TOPIC AND ACTIVITY

by Mete Akcaoglu

Outline

Characteristics of Interaction
 Communicative

Language Teaching

     

Topic Orientation Activity Orientation Topic – Activity interplay Interaction Types Participation Structure Discourse Boundaries

Characteristics of interaction

What does it involve doing?
 Activity

What is it about?
 Topic

Sometimes these two elements carry different weights in interactions.
 Sometimes

the process itself is important  Sometimes the topic in question is important

Characteristics of interaction

In our daily life conversations, which end of the continuum do we tend to fall? Topic driven vs. Activity driven? What about EFL/ESL classrooms?

Communicative Language Teaching

In reality “communicative” classroom seems to be a rarity (Kumaravadivelu 1993) since we cannot manage to make
 Learners

active  Learners ask for information, seek clarification, agree/disagree  Go beyond memorized patterns

Five Macrostrategies

The study
Episode 1

Episode 1 (script on p19)
 Male

teacher with MA  3.2 years of experience  He was briefed on macrostrategies  Speaking class

Asked process and metaprocess questions
 Negotiated

interaction

Made use of learning opportunities created by learners

The study
Episode 2

Episode 2 (script on p20)
 Female

teacher with MA  4.1 years of experience  She was not aware of macrostrategies framework  Grammar class

Used deductive methods of presentation
 Very

little negotiated interaction

Failed to utilize the learning opportunities created by learners (typhoon example)

Macrostrategies
(Kumaravadivelu 1993)
Create learning opportunities  Collaboration of learners and the teacher to create such opportunities Utilize learning opportunities created by

learners

 Co-participants in creating a classroom discourse

Facilitate negotiated interaction between

participants
interaction

 Meaningful learner-learner / learner – teacher interaction  Negotiated means the learner has the freedom to initiate

Activate the intuitive heuristics of the learner  Give learners a chance to infer and internalize underlying rules from their context Contextualize linguistic input

Introducing isolated sentences will deprive learners of necessary pragmatic cues, thereby rendering the

Characteristics of interaction

Rules and routines of interaction are culturally specific, and might pose problems for learners:
 Do

come see us sometimes!  I’d love to visit your country one day!

Mastering in determining what may constitute a appropriate response to this kind of comments asks for competence.  How much can a learner master this skill in an EFL classroom?  Now let’s have a look at the types of classroom interaction

Topic Orientation
 

What is “topic”? Pretherotical notion of what is being talked about. (Brown and Yule 1983a, p71) Vernacular term, roughly referring to “what is talked about” through some series of turns at talk (Schegloff 1979, p. 270)

Topic

Two ways of looking at topic that are relevant to second-language classroom research:
unit of analysis  A lesson can be divided into topics like a conversation: the homework, a dialogue about asking the way, presentation of a grammar topic, pairwork, roleplay...  in this sense it might be problematic to divide the lesson into topics. One might say that the whole lesson was about one topic.  part of discourse process  bag metaphor  a topic is not a topic until it is talked about

Topic

Participants decide and by means of markers in the discourse initiate, change and close topics. So, the interaction is organized for the purpose of raising issues to topical status, maintaining or changing their direction.

Topical coherence is constructed across turns by the collaboration of participants. (Levinson 1983, p135)

In EFL classrooms, how much does this collaboration work? How much of the topic is pre-determined by the teacher?

Activity Orientation

Sometimes, how the interaction is done is more important than what the interaction is about. However, this is not an either or discussion, both orientations may and usually be simultaneously visible in a stretch of talk. If the interaction needs to be successful, the participants must agree on the orientation (topic/activity) of that interaction.

Activity Orientation

This orientation manifests itself through a focus of attention on saying things in a particular way, previously agreed way.

using full sentences, repeating structures etc.

In real-life the activity (conversation) rules are tacit and largely determined by social conventions. In L2 classrooms the activity rules are not tacit, but often specifically established and have to be stated until the activity becomes well known.

Activity Orientation
The way the interaction flows is specified and predetermined in advance by the teacher.  Again, what are the differences between an activity driven EFL classroom and our daily life conversations?

 T:

But today, we are going to talk about “tag questions”. Tell me, class, tell me a sentence with a question tag. S16:”Is that a book?” T: No, no, I don’t want normal questions, I want sentences with a question tag. S1: “You are a student, aren’t you?” T: Ok, [writing on the board] “You are a student, aren’t you?” your friend says. Let’s imagine …..

Topic-activity Interplay

Sometimes an activity may determine the list of topics to be talked about.
 Small

Talk limits the range of the issues to talk about conversationalists (don’t bore, don’t be rude, don’t monopolize)
 Smooth

Some unstated rules
 Good

topic change  Regular topic change  Give others a chance to talk, but in a language class…

Topic-activity Interplay in EFL
 

Topic and activity are mostly managed by the teacher. In topic driven classroom interactions, learners appear to be freer in terms of speaker selection and production, as the learners talk up the things they bring up. However, the teachers still try to keep focus on the “actual” topic. Why?
 The

class time is limited  Varies from teacher to teacher / class to class  Teachers preplanned decisions to be transmitted

Topicalization

A learner takes up something the teacher/another learner said an makes it into a new topic. Can we call this “ders kaynatmak”?
T: Scientist have made progress, ben okuyorum yine. Progress neydi? Who is doing the next one? S1: ilerleme S1: Scientist have made progress in controlling of the weather, in spite of the difficulties. T: Yes we have “of” here and after “in spite of” we have a noun. Scientist have made progress in controlling of the weather, in spite of the difficulties. Böyle bir şey var mı, duydunuz mu hiç? Doğru mu bu cümle? Ne dediğini anladınız, değil mi? S1: [translates the sentence into Turkish] T: var mı? hava kontrol ediliyor mu? S15: ediliyor, ediliyor S1: yağmur falan yağdırılabiliyormuş. T: Yağmur falan yağdırıldığı oluyor aslıda. S16: evet yağmur bombaları varmış. S15: [in audible remark] T: Şimşek falan kotrol edebilmek güzel olabilirdi herhalde. OK, sentence

Topic Oriented Lesson
    

Exchange of information Sequence is preplanned Aim is to get information Question asked by knower undirected Self-selection is common
 Teacher

does not select a speaker, general

solicits

Activity Oriented Lesson
 

Self-selection is rare Private rehearsal turns are more common than listening responses.
 So,

which one is much closer to real life conversations?
 Topic

oriented talk is closer to real life

in terms of turn taking rules

Topic-activity Interplay

During the lesson the interaction between the topic and activity is often fluid. The dynamics of interaction are too flexible to be treat that it is composed of certain “phases”. Thus, switches between activity orientation to topic orientation or switches from topic to topic and activity to activity can occur frequently. We can identify the boundries with the help of boundary markers, but we need to analyze the those unitary sequences to get information about coherence or

Interaction Types

We cannot divide the lesson up into topics and tasks as distinct units Every sequence must be examined for its relative focus on topic and activity in terms of “more” or “less”

+
2 telling

Topic
3 Instructing (eliciting)

-

+
Activity
4 drilling (playing)

1 talking

-

van Lier 1989, p156

Interaction type 1
Talking

 

Occurs at the beginning of a lesson and illustrates ‘warming up’ Teacher introduces the topic but the learners can bring up new topics as far as they are appropriate. Turns are self selected Less focus on both activity and topic

Interaction type 2
Telling
 

 

Here the focus is getting the job done. Learners ask for clarification when necessary, and produce listening responses to indicate their understanding. Teacher talk mostly No allocation of turns

Interaction type 3
Instructing (eliciting)
 

Focus is information of a specific kind Dual focus on both topic and activity

Interaction type 4
Drilling (playing)
  

Explicit ritual structure Teacher allocation of turns The topic is not important as long as the task is done. Assessment of the utterance is done on the form rather than the content.

Interaction Types

There are also some instances where the sequences of interaction is transformed to another activity type without dropping the issue.
Type 3 Instructing (eliciting)

Type 2 Telling

Interaction Type Change

Who initiates the change?
 Teacher
 The

activity may not produce the desired results (let’s try this way...)

 Learners
 They

prefer just talking to more regimented activities.  2,3 and 4 to 1

Interaction Type Change Example
Type 2

Type 1

Lesson Structure

Random succession of speech acts?
 It

is not, however, there is no common underlying structure for all lessons.

Lesson can start and end in all imaginable ways. Which type of interaction might be the dominan
 Type

4  Type 4 is the furthest removed from natural conversation, one may raise doubts as to its value in terms of realistic language practice.  Teacher talk dominance  Group work can be useful to provide variety  However, what crucial characteristic does a group work need to have to elicit more naturalistic conversation?

“Information Gap” Tasks: Do They Facilitate Second Language Acquisition? (Doughty, C. & Pica, T. 1986)

Unless a required information exchange task is chosen, students will interact less and will modify their interaction less as well. (Pica & Doughty, 1983) that individual students produce more input and have more input directed toward them in group than in teacher-fronted interaction, It appears that group work—and for that matter, pair work as well— is eminently capable of providing students with opportunities to produce the target language and to modify interaction. In keeping with second language acquisition theory, such modified interaction is claimed to make input comprehensible to learners and to lead ultimately to successful classroom second language acquisition the teacher’s role is critical not only in providing students with access to grammatical input, but also in setting up

Lesson Structure

An L2 lesson is a mixture of planned and unplanned elements
 Planned

vs. Unplanned Discourse
conversation vs. ritualized speech

 Spontaneous

events

Planner is the teacher (for the most parts)
 Learners

happen

wait and see what is going to

Communicative approach tries to give learners some responsibility in planning
 Teacher

is consultant rather than master

Elements of Planning
Local vs. Nonlocal resources
   

Cognitive: selecting suitable matter Institutional/Cultural Methodological: ideologies and beliefs Ritual: reliance on trusted and tested routines Social Context: dynamics of gathering learners and their teacher
 Learning

in a classroom is a multidimensional phenomenon (Long 1983a)

Participation Structures

The concept is first introduced by Philips (1972) referring to structural arrangements of interaction within the framework of teacher controlled instruction.
1. 2. 3. 4.

Teacher – whole class Teacher – group (e.g. reading groups) Teacher – individual learner Group by itself (group projects)

Participation Structure

Erickson (1982) proposed
 Academic

task structure, patterned set of constraints provided by the logic of sequencing in the subject matter content of the lesson  Social participation structure, patterned set of constraints on allocation of interactional rights and obligations of various members of interacting group.

Participation Stucture

Most discourse analyses of classroom suggest that the classroom interaction is predetermined by the teacher. What factors influence this occurrence?
 Prespecified

activity types, planned

beforehand  Turn taking rules are not determined by rules of ordinary conversation

Participation Stucture

conversation telling elicitation ritual grop work
The varying configuration of speaking rights and duties of the learners can be consistently related to the type of interaction taking place. Depending on the type of the activity in progress, what is said, when is said, how is said can be more or less predictable.

Discourse Boundaries

Using the information from interaction types and participation structures it will be possible to divide the lesson into its constituent sequences or episodes (but transcription may be needed) Classroom discourse may use different markers, maybe ends and beginnings of episodes provide information about the management of affairs.
 

Any more questions?, All right, OK, etc. Opening of a new episode functions as a closing of the old one.

Teacher leads this – Power of authority

S3: we can’t make rain fall in desert areas, so drought is still a problem. T: Great! We can’t make rain fall in desert areas, so drought is still a problem. What does “drought” mean? S1: kuraklık T: lack of water. You are right. And the last one. S2: Control over the weather could save many lives. However, we don’t

In conclusion

Learners’ participation is entirely predetermined at times. (there are cases where the learners make creative contributions) The teacher controls the classroom interaction almost all the time. This is not necessarily a negative comment. (without control there might be no initiative) Classroom can never just be a replica of the outside world. Nonlocal forces may affect a classroom’s organization, e.g. the institution’s expectations Classroom is locally organized in terms of its being a social group with its own social rules

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