Talking about text: Changing patterns of discourse in low-decile secondary classrooms

Funding year: 
2 years
Auckland UniServices
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2015
Project end date: 
March 2017
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Aaron Wilson
Research team members: 
Jacinta Oldehaver
Research partners: 
Woolf Fisher Research Centre, University of Auckland; Tamaki College; Aorere College


This is a design-research project that seeks to identify and improve patterns of talk about text in senior English, science and health/physical education classrooms in two Auckland secondary schools, Tamaki College and Aorere College. Research suggests that participating in extended, student-centred discussion about the subject-area-texts they read is associated with positive outcomes for students including improved subject-literacy, subject-knowledge and a range of participatory and affective outcomes.


There are five main research questions in this project:
1. What are the current patterns of oral and computer-mediated talk about texts in Year 11-12 English, science and health/physical education classrooms?
2. What factors act as barriers and enablers for effective talk about text between students and teachers, and between students and students?
3. Can patterns of talk about text in senior secondary classrooms be changed through a design-research partnership between teacher-researchers and researchers? If so, what factors support teachers and students to make positive changes in this regard?
4. What outcomes for students are associated with changes in patterns of talk about text in the three different learning areas?
5. What outcomes for teachers are associated with participation in a research partnership of this kind?

Why is this research important?

There is a pressing need to improve subject-literacy and subject-area achievement for Māori and Pasifika students in low-decile secondary schools.This collaboration serves the theoretical goal of explaining the low rates of talk about text identified in the literature, and the professional goal of understanding more about conditions in low-decile secondary classrooms that enable or constrain such dialogue. It will build knowledge about the nature of talk about text in specialised subject areas and contribute to the emerging knowledge base about effective disciplinary literacy instruction. It will also contribute to our knowledge about effective interventions by investigating processes and outcomes associated with an innovative teacher-researcher partnership. Through this knowledge building it is hoped that a range of practical resources will be generated that secondary teachers can use to engage students in rich talk about text and thereby achieve positive outcomes.

What we plan to do

Our first phase is a profiling phase. Firstly, we will investigate current patterns of text use and talk about text in the classrooms using classroom observations and ‘digital diaries’ completed by students. These data will be analysed to identify features of texts (such as length, type and lexical complexity) and patterns of discussion (such as balance of student to teacher talk and teacher ‘moves’ to facilitate more productive discussion). Secondly, to identify constraints and enablers, the researcher will interview the teacher-researchers who, in turn, will interview students. Thirdly, NCEA data in selected “high literacy” subject achievement standards for 2010 to 2014 will be analysed to identify historic achievement patterns and to establish a baseline. The profiling information matched to the disciplinary literacy, classroom discussion and professional learning and development literature bases will inform the intervention design. There will be two iterative design-analysis-redesign cycles with repeated measures of all the aforementioned tools at the beginning and end of each cycle.

Our Partners

The partnership is between Dr Aaron Wilson and Jacinta Oldehaver from the Woolf Fisher Research Centre in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland and six teacher-researchers from Tamaki College (decile 1) and Aorere College (decile 2). Each school’s team of teacher-researchers include one teacher each of Year 11 or 12 English, science and health/physical education. This partnership is an extension of previous and ongoing partnerships built around the Starpath, Manaiakalani innovation and Secondary Literacy Projects.