Dialogic Teaching in Maths

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The use of questioning and paired work in Mathematics

Traditionally, mathematics and language-based subjects have been seen as occurring on opposite sides of a great divide. However, in recent years teachers have realised the importance of talk across the curriculum including mathematics. This is supported by the DfEE (1999a, p11) who state that ‘high quality interactive teaching is oral, interactive and lively. It is a two way process in which pupils are expected to play an interactive role by answering questions, contributing points to discussions, and explaining and demonstrating their methods to the class.’ The recent Cambridge review reinforced the message that ‘teachers should encourage children to develop their speaking and listening skills across the curriculum and not only as part of English lessons.’ (Alexander R, 2010, p343)

In an everyday context talk and dialogue are an essential part of interaction between people. Talk allows us to voice out thoughts, ideas and feelings. It also helps us question and find out what others are thinking – talk therefore helps us make sense of a chaotic world. According to Britton (1970, p. 20) ‘the primary task for speech is to symbolise reality in order for us to be able to deal with it.’ Vygotsky (1962, p.25), states that ‘thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them’

In relation to learning, there is strong support for the notion that talk and learning are intricately linked and that if talk ceases so too does learning. (Adams, 1984. p119). ‘Talk is seen to be the major instrument of learning in infancy and subsequent to that we continue to learn by talking about our dialogue with others.’ (Britton, 1970 p.129).

However, research shows that, despite the advantages of talk, teachers are still not using talk as a means to enhance children’s learning. ‘In England, teacher –pupil and pupil – pupil talk is under exploited as tools for learning and their potential for teaching as more than transmission is rarely fulfilled.’ (Cambridge review, 2010, p306) As well as facilitating learning, the use of language also promotes meta-cognitive processes in which the learner is conscious of and develops control over their own learning. The act of consciously verbalising to construct learning in a clear way results in the process being conscious and deliberate ensuring meta-cognitive activity. (Vygotsky, 1962).

According to Barnes, as cited by Moyles et al (2003, p17) ‘Teachers are often faced with the dilemma need to promote learning through discussion and a need to maintain control.’ This can be seen by not only the amount of discussions allowed in class but also the number of questions that a teacher asks during the day. Research shows that teacher ask an average of 300 questions a day – usually closed.

A teacher asks, on average, 300 to 400 questions per day (Brualdi, 1998; cited by Hattie, 2009, p.182), with an average wait time between question and response of 0.9 seconds (Rowe, 1986; cited by Van De Weghe, 2009, p.79). Unfortunately, these rapid fire questions are not the questions we need to encourage because they tend to be recall questions rather than questions requiring higher level thought. Questioning can be used to “...stimulate recall, deepen understanding, develop imagination and encourage problem solving” (Wragg and Brown, 2001, p.6). At times, it may be appropriate to question individual children, and at other times to ask talk partners or groups of children questions to establish an appropriate response. It can be simple to change closed questions into open questions that promote dialogue, for example, “What is 3+4?” can be changed to “is 3+4= 8 right - this in turn will develop thinking and learning as reasoning and explanations are required.

In this assignment I am going to be looking at the importance of dialogue, in particular paired work and...
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