New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

‘Can Classroom Talk Support Student-centred Teaching?’ - a Study of Maltese Physics Classrooms

Charles Bonello, University of Malta (Malta)

Yanica Farrugia, University of Malta (Malta)

Claudine Muscat, University of Malta (Malta)


‘Classroom talk’ refers mostly to the verbal interactions that result between teachers and students in the classroom as these engage in teaching and learning processes. These interactions are meant to support students’ learning about scientific concepts. In this study, we wanted to gain a better understanding of the kind of classroom talk occurring between Maltese teachers and students during physics lessons.

The concept of the ‘communicative approach’ developed by Mortimer and Scott (2003) was employed to provide insights on how Maltese teachers work with students to develop ideas throughout the science lesson. There 4 classes of communicative approach, defined by the teacher-student talk along 2 dimensions: the interactive-noninteractive dimension and the dialogic-authoritative dimension.

The first dimension takes into account the level of teacher-student participation during a lesson while the second dimension takes into account whether teachers make use of students’ ideas, even when these were not based on scientific facts. This research asks two questions - [i] ‘To what extend does the Maltese teacher interact with the students during the physics lesson?’ and [ii] ‘Are all students' ideas taken into account as the lesson proceeds?’. Furthermore, factors that effect classroom discourse like wait-time [Rowe, 1987] and IRF patterns [Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975] were also explored in order to obtain a more complete picture of classroom talk as this develops in the physics lesson.

In this study we made use of a mixed methods approach. Fourteen physics lessons presented by fourteen different teachers were recorded and observed. The participant classes ranged from Form 3 to Form 5. The one hundred eighty eight students who were observed in the lessons then provided feedback to a questionnaire distributed to them. The fourteen teachers who conducted the lessons also took part in a one to one interview. These methods allowed for triangulation of the data generated from the different sources.

The findings of this research indicated that this sample of Maltese teachers mainly initiated talk through questions which only required one- or two-word answers. Also, teachers mainly used authoritative/interactive and authoritative/non-interactive discourse as their main communicative approach. On the other hand, dialogic discourse was scarcely used by Maltese physics teachers. Lastly, the estimated wait time used these teachers’ was found to be around 1.7 seconds. This short time interval does tend to have negative effects on student participation during lessons.

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