Student and teacher discourse during whole-class discussions of literature

Date of Completion

January 2006


Education, Language and Literature|Speech Communication|Education, Curriculum and Instruction




Influenced by ongoing attention in the field of English Education to the multiple ways language is used to make meaning and to communicate, some teachers have adopted discussion models that promote natural conversations rather than question-and-answer sessions. Authentic classroom discussion may be achieved when teachers foster approaches that are more conversational than the predominant classroom interaction pattern of initiation-response-evaluation (I-R-E). Authentic classroom discussions involve shared power among participants whereby students are encouraged to verbalize independent opinions and to affect the direction and discourse of the discussion. This study examined the complex discourse interactions impacting discussion in classrooms in which teachers attempt to share control with students. ^ The overall goal of the study was to identify characteristics of discourse interactions in selected high school English classrooms in which teachers were explicitly attempting to engage students in authentic discussion of literary texts. To characterize the discourse patterns in these classrooms, the researcher focused data gathering and analysis on the congruence between participants' assumptions and behaviors during discussions. Similarities and differences between semantic, syntactic, and turn taking patterns were examined, and analysis suggested ways that these patterns may impact implicit power structures in classrooms. ^ Using qualitative methods, the researcher observed whole-class discussions of literary texts and interviewed teachers and students in order to compare participants' behaviors during discussion with their beliefs about the goals and outcomes of class discussion. After conducting content analysis with the interview transcripts, the researcher conducted conversation analysis with the discussion transcripts. Finally, cross-case discourse analysis was conducted to examine rhetorical moves related to classroom interaction patterns including questioning, helping, correcting, directing, and attributing the agency or authority behind a contribution. ^ Analysis suggested that teacher-directed interaction patterns were prevalent even in classrooms where authentic discussion behaviors, such as extended student-to-student interactions and participants' challenges of each others' ideas, were encouraged. The researcher proposed that teachers attempting to engage students in authentic discussion should consider their goals and methods for classroom discussion on a continuum between I-R-E sessions and natural conversation and should teach and model strategies for engaging in authentic discussion. ^