What do we want to know?
Small-group discussions have been strongly advocated as an important teaching approach in school science for a number of years. This review builds on the work of an earlier systematic review by continuing to focus on aspects of small-group discussions in science teaching; it concentrates on the evidence for the effect of using different stimuli in small-group discussions on students' understanding of evidence in science.
Who wants to know?
Policy-makers; practitioners; those involved in teacher education; those creating science education resources; students.
What did we find?
- Small-group discussion aimed at understanding the use of evidence, regardless of the prompt stimulus, is enhanced and focused by giving students some form of guidance on how to use that stimulus effectively. This guidance can be prior training in argumentation that provides instruction on how to use evidence, or it can be built into the structure or sequence of a stimulus-based task.
- A successful stimulus for students working in small groups has two elements. One requires students to generate their individual prediction, model or hypothesis which they then debate in their small group (internally driven conflict or debate). The second element requires them to test, compare, revise or develop that jointly with further data provided (externally driven conflict or debate).
What are the implications?
- The review has not yielded any evidence that inclusion of any specific stimulus for small-group discussions adversely affects students' understanding of the nature of evidence. However, there is a scarcity of high-quality research evidence in this area.
- Where small-group discussions are advocated as a teaching approach, it is important to support this with guidance on running such discussions in a way which will increase the effectiveness of students' learning. Such guidance should include advice to students on how to use materials for the purposes of discussion, as well as the stimulus materials themselves.
- Presenting a task that offers opportunities for students to generate both their own input (e.g. their own predictions, hypotheses, internal debate/conflict) and a requirement to use that in conjunction with the stimulus provided by the teacher, whether written, computer software or practical work (external debate/conflict), can be beneficial.
- Tasks which are rich (i.e. complex and open-ended) are more likely to promote discussion and understanding of evidence in science than are simple or closed tasks.
How did we get these results?
Seven studies were synthesised.
This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre
This report should be cited as: Hogarth S, Bennett J, Campbell B, Lubben F, Robinson A (2005) A systematic review of the use of small-group discussions in science teaching with students aged 11-18, and the effect of different stimuli (print materials, practical work, ICT, video/film) on students' understanding of evidence. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.