Mercer and Howe (2012) have a good paper in the new journal Learning, Culture and Social Interaction (publicly available for now) in which they review the state of play of sociocultural research and the educational functions of classroom talk. I thought the following list of interactional strategies for teachers is worth thinking about, especially in terms of how they might fit in with Bernstein’s pedagogic discourse, and the regulative and instructional registers through which it is realised.
- use some ‘open’ questions to explore students’ ideas
- encourage students to put knowledge into their own words (while also offering them new vocabulary to accommodate new ideas)
- press students to elaborate and justify their views, e.g. ‘How did you know that?’, ‘Why?’, ‘Can you say a bit more?’
- allow students extended turns to express their thoughts and reveal their misunderstandings
- hold back demonstrations or explanations until the ideas of some students have been heard (so that explanations can be linked to what has been said and to issues raised)
- give students enough time to construct thoughtful answers to questions, rather than moving quickly on if they are hesitant
- use whole class discussion to help students see the point and purpose of their study of a topic
- at least sometimes, allow students’ comments to shift the direction of a discussion (and even, perhaps, of a lesson!)
- ‘model’ ways of using language to conduct rational arguments, so that students can learn by example. (Mercer & Howe, 2012, pp. 17-18)
In some classroom talk that I have only just transcribed this week, I am looking at how dialogic teaching in the second language classroom can support second language learning when not focused on completing tasks and activities in a course book. That is, looking at “unplugged teaching” (Meddings and Thornbury, 2009) in which language learning needs emerge from the conversations, which are considered the point of departure for methodology, rather than course materials. These language learning opportunities, akin to Swain and Lapkin’s language related episodes (LREs) emerge in the pedagogic discourse that is either strongly or weakly framed. This represents the classroom conversation activity in which the students and the teacher have varying control over what is talked about, when it is talked about, for how long, and in which direction the talk moves in the lesson.
The list above might be re-drawn in order to highlight both the regulative and the instructional registers. More on that as I look through the data and consider it in light of the above strategies.
Meddings, L. & Thornbury, S., (2009), Teaching unplugged, Delta Publishing, Addlestone
Mercer, N. & Howe, C., (2012) Explaining the dialogic processes of teaching and learning: The value and potential of sociocultural theory, Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, pp. 12-21
Swain, M. & Lapkin, S., (1998) Interaction and Second Language Learning: Two Adolescent French Immersion Students Working Together, Modern Language Journal, 82, pp. 320-37