analysis, social organization, classroom talk

Saturday, January 29, 2005

What I like about transcripts

The thing I find most useful about my transcripts (and the video recordings that they are based on) is that I can go back to them. Frequently, I see talk differently -very disconcerting when trying to pull analysis together for a thesis chapter. It is, however, one of the marvels of doing conversation analysis and I am quite sure that my thirty five minutes of classroom talk could keep me an active researcher for a long time if I wanted.

Late last night I got to thinking (once more) about Ivan's line:
Ivan: in the ­ supermar- !ket (0.4) ((laughs))

What I had missed earlier was something to do with his laughter. I knew that he had made a joke. However, the laughter served a more important social action that I had realised. He wasn't laughing at his joke. His laughter occasioned the joke. It showed it to be a joke. No-one else had laughed.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

another take

I spent a year in Ivan's classroom, although, i did not use recordings of participant observations in my data analysis. Rather, I used only a recording of interaction on one day in order to develop my analysis of the social organization of independent writing on just that day. However, post research i can reflect on my observations in that classroom.

Ivan was six. He was in the "bottom" writing group. He was often in trouble. The teacher often reprimanded him in front of the class for his way of speaking to her, for being cheeky or for interrupting her. When I look back on his supermarket comments now i can see how it might seem that he was cheeky, however, my analysis shows a number of things about his interaction that suggest otherwise. Ivan doesn't interrupt for example. His talk never overlaps the teacher, rather he shows a fine-tuned response that follows on from the teacher's talk. Importantly, in talking he shows his knowledge of classroom ways of talking about text and of interacting with the teacher. Perhaps, rather than being a naughty boy, Ivan shows the teacher that he is a student who does understand what counts as independent writing in his classroom.

Ivan makes a joke

In the transcript that i analysed for my phD there are numerous sequences of talk that still "tug" at my thoughts. One of these is the following:

Dina: how do you write peanut butter?
Teacher: where are you going to find peanut butter?,
Ivan: the supermarket ( )

In my analysis of the social organization of independent writing I found many examples like this, where a student asked the teacher how to write a word. The teacher's response was often a question, much like the one she gives above, where the use of 'find' makes salient that the word is written somewhere in the room. Because students usually didn't reply to what appeared to be a question, I took it that the teacher's utterance worked to direct students away from her and to their own independent activity (to find the word somewhere).

In this case however, what caught (and still catches my eye) is the response by Ivan. I noted a number of things in my initial consideration of this sequence:

Ivan's answer used everyday knowledge and was correct in that sense.
Ivan provided an answer to the teacher's question which Dina did not provide.
Ivan answered a question which had not been directed at him, further, he appeared to take the teacher's question as one which needed a response (a question requires an answer, right?)
The teacher didn't comment on his response.

In another part of the transcript i found the following:
Teacher: [where else can you find peanut butter though ((walking away))*
Dominic: the (0.4) peanut (0.2) butter (0.2) sandwich
((Mckiela writing bottom of ‘i’/ Cathlyn glances at Jamie’s book))
Ivan: in the supermar- !ket (0.4) ((laughs))

Here, I was taken by Ivan's laughter, and it was this segment of data that enabled me to consider the ways in which Ivan's interaction with the teacher made her talk about finding words seem very strange. I considered some of the following:

why would he answer a question that was not directed at him when the classroom rules about talk with the teacher usually do not permit this?
why did he give the same answer again that he had used previously, in another interaction that involved the teacher?
why did he articulate the word supermarket with such emphasis, and why did he then laugh?

My consideration overall of some of these questions went beyond comment in this blog post, however, i did decide that Ivan's interaction showed his understanding of the taken-for-granted use in the classroom of talk about finding words. Further, it suggested to me that this use of "finding" words was a specialized aspect of talk in his classroom. Ivan 's attempt to make a joke was premised on the shared understanding of talk about finding words and their real world instantiations. So, the teacher's question about finding "peanut butter" needed to be understood contextually as referring to the print in the room rather than to the real world context in which "peanut butter" could be found. Ivan used this shared understanding to make a joke.

From my research perspective, Ivan's utterance also made strange the classroom talk about finding words.