Hayes MST: Language, discourse, and problem solving

Kate McCann Hayes
A qualititative analysis of student behavior and language during group problem solving
Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, August, 2009.

In guided-inquiry group problem solving, students experience shifts in understanding: potential "a-ha" moments where ideas fall into place and things suddenly make sense. To characterize students’ behavior, activities and language as they interact, we use video and transcript of students working in an Intermediate Mechanics class. Key elements of discourse, such as the words “just” or “anyway,” or false starts, indicate speakers' expectations about an activity so we identify these elements and track the frequency with which they appear in student discourse, both in total quantity and relative frequency. We use changes in both language and behavior to identify areas of struggle in problem solving followed by a shift in student understanding and expectations. Our methodology can capture very different resolutions in problem solving; in the three areas selected, we find that students come to a genuine resolution following struggle or knowingly accept an insufficient answer.