Academic Discourse and PBL
For problem-based learning in our classes, Sammamish High School has identified seven essential components. This week, we’ll look at one of the most important aspects of academic discourse: the thesis. Students’ ability to explain their discoveries and tie them to their overall learning is a critical component of our work. Many initiatives will be unable to develop until adequate communication is established.
What is Academic Discourse?
It includes the concept of dialogue, the language that is utilized, and a framework that allows for a high degree of communication in the classroom. Academic discourse is defined as follows: The discourse can take numerous forms, ranging from peer-to-peer talk to whole-class discussion, and can include metacognition, presentations, debate, listening, writing, and critiquing other people’s work, among others. What matters is that students can comprehend information and connect using academic jargon.
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Academic discourse is not something that most students are naturally gifted at; rather, it is something that needs to be taught, demonstrated, and recognized by both teachers and students to be successful. Providing intentional education on what academic discourse sounds, looks, and feels like can be an effective strategy for enriching all classroom interactions while also helping students learn more deeply and retain what they’ve learned. While working on the fundamental components of our program, the mathematics department considered how academic dialogue may be strengthened in our classes.
Using a mathematical framework, we identified the most significant components of academic discourse in a math classroom and devised a strategy for implementing these components.
We have established the expectation that students will present difficulties and explain how they arrived at their solution to the problem.
We highlighted the necessity of utilizing the correct terminology throughout the presentation. For example, math students frequently make the mistake of conflating an expression with an equation. Children must understand the difference between the two. They must practice using the two words to remember the distinction between them.
We established writing as a standard practice in mathematics. Students will be expected to write about their thought processes to conclude. This provides another method of observing how students are digesting the content and how they are using vocabulary words in their work.
Processing the Problem
Our problem-based learning program requires students to speak with one another more than they would if they were simply working on individual homework assignments because of the intricacy of the challenges they encounter. When we teach our subject, “How can the student store optimize their profit?” students work in groups to research a product and determine how sales would vary if the price of the product was raised or lowered. They examine the cost of the product in question and, depending on the facts, develop a quadratic equation to calculate the profit margin. This quadratic tells them at what price change the student store can make the most money on that specific commodity, which is useful information. Because students are completing this assignment while also learning about quadratics, it provides numerous challenges. For example, students must consider what each axis represents, as well as how income, profit, and cost are related in this context, as well as identify break-even points and the vertices of the graph.
After being given a particularly challenging PBL activity, students rely on one another to help them organize their thoughts and ideas, offering a natural opportunity for them to become more comfortable with academic discourse. After this unit, students were invited to send a letter to the student store in which they recommended a price increase or decrease. This was done to evaluate their language usage as well as how their interactions contributed to their grasp of the subject matter. The ability for pupils to evaluate their grasp of the content is also vital. Beginning the session with vocabulary games or having students reread their writing and underline the vocabulary words they used are two examples of processing approaches.
After finishing a lesson that requires students to communicate with other group members, the level of academic conversation in the classroom rises significantly in importance. When students begin chatting to their peers about their learning, they cross the threshold from being nervous to being excited. The majority of student dialogue occurred before the implementation of our problem-based learning curriculum and consisted of students comparing answers. With time and effort, students discover that conversation facilitates the deepening of their thinking and the validation of their contributions to the group. Acknowledging student academic speech is critical in the classroom as a teacher because it helps academic discourse stick in the classroom.
Over the past year, we have discovered that increasing intellectual conversation also boosts participation in the classroom. Student engagement and participation in discussions increase when they are more likely to communicate with their classmates and participate in conversations. As a result, the long-term benefits of their grasp of the content become apparent in subsequent math courses.