Analysis of Factors Influencing the Contribution of Talk to Learning During Collaborative Group Work in Science

E. Patterson

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Although greater emphasis has been placed on the significance of talk in learning in recent years, in an evaluation of the impact of the Primary National Strategy on pupil attainment, Ofsted associated the poor language skills of many lower attaining pupils with their slow progress throughout the curriculum (Ofsted, 2005). Much research has been carried out into the potential of collaborative working for supporting learning through talk, however just because children are involved in a group activity, it does not necessarily follow that the interactions taking place are actually furthering their learning. ‘...observational research in British primary schools has shown that the talk which takes place when children are asked to work together is often uncooperative, off-task, inequitable and ultimately unproductive.’ (Mercer et al. 2004:361). Teachers’ choice of grouping is rarely related to any educational purpose, rather these decisions are driven by class control and organisational issues (Baines et al., 2007). Therefore the rationale for decisions relating to grouping tends to focus on teacher-learner considerations rather than potential learner-learner benefits. Reasons why teachers tended to avoid collaborative group work were identified by Baines et al. (2007) in a review of research:  concerns that there would be loss of control resulting in off-task or disruptive behaviours  beliefs held by the teachers that peer interaction does not facilitate learning. Where collaborative group work is used, teachers often do not have a clear understanding of the nature or purpose of the talk they want the children to engage in. Consequences of this are that children do not have: - a clear understanding of what they are expected to do - a perception of what constitutes an effective discussion (Mercer, 1996).2 In a review of research studies carried by Howe and Mercer (2007) it was found that only a small proportion of the interactions taking place during group work actually contributed to the children’s learning. This highlights the importance of developing approaches for analysing the interactions taking place during collaborative group work in order to identify those that support effective learning. Children are often unclear about what they should be doing and what the aims of the activity are in collaborative learning situations (Mercer, 1996). Findings of research studies have shown that in order for the potential benefits of small group work to be realised in practice, it is necessary to provide structure that enables children to work together effectively (Gillies, 2003). In a study investigating the role of talk in learning science, it was found teaching children language associated with collective reasoning to support talk increased the incidence of cognitively demanding exchanges (Mercer, et. al., 2004). This paper analyses factors influencing peer contribution to science learning during collaborative group work in science. The potential for increasing the level of cognitive interaction within collaborative group work through pedagogical interaction will also be explored. Research questions:  How do the behaviours and interactions observed during collaborative group work in science impact on the level of cognitive demand of talk episodes?  What kinds of intervention support the development of peer interactions to facilitate more effective learning of science through talk?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference - University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Sept 20095 Sept 2009


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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