In children and made sure they understood why

In this essay, I am going to talk about the children learning through classroom talk. I have seen that children’s learning happens through social constructivism. Before carrying out observations and recordings of the year 2 class which I attended, I had to ensure I considered some ethical issues (Appendix 3). I gained permission firstly from the Headteacher and Assistant Head to allow me to audio record for Teacher talking such as instructional talk or giving information, Teacher talking to children in a dialogic fashion and children talking to each other in a dialogue about the learning without an adult intervening- which can be a pair, trio or group of four. I also gained permission from the class teacher and the children and made sure they understood why I was recording for an assignment work for PGCE course. I familiarised children with the recording process by iPhone. I also ensured teacher that the participants involved remained anonymous by their names.

Learning, is the “process that results in a relatively enduring change in a person or persons” (Alexander et al, 2009: 186). According to Winn (1990), learning is a dynamic process whereby the students’ knowledge and skills are different, when compared before to after learning. Since ‘teaching’ is the promotion of learning, our knowledge of learning and the corresponding theories in how we learn should inform our teaching (Muijs, 2007).

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Constructivism is a synthesis of multiple theories diffused in to one form. It is the assimilation of both behavioural and cognitive ideals. The “constructivist stance maintains that learning is a process of constructing meaning; it is how people make sense of their experience” (Merriam and Caffarella, 1999, p. 260). It is a level of development at which learning takes place. It comprises cognitive structures that are still in the process of maturing, but which can only mature under the guidance of or in collaboration with others. Mvududu and Thiel-Burgess (2012) state that constructivism is widely touted as an approach to probe for children’s level of understanding and to show that that understanding can increase and change to higher level thinking. Thus, constructivism refers to how of learning and thinking. Constructivism describes the way that the students can make sense of the material and how the materials can be taught effectively. With Constructivism as an educational theory in mind, the teachers should consider what students know and allow their students to put their knowledge in to practice. Here, Constructivism gives an insight of knowledge which learners have already developed through response and environmental stimuli. While Social constructivism is a type of constructivism which is that highlighted the role of language and culture in cognitive development.

According to Vygotsky (1978, 57),

Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level and, later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.

Piaget and Inhelder (1969) suggest that discovery is the most important and fundamental basis of learning. While Vygotsky (1978) believes that Piaget’s emphasis focuses too much on internal processes of individuals. Vygotsky considers cognitive development primarily as a function of external factors such as cultural, historical, and social interaction rather than of individual construction.

According to many educators such as Bailey and Pransky (2005) agree with Vygotsky (1978) about the importance of culture in construction of knowledge, yet Bailey and Pransky (2005) emphasize that pedagogical theories such as constructivism don’t consider the deep impact of culture on learning and knowledge. They argued that Piaget failed to understand that learning is a collaborative process. Vygotsky emphasise two different levels of developments. The level of actual development is the level of development that the learner has already reached and is the level at which the learner can solve problems independently. The level of the ‘zone of proximal development’ is the level of development that the learner can reach under the guidance of teachers or in collaboration with peers.

According to Vygotsky, learning happens through collaborative process where it should be followed by teaching using collaborative learning methods. It requires that learners should develop teamwork skills and to see individual learning as essential related to the success of group learning. “Communities of Practice’ (Lave and Wenger,1991) Teacher need to be aware that the process of learning happens through peer interaction. Discussion can be promoted by the presentation of specific concepts or problems and guided by directed questions, the introduction and clarification of concepts and information, and references to previously learned material. It should be followed by linked strategies of modelling and scaffolding.

Talk is one of the effective tool of teaching. According to Alexander (2004, p5) emphasis that Children, we now, know, need to talk, and to experience a rich diet of spoken language, in order to think and to learn. Reading, writing and number may be acknowledged curriculum ‘basics’, but talk is arguably the true foundation of learning. Neuroscience also supports the Vygotskian critique of teaching a mere development facilitation. As Goswami notes, responding sceptically to Blakemore and Firth’s views on ‘learning without awareness’:

Children spend much of their day in classrooms, (but) their brains do not automatically ‘notice’ how to read or do sums. These skills must be directly taught. It seems much more likely that the power of learning without awareness is relevant to education via social cognition.

‘Teachers must value the relationship between the talk they use for teaching, and the talk they hope to inspire their pupils to use for learning. (Smith and Higgins,2006:500) Children are not aware of how to use spoken language in the same way that they are taught literacy and numeracy. Here, teacher carefully planned and teach the children to talk for learning through activities, open-ended questions and many more.

The 2014 Primary National curriculum emphasises both the importance of children’s talk, and importance of direct teaching of the relevant skills:

hereThe National Curriculum for English reflects the importance of spoken language in pupils’ development across the whole curriculum- cognitively, socially and linguistically … Pupils should develop a capacity to explain their understanding of books and other reading, and to prepare their ideas before they write. They must be assisted in making their thinking clear to themselves as well as to others and teachers should ensure that pupils builds secure foundations by using discussion to probe and remedy their misconceptions. Pupils should also be taught to understand and use the conventions for discussion and debate. 

According to Alexander (2004) emphasis Dialogic Teaching- teaching which is collective, reciprocal, supportive, cumulative and purposeful. Dialogic teaching is a way of teaching where the teacher is aware of the power of dialogue and creates opportunities to engage every child in classroom dialogue. Research has further shown that both interaction with adults and collaboration with peers can provide opportunities for children’s learning and for their cognitive development (Alexander, 2000,2004) However, according to Bennett and Cass (1989) the research available about group work in British schools showed that although pupils worked in group situations they did not actually work collaboratively. Therefore, the teacher arranges the discussion to lead children through a line of thinking. ‘Thinking Together’ project- Wegerif, Littleton, Dawes, Mercer and Rowe (2004) Through dialogue, children and their teachers are equal partners working hard to reach an agreed learning outcome and trying out and developing what Mercer (2000) has described as the joint construction of knowledge or ‘interthinking’. Interthinking can be achieved through dialogue with pupils, but pupils can interthink with each other in a process of joint enquiry. Dialogic teaching is therefore based on two main grounds: 1) children as active participants in learning; 2) children using language to learn.

Whole-class interactive teaching has been shown to increase pupil achievement (Alexander, 2000). Here, teacher teaching to whole class doesn’t mean simply one-way lecturing or traditional way of teaching. The key word is ‘interactive’ where teacher creates clear, sequenced, structured presentations. For example, In the first commentary of English (Appendix 1), where children go through LI and gives time with explanation to understand about what they are going to learn. Teacher explains and demonstrate of how to create story mountain through modelling of a procedure. During this process, she makes sure that she introduces key vocabulary such as characters, build up, problem, resolution and end of the story. Here, she revisits about the pupils’ refreshing memory of previous work. Teacher shows the picture where they know that the characters and predict what is happening in the picture. In the end, to consolidate the learning of pupils’, she allows children to create their own story mountain working in the pairs where pupils are allowed time to talk within a framework of effective direct teaching approaches.

Dialogic teaching also requires skilful questioning, and the kinds of questions are asked for supporting, enhancing, and extending children’s learning. Here, teacher in Science lesson (Appendix 1) starts the lesson with question ‘What is materials?’ Here, the teacher is not questioning solely for the purpose of testing pupils’ knowledge, but she wants them to reflect, develop and extend their thinking. Children were allowed to talk to their partners and they come up with answers such as house made of wood, and teacher comes up with another question such as ‘What materials are there in the world? Teacher asked probing question where children can clarify their thinking and take their thinking further. She waits for children to reply her with different answers. As Wragg and Brown (2001) suggest several types of response that can be made to pupils’ answers and comments. Critic mentions that through pupils’ response, teacher should have view of children’s understanding when they are too concerned with leading children towards a predetermined answer, so it is important to give children time to respond. According to Galton and Hargreaves (2002) found that on average a classroom teacher waits only two seconds before either repeating a question, rephrasing it, directing it to another child or extending it themselves. In the end, it is important to think about a pace in relation to discovering what pupils know and what their misconceptions are requires a good communication skill, language skills and understanding. The teacher asked questions which produce only brief responses from pupil. Here, we can see that dialogic talk is happening where teachers and pupils make important and fruitful contribution.

‘The development of language’, language is a vital part of teaching and learning. Mercer and Littleton (2007), for example, I have seen that teacher do focus on the quality of spoken dialogue in which pupils have significantly improve children’s attainment. It is expected that teacher should planned talk across the curriculum so that the development of children’s ability to use talk for thinking and learning.  The teacher planned lessons that over opportunities for different types of talk children are, for example, given the experience of discussing tasks with the peers, exploring their thinking, presenting their ideas and working collaboratively to reach an agreement.

Exploratory talk is a type of talk where children are talking into small groups of three or four children. In the exploratory discussion, they do not need adult present. Children shared their ideas on what they have been taught about talk for learning. Here, the teacher has planned lesson where she talks most part of the lesson. Here, direct teaching is happening in Maths Lesson of Year 2 at Weald Rise primary School. Here children’s names are anonymous. 

Teacher instructional talk

Children sit on the carpet, in the classroom, in front of the interactive board.

CT: Today, we are not going to look about shapes, partition but we are going to look (where she holds weighing scale) and asked question. what is this called?

Child S: You put something in and it moves.

CT: You are right, we put something, and it moves this way and that way and both sides should same. This is called weighing scale. We are going to look at weighing scale but before we look at weighing scale we need to know what is mass? Another way of saying mass is how heavy or light it is?

We are going to look at weighing scale. She models of being weighing scale where she asked question that if I am going to be weighing scale where my hands should be one up and one down. Here children correct the teacher that both are same. Here, the teacher encourages children to pretend to be weighing scale where they must make sure that their arms are straight just like our weighing scale. 

CT (slowly put the question): what happen if one hand goes up and another hand goes down? The children still didn’t get it. Here, she simply by asking closed ques-tion that which hand is heavier and which hand is lighter?

All the children in chorus says that one hand goes up is light and down is heavy.

CT: Okay, now tell me what is word light means?

Child A: Light might mean bigger.

CT: It might be bigger.

Child A(interrupts): It goes up.

CT: It goes up means lighter

CT: Remember, if you put anything on weighing scale such as rubber or ruler. She put some cube on one side of weighing scale. (here question), What would happen when I put cubes on one side of weighing scale?

Child B: It goes down.

CT: This has gone down, why? (answered) This side is heavier whenever is some-thing heavy it goes down and whenever is something lighter it goes up.

CT asked question to Child S.

CT: why child S this side of weighing scale is heavy?

Child S: It goes down.

CT: when weighing scale goes up what it is called?

Child S: It goes up.

Here, CT models weighing scale that one goes up is lighter and another one goes down is lighter.

Here CT says that we are going used our own hands as weighing scale where children must choose things around the classroom and decide which things is heavier than another thing. CT models out the few objects such as ruler versus pencil. Here, she asked which is heavier and which one is lighter? CT gives an opportunity to choose things from the classroom and experienced of which one is heavier and which one is lighter? CT calls out one Child M and tell him to go and choose two things from the class-room.

Child M brings ruler and glue-stick.

CT: which one is heavier, and which one is lighter? Feel both the things and tell us.

Child M: Glue-stick is heavier, and ruler is light.

After that, CT gives children task to check objects available on their table and draw and label which one is heavier, and which one is lighter?

Here, children are ready to learn by sitting on the carpet. Teacher talks about weighing scale and she put the picture of weighing scale on the interactive board. Here, she demonstrates weighing scale through hands where children trying to understand the concept of what weighing scale means. This instructional talk does not show clear links to social constructivism. Here, two questions were closed, and no discussion is encouraged so it cannot be dialogic teaching (Alexander 2008) My observation reflects that children were engaged and very keen to use their own hands as weighing scale. The most important encouragement to whole class learning were the real view of weighing scale and the teacher was demonstrating or modelling with his own hand. This copying of actions and encouraging children to be using their own hands and think about what are their views on measuring mass. Jordan and Carlisle (2008) note that Piaget did refer to toddlers copying the actions of adults and discussed the child creating his own mental model of an action by adapting that of an adult, so constructivism can possibly be applied here. Here, the teacher talk is simple vocabulary where children get used with the word like mass, weighing scale, heavy and light. So, in my opinion instructional talk is useful and necessary.

Here, Mercer and Hodgkinson (2008) argues that exploratory talk is the optimum type of talk that teachers should aim to develop amongst pupils in their classrooms. This contrast with Mercer’s definition of disputational talk in which speakers are competitive rather than cooperative, each sticking to their own ideas and agree with each other but there is no critical evaluation of ideas. In contrast to first two talks, this extract in which the teacher is focussing on their discussion of reading story in guided group.    

Transcript of Teacher to small group

CT: Do you think fiction book? How do you know that this fiction book?

Child S: It doesn’t have glossary and index.

CT: where do you find glossary and index.

Child S: Glossary at the end of the page and content at the beginning of the book.

CT: Tell something about the pages in the book.

Child B: They are animated pages.

Child N: It is a story about alien and attack and human.

CT: Let’s make prediction. what is going to happen? Look at front cover.

Child A: Alien will be frightened here.

CT: Look at the back of the page.

Child A didn’t get it.

CT: Okay, it is called blurb. She allows children to repeat word ‘blurb’. Blurb tells you a little bit of what you are going to read in the book.

In this extract, the teacher has the best of intentions and is keen to draw in all members of the group, there are many ways in which talks is productive. She plans exciting learning opportunities and leave children to talk which is an important skill in itself. The teacher gives guidance where she needs to model features of speaking and listening such as What is glossary? Where can you find blurb? However, this type of talk benefits pupils’ where teacher has explicitly reminded of teaching points in relation to group talk. 

The extract shows below were dialogue between three girls higher attaining year 2 in a Weald Rise Primary School planning their own story writing. After teacher explains about how to write their own stories including all the features of Toy’s Story. Girls were own their table discussing their stories to each other. All names have been anonymised.

Children talking without adult involvement.

Extract 3    

Child K: It was Andy’s birthday party.

Child L: No, it was Andy’s fancy birthday party for start.

Child K: Now, I am going to build up.

Child L: Me too, build up.

She sings build up, bbb …. build-up.

Child L: Woody fall back from bed and then there was a buzz. Woody left out. I can see yellow chair. Woody thought that he is worse.

Child K: Problem. I don’t understand.

Child L: It was Andy’s birthday party that was a problem. Repeatedly says That was a problem.

Child K: How will be the plan to solve the problem?

Child L: Woody and Buzz attack them. Here, the child is sounding out the word at-tack.

Child K: Remember you are using your full stop and adjectives. Here, Child L realises and made sound ‘Ha’.

Child L: Make sure we all got our Full stops.

Child F: I have done my resolution.

Child L: I haven’t done my resolution.

This extract clearly demonstrate that children are engaged in exploratory talk. They used key vocabulary such as problem, resolution and full stop. Mercer and Littleton (2007) define children as being engaged in collaborative learning ‘when they are engaged in a coordinated, continuing attempt to solve a problem or in some way construct common knowledge’. Here Child K, first sentence is challenged by Child L and correcting sentence by adding an adjective to it. Child F is listening the sentence and try to read out her own sentence as to make sure that she got an adjective in her own sentence. Child K indicates that she is going to write about build up characters in the story. Child L talks about her build up characters in the story which allows Child K phrase sentences in the story. The talking here shows the evidences which can be explained well within a social constructivist framework. The talking helps them to develop their knowledge about how to plan their own story. Collaborative learning in group occurs when knowledge and understanding is developed through talking and working together relatively autonomously (Blatchford et al., 2003. Mercer and Littleton, 2007) However, Vygotsky’s idea of a More Knowledge Other (MKO) is seen within the group where on girl tries to dominate the discussion. My observation said that Child L was acting as the MKO but the other two were active participant in the discussion felt no difficulty to express their views in it.

This extract is a good example of classroom interaction occurs where children feel part of a learning community in which understandings are shared through talk together. They are planning their own ideas and synthesising ideas to each other. This shows higher order thinking skills as first put forward by Bloom in his taxonomy of learning (Bloom and Krathwohl 1956 cited in Jordan and Carlisle (2008) In my opinion, children have good prior knowledge of writing their own stories through recognising characters, prediction and solving the problem in the story.

In the end, I would say that it is teacher responsibility to make sure that every child has the opportunity to speak out in class as an everyday occurrence. This requires some organisation, because, as educationalists, we cannot be satisfied with casual conversation; we need to organise the sort of educationally effective talk that we know will help everyone to develop, think and learn. So, it is our responsibility to organise talk for learning. I think that teacher needs to be able to model what talk for learning is, and to be able to describe what it sounds like and help pupils to achieve it.