The word discourse originally comes from a Latin word discursus which means conversation or speech, and discourse is widely understood as the use of spoken or written language in a social context. Therefore, spoken and written discourse constitutes the two main types of discourse in language studies. Cook (1989) defines discourse as ‘the language in use’ against a socially constructed context.
Discourse analysis study language in use that includes written texts of all kinds, and spoken data from conversation to highly institutionalized forms of talk. In language classrooms, the communication patterns that are found are uniquely special from those in content-based subjects. The varied linguistic forms may or may not coincide with the aims of a lesson and the means for achieving those aims. (Walsh, 2006). Meaning and message are one and the same thing, ‘the vehicle and object of instruction’ (Long, 1983a); language is both the focus of activity, the central objective of the lesson, as well as the instrument for achieving it (Willis, 1992). ‘Discourse analysis is concerned with the study of relationship between language and the contexts in which it is used’ (McCarthy, 1990). Discourse analysis is, increasingly, forming a backdrop to research in Applied Linguistics, and second language (L2) teaching and learning. Since the purpose of the present is to analyze the interactions between the teacher and the students in a classroom, therefore, much of the work and terms would be related to classroom discourse.
Classroom discourse, in brief, refers to the study of the process of face-to-face teacher and student’ interactions as they participate in the conduction of a lesson. Understanding the theory of classroom discourse, through the lens of main features of classroom discourse, provides a valuable insight about teachers’ and students’ social roles, relationships, attitudes and beliefs. An understanding of the dynamics of classroom discourse is therefore essential for teachers to establish and maintain good communicative practices (Johnson, 1995). Long cited in Walsh, (2001) that in a language classroom, the language used is not the only means of acquiring new knowledge, it is also the goal of study: the vehicle and object of study. In second language acquisition classrooms, understanding and analyzing the interactional features of classroom discourse helps to highlight important questions, of which the primary question is the teacher’s use of language and to what extent it coincides with her pedagogic goals. In order to ensure that learners are given maximum learning opportunities, teachers need to be competent in their own reflective usage of language and how far they relate to the prescribed pedagogic goals. ‘Success can only be ensured if teachers are able to equip their learners with the communicative competence needed to cope with both the subject matter and skills associated with that discipline. The responsibility for promoting efficient and effective language use resides with the teacher’ (Walsh, 2006).
Second language classroom is a highly interactional classroom, where much learning takes place from the conversation held between the teacher and the learners, especially through the ways teachers use questioning strategies, hand over turns and give corrective or error feedbacks.
In the words of Nunan, ‘if we want to enrich our understanding of language learning and teaching, we need to spend time looking in classroom’ (Nunan, 1989). This paper focuses on the interaction analysis approaches, meaning the kinds of approaches used for analyzing interactions in a second language classroom. According to Walsh (2006), the most reliable and quantitative approach is through the usage of an observation instruments or coding systems, so the observer can record what ever is happening in the L2 (second language) classrooms against a prescribed category. The observation instruments are divided into systems-based and ad-hoc analytic approach based on whether the observer uses already fixed categories of features of classroom features or establishes one in a real-time process during observation. Of the system based approach, the Initiation-Response-Feedback (Evaluation) or IRF model proposed by Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) and the latest works of Kasper (2001) derive their model development of classroom discourse from the earliest works conducted by Bellack et.al (1966) who explained the three part exchange as solicit-respond-react model of classroom interaction. The ad-hoc approach focuses on the details of the interaction, and allows attention to be devoted to the microcosms of interactions that might so easily be missed by the ‘broad brush’ descriptions provided by systems- based approaches. The SETT (Self Evaluation of Teacher-Talk, Walsh, 2001, 2003) framework provides attentive details to the selection of teacher’s language and its effect on the process of interaction and learning. For example, teacher’s use of professional language and focus on fluency rather than accuracy would call for increased elicitation through display, closed-end questions and direct, explicit error correction during feedbacks. Learning can only be optimized when teachers are sufficiently in control of both their teaching methodology and language use (van Lier, 1996).
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the interactions in an English language classroom on the basis of main features of classroom discourse (control of patterns of communication, elicitation techniques, repair strategies, modifying speech for learners) and the SETT framework. The SETT framework is used as a primary observation instrument, and the minute-by-minute teacher and students’ interactions in the classroom are evaluated against the keys of the instrument. Apart from the SETT keys, the classroom interactions were also analyzed against the types of modes in operation. Keeping in mind, that ‘a single classroom context does not exist; instead contexts are locally constructed by participants through and in their interaction in the light of overall institutional goals and immediate pedagogic objectives’ (Walsh, 2006). Also, Walsh describes the classroom as consisting of microcontexts, which are characterized by specific patterns of turn- taking, called modes: skills and systems mode, materials mode, classroom context mode, managerial mode.
The next part of the paper describes the context chosen for the research, data collection methods, analysis of data in the light of SETT framework and direction of modes. The subsequent part of the paper will contain a brief discussion of the teacher’s use of language and its relation to pedagogic goals through interactions in an English language classroom.
The data was collected from an English language classroom for seventh graders at a private school. The seven graders had been taught English since the elementary classes, and also, all subjects were taught in the medium of English. The school regarded itself as an English medium school. The English language teachers had three to four years of working experience. But consequent observations revealed the school to be less strictly English medium, and the teachers’ accent reflected the national language (Urdu).
The number of students in the classroom observed was fifteen in number, with three students being high achievers who participated diligently in class discussions, whereas the rest of the students showed lower cognitive level and during the observation, they did not participate much in class discussions owing to their lack of understanding of the lessons. Teacher’s mode of teaching focused on whole class, groups/pairs and individual activities. The current data collected was during a recitation class for English comprehension, so it reflected on reading and oral communication during questioning time.
Of the half hour of English comprehension session, 10-15 minutes of classroom proceedings was audio-recorded, transcribed and used for analysis. The author also had a brief interview with the teacher about her teaching beliefs, stated goals and lesson objectives. Other on-spot field notes and observation notes were also taken to supplement the audio-recording.
The data collected was analyzed on the basis of two models: one is the SETT framework proposed by Steve Walsh (2001, 2003) and the second is a more detailed structure of classroom discourse pattern which outlines four types of modes namely skills and systems mode, materials mode, managerial mode and classroom context mode.
The SETT framework’s main aim was to develop ‘an instrument which fairly represented the fluidity of the second language classroom context, which portrayed the relationship between pedagogic goals and language use, which acknowledged that meanings and actions are co-constructed through the interaction of the participants…’ (Walsh, 2006). The SETT framework was devised on the basis of Conversational Analysis approach, which views classroom as a social context, which is constantly evolving through the learners’ contributions and teacher’s use of language and setting up activities in the form of opening and closing, turn-taking, acts sequencing as well as topic management.
The SETT framework contains fourteen categories based on the main features of classroom discourse during interactions in L2 classrooms. ‘Certain interactional features facilitated learning opportunity, while others appeared to hinder opportunities for learning. That is, depending on a teacher’s pedagogic goal, choice of language could either construct or obstruct learning opportunity (Breen, 1998; Ellis, 1998; Walsh, 2002). The categories are coded as (a) to (n) for identification and tally purposes.
Using the audio-recording, the classroom conversation was transcribed using the transcription convention provided by Walsh (2006). The transcript was also checked for IRF pattern, because the teacher’s use of questioning techniques clearly reflected this pattern, with the teacher initiating a question, for which the student provided a response, and teacher provided feedback in the form of acknowledgement or further initiation. The next part of the analysis procedure was to identify features of teacher talk using the categories of SETT framework.
A part of the transcript is shown below to consider how the IRF pattern resulted in the discourse procedure:
(F/I) T: Okay…good answer. Question number two is what do you think the meanings of these words are…vigilantly (2) line number 4?
(R) L1: (2) Ma’am, vigilantly (3) I think, it means he had to be careful=
(F) T: =Okay, good! Could be=
The interactional patterns reveal that teacher exerted the maximum control, but the typical IRF pattern as proposed by Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) did ensue for most of the duration of the language lesson. Because the student was used to teacher’s method of questioning tactic, he came up with the teacher’s desired responses, and the feedback provided by teacher helped the student to acknowledge the correctness of his answer. But in light of the SETT framework, where teacher’s use of appropriate and corrective feedback is concerned, the teacher made neither any attempt to modify her or the student’s speech to rephrase an answer, nor did she provide form-focused feedback on the grammatical usage, or further vocabulary application skills. Therefore, in this context, language is being learnt through a text-book, but here, it is imperative to point out that teacher’s own usage of language hindered further learning opportunities and students’ uptake through corrective, direct and explicit feedback.
The features of teacher talk were identified and tallied against the fourteen categories of SETT framework. The transcript showed more examples of features of teacher talk which included teacher’s use of extensive questioning especially display and closed end questions as well as referential questions to check students’ knowledge, understanding and content registers. The teacher used extended wait time, to allow the students to formulate a more fluent and longer response to the question asked. Also, as interviewed, the teacher believed that giving a wait time of more than 1 second leads to students building cognitively complex responses. A further way of extending the analysis of teachers’ questions would be to compare the objectives of teachers and the kinds of questions asked.
The teacher’s feedback was more on the content, rather than the form of the language. Despite errors in language made by the student, for e.g., the teacher gave a feedback to acknowledge student’s contribution, but it should be brought to notice, that in a language class, feedback should reflect on the repair strategy, and corrective feedback should be given, so students would get a clear sense of direction of their progress.
A detailed result is shown in the Appendix 1, with each turn of teacher and student’s speech coded in line with the SETT framework, and the frequency of each code occurring is tallied and tabulated in Table 1 (Appendix 2). (Please refer to Appendix 1 and 2)
The four modes or patterns which represent the microcontext of a classroom show specific patterns of interaction and which are described as managerial mode, materials mode, skills and systems mode and classroom context. Apart from unique interactional features, each mode is supplemented by certain kinds of pedagogic goals.
Analysis of the transcript revealed the following modes to be in action:
Managerial mode: Since it frequently occurs at the beginning of the lessons too, so the way teacher shared her goal of the lesson reflected her pedagogic goal that she intended to transmit information that ‘Today, we are going to do English comprehension’. Also, the activity started through the organizing of textbook by referring to ‘page 31’ for individual student’s paragraph reading.
After the conclusion of student’s reading, the mode shifted to materials mode, wherein the pedagogic goals are to provide language practice around a piece of material, to elect responses through the use of extensive display questions, and also to check for answers. A typical IRF pattern resumes, and from the talk between teacher and student, the structure of interaction was tightly governed. For example, from the time, teacher responded with
5 T: =Well done. Okay…we’ll now answer the questions. The first question is why did the wolf wander about? = (E/I)
6 L1: …Ma’am, the wolf wandered about in search of food= (R)
7 T: =Okay…good answer. Question number two is what do you think the meanings of these words are…vigilantly…line number 4? = (F/I)
8 L1: (2) Ma’am, vigilantly (3) I think it means he had to be careful= (R)
9 T: =okay, good! Could be… (F)
Because the teacher did not use any kind of corrective feedback or error correction, the student did not know if his answer including the grammatical part was correct. Here, when the teacher asked for another word for vigilantly’, the student response with ‘careful’, the teacher could focus on the correct forms as in ‘carefully’, so that learners are able to manipulate the target language. However, because the display questions shift to the focus on sub-skills of understanding vocabulary, the mode shifts to skills and systems mode. But the teacher’s use of language could not provide further discourse because she did not ask for clarification, neither provided scaffolding to allow learners to come up with a response himself nor there was any attempt to directly repair the learner’s incorrect grammar form. The feedback was content-based, based on the subject matter of the comprehension passage, but slightly form focused when the students had to utter another word for a word.
Teacher’s use of referential question was with the objectives of producing cognitively complex responses, but then an effort is required to sustain the responses in the cognitive domain. This is possible through the teacher’s use of language, which does not give the direct answer, but relies on scaffolding, clarification requests and giving extended learner turns. In order to provide a classroom context which allows learners to maximize the learning opportunities through student-student interaction, or teacher-student interaction, the pedagogic goals of the modes need to be related to teacher’s expression and usage of language.
The modes reflected show the managerial mode in the beginning, and this kind of mode usually occur between two parts of a lesson, so it gave way to materials mode and partly skills and systems mode.
The purpose of the paper was to analyze classroom data in the light of SETT framework and different modes present as a microcontext in a classroom. Subsequent analysis of the data revealed that the teacher’s use and utterance of spoken words did not relate to the pedagogic goals and aims stated for the students. Teacher’s use of language can enhance or suppress L2 learning. Teachers need to focus on the dialogue-not just the input or output.
Rather than looking at input or output alone, Swain (1995) stresses the dialogic nature of language learning, arguing that an understanding of learning processes can be enhanced by using dialogues as ‘the unit of analysis of language learning’. Because L2 classroom interaction is analyzed according to the relationship between pedagogic actions and the language used to achieve those actions, this paper provided a glimpse on the details of what is happening in the classroom, and whether the teacher use a ‘broad-brush’ for interactions or replace them with finer, microcosmic details to focus on the dialogue.
1 T: Today, we’ll…ahhh….do English comprehension. So, ahh…who would like to read the paragraph? (Referential question)
2 L1: Ma’am, I want to read=(Response)
3 T: =Okay, Aizaz, you read the paragraph on page 31…(content feedback)
4 L1: the wolf….. (reads paragraph)
5 T: =Well done. Okay…we’ll now answer the questions. The first question is why did the wolf wander about? (Content feedback/Extended Teacher turn/Display question=initiation) (Extended wait time)…
6 L1: …Ma’am, the wolf wandered about in search of food= (R)
7 T: =Okay…good answer. Question number two is what do you think the meanings of these words are…vigilantly…line number 4? (Form focused feedback/display question/extended teacher turn) (Extended wait time)
8 L1: (2) Ma’am, vigilantly (3) I think it means he had to be careful= (R)
9 T: =okay, good! Could be…(content feedback)
10 T: uhh …next word is disguise (4) (display question/extended wait time)
11 L1: …Umm, no ma’am (3) I don’t know. You tell me extra word for me= (extended learner turn)
12 T: =Okay, I’ll tell you the meaning…the..ahh…meaning of this word disguise is hidden…(form focused feedback) (R) (extended teacher turn)
13 L1: =Okay…hidden…(R) (form focused feedback)
14 T: …Uhh…next question is what do you think could be the…ah…best title of this paragraph? (Referential question/ extended wait time/ I)
15 L1: …(3)..I think it could be the clever wolf = (response)
16 T: =Right, why do you…how did you think of this title for this paragraph? = (form focused feedback/I/scaffolding=extending a learner’s contribution) referential question) (extended wait time)
17 L1: (2) I think it was the best title because the main character is the wolf and he is very clever= (R)
18 T: Okay,… (pause)…next question is, is there any other question in your mind?=(Content feedback/I/referential question)
19 L1: =No Ma’am, I don’t have any other question=
20 T: =Okay…Aizaz, I think…=
Table 1 SETT Key
Extended wait time
Extended learner turn
Extended teacher turn
Form focused feedback
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