Classroom Dialogue: Understanding and Promoting Productive Interaction During Collaborative Group Work

Wed, 04 May 2011 18:00 in Discussion Forums

Where: Hilton Hotel, Neville Street, Leeds, LS1 4BX
Time: 6:00pm
With: Professor Christine Howe, Cambridge University


The Dialogue Society, Durham Branch, was pleased to host Professor Christine Howe of the University of Cambridge for an absorbing exploration of collaborative group work in the classroom. Drawing on studies of such group work in elementary science conducted over a period of twenty years, Professor Howe highlighted its potential to promote children’s conceptual understanding, especially when they have differing perspectives on a certain subject. Her presentation included examples of how teachers can engage students in doing collaborative work in the classroom and how it can be seen to help the learning process. The discussion that ensued gave participants a chance to share their views on classroom dialogue and their past experiences relating to how it can be improved.


Although students are typically seated in small groups in UK classrooms, they are rarely asked to work collaboratively on teaching and learning activities. Individual study or teacher-directed question-and-answer sessions remain the norm. Yet research relating to a range of curriculum disciplines shows that collaborative group work has the potential to promote student learning, particularly when the focus is upon conceptual understanding. The talk will review this research, emphasizing the studies of collaborative group work in elementary science that the presenter has conducted over the past 20 years. These studies indicate that group work is most successful when participants bring a range of differing perspectives to bear on the topic, and when they resolve their differences productively. However, resolution does not have to take place during the collaborative group work itself; it can occur subsequently, triggered by stimulating discussion but also involving individual reflection. The latter 'delayed resolution' raises challenges for teachers wishing to monitor student group work and promote positive outcomes, and the talk will consider ways in which they can respond to the challenge.

Biography of Prof Christine Howe

Professor Christine Howe is a developmental psychologist, whose research lies at the interface between Psychology and Education. Her main interests are children's conceptual knowledge, particularly in the domains of science and mathematics, and children's peer relations and communicative competence. For the past 20 years, she has also been bringing the two interests together, via research and consultancy on 'interactive learning' in peer group, tutor-led and computer-mediated settings. As well as resulting in numerous publications and research grants, Christine's research on collaborative learning in science has attracted considerable media attention and has had significant impact on policy and practice.

Christine is past or present editor of the journals Social Development, Cambridge Journal of Education andPsychology Learning and Teaching, and she sits on the Editorial Boards of British Journal of Educational Psychology, Computers and Education, First Language, Human Development, and Learning and Instruction. In 2006, she was elected Chair of the British Psychological Society's Developmental Section, followed by election to the Academy of the Social Sciences in 2008. Christine served on the ESRC's Training and Development Board between 2004 and 2008. She has been a Nuffield Foundation Research Fellow, and a Visiting Scholar at St John's College Oxford. Christine is married with two children, and enjoys music, art, film, theatre, travel, hiking, tennis, learning languages, and playing bridge.