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February 2008

February 2008 | Volume 50 | Number 2 Analyzing Classroom Discourse to Advance Teaching and Learning

Analyzing Classroom Discourse to Advance Teaching and Learning
Rick Allen
Research has shown that proper use of classroom discourse can strengthen teacher student rapport! create an open and supportive learning environment! and provide students with new ways of e"ploring information that can lead to deeper understanding of new concepts# In the typical classroom of yesteryear, classroom talk was a controlled, mostly one-way e ercise! "eachers #a$e directions, con$eyed information, and elicited correct answers from neat rows of students! "hose who could read the teacher%s mind had a definite ad$anta#e! &ecades of research on classroom discourse'the ran#e and $ariety of dialo#ue that can happen in a classroom'ha$e yielded rich information about how talk can be used to benefit student learnin#, build teacher-student rapport, culti$ate fair treatment and hi#h e pectations for all students, and determine students% le$el of understandin#! (et the predominant mode of classroom talk is still the teachercentered initiate-respond-e$aluate )I*+, model, which often falls short as an effecti$e way of teachin#, e perts say! -.chools and classrooms ha$e hardly chan#ed at all in the last century! .tudents sit in rows or tables facin# the front of the room! /dministrators and families e pect teachers to be %teachin#,% and that%s usually defined as standin# in front of the classroom addressin# students,- says Nancy Frey, associate professor of literacy at .an &ie#o .tate 0ni$ersity! -"his sets up an une1ual communication dynamic of teacher-dominated discourse- that tends to ser$e curricula emphasi2in# knowled#e ac1uisition o$er

an international specialist in child lan#ua#e and education. the teacher maintains control o$er what counts as knowled#e! In such scenarios. she was surprised to find that she sometimes answered her own 1uestions instead of #i$in# students time to process them! -I couldn%t belie$e it! I%m a seasoned teacher. 7a2den.. teachers need to ha$e a stron# #rasp of the content beyond the current lesson! 4a$in# that knowled#e allows a teacher to anticipate or ne#otiate the different directions students mi#ht take as they #rapple with a new concept! For e ample. e$en more ur#ent than in the past. the teacher may i#nore a student%s uncertainty about content or counter1uestions that appear tan#ential! 7a2den also emphasi2es that. N45 4einemann. a teacher worried about a small #roup of students who were chatterin# about the new King Kong mo$ie while they should ha$e been discussin# insect habitats! 4oldin# off a reprimand.from 8! +$en thou#h other students correctly disa#reed and the topic was outside the planned lesson. the teacher used the student%s response as an openin# to discuss with students fractions as functions! =hen teachers allow for student discourse. 4ar$ard researcher 7ourtney 7a2den stresses that teachers need to study the $ariety of talk that #oes on in their classrooms to help make teachin# and learnin# work better for all students! "he 8u taposition of more di$erse classrooms with the wider world%s demand for 26st century skills such as problem sol$in#. and collaboratin# with persons of di$erse back#rounds makes understandin# the role of classroom talk.chool in &enton. 2006.. effecti$e speakin# and writin#. 7a2den notes! In her book. to #o beyond the traditional teacher-1uestion:student-response format. teacher of #ifted students at =! . she e plains! $aying Attention to Tal% In the #roundbreakin# book Classroom Discourse: The Language of Teaching and Learning )3ortsmouth. points out that studyin# oral lan#ua#e in the classroom can yield insi#hts on how lan#ua#e patterns • • • /ffect what counts as knowled#e! Impact students% educational opportunities! 9ay foster certain le$els of communication! In classroom discourse situations where teachers ask 1uestions with certain answers in mind. "e ! /llowin# a $ideo camera to roll and in$itin# outside obser$ers to take notes as part of an actionresearch pro8ect on classroom discourse was worthwhile for &ickson! . 7a2den cites the case of a .! *yan +lementary . she only had to -minus one-half.th #rade math student who insisted in one class e ercise that to #et from 8 to <. lessons can take une pected turns. and I know I%m not supposed to do that.recalls &ickson.ettin# up a $ideo camera offers one way to #ather information to analy2e! =hen elementary teacher Violet &ickson saw $ideo of her classroom discourse with her <th #rade students. she disco$ered that they were makin# connections between the fictional 8un#le behemoth and the stren#th of an ant that they were obser$in# mo$in# an outsi2ed leaf! "he teacher .he #ained insi#ht into her 1uestionin# techni1ues and confirmed that students in her noisy classrooms actually were stayin# on task! "he pro8ect also helped ei#ht other elementary school teachers learn more about discourse in their classrooms! In one 2nd #rade class. but students will de$elop a deeper understandin# of content within a much richer conte t! Ta%ing Action to &mprove Discourse "eachers who want to del$e into the underlyin# dynamics of classroom discourse need to find ways to reflect on what happens in class daily! . a >:. or discourse.knowled#e #eneration.

or -=hy did that occurB.tudents should talk 1uietly in small #roups when the teacher is directly instructin# one #roup! &urin# brainstormin#. make a hypothesis. use information that is accurate and appropriate for the topic. &ickson su##ests that teachers • • • • /sk more open-ended 1uestions! +ncoura#e students to ask their own 1uestions! ?i$e students more time to research and e plore problems! ?i$e students opportunities for makin# choices about lines of in1uiry in a topic! )For e ample.tate 0ni$ersity professors &ou#las Fisher and Nancy Frey de$ote an entire chapter to usin# oral lan#ua#e to check for student understandin#! Dy payin# attention to their talk with students or listenin# to talk amon# students."eachers can also establish #round rules for different types of classroom discourse.says &ickson! -=hen teachers model in1uiry.7& book Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom )200C.. and think deeply about what the partner says! In their book. and insi#hts makes them part of a #roup that helps to define knowled#e. students should take turns and not talk o$er one another! "eachers should re$iew rules of debate when discussin# topics )e!#!. and then find an answer! /ll of this is part of the problem-sol$in# process. one student may want to do a tea ceremony.. . is -accountable talk. but part of the thinkin# process is how to ask 1uestions.students learn to pose their own 1uestions! ->ids are so pro#rammed to 8ust answer 1uestions.a strate#y de$eloped by Fauren *esnick at the 0ni$ersity of 3ittsbur#h%s Institute for Fearnin#! "ypically. sharin# by turns. usin# specific amounts of time for deli$ery.which traditionally ha$e been closely held by teachers! /llowin# students to $oice their opinions.tudents build knowled#e when they share information and make connections between topics!. Fisher and Frey describe fi$e indicators of accountable talk students should use to deepen their con$ersation about and understandin# of the topic at hand5 • • • • • 3ress for clarification and e planation! *e1uire 8ustification of proposals and challen#es! *eco#ni2e and challen#e misconceptions! &emand e$idence for claims and ar#uments! Interpret and use each other%s statements! . another calli#raphy. and a third Aen #ardens! . she adds! For e ample. =hen teachers model in1uiry in the classroom by askin# 1uestions such as -I wonder why that happenedB. personal connections to content. workin# to support opinions.was able to use the moment to help students probe into the ways that or#anisms adapt to their en$ironment o$er time by #ainin# traits that aid in their sur$i$al! "o encoura#e deeper discussion and in$esti#ation in the classroom. in a unit on @apanese culture. says Frey. they%re talkin# throu#h their own thinkin# process out loud! It helps students!.an &ie#o .! ?i$in# students more opportunities to talk and discuss knowled#e e tends what 7a2den calls -speakin# ri#hts. teachers can #au#e students% learnin# and tailor lessons at the moment or as a follow-up! Ene of the most useful discourse strate#ies. &ickson says! Tal%ing for 'ormative Assessment In their /. • • • .. accountable talk in$ol$es a commitment from students to work with a partner to stay on topic..

.In their own colle#e classroom discussions.e plains Fisher! 7opyri#ht G 2008 by /ssociation for .7&! /ll ri#hts reser$ed! .Instead.Fisher says! 4e recommends that teachers prepare some rich 1uestions in ad$ance by brainstormin# with Dloom%s ta onomy for inspiration and then select a few 1uestions for classroom discussion! -"he truly #reat teachers know how to ask 1uestions that elicit une pected answers! "hey then analy2e that student discourse to fi#ure out what learnin# needs to occur ne t.. they in$ite other students to use accountable talk strate#ies to respond! -=e know we are doin# a #ood 8ob when we can #et a strin# of students to talk without us inter8ectin#.uper$ision and 7urriculum &e$elopment G 7opyri#ht /. both Fisher and Frey say that they resist the ur#e to respond to each student comment because that%s where e$aluation often -creeps in!.