Training pupils to hold classroom discussions 'boosts the quality of their questions'

Study on the Quality Talk approach to classroom discussions reveals how a 'real craving' for rich learning opportunities is held back by pupils' lack of talking skills, says teacher

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Training secondary pupils in how to talk to each other in class can improve the quality of their questions, research suggests.

The study followed last month's finding that encouraging primary pupils to argue and debate in class can help to boost their English, maths and science results.

The latest research assessed the "Quality Talk" approach to classroom discussions, which involves the teacher giving students direct instruction on how to talk to each other and regulating the text and topic under discussion, but giving students the majority of control over “interpretative authority and turn-taking”.

It aims to help teachers engage students in dialogic talk, defined as “achieving common understanding through structured, cumulative questioning and discussion”. 

The researchers, led by Maree Davies, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, examined the effects of training seven English and geography teachers in the Quality Talk approach. 

An analysis of classroom discussions, carried out after the training had been provided, made the “surprise finding” that teachers did not increase their use of questions, as recommended by the Quality Talk framework.

'Better questions'

The paper says this “supports the notion that teachers’ questioning style is difficult to change, as it is very much a routine behaviour”.

But it adds that, over the course of the study, the teachers taught their students to ask each other better-quality questions during discussions in class.

“Although the total number of teacher questions guiding the small-group discussions decreased, the number of student-to-student high-quality questions increased, thus indicating a transfer of learning control to the students – one of the goals of the Quality Talk approach,” the researchers write.

One teacher, quoted in the paper, said: “Many of the students seemed to relish in the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion, despite some initial apprehension and posturing/attempts to appear disinterested.

"This study revealed a lot to me about the real craving that students have for rich, meaningful learning opportunities, but they don’t have the skills how to talk.”

The New Zealand-based study involved eight classes with a total of 203 pupils, which the authors say were “broadly representative of the ethnic make- up of the local population”. 

The research, Quality Talk and dialogic teaching—an examination of a professional development programme on secondary teachers’ facilitation of student talk, has been published online by the British Educational Research Journal.

The paper's authors acknowledged the study's small sample size and use of qualitative measures, but said it provided a platform for future research.

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