Letting Children Argue Might Make Them Better Learners

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A study has found that getting children to engage in meaningful dialogue can improve their performance in English, math, and science lessons.

The study was carried out by Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, with a report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). They monitored 2,493 Year 5 pupils (9 and 10-year-olds) across 78 English primary schools.

These schools had higher than average proportions of disadvantaged pupils. In the study, some teachers were randomly asked to trial Dialogic Teaching, which encourages pupils to “reason, discuss, argue and explain rather than merely respond."

Rather impressively, pupils who took part in the trial made on average two months more progress than children who did not take part. The results suggest that Dialogic Teaching could be a vital tool in improving the overall thinking of children, helping them learn new skills rather just knowing subject matter.

“Getting children to think and talk about their own learning more explicitly can be one of the most effective ways to improve academic outcomes,” said Sir Kevan Collins, CEO of EEF, in a statement

“While there is no simple strategy or trick, today’s evaluation report on dialogic teaching does give primary school heads and teachers practical evidence on an approach that appears to be effective across different subjects.”

While the trial worked well, the EEF noted that teachers felt they needed more than two terms (or semesters) to get the most out of it. “EEF will explore options for testing the approach using a model that could be made available to a large number of schools,” a statement from the EEF noted.

The EEF also performed other trials, which had similarly impressive results. One was called Thinking Talking, Doing Science, where children were asked “big questions” and asked to discuss them. These included things like “how do we know Earth is a sphere?” In this trial, children made three months more progress.

Another called Success For All, building on similar results in the US, was an approach to improve literacy in primary schools. This involved giving the teachers and staff training on how best to teach their pupils. The findings showed that disadvantaged children benefitted most from this initiative, although the EEF noted this may have been down to those schools finding it easier to implement the program.

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