Analysing classroom dialogue: theory and method Neil Mercer
Part 1 Two contemporary lines of enquiry into classroom talk
Two lines of research into classroom talk • Linguistic Ethnography • Derived from: • Anthropology • Sociolinguistics • Sociology of Education • Literary analysis Sociocultural research Derived from: Psychology Classroom pedagogy research Curriculum studies/teacher training
Linguistic ethnographers Studies are: Observational Non-interventional Critical/detached Qualitative Sociocultural researchers Studies are: Observational Interventional/quasi-experimental Critical/practical Qualitative+Quantitative Two lines of UK research into classroom talk
Linguistic ethnographers Interested in processes rather than outcomes Seek to observe without disrupting (though very sensitive to observer influences) Suspicious of ‘reductionist’ quantitative, statistical comparisons and ‘cause-effect’ claims See practical relevance as indirect Sociocultural researchers Interested in processes and outcomes Seek to work with practitioners to gather data/ implement experimental programmes Suspicious of ‘detached’, non-applied research Keen to show that observed differences can be related to variations in outcomes See practical relevance as direct Two lines of UK research into classroom talk
Linguistic ethnographers ask: How does classroom discourse enable, or inhibit, the expression of identities? How are the languages/language varieties of different cultures recognized and used in schools? Is current educational policy sensitive to the linguistic and cultural needs of schoolchildren? Sociocultural researchers ask: What kinds of dialogue are most helpful for teaching and learning? Does collaborative activity help children to learn? How can research be used to change educational practice for the better? Two lines of UK research into classroom talk
Linguistic ethnographers commonly emphasise that… Language and social life are mutually shaping Talk is always referential, interpersonal, emotive and evaluative Socialisation is a never ending process, mediated through talk and interaction Language genres are important features of educational culture Children use talk to negotiate and explore their identities Researchers’ should be critical of the status quo Social situations are unique and generalizations are risky See Creese (2008)
Sociocultural researchers commonly emphasise that classroom dialogue is a cultural tool which links social activity and and psychological development Knowledge and understanding are jointly created talk allows reciprocity and mutuality to be developed through the continuing negotiation of meaning Education depends upon the creation and maintenance of intersubjectivity or ‘common knowledge’ teachers need to guide and scaffold learning, balancing control of dialogue between teachers and students See Mercer, N. (2005) Available for download at: www.thinkingtogether.org.uk
LEs and SCRs agree that… • Classroom education cannot be understood without attention to talk - which must include qualitative analysis • Cultural and local norms shape the processes of teaching and learning • In the classroom, meanings are continually renegotiated through talk and interaction over variable periods of time • Educational policy too often ignores the dynamic, historically-shaped, culture-laden nature of classroom interaction
They may disagree about… • Making designed interventions • Using large samples • Measuring learning outcomes • Making statistical comparisons • Providing teachers with direct guidance • Making critical analyses without proposing alternative courses of action
An overview of these methodologies and other methods can be found in: Mercer, N. (2010) "The analysis of classroom talk: methods and methodologies" British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 1-14.
Part 2Understanding the structure and functions of classroom talk • Teacher-student talk • Talk amongst students
Research questions What are the main educational functions of classroom talk? What types of talk happen during educational activities, and what are their functions? How does talk help learning? What conclusions can we draw about the use of spoken language as an educational tool?
What do teachers use talk to do? • Provide information • Check understanding • Maintain control • Link present activities to past experience • Set up future activities • Relate existing ideas to new educational frames of meaning • ‘Model’ educated ways of using language
Year 7: talking about energy (1) Teacher: Do you remember the electric bell? Students: Yes! [in chorus] Teacher:OK! Did any of you notice, did any of you actually hold onto the bell after it had...been working? What did you notice? Suzanne: Vibration Teacher: Well, the arm vibrated, yes. Sound. What else did you notice? Tom: It was loud. Teacher:That's not quite what I'm getting at. Teacher: Remember the bell. There's the bell[holding up a bell in front of the class]. You did the experiment. If you held onto this bit here where the wires were [indicating], did you notice anything there? Jason: There were sparks there. Teacher: Heat, did you notice some heat? Jason: There were sparks from there. Teacher: There were? Jason: Sparks. Teacher: There were some sparks, yes. Let's just ignore the sparks a minute...some heat. There was a little bit of heat there with that one.
The IRF exchange Initiation Teacher:Do you remember the electric bell? Response Student: Yes Feedback Teacher:OK
Some talk strategies that teachers use… ... To highlight important past shared experience • Recaps “You remember last week, we were looking at the moon”
... to elicit information from children • Direct elicitations • “What is the capital of Peru?” • Cued elicitations • “Now one of the characters had the same name as one of you. Can you remember what it was?”
... to follow up what children say • Confirmations “Yes, that’s exactly right’ • Rejections “Not exactly” • Repetitions Child: “Miss, he was called Oliver” Teacher:“Yes, he was called Oliver” • Reformulations Child: “They make nine” Teacher: “Yes, they all add up to nine…”
Two kinds of whole-class talk • Authoritative • Instruction • Demonstration • Lecture • Dialogue • Eliciting students’ initial ideas • Hearing what groups have achieved • Discussing problems and misunderstandings Mortimer & Scott, 2004
Year 7:Talking about energy (2) Teacher:Right, let me repeat what Kevin said. Hands down for a minute, you'll get arm ache. Kevin said the person in a hot place would have more energy than somebody in a cold place, because the sun makes Vitamin D.All right that's one idea. Let’s hold that idea in our heads. Josh? Josh: Um I actually think its the opposite of what Kevin said, because the sun’s rays um, its just um that its colder, um so they'd be getting the same energy from the sun, but they wouldn't feel the same effect. Teacher: That's a good point, so they'll get the same energy from the sun but they won’t feel the same effect. Yes? Emma: I'm not sure if this is right but um, say in a place like Africa, they have quite a few trees, and they kind of give us energy; but in this place like the Arctic, they don't have any trees. Teacher: They don't have any trees, we've got lots of ideas coming out. Cameron: It’s to do with the atmosphere, in a hotter country there's a more dense atmosphere which takes up some of the um, energy, so they get as much as a thinner atmosphere in Antarctica or in the Artic. Teacher: OK so the atmosphere makes a difference. Right, let’s see if we can take some of those ideas, and try and come up with an explanation?
3 Types of talk in groups (Mercer & Littleton, 2007)
The talk in any interaction has: a historical aspect a dynamic aspect It is only understandable in temporal context (Mercer, 2008)
Talking Points:are these statements true, false, or are you unsure? The sun is one of a collection of stars called the Milky way The moon changes shape because it is in the shadow of the earth The earth takes one year to go round the sun The earth is the biggest planet in the solar system
Stage 1: group discussion Vicky: (Reads) ‘the moon changes shape because it is in the shadow of the earth’. Fritzie: No, that's not true [because there's the clouds that cover the moonVicky: [no it isn't ... yeahGloria: YeahVicky: Because in the day we think oh the moon's gone it hasn't gone, it's just the cloud thatFritzie: have covered itGloria: Yeah, that's why I like, every time, well on Sunday I went out and it was like five in the morning right, and the moon was still out so that's fine cos it was still dark, right.Vicky: YeahGloria: So when we went out it was like five, four, four o'clock, something like that, like at that time there wouldn't be the moon out would there, but I saw half the moon out and I said, I said to my mum’s friend, I said look Tony, there's the moon already out, and he said oh yeah. Cos in the morning, when we came there was the clouds…
Stage 2: feedback from groups T: Keighley, would you read out number nine for us? Keighley: (reads) ‘The moon changes shape because it is in the shadow of the earth.’ T: Right, now what does your group think about that? Keighley: true T: What, um, why do you think that? Keighley: hm, because it's when earth is dark then, hm, we’re not quite sure but we think it was true T: Right, people with hands up ( to K) who would you want to contribute? Keighley: Um, Sadie? Sadie: I think it's false because when thesun moves round the earth, it shines on the moon, which projects down to the earth. T: (nods) do you want to choose somebody else? That sounds good Sadie: Matthew Matthew: Well, we weren't actually sure ‘cos we were (thinking) the actual moon changes which it never does, or, if it is ourpoint of view from earth, which it puts us in the shadow. T: That's a good point isn't it, it doesn't actually change, it looks as if it changes shape to us, that's a really good point.
Stage 3: Whole class session with authoritative demonstration
Stage 3 : Whole class session Teacher: Right look, if the sun's shining from here there is nothing between the sun and the moon, so from here on earth what we can see is a circle, a big shiny full moon. (She holds the ‘moon’ so it is the third object in line with the ‘sun’ and ‘earth’) Right? That's a full moon, we can see the whole caboodle, if we're here on earth and the sun's over there. However, have a look now, what happens now. If I put the moon here (she puts the ‘moon’ between the ‘sun’ and the ‘earth’) here's the sun, is there any light from the sun falling on this moon that we would be able to see from earth? Children: No. Teacher: What would we see if the moon is in that position? Children: Nothing. Teacher: Yeah, it would be totally dark. We get a completely black effect because we can't see it, we can only see it if there is light falling on it, and all the light is falling on this side and we're not over there, we're over here. Yes? Child: If it's like that, the reason we can't see anything really because it's so dark around it. Teacher: Yeah, it's dark, yeah, the light needs to land on it for us, it can't shine on itself. So that's when it's the darkest bit of the moon, we can't see it (returns ‘moon’ to first position). That's a full moon, over here relative to the earth, (moves ‘moon’ to second position) and that's when it's dark. However (a child tries to interrupt) wait a minute, let's get this right.