analysis, social organization, classroom talk

Monday, May 23, 2005

If cats could learn to read, angie would

If ever a cat COULD read Posted by Hello

This week in class some students are examining a transcript where a teacher requires that students go with her thinking, that if cats' could read they would notice the word on a pepper pot. I have been longing to post a pic of my cat angie and this seemed like the purrrfect time. As you will notice .. some cats look so smart that surely it isn't such a leap for a teacher to ask students about what might be the case if a cat could read?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

not using much of what people say

In my blog posts I haven't used long excerpts from transcripts. Two reasons. One is practical. When I try to post longer sections of talk the blog html language mucks around with the transcript. So, talk isn't aligned properly and doesn't present the transcript as it actually has been developed by me. For example, here is something taken from my PhD transcript that I have just cut and pasted.

((Carl holding up his book to the teacher))
at school we (0.4) made
((shakes head)) no
yeah (3.0) come on (1.8) ((hands book back to Ivan without looking at him)) now you can draw a quick little (0.2) small little picture

As you can see. the text is all out of alignment. I haven't worked out yet how to fix it up. Bugs me no end.

The second reason for only using short excerpts? I have "opened up" my blog to my students at uni i.e given them the blog address. First year students have to develop a transcript of talk and analyse it. By just focusing on short excerpts from transcripts in this blog I hope to illustrate that a little bit of talk can tell a lot about what people do in their interactions (if you look closely).

Unfortunately posting blogs (on the go) doesn't always involve close analysis of talk. For example in yesterday's post about Robyn's CAT scan I could have analysed the technician's use of "well" i.e. doesn't "well" seem to herald the comment to come "all the best" etc. And, there was that pause that perhaps marked out the next bit of talk for Robyn ("all the best with that"). Robyn waited after "well" to hear what was coming. And then, she made her own interpretation. Perhaps it wasn't what the technician intended but what else was Robyn to go on? Talk in interaction.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

the things we say

Robyn, a friend at uni, told me an interesting story this week. She has been been experiencing a very bad and constant pain behind one eye. Her GP recommended that she have a CAT scan. Robyn went for the scan and as she was leaving the technician made the following remark:

T: well (0.6) all the best with that

Robyn left shattered and went home thinking that she obviously had a very serious problem e.g. a brain tumour. What was it that had suggested this to her? The technician's use of "all the best" ,first off. This made Robyn think that there was something that she was going to have to contend with that would require someone to wish her well with it. And the other thing -the technicians' use of "that". It suggested to Robyn that there was something, a "thing", that the technician wasn't naming but was there. The "not naming" of the thing was also of concern.

The technician's utterance and Robyn's response nicely illustrates the interpretive work that occurs on a daily basis during social interaction, and constitutes it. The utterance was fleeting (and Robyn did not reply). It was the way that the technician finished the session, and yet, Robyn went off wondering about why the technician had said what she did.

I'm sure that "that " is nothing Robyn, but thanks for the great example of your interpretive work.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Today, an analysis of a transcript got me thinking about understandings of talk that we have been taught (perhaps at school), for example, that "um" is a bad thing when used by students in classroom talk. Closer analysis of the use of "um" might reveal very interesting things about talk. For example, by saying "um" a speaker might accomplish certain things in interaction (especially if it was more accurately 'ummmmmh' that was used rather than the short 'um'). The longer 'version', "ummmmmmm" suggests that the speaker is still retaining talking rights ie. definitely still doing something and not working to get someone else to take a turn.

Initially, when analysing transcripts of classsroom talk we may draw on "rules" that we have been taught eg. that the use of "um" is not what is wanted in effective speech. But, looking more closely at talk and trying to think differently (forget the "rules"and look to what is accomplished by the talk) can reveal interesting things about how people use talk in interactions to accomplish social things, like retaining the right to talk.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

what a little can do

Here is just a snippet from the transcript that I developed for analysis in my PhD research.

T : ((clap)) (0.2) ((clap)) (0.2)) ((clap)). ((clap)). ((clap))
Ss: ((clap)) (0.2) ((clap)) (0.2)) ((clap)). ((clap)). ((clap)).

These actions by the teacher and student occurred at the end of independent writing. In fact, the teacher's action initiated the end of independent writing. I wonder if the actions by the teacher and students are familiar to any readers?

the sounds we make

In a lecture last week a student asked how it would be possible to record the talk of young children who were not speaking words but rather sounds. It was a good question (thanks Julie). Jefferson notation enables us to record some sounds. For example, in the following excerpt from a transcript the teacher is watching Cathlyn writing during and notices that she has spelled a word incorrectly, she does this:

Teacher: ((watching)) hhhhhh

The sounds used here represent the teacher's indrawing of breath which was followed by:

((all the students at the table turn to face the teacher and Cathlyn/ Wayne stands to look/ Cathlyn continues writing))

Everyone who was seated with Cathlyn responded to the sound that the teacher made. One student, Wayne, even stood up to see what was going on. Cathlyn kept writing. So the sound generated a response from students, although not the student that had prompted this utterance from the teacher. The teacher then does this:

Teacher: ((touches Cathlyn on the hand and points to the page)) it wwww

In response to Cathlyn's failure to respond to the teacher's utterance (her indrawing of breath), the teacher touches her on the hand and starts to say the words that Cathlyn has written. In this way she marks off that it is Cathlyn's work that she is commenting on.

Though this talk represents only a very short interchange it shows very interesting things. First off, the teacher doesn't necessarily use words to make her point. Her indrawing of breath was in response to Cathlyn's writing error. She doesn't say that Cathlyn has made an error but rather indicates it. The response of other students at the table shows that they hear the teacher's utterance as indicating a problem that relates to Cathlyn and her writing. They attend to it before Cathlyn does

Overall, this brief interchange illustrates many features of independent writing and of classrooom talk. Though writing independently, students are subject to the attention of the teacher and of other students. Thus, it is very much social activity, even though students are engaged in writing their own texts. During independent writing, the teacher does not directly point out errors but rather requires that students attend to their writing and find errors when she indicates that something is not right in their writing. Indications of errors might be something like the indrawing of breath, or like this ...

Teacher: owh (0.4) [you've you've gotta leave a space though

All up. A little bit of talk, even a sound tells a lot. What does "owh" tell us? And for that matter, why does the teacher tell what the problem is after making that sound? And what does "though" indicate? Something has been done by the student that is partly right?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

say it with more interest everyone, "Can a fish swim?"

thanks to mighty-min for this pic (courtesy of flickr) Posted by Hello
Please do not take this pic for granted. It marks my first venture into uploading images to my blog. The image of the fish doesn't appear as I imagined it would, but I am pleased to get a picture up on my first try using "hello".

In this post I want to say something else about the transcript that has been the focus for analysis in my tute groups this week. My comments have been informed by students' questions about what should be of interest in a transcript analysis of classroom talk, or talk at home.

For me, the transcript was interesting because it captured just the ordinary activity of one teacher in a classroom literacy lesson. It was only a snippet of the lesson and wasn't chosen by me because there was something extraordinary about it. Rather, I think that what makes the transcript interesting is it "ordinariness". Unpacking the interaction that constituted that tiny bit of the lesson gives us an insight into how students and teachers go about their lessons on a daily basis. That makes it interesting.

At the same time, what is revealed when we focus more closely on this ordinary and day-to-day activity is a marvellous and complex social world. For example, many of you noted the apparently seamless way in which the teacher moved from talking to one student (Bob), to engaging in talk with everybody (certainly the transcript suggested that all students spoke after the next utterance by the teacher). How did students know that they could all speak at once? And, how did we, as analysts of their talk, know that it was what the teacher wanted (since teachers often don't want everybody to speak at once)? Evidence is provided by looking closely at the transcript. Over the course of talk that followed the teacher's interactions with Bob the teacher did not ask for the class to be silent or for one student to speak. Thus we must take it that the chorus response from the class was what was wanted. Otherwise the teacher would have stopped it.

As regards the complex social world that I alluded to earlier ... students appear to know, without the teacher directly stating it, when they can and cannot speak out. The teacher, at the same time, appears to use students' responses to shape the course of the lesson. Since lessons involving many people come about, as this one has, the work of an analyst of interaction is to show how.

My suggestion for the final assignment is that you just take some everyday classroom talk and examine it very closely. Your analysis may reveal what makes it appear so seamless and ordinary.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Can a fish swim?

Today in my tute groups (Monday) I started work that leads towards a final assignment for my first year students in my teaching unit TJ 511 Language and Literacies. We examined an excerpt from a transcript that I will call "Can a fish swim?" The transcript was taken from:

Freebody, P., Ludwig, C., & Gunn, S. (1995). Everyday literacy practices in and out of schools in low socio-economic urban communities: A summary of a descriptive and interpretive research program. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training.

The tute activity required students to select, initially, a couple of interesting features from the transcript and to discuss these and note their comments (making reference to the transcript using line numbers). After twenty minutes students moved on to new groups and exchanged their analyses. Then students were asked to related their analyses to a reading that considered school talk.

In both groups there were some interesting comments and analyses. I'll just use one that I remember, and respond to it, to make some points about the analysis of transcripts.

"it's just what I think".

What you were thinking involved what you know about how we interact in a classroom. So you must have had some basis for thinking this. Look to the transcript to see if those in the classroom interpreted in the same way. Look to the turn before and the one that followed. What does the talk confirm, or not? Those turns will support your analysis and are your "evidence". After all, you know classrooms cos you have been in them for years. School students know classrooms cos they are operating in them (have to operate effectilvely). So, they are showing in the transcript, through their interaction, what they thought was required. How does it match up to your interpretation?

To illustrate ... A number of people in the tutes noticed that the teacher picked out one student to speak because his answer was different. However, was that really the reason? Good analytic work by some suggested that the teacher couldn't possibly have heard just that one student since all students replied together according to the transcript (imagine it, 25 students speaking at once and the teacher heard that one answer!).

Some good reasons were suggested for the teachers's utterance. The teacher (he or she, and that's another story!) wanted a right answer so named someone who might provide it (did he?). What point might it serve to pick out a student in your class who you will know will give the right answer? (well yes, it does get you out of mukky talk about questions and answers that MAYBE most students aren't getting, and you yourself have lost the plot!)

Others thought that maybe the student wasn't paying attention and so had been named as a way to draw him into the lesson (could we tell that from the transcript?). Others thought that when the teacher named someone it signalled to all the class that they were no longer able to speak out together as they had been doing (certainly they didn't all speak after this point).

All these interpretations illustrate some very important aspects of classroom talk and interaction. We (us teachers, pre-service teachers, and pupils) have vast amounts of knowledge about how classrooms "operate" And more importantly, in doing "the lesson" we draw on this knowledge, and make the lesson happen. The students in the transcript illustrated this elegantly. No-one spoke after the teacher named particular students, but everyone "seemed' to talk when the teacher just asked a question without naming a specific person. How do they know what is required? Isn't this part of their competence as school students?

I'll finish with a radical comment. Although current programs for literacy instruction give emphasis to teacher instruction (stages of development, approriate teaching approaches etc) perhaps they overlook the work that students do in classrooms in order to make lessons happen. That is, without the work of students in classroom we have no lessons. This is beautifully illustrated in "Can fish swim.?".