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Classroom Discussions  

P. Karen Murphy, Carla M. Firetto, Gwendolyn M. Lloyd, Liwei Wei, and Sara E. Baszczewski

Classroom discussions are a common pedagogical approach that involve verbal exchanges of information between teachers and students. Given their importance to teaching and learning, classroom discussions have been the focus of extensive curricular mandates and, to a lesser extent, research over the last several decades. In traditional classroom discussions, the teacher tends to be situated at the center of the discussion. This type of discussion model is commonly referred to as a transmissionary model, where the teacher transmits knowledge and understandings and often leads the discussion by posing factual questions and responding to students’ answers by giving evaluative feedback. However, productive classroom discussions are better characterized by a dialogic model with students at the center of the discussion. When students are encouraged to ask thoughtful questions, give reflective responses, and challenge each other using reasoned arguments within classroom discussions, they are more likely to become builders and owners of their knowledge. Indeed, productive classroom discussions tend to ignite students’ engagement, thinking, and understanding of knowledge across academic content areas. When adopting a dialogic model, classroom discussions can advance students’ learning by promoting their basic and high-level comprehension of literary text, reasoning, and argumentation during mathematical sense-making, scientific reasoning, and model building and even second-language proficiency and communicative competence. While the overarching aim of classroom discussions is to enhance student learning across content areas (e.g., language arts, mathematics, science, or second-language learning), the various roles that teachers assume in each of the content areas may have different emphases that align with various content learning expectations. Optimizing classroom discussions requires specific considerations of the content-focused goal, teacher knowledge of content and discourse orchestration, student instruction on classroom talk, and context of content learning. Importantly, the potential and promise of productive classroom discussions can be realized by supporting teachers’ content-specific discussion practices through sustained professional development and by supporting students through explicit instruction about discussion.

Article

Writing  

Danielle S. McNamara, Laura K. Allen, and Andrew Potter

Writing is a crucial means of communicating with others and thus is vital to success and survival in modern society. Writing processes rely on virtually all aspects of cognition (e.g., working memory, motivation, affect, self-regulation, prior knowledge, problem solving) and are naturally embedded in social contexts. Social factors include writers’ objectives, audience, genre, and mode of writing. For example, the increased use of the Internet has rendered writing for informal purposes more frequent, and writing mechanics (e.g., deleting, spell checking) and search for information more efficient. Research on educational interventions to improve writing points to the importance of providing students with instruction and practice using writing strategies, writing practice with feedback (e.g., instructor, automated), and collaborative writing (including peer feedback). Given the inherent complexity of writing, it is important to help students learn how to write across various situations with varying purposes and demands. This necessitates reading many types of text genres (e.g., narrative vs. informational writing), writing frequently, and revising based on feedback. Since the turn of the century, there has been a substantial increase in research on writing processes, including methods to improve writing. However, there remains a substantial need for additional experimental work to understand writing processes as well as more evidence on which types of interventions are most beneficial in helping students to improve their writing. Feedback from both cognitive and sociocultural researchers should inform future revisions of the standardized guidelines and assessments with the long-term goal of developing a clearly defined set of standards for academic excellence in writing.