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This study will be based in MC primary school, a Leicester inner city school. Most of the observations will come from the foundation stage 2 classes. This school is a very culturally diverse school, with vast differences in abilities amongst the children. Most of the children come to this school with virtually no English or very little (EAL).
The reason behind me conducting this study is to see how significant talk for learning is, if it is something which is crucial for a children and teachers or is it something trivial which has very little importance.
It is important for me to first explain what is meant by talk for learning. Talk is seen to be significant for learning not only for children but for teachers also. This assignment will be looking at if talk is crucial to children's understanding of the world and crucial for teachers to understand children. I will look at what many theorists have to say and look at studies which either support talk for learning or refute the idea of talk for learning.
Firstly I will look at what a few theorists have to say about talk for learning and then look at how questioning can help teachers promote talk to gain understanding of children before summing everything together.
Piaget was one of the first theorists who felt that the idea that intelligence derives from the coordination of action in the child's environment. He believed that children's active construction of their own understanding is fundamental to their cognitive development. He opposed the notion of transmition of knowledge from teacher to pupil as a model of cognitive development. He believed that interaction between children is a very strong source of progress, but not central to his main body of work. Piaget also thought that when children are faced with problems they will usually fix on the first relevant factor they identify but Piaget said in order for them to progress they need exposure to many different views. However, these views are only helpful when from the same status so peers. Adults view will only hinder them as this does not help their thinking and development as they will either ignore their views if they can or just simply comply with what they have said. A study which supports the idea of children's thinking and development being increased by other views of children come from Doise, Murphy and Perret Clermont. They conducted a study to see if socio-cognitive conflict would promote individuals progress and understanding. In this study the key question was whether children who were given the opportunity to work on a task together would make greater individual progress than those who were not given such an opportunity. Children were put in to two groups the controlled group were they did the task individually and the experimental group where they were put into pairs to complete the task. Each child had a baseboard which had model buildings which formed a little village. The buildings were orientated in relation to a fixed mark on the baseboard. This arrangement was placed in front of the child on a tabletop. To the side of the child was another table, with an identical baseboard, but orientated differently in relation to the child. The task was to use a replica set of model buildings to recreate exactly the same village on this second table. Findings showed that the children in the experimental group showed the most improvement in understanding, reason being is the children who worked in pairs or small groups would usually be confronted with solutions which differed from their own. This conflict, and the socially engendered need to resolve it, would prompt each child to re examine their own initial ideas, and could lead the children to recognise a higher order solution that resolved the conflict (Mugney et al., 1981 as cited in GREEN). They found that it didn't matter if any of the children were not advanced than others or the need to be correct. As long as there is a conflict of view is enough to get children thinking. However there are some criticisms for this study. One can question the central role of conflict being an issue. Blaye (1988 as cited from GREEN) criticised the concept to be vague and ill defined, lacking ecological validity as it would be hard to carry out outside the research settings. Tudge (1989 as cited from GREEN) also had evidence to suggest that in certain circumstances peer interaction can result in regression as well as development.
Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky (1978 as cited from GREEN) conceptualised social interaction as being at the core of the development process. Contrasting to Piaget, Vygotsky (1978 as cited from GREEN) believed that social activity constructs knowledge and understanding especially when children interact with others who are more advanced and capable in society. Therefore refuting Piaget's idea that when children interact with those of more power and have a higher status, hinders children's understanding and thinking.
Vygotsky saw language as not only a cultural tool for sharing and developing but also a psychological tool to help organise our individual thoughts (LIGHT BLUE). Vygotsky developed the concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) which is 'the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers' (Vygotsky 1978: 86 as cited in LIGHT BLUE). ZPD represents the difference in achievement when working independently and working with guidance from adults who are more advanced and capable.
Both Vygotsky and Piaget believe that learning is active and both confirm the value of social interaction for learning and development regardless of who it may be between as both will involve dialogue.
One concept that complements Vygotsky's theory of ZPD is Bruner's (1985) notion of scaffolding. Scaffolding is the 'support that adults provide in the learning process...whereby an adult varies the level of support, gradually withdrawing it as the child gains in competency' (cited from LIGHT BLUE). Both Bruner's and Vygotsky's central strategies are modelling, showing children examples of work by experts., demonstrating, showing the procedures that experts go through when producing work and supporting children as they learn (Cobden 2000: 10).
Research (Galton et al. 1999 as cited from LIGHT BLUE) shows that teachers tend to ask mostly closed questions which usually promote a simple straight answer. The answer being the one the teacher has already got in their heads. Therefore, children are not exploring their own understanding and views. Instead they're just providing answers that the teacher is looking for resulting into a 'guess what I am thinking of' type question.
I carried out my directed task on only 2 of the children from one of the foundation stage 2 classes, Annie and Zunaid. Both children were of average ability. I chose to conduct my studies on just two children as it would be easier to observe and monitor while recording my findings at the same time. The session I planned for Annie and Zunaid was a maths session. I devised a lesson plan with the lesson objective being children able to use two different groups to make a total number given (see...). I used 2 groups of little wooden shapes triangles and diamonds. Before I asked the children to give me a total of a certain number using both shapes, I demonstrated what I wanted the children to do and made sure I was thinking out loud so they can see what I was doing and why. So I made sure both groups were separated and I asked the children 'hmmm what number should I make using these shapes?' and I was given 6. So I started with one group and counted out loud while using one to one correspondence, I made sure I moved each shape towards me and said '1, 2, 3, 4,' and then moved to the next group and counted on doing the same thing, '5, 6'. I made sure I emphasised the last number again and said out loud, 'I made 6. I used 4 triangles and 2 diamonds and all together they make 6'. I made sure I spoke clearly and slowly in order for the children to see what I was doing and made sure I modelled twice before I let them continue. When the children were given a number to make, I observed and found they were either counting very quietly or in their heads so I asked if they could count out loud for me, which they then did. I found I had to use a few prompts at the beginning to remind them to talk about how they made the total number. 'what number have you made, how many triangles did you use and how many diamonds, and that made?' these prompts were used in order for me to see if the children knew what they were doing and if they made the number correctly. It gave the children room to correct any mistakes as they would normally recount when prompted and I found when they counted out loud and they had 1 more than the number they were given they would simply take it away and say the correct amount or add on another shape. I recorded data/observations on sticky notes (see...) in brief which I then wrote out on the child observation sheets in detail (see..).
If you have a look at appendices lesson evaluation 6/11/09 and 13/11/09 you will also find that In these lesson evaluations talk and questioning helped the children to understand what I was doing which therefore resulted in them being able to do the tasks. I have also stated that asking more questions and talking about what I am doing or have done helps children's understanding and helps me understand how they have carried tasks out.
The reason why I chose to facilitate talk during a maths session is because I found during most maths session both focus children were very quiet and often made mistakes such as counting too fast while using one to one correspondence, reluctant to count at all or out loud. I thought getting the children to talk more about what they were doing and how they were doing it would help them with maths problems. That is why I decided to focus on maths.
After looking at theorists ideas and view on talk for learning and looking at teachers questioning strategies it is evident (lesson evaluation 6/11/09) that modelling and talking about how I how I made a number and asking questions helped, even though this might have helped and worked effectively I also stated that I need to ask more questions and still model more. This is also the case in my following (13/11/09 lesson evaluation) session, were I stated talk and modelling to be effective in supporting the children's learning. this can be related to Vygotsky's and Bruner's strategies modelling, demonstrating and supporting.
To promote talk in the class I was based in, I made sure I asked questions which helped me understand what the children have done, how they have done it and why. This is evident in the P.E. lesson plan dated 16/11/09. I asked different types of questions during the session, questions which required recall of the previous sessions, questions to find out what they thought and their own views, questions which required them to give opinions on others and why. All these different types of questions were asked so I could understand the children better. Learn more about them as individuals and also see them develop new ideas. Once one child gave a response to the question 'how could we move on this equipment?' it usually stimulated others to give their ideas including new ideas. This was good as it promoted creative thinking. Furthermore, as this was an open question the children had the freedom to say what they wanted without the fear of giving a wrong answer. Normally when children are asked questions which require straight answers, I found that in some cases they would either be reluctant to answer, which could suggest fear of being wrong or they would just take random guesses. As the children were very young it was more important to promote talk to evaluate and assess them as individuals.
Although open questions were useful in getting a range of different ideas and answers, sometimes I needed to ask questions which required a correct answer, so a specific answer. This was the case in certain maths sessions. During the maths directed tasks I needed to find out what the largest number they could count up to correctly (maths directed task lesson plan 11/11/09) and also be able to count two different groups by counting on (maths directed task 2 lesson plan 19/11/09). This was also the case in the knowledge and understanding of the world sessions (KUW lesson plan 17/11/09). Asking closed questions helped me understand if the children understood or knew the answer. If an incorrect answer was given it would only make me more aware of what the child is struggling with and therefore also result in me reflecting on my own practice too see what I may be doing wrong or how I could help the child in question. Although closed questions may have been asked sometimes in sessions (KUW/CLL 9/11/09) it helps to talk about shared experiences to help develop creative ideas. This is evident in one of the knowledge and understanding of the world session were children watched a video on fireworks and had to make their own (lesson evaluation KUW/CLL 10/11/09). You can see in the observations (Annie 10/11/09), she was talking about what she is doing and describing her firework and also related it to something that looked similar, this suggests that she can relate it to things which may be similar and familiar to her and also helps me understand how she see's fireworks.