BOOK REVIEW – The Voice in Education: Vocal Heath and Effective Communication

by Lyn Dawes

The Voice in Education: Vocal Heath and Effective Communication
Stephanie Martin and Lyn Darnley
Oxford: Compton Publishing, 2018

This book should be given to every new teacher as a present before they walk through the doors of their school. Identifying teachers as ‘occupational voice users’, the authors set out to raise awareness of voice, promote ways of caring for and using the voice effectively, and to ensure that teachers know both what they are communicating and how, when they talk to learners.

The authors look at the biology of voice and clarify some problems that may and do occur; this is a helpful acknowledgement and explanation of vocal tiredness due to the effects of teaching on the voice. The information and advice here can prevent this being almost inevitable. Thoughtful case studies bring teachers’ use of voice to life and show what steps can support teachers as they talk to a range of people during their working day. Chapter 5 deals with the voice as a physical skill, detailing the range of institutional and personal contexts that can ensure a teacher’s voice is kept in good health. It is both accessible and immediately persuasive – I found myself sitting up straighter as I read. The checklist of Vocal Care Recommendations on pages 137 & 138 should be a poster on every staff room wall, and required reading for senior management, school designers, GPs and OFSTED inspectors. As indeed should the entire book.

In a section entitled ‘Communication’ the authors use a blend of technical understanding, theory and practical know-how to describe how effective communication proceeds, and how it can be ensured rather than just hoped for. Teachers reading this book will have lots of little light-bulb moments as they see themselves in the scenarios described – the voice, being usually taken for granted, foregrounded here so that what goes on between a teacher and their class makes much more sense. An awareness of voice can have such a positive impact on practice. Careful description of aspects of communication such as gesture are combined with explanation of voice parameters such as resonance, intonation, pause, rhythm and energy – to build up a comprehensive picture of what is happening in an everyday way for the teacher, what is good practice, and how it can be readily achieved.

Spoken words are considered as tools of the trade. There are useful and practical ideas for using words and celebrating word use in the teaching environment. Vocal exercises and games are mixed with a serious understanding of the difficulties teachers encounter in their roles as orator, such as teaching outdoors, supply teaching, speech making.

The book concludes with the hope that through its

 ‘cocktail of early warning signs, anatomical information, strategies and exercises, it raises awareness of voice in general, promotes good vocal hygiene, and helps to steer teachers […] towards the help they need’ (p. 369).

I think the book achieves this aim, and more. It is very thorough and has a supportive and positive stance which is highly teacher-friendly. It’s well written and inspiring. The confident mix of theory and practical ideas means that this book can be awarded the accolade of being literally useful. The power of talk between teachers and learners has historically been rather invisible as a topic for teacher reflection and study. This timely and important work can support every teacher in understanding and using their voice as the crucial medium for teaching and learning.

Leave a Reply