Helping children of different abilities to explain their reasoning and build on ideas in mathematics

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Monks, Julia
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Educational Level
ISCED Level 1 Primary education
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Geographical Setting
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Background and purpose: This study came from my observations of paired work with children of different abilities, where I found more able learners would frequently just tell the other child the answer. I also perceived that higher ability children saw little benefit to their own learning from group or paired activities.

Aims: My research focused on how to support children of different abilities to explain their mathematical reasoning and build on their own and each other’s ideas

Study design or methodology: I worked with children in two mixed-ability pairs from a mixed Year 3 and Year 4 class (ages 7-9). I recorded a baseline assessment which I analysed using T-SEDA codes. From the baseline I identified that very little dialogic talk was happening at all in the classroom. I then worked with the children to set ground rules for talk and to help them to develop a meta-awareness of the importance of dialogue to their own learning.

Findings: I developed “talking mats” which brought together stem sentences to support children in their dialogic interactions. A second cycle of data collection showed a substantial improvement in the amount and quality of talk between pairs.

Implications for practice: Explicitly explaining to the children why dialogue is important was a key element in improving the dialogue, particularly for the child of highest ability. Giving children the sentence stems gave them a structure which supported their talking. As well as giving them vocabulary to start them off, it appeared that the lower ability children felt that it gave them explicit permission to ask for help. By spending time creating the conditions for effective dialogue, they began to see it as an important element of the lesson and the learning in its own right not just a precursor to the worksheet.
Keywords (free text)
dialogue , mathematics , mixed ability
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