Exploring the Dialogic Space in Teaching: A Study of Pre-university Classroom Talk in Singapore

Project Number
OER 04/12 TCS

Project Duration
July 2012 - September 2015


This proposed study focuses on a key competency in the 21st century landscape -- critical thinking -- as it is manifest in the classroom talk of pre-university students in Singapore's Junior College (JC) system. 'Critical thinking' here refers to the students' ability and willingness to question and challenge views and opinions. More broadly, it describes a classroom culture which encourages students to actively participate in discussion and debate as part of the process of knowledge (de)construction. The purpose of the study is to explore the dialogic space in Singapore pre-university classrooms to ascertain the extent to which teachers and students are able to co-construct knowledge and learning. Through observations and systematic analysis of classroom talk in General Paper lessons in five selected junior colleges in Singapore, the study aims to produce findings that will fill several important gaps. First, it attempts to make visible and explicit the process of knowledge construction amidst the vagaries of classroom talk by probing into the discursive structures of dialogic teaching. By adapting a coding scheme aimed at making transparent and explicit the nature and workings of dialogic teaching, the study hopes to contribute to our understanding of how students can be steered towards constructing their own knowledge rather than simply assimilating knowledge transmitted to them by their teacher. Secondly, there is a dearth of empirical data on pre-university classroom teaching in Singapore, as most classroom corpora tend to focus on primary or secondary levels of schooling. Seen as the crucial, preparatory stage for university education, education at the pre-university level therefore constitutes a vital link to the academic literacies that students at the university level are expected to possess and display. The findings of this study will illuminate not only the teaching of a key subject in Singapore's junior college curriculum, but also potentially of different disciplines due to the inter-disciplinary nature of General Paper. Thirdly, the proposed study will also contribute significantly towards preparing students for the 21st century, since one of its key competencies relates to critical thinking. Finally, the corpus of classroom data collected, both audio and video, will constitute valuable capacity-building resources for pre-service teacher education or even professional development of in-service teachers. The findings will make teacher educators themselves more cognizant of how teacher talk drives learning, leading hopefully to the reshaping of curricular content to focus more sharply on the important role of classroom talk in education.

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