This is a brief part of my analysis into the importance of why talk is important in maths and formed part of a PG cert assignment into the collaboration between teachers.
Child: Child Communication as a learning tool and communication skills review.
The main basis of this is that children do learn best when given the opportunity to discuss mathematical thinking and their learning, but they must be taught how to act in group situations. Don't just expect them to know how to act in a group.
“Children need to be helped to learn how to use language to work effectively together; to enquire, reason, and consider information, to share and negotiate their ideas, and to make joint decisions”. (MERCER AND SAMS 2006)
Barwell (2005), Sfard and Kieron (2001), Forman and Van Oers (1998) and Yackel et al (1991) have all proclaimed the use of group learning and child: child discussion as essential for the development of learning through discussion in maths. The study by Yackel, et al. (1991) advocates in particular the use of group activities in maths because they “offered the children valuable learning opportunities….through talk; something that would not have been possible through a traditional teacher guided lesson”. Mercer and Sams (2006) further the argument for group/partner discussions in maths with the statement that, “talk based group activities can help the development of individuals mathematical reasoning, understanding and problem solving skills”. Or as Vygotsky (1978) states: “Intermental (social) activity – typically mediated through language can promote intramental (individual) intellectual development”. In other words, the more we can work as groups and discuss our mathematics, the more we will learn independently.
That does not mean however that teacher guided lessons should be dismissed or that group learning is always successful. Bennet and Cass (1989), Galton (2007), and Mercer (1995) provide the research for this. The belief that group work always means learning is proven to not always be the case. The main points of this being, “talk is often un-cooperative and off task” (Bennet and Cass, 1989), or as we see regularly in class, “when pupils do talk to each other… the conversations tend to revolve around their social lives rather than their learning”. (Galton, 2007) In addition to this Mercer (1995) and Mercer and Sams (2006) show that for the children to be effective communicators many other influences or ideas need to be involved in the process.
It is clear to see that a combination of pupil and teacher discussion, teacher-led talk, pupil led dialogue and giving children a clear understanding of the focus and rules for discussions are essential for pupil to pupil mathematical discussions to be successful and a learning experience for all involved.
An excellent article from nrich can be found here...
Talk in maths and other lessons is obviously common place, but it is how you structure the talk and ensure it is essential for the learning that is vital. Many activities allow children to talk about maths, but no more so than learning through games. (more on that to follow soon.
Don't forget to comment if you have enjoyed reading.
Barwell et.al (2005) Ambiguity in the Language Classroom. Language and Education; 19 (2) 118-126
Bennet and Cass. (1989) The effects of group composition in group interactive processes and pupil understanding. British Educational Research Journal. 15 p119-132.
Forman and Van Oers (1998) Mathematical Learning in Socio-Cultural Contexts. Learning and Instruction; 8 (6) p469-472
Galton, M. (2007) Learning and Teaching in the Primary Classroom. Sage. London.
Mercer, N. (1995) The Guided Construction of Talk amongst teachers and learners. Clevedon. Multilingual matters.
Mercer, N and Sams, C. (2006) Teaching Children How to Use Language to Solve Maths Problems. Language and Education; 20. (6) 506-528
Sfard and Kieron (2001) Cognition as communication: Rethinking learning by talking through multi-faceted analysis of students mathematical interactions. Mind, Culture and Activity; 8 (1) p42-76
Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind and Society: The development of Higher psychological processes. Cambridge, M.A. Harvard University Press
Yackel et al (1991) Small group interactions as a source of learning opportunities in 2nd grade maths. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. (22) p390-408
I'm a deputy head in Scarborough, England and love using media and tech to develop writing. I'm also a keen advocate of Learning Without Limits and believe in a games based approach to developing mathematicians.