Promoting Talk: A Study of Frequency, Contextual Conditions and Variation in Transitions Between Whole-class Teaching to Group Work in Primary and Secondary Classrooms

Project Number
OER 12/08 CG

Project Duration
April 2009 - February 2012


Oracy refers to an individual's ability to engage with their social world and to influence it through talk (speaking and listening) (Wilkinson, 1965; Barnes 1988, 1992; Norman 1992). Talk plays an important role in a child's cognitive, academic and social development. When children work collaboratively with their teachers and classmates, they co-construct a body of shared knowledge and understanding through the process of ''interthinking'' (Mercer, 2000). Many Singaporean pupils in large classes, however, do not get much talk time, particularly where classroom interaction is mainly dominated by teacher talk. One way in which pupil talk can be promoted is through the use of group work. The proposed study is the first of a suite of three studies in a project planned to investigate the theme of ''Oracy Development through Group Work in Singapore Schools: A Special Focus on the English Language Classroom''. The proposed project is in response to MOE's emphasis on oracy development in the revised EL curriculum (MOE, 2006). It will also offer rich insights into the gap in EL teachers' expertise and practice identified by Goh, Zhang, Ng and Koh (2005) and to provide timely intervention to improve teacher capacity in this area. The proposed study aims to investigate patterns in the incorporation of group work. It will establish the frequency of group work and the quality of contextual conditions created through teachers' verbal scaffolding when pupils move into small group learning. Patterns are compared across lessons from key subject areas to identify features of variation which may have further implications for EL teaching. This involves examining the transitions (or the lack of them) from teacher-centred teaching to group work, and back (where appropriate). Transitions are important units for analysis not just for establishing the presence of group work, but also because they create the contextual conditions for group learning. Findings in the National Oracy Project in Britain indicate that the quality of pupils' talk and interthinking are influenced by the 'open' or 'closed' contextual conditions that teachers set up through their introductions to and instructions for group work (Corden 2000). To identify empirical patterns representative of the larger population, the study will examine 250 lesson transcripts in the Singapore Corpus of Research in Education (SCORE - CRPP's Panel 4 data from Core 1 of Classroom Discourse). It will use a mixed-method approach involving a combination of corpus-based, quantitative and discourse-oriented, interpretative analyses. The frequency of group work will be analyzed and presented statistically, as will a comparison of the frequency across subjects and school levels. The types of contextual condition during transitions will be identified by analyzing teachers' discourse qualitatively for features such as regulatory utterances, task-specific instructions, evaluative comments, ground rules and statement of the teacher's role. Findings will be presented in the form of text, descriptive statistics, descriptive data and graphic visualizations of data. The proposed study can showcase the use of corpus-based tools for making generalization about teachers' role in promoting oracy development. It will also offer a framework for examining and understanding teacher speech produced specifically in transitions between whole-class teaching and group work that draws on linguistic insights into language use and educational notions of scaffolding.

Research Themes
English Language & Mother Tongue Languages

Funding Source

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