Which words do Math teachers use most? Do Science teachers have a different style of teaching? What kind of talk goes on in the typical Singapore classroom? Researchers have been able to find answers to these sorts of questions by using a corpus of classroom data.
A corpus is not just simply a collection of texts. Different corpora may contain different types of content, depending on their purpose. A corpus can help us analyse how language is used by different people in different contexts.
The SCoRE So Far
Researchers at the National Institute of Education have been building up a Singapore Corpus of Research in Education, or SCoRE in short, since 2005. It is a collection of real classroom dialogue from over 450 lessons in over 120 Primary 5 and Secondary 3 classrooms.
SCoRE comprises, literally, scores and scores of transcribed data from English Language, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies classrooms.
It is now a rich source of empirical data for education researchers, linguists, teacher trainers and curriculum designers who want to understand the interactions of students and teachers in Singapore classrooms.
What Does SCoRE Tell Us?
A corpus can show us how language is really used. An analysis of the data provides rich evidence of the pedagogy and language patterns that are typical of the classroom environment in Singapore.
For example, the SCoRE researchers have made discoveries about the following:
Frequently used words
- Math teachers frequently used words for numbers, concepts (like “triangle”) and operators (like “minus” and “divide”). They also used the word “must” far more than other teachers!
- Science teachers used a lot of subject-specific words (e.g., “cell”, “photosynthesis”).
- Social Studies teachers tended to use words that relate to key social issues (e.g., “water”, “Singapore”, “Malaysia”).
- However, English Language teachers had a more diffuse core set of keywords. And, interestingly, there were more content words (e.g., “dinosaur”) than subject-specific words (e.g., “adjective”, “clause”, “verb”).
By looking at “lexical bundles” or fixed phrases, we know that teachers have characteristic ways of getting things done in the classroom through the use of language:
- Knowledge building, which often takes the form of a question (e.g., “How do you make…?”)
- Classroom management, which is used to manage interpersonal relationships (e.g., “I want you to…”)
- Discourse facilitation (e.g., “Okay, now, I’m going…”)
Most lessons have a basic “flow”. The most common is a three-part pattern known as the IRF: teacher initiation (I), student response (R), and teacher follow-up (F). A very high proportion of Singapore classroom talk was found to follow the IRF pattern, regardless of subject, level or stream, but they differ in the types of initiations, responses and follow-ups commonly used.
By combining these analyses, and others, we can explore the characteristic patterns of teaching.
Biber, D., Conrad, S., & Reppen, R. (1998). Corpus linguistics: Investigating language structure and use. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Biber, D., Johnasson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English.Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Ltd.