Talk factory: the use of graphical representations to support argumentation around an interactive whiteboard in primary school science
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In the classroom, children are often asked to work in groups and to discuss learning activities together. However, they can find this challenging as they do not always have the necessary discussion and argumentation skills and may fail to understand what they should aim to achieve. Discussion is important in the science classroom as it is an opportunity for children to express their views and listen to those of their peers so a clearer understanding can emerge. However, it is often the case that teachers adopt a role that focuses on imparting information, thus giving students little opportunity to discuss their own views. We report on a study that involved primary school children aged 9-10 years, together with their teachers, in the learner-centred participatory design and evaluation of software – the Talk Factory – aimed at supporting exploratory talk in science. The Talk Factory enables the teacher to represent, in real time on an interactive whiteboard, evolving graphical representations of specific features of classroom dialogue that constitute exploratory talk. We report on the participatory design process and how the teachers and students used the software during science lessons on evaporation. Analysis of video footage of lessons suggest that the Talk Factory was effective in supporting the teachers’ awareness and facilitation of exploratory talk, as well as the students’ engagement in rich discussions. We discuss how the teachers and students used the software to support the development of exploratory talk in the classroom. We argue that if children are to be enabled to participate fully in science learning, it is important that they are given the opportunity to discuss their ideas as a means of developing their own understanding of scientific concepts. Our study demonstrates that the Talk Factory can go some way to supporting this.