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close this bookImproving Student Achievement in Mathematics (IAE - IBE - UNESCO, 2000, 48 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe International Academy of Education
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. Opportunity to learn
View the document2. Focus on meaning
View the document3. Learning new concepts and skills while solving problems
View the document4. Opportunities for both invention and practice
View the document5. Openness to student solution methods and student interaction
View the document6. Small-group learning
View the document7. Whole-class discussion
View the document8. Number sense
View the document9. Concrete materials
View the document10. Students’ use of calculators
View the documentConclusions
View the documentAdditional resources
View the documentReferences
View the documentThe International Bureau of Education-IBE

7. Whole-class discussion

Whole-class discussion following individual and group work improves student achievement.

Research findings

Research suggests that whole-class discussion can be effective when it is used for sharing and explaining the variety of solutions by which individual students have solved problems. It allows students to see the many ways of examining a situation and the variety of appropriate and acceptable solutions.

Wood found that whole-class discussion works best when discussion expectations are clearly understood. Students should be expected to evaluate each other’s ideas and reasoning in ways that are not critical of the sharer. This helps to create an environment in which students feel comfortable sharing ideas and discussing each other’s methods and reasoning. Furthermore, students should be expected to be active listeners who participate in the discussion and feel a sense of responsibility for each other’s understanding.

Cognitive research suggests that conceptual change and progression of thought result from the mental processes involved in the resolution of conflict and contradiction. Thus, confusion and conflict during whole-class discussion have considerable potential for increasing student learning when carefully managed by the teacher. As students address challenges to their methods, they strengthen their understanding of concepts and procedures by working together to resolve differences in thinking or confusions in reasoning. In a sense, the discussion becomes a collaborative problem-solving effort. Each individual then is contributing to the total outcome of the problem-solving situation. This discussion helps produce the notion of commonly held knowledge (public knowledge).

In the classroom

It is important that whole-class discussion follow student work on problem-solving activities. The discussion should be a summary of individual work in which key ideas are brought to the surface. This can be accomplished through students presenting and discussing their individual solution methods, or through other methods of achieving closure that are led by the teacher, the students, or both.

Whole-class discussion can also be an effective diagnostic tool for determining the depth of student understanding and identifying misconceptions. Teachers can identify areas of difficulty for particular students, as well as ascertain areas of student success or progress.

Whole-class discussion can be an effective and useful instructional practice. Some of the instructional opportunities offered in whole-class discussion do not occur in small group or individual settings. Thus, whole-class discussion has an important place in the classroom together with other instructional practices.

References: Ball, 1993; Cobb et al., 1992; Wood, 1999.