Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Professor Mark Hackling

Second Advisor

Professor Caroline Barratt-Pugh


Teachers‟ capacity to use classroom discourse to deepen student learning through sustained conversation is considered crucial to increasing students‟ intellectual development. Learners actively construct knowledge and develop understandings from their shared experiences and via interaction with others (Driver, Asoko, Leach, Mortimer & Scott, 1994). However, talk that fosters students‟ capacity to reason is lacking in many classrooms (Alexander, 2006) and, what is more, teachers tend to control the discourse by asking a predominance of closed questions and using a question-answer recitation script which limits the exploration of students‟ ideas (Nystrand, Gamoran, Kachy, & Prendergast, 1997). The purpose of this study was to investigate how teachers‟ beliefs and knowledge about managing classroom discourse and their teaching practice was influenced by their participation in an action-research based professional learning intervention. The guiding framework for the teachers‟ professional learning drew on Mortimer and Scott‟s communicative approaches, which were matched to the phases of scientific inquiry. This study was a part of a larger research project entitled: Enhancing Classroom Discourse in Primary Science Education which utilised mixed methods and interpretive approaches, combining pre- and post-intervention observations and data collections involving a cohort of 12 teachers as well as a set of embedded case studies involving more extensive collection of data with five of the participants. These case studies provided the focus for this study. Analysis of classroom video as well as teacher questionnaire and interview data gathered before, during and after the professional learning intervention provided insights into the impact of the intervention on teachers‟ understandings about: quality talk; the classroom culture needed to support whole-class talk; and, the skills of using puppets to engage students in discourse. A more detailed analysis and coding of the transcripts of whole-class discussions revealed changes to the way the teachers used questioning, discourse moves and communicative approaches to orchestrate sustained

conversations and the resultant impact this had on level of students‟ engagement and the quality of their talk. Following the professional learning intervention, the case study teachers gained a deeper understanding of substantive talk and of the complex role of the teacher in managing classroom discourse to sustain a culture for talk. They made significant gains in confidence and self-efficacy for managing classroom discourse and developed a greater understanding of the conventions that are supportive of substantive talk. The case study teachers increased their capacity to conduct more purposeful discussions and they developed sophisticated understandings about how to use teacher questioning and discourse moves to elicit, explore and probe their students‟ ideas and to develop cumulative talk. Ultimately, the teachers developed a repertoire of discourse moves to support their questioning and differentiate their management of class discussions in order to match their communicative approach to the instructional focus of the lesson and phase of inquiry. Consequently, their students participated more readily in discussion and they gave increasingly elaborated responses. Furthermore, they were able to generate cumulative talk and to give progressively more complex descriptions, explanations and reasons. Some teachers also used puppets effectively to establish a supportive culture for talk, set up convincing investigations, and elicit elaborated responses and explanations from their students. The findings of this research may be transferable to teachers who work in settings similar to those of the case study teachers. The set of codes that were developed to describe the teacher-student interactions will be useful for future researchers wishing to investigate classroom discourse. These codes along with the video footage and professional learning resources developed for this study will be used as the basis for future research and teacher professional learning. Further studies might investigate how changes to the teachers‟ discourse practice were sustained over time and what impact this had on students‟ learning outcomes. It would also be useful to understand how the improvements seen in whole-class discourse translate to the student-to-student interactions in both whole-class and small group discussions and whether students are able to manage the talk so that they use „talking for thinking‟.

This study developed new approaches to and resources for teacher professional learning as well as new insights into teachers‟ discourse practices, which have informed an elaborated theoretical model that shows the variables impacting on quality classroom discourse.