Talk, Thinking and ICT

From January 2000 to January 2002
Project Leader(s): Steve Higgins and Neil Mercer
Staff: Prof. Dr Rupert Wegerif (The Open University), Dr Lyn Dawes (De Montfort University) and Ms Claire Sams (The Open University).
Sponsors: The Nuffield Foundation

Start date: 2000 To: 2002 Research Aims and Objectives This research project was designed to achieve three practical aims: • to improve the ways that computers are used for teaching and learning in primary schools; • to develop children’s use of language for reasoning and working together; • to improve children’s understanding of mathematics and science. Building upon earlier research, the project generated specially-designed activities for improving children’s use of language for thinking and working together while studying maths and science. These activities involved teachers and children in establishing ‘ground-rules’ for collaboration, such as listening with respect, providing and seeking reasons for opinions, encouraging partners to give their views and trying to reach joint decisions. Within this Thinking Together programme, computer-based activities were used to stimulate discussion and focus children’s joint activity on concepts and investigative problems in science and mathematics. This experimental programme was put into practice in seven Year 5 primary classes in schools in Milton Keynes. Effects on the talk, joint activity and individual learning of children who followed this programme were assessed by comparing them, over the period of one school year, with children in similar schools who followed the normal curriculum. Although some practical problems were encountered, the implementation was achieved successfully and the project was completed to schedule. Evaluations of the intervention have shown that it: (a) helped children communicate together more effectively and increased their use of talk for reasoning; (b) significantly improved children’s individual scores on a test of reasoning (the Raven’s Progressive Matrices test) and on tests of learning and understanding in science and maths. This supports the claim of socio-cultural psychology that engagement in appropriate joint intellectual activity can promote individuals’ intellectual development; (c) indicated ways that computer-based activities can be used successfully to stimulate reasoned discussion and focus joint activity on curriculum-related learning. These findings have implications for both the design and use of educational software. The value of the Thinking Together approach has now been recognised by the QCA, BECTa, the National Literacy Strategy and the National Strategy for Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Subjects. The researchers are now engaged in disseminating its findings and developing new projects which extend the approach to first schools and secondary schools. Contact: Steve Higgins: