been taken out because the teachers only used it to adjust the grade at the end of the term or the final grade.

Figure 2. Teachers across the disciplinary oracy construct
I now turn to how the individual variations came to light. I present each teacher’s conceptualization of oracy. Several teachers stated that they believed that different teachers could view oracy as a construct differently. The teachers believed this had to do with each teacher representing different subjects and different subject traditions. Additionally, they also believed that different teachers defined the oracy construct differently within a particular subject. This assumption is illustrated in Figure 3, which displays individual patterns in oracy construct variations. The individual patterns become very apparent with a small sample of participants and show differences within schools, between subjects, and even between teachers within the same subject.

In the following paragraphs, three examples of the teachers’ oracy constructs are presented. First, Eva used the ability to participate in a discussion in social science class and read aloud and converse in L2 and L3 classes as examples of her conceptualization of genres of oracy. For many, reading aloud is an activity only performed in the lower classes, and, as adults, reading becomes internalized; consequently, reading loses its audible expression (). In particular, the language teachers seemed to use reading aloud as an oral expression, in which they saw the potential to practice the new language orally and as an opportunity to assess the students’ oral performances. Thus, it can be argued that some language teachers (L1, L2, and L3) view reading as an example of oracy.

Figure 3. Individual patterns in the teachers’ oracy constructs. School A:

Figure 3. Individual patterns in the teachers’ oracy constructs. School B:

To show transparency, I will explain the teachers’ oracy construct figures. In Eva’s case, the figure illustrates that she emphasized logos to understand quality. Eva’s cross-curricular expectancy on oracy had a very high logos score of 85% because of her appreciation of the content, subject terminology, and vocabulary, as well as language features, such as grammar and intonation. She demonstrated a lower expectancy of ethos than the overall expectancy of oracy (12% compared with 21%) and a low score on pathos (3% compared with 12%). She also included reading as part of her oracy expectancy. Eva stated, “Oracy entails being able to express oneself about a theme or a concept.”

Second, Anna’s expectancy of logos was slightly lower than the overall expectancy (59% compared with the overall expectancy of 67%), ethos slightly higher (30% compared with 21% overall), and pathos almost equal (11% versus 12% overall). Overall, Anna believed that “Good oral competence in the school context is the ability to formulate and express your knowledge, orally.” She further added the following:

The students receive a recipe on what good oral competency is. It is all about form and content. The content should be centered on the topic; it should be rich with content. The form is all about being able to free oneself from the script, have contact with the audience, and speak loud and clear.

Finally, Tom indicated that he valued logos above all (87% compared with 67% overall), followed by pathos (9% compared with 12% overall), and then ethos (4% versus 21% overall). Tom’s total logos score for the whole interview scope was high, as displayed in Tom’s oracy construct. However, for Tom, the very definition of oracy shows a more nuanced or balanced understanding of oracy:

The definition of oracy must be to express oneself orally to communicate in the classroom with both teachers and students. The ability to utter something orally is a competence. The ability to express oneself understandably is, in a way, my definition of oracy.

Teachers’ norm sources and prerequisites

For research question two, most teachers claimed to have no educational background for teaching or assessing oracy. This is not a surprising result, but it is clearly documented via the chosen methodological approach, complementing previous findings from Hertzberg (, , ) and . Furthermore, the teachers claimed not to have settings where the assessment of oracy was discussed. The teachers had meetings and time to discuss assessment, but all teachers, except for one, claimed that they never used the time set aside to discuss the assessment to focus on the assessment of oracy in the same manner as they discussed assessment in mathematics and written Norwegian L1 and English L2. In mathematics, Norwegian L1, and English L2, time was set aside to share written completed exam results and to discuss their evaluations in cooperation with other teachers. The teachers also called for courses on assessing oracy. Additionally, some teachers (e.g., Tom) even claimed that a metalanguage of oracy is lacking in the teaching profession. Although they knew that rhetoric exists, they do not seem to use it as a metalanguage or even know of it. The textbooks did not focus on oracy, although some Norwegian (L1) teachers claimed to have heard of oracy from their education in rhetoric. However, they often used these chapters to guide the students in writing rhetorical analyses of texts or in making commercials.

Tom: It is evident that the ability to utter something orally is competence, not just the ability to do it in writing. Some students find it easier to express [themselves] in writing, while others prefer to speak. If I were to include content knowledge here [read: meta-language for oracy], we have rhetoric as in Ancient Greece; however, oracy is not what we are most potent at in Norwegian schools. I believe we have a long way to go here.

Some older and more experienced teachers noted that newly educated teachers have more education on assessing oracy. On the contrary, one teacher, Finn, did not believe so because he knew a newly educated teacher who had told him that she did not receive any specific education on the assessment and teaching of oracy. Speaking from his own experience, Finn stated, “I did not learn about oracy in my teacher education; neither did my daughter who just took her master’s in teaching.” The younger teacher participants confirmed Finn’s statement.

The teachers seemed to appreciate being examiners for the national oral exam because cooperation with teachers from other schools gave them input and assurance on assessments.

Finn: When it comes to being an examiner at the national oral exam, there is mild pressure to encourage all teachers to participate. We view it as capacity-building. Primarily, we encourage young teachers to participate as examiners since they receive valuable experience assessing oracy with more experienced teachers.

Several teachers claimed that they mostly agreed on the final summative exam. They seldom experienced a divergence in two grades in assessment conversations with an external teacher. The teachers also viewed the final oral exam as capacity- building.

In formative assessment situations throughout the school year, the teachers seemed to develop the “whole student” (personal, social, and intellectual development). These teachers tended to be future-oriented and viewed assessment as part of the students’ “holistic” development; thus, the teachers assessed the holistic improvement of the students. This work requires each student to experience a sense of being seen and to be provided with opportunities to develop in a safe environment at his or her own individual pace. The teachers strived to provide an atmosphere where students become motivated by being together and guiding each student’s personal development. This process seemed to be, for the teachers, more complex than merely calculating test scores.

Nonetheless, the teachers’ overall landscape of oracy, as displayed in Table 3 and Figure 1, shows evidence of a large variety within the main topoi groups, mirroring the complexity of the teachers’ everyday lives when working with oracy. The teachers appeared to view the work with oracy as challenging. They seemed to find it challenging to assess oracy, and they did not believe that they could assess oracy. Some teachers even wondered whether they were competent enough to teach oracy: “I am not so sure if I am competent in teaching the students’ oracy, either” (Tom).

Furthermore, the teachers found it time-consuming to assess everyone individually, and the classroom atmosphere needed to be welcome enough to bring about the development of oracy. For the teachers, the work with students’ oracy is closely linked to the development of students’ personalities, self-confidence, well-being, and mental health. The teachers encountered challenges with introverted students and students’ anxiety in oracy assessment situations because of a sense of “assessing the students’ personalities”. Some teachers also experienced “suspicious” comments from parents.

Ravn: I do not believe that practicing oracy is significantly different from the other key competencies. However, sometimes we experience parents who think that rewarding oral activity and the ability to express yourself is unfair, including if we do it by arguing from a professional point of view by stressing subject terminology. The parents express that assessing oracy can be unfair, especially if their student is an introvert.

Simultaneously, the teachers were aware of “too many written tests”, and some teachers still used written tests to give oral grades, using the so-called “written-oral” test.

Eva: We do have to remember that we have students who have dyslexia and anxiety about assessment situations, but then they can answer orally. I have never heard from the principal at this school that we have to work with oracy; however, we do as well as we can. We have too many written tests. I do believe that it is a pity!

It is paradoxical that Eva, who used written-oral tests in social science, also stressed there being too many written tests. She used these written-oral tests because assessing oracy on an individual basis was time-consuming and challenging. Eva felt the need to document the grade sufficiently. When the teachers were uncertain about how to assess oracy, they relied on their knowledge of assessing writing. However, Eva saw that oral tests could provide an opportunity for students with dyslexia to shine. The teachers valued various ways to assess students to allow them to experience mastery and attempted to enable students to possess and make their new knowledge personal while providing opportunities for the students to demonstrate knowledge in new situations. The teachers seemed to view oracy as a facilitator of deep learning or acquire personal knowledge from unique experiences. Finally, the teachers seemed to facilitate students’ opportunities to practice what they had learned in a nurturing and accepting environment that did not trigger the students’ anxiety, as illustrated in Anna’s quote below.

Anna: Some students require that you take baby steps in working with oral presentations. If they do not dare to present in front of the class, we must practice presenting in a smaller room for just the teacher first, then maybe in front of two good friends and the teacher, and then maybe at the end of tenth grade, the students dare to present in front of the class.

The teachers’ work with students’ oracy was challenging because many students were nervous about speaking in front of the class. Thus, the teachers used a wide range of didactical approaches to work with oracy in the classroom, as well as various feedback responses to encourage the students (Table 3). Oral presentations were frequently used, followed by dialogues, group work/cooperation, classroom conversations, and asking questions.

However, the work with oracy can be interpreted as unsystematic because the teachers claimed that they had less time set aside to plan oracy activities or, as in Tom’s thinking, theory behind how to teach oracy. Although oracy has been a key competence in the national curriculum for 15 years, Tom’s statement sums up the status quo for oracy:

It is challenging that oracy has become a key competence. We should assess oracy; however, it is challenging. In Norway, we have writing as a key competence with its writing center. It is, in many ways, easier to find information and sources that enable us to assess writing. The other key competences are more concrete. As a teacher, you have more freedom to exercise oracy. I am not entirely sure about oracy. Compared with the other key competences the theory behind oracy is lacking.


Summing up teachers’ notions of good-quality oracy

The current study has attempted to explore Norwegian teachers’ notions of good-quality oracy. The cross-disciplinary oracy constructs emphasized logos, but the teachers also valued ethos and pathos. The main emphasis on logos can be related to the focus of the curriculum, which is knowledge; indeed, the curriculum is even called the “Knowledge Promotion”. Therefore, the teachers’ culture might be overshadowed by the political focus on knowledge.

This study has also provided insights into teachers’ variations of the conceptualization of oracy. Overall, the findings support the idea that teachers can develop an experience-based oracy construct and stable doxa through experience embedded in collective everyday practices. The teachers did not believe that they shared patterns of a common oracy construct, except for Tor, who believed that they had a common construct of oracy, even though they experienced that they evaluated oral and national exam situations quite similarly with their co-assessor. On the other hand, the students must handle the student and teacher’s asymmetric relationship. The students received opportunities to build their ethos, while at the same time, the teachers’ pathos was stimulated by likes and dislikes. The students’ ability to read the social setting or context, here the rhetorical situation (), has become an integral part of the teachers’ oracy construct. In other words, a good-quality oracy utterance must fulfill its function.

The teachers noted that nonverbal qualities, such as mimics, gestures, voice, and eye contact, were valuable and essential parts of the communication act. Some teachers argued that these behaviors were not supposed to count in their subject according to the core curriculum; however, they stated that they were only “human” so that, of course, they could count in the assessment process. This could be one reason for the high values on ethos and pathos in the summative assessment and across disciplines for the oracy assessment construct for the oral exam, as found. In the current article, where the teachers spoke about both the summative and the formative oracy assessment constructs, the overall construct had lesser ethos and pathos values and an even higher value of logos than the summative construct in quantitative findings. One explanation for this is that in summative assessment situations, the external censors do not know the students and therefore the students’ ethos has to be established during the examination: hence, a higher ethos score for summative assessment. The students’ ethos must fit the preexisting norms for aptum, habitus and buildung as handed down through culture and history as preexcisting assessment norms. These seem to be implicit norms, and might be challenging for students from lower sosio-economic classes to reveal.

Across disciplines, the teachers valued students who argued based on personal and authentic engagement. The student’s ability to display persuasive rhetoric was tied to the ability to take on an “expert position” (), in which the student managed to make the material their own and developed independent opinions on the topic. The ability to speak convincingly was an interwoven combination of the student’s subject knowledge and the art of presentation, as expressed by Cicero (). In return, this might explain how students use logos, such as knowledge which they have made their own, to establish their ethos.

In the teachers’ ethos lies the core of being teachers who found their work rewarding when, for example, nervous students accomplished oral presentations and displayed mastery on their faces. In the teachers’ ethos lies also the inherent view of facilitating the students’ abilities to make utterances following the context and topic as something more than oracy in the disciplines. This was seen as the foundation for the students’ intellectual, emotional, and social development—or bildung ()—as future citizens who have the self-confidence to communicate effectively and be critical thinkers—which are functions of oracy. Ultimately, the teachers seemed to value students who performed as citizens in a democratic society. The oracy construct seemed to be tied to cultural conventions and norms. This might be one explanation for the common patterns of the cross-discipline oracy construct.

The Norwegian teachers’ oracy construct included several dimensions in partial alignment with oracy framework, such as social and emotional dimensions, which can be exemplified as listening and responding, physical dimensions such as voice and body language, cognitive dimensions such as in example content, and linguistic dimensions, such as vocabulary and structure.

Summing up teachers’ norm sources and prerequisites

The current study has highlighted how teachers feel that they have no education, literature, or theory behind oracy. This is not a surprising result and complements previous findings from Hertzberg (, ) and . Moreover, the data show that the teachers experienced a lack of education or theory behind oracy. Further, the teachers pointed to the lack of possibilities to take courses or further education in oracy, which coincides with observation that there is little research on oracy and courses for teachers in oracy compared with other key competencies. In 1999, Hertzberg found that Norwegian teachers found it almost impossible to assess oracy. Over 20 years later, teachers still wonder if they are competent. The teachers still were practicing teaching and assessing oracy, even though a metalanguage was lacking, which aligns with the findings of several scholars (e.g., Hertzberg, , , ; ; ). When the teachers were uncertain about how to assess oracy and felt the need to document the grade sufficiently, they went to their knowledge on how to assess writing. However, mode-specific qualities for oracy, like gestures, tone of voice, or eye contact, might be overlooked.

When comparing the findings of the present work with the key elements for good-quality oracy L1 education (), a clear oral language skills framework with criteria seems to be lacking, which would have assisted the teachers in increasing their metacognitive awareness (). The exploration and assessment of students’ speaking abilities were important for teachers, and these abilities should be assessed regularly, according to . However, the Norwegian teachers found it challenging because of time constraints. “Self-, peer, and teacher feedback” on speaking is crucial () and is part of the Norwegian teachers’ assessment repertoire (Table 3). Observations of and discussions about videotaped speakers are also vital in oracy education () and seem to be an untapped resource among these participants. However, the students did send in mobile film recordings of their oral presentations for the teacher’s assessment (Table 3). Another untapped potential is debate and debate teams, which could enhance the students’ opportunities to develop arguments and practice rhetoric as found in (). Regular practice with various speaking tasks throughout the year is done in schools (Table 3), aligning with , , , Sahlström (, , ), and . In the current study, the work with oracy in Norwegian schools appeared to be unsystematic as found in . In sum, oracy has a low status in Norway as it has internationally ().

Furthermore, the teachers seemed to rely minimally on their education, textbooks, and policies. Several teachers claimed that they mostly agreed on the final summative exam. The teachers seldom experienced a divergence of two grades in assessment conversations with other teachers, which is a finding that aligns with , , and . The teachers viewed this work with the final exam as capacity-building, as found in Hertzberg (, ). Here, assessment knowledge related to oracy emerged through their institutional cultures and the subject traditions they represented. A possible interpretation can be that the teachers interpreted policies through their teaching and assessment practices, where assessments would be used to monitor and guide the students’ development and learning holistically. Although this may be useful at the time, it might do little in the way of supporting oracy as a key to rhetorical citizenship; as a result, this may weaken students’ ability to argue and participate with oral utterances and empower them in a democracy (). Although some students may be empowered in other ways, educational institutions should provide all students with the opportunity to participate in society, despite the students’ social, cultural, and economic background (). Further, there is evidence of a lopsided view of knowledge among the teachers, which is a common trend that might influence society, in which experience-based and doxa knowledge are not valued in the same manner as knowledge gained through education and scientific knowledge. At the same time, during the interviews, the teachers expressed that they used and found work as coassessors on the final oral exam to be valuable as experience-based knowledge.

Conclusions and implications for further research

A more holistic and explicit approach to the curriculum regarding what is valued as valid knowledge, pedagogy, and assessment for oracy is called for so that each student’s progress can be monitored by grade-specific, clear hallmarks for quality in each discipline to maximize student learning and bildung. The current state seems to be that oracy as a competence is taken for granted. A possible interpretation seems to be that oracy education lacks a systematic didactical approach in Norwegian education. Hence, oracy and assessment of it need to be taught more systematically in teacher education. What is clear is that the Norwegian school system does not appear to educate and guide the teachers or students sufficiently in rhetorical competence, which contradicts the vision of critical thinking, life-mastery, democratic bildung, and education outlined in the curriculum. Rhetoric enables people to participate and achieve influence in society and to become possible facilitators in the schools’ mandate for bildung. Consequently, the lack of sufficient training in rhetorical competence may lead to inequality and social structure reproduction. The ones who do not learn to speak in an effective rhetorical manner might miss opportunities to influence society or could become easy targets for manipulation or persuasion in the future, especially in the growing global digital world.

The question about what should be done to exploit the teachers’ interpretive community resources arose. Further research needs to be conducted on teachers’ norms in each subject discipline so that oracy can be conceptualized to provide a means for high construct validity. A Norwegian context-sensitive and age-standard oracy framework needs to be developed. A Norwegian National Research Center for oracy needs to be established (as requested by Berge already back in 2007). Master education in oracy and rhetoric for teachers need to be provided, so that each school at least can have one oracy expert teacher to guide colleagues as done in Britain and .


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