A thank you to the Students and teachers who allowed me to record and analyse their classroom shenanigans, and an especially large thank you to JuJu, who I’m sure will read this and ruthlessly edit this thanks out. Introduction
The focus of my investigation is the language used within the classroom and the interactions between students and teachers within a classroom environment. Ultimately, I want my investigation to help people understand how classroom interactions work, and what the best way to engage and educate the students is. To achieve this, I am viewing my transcripts with the theories put forward by Skinner on education, as well as the Gricean maxims and other modern language theorists.
My interest in this is due to me wanting to become a teacher, and when presented with this investigation I immediately wanted to do something that could potentially benefit me personally. So in order to carry this out, I decided to analyse the language relationships within a classroom, at the level of education which I want to teach. I am basing my investigation on educational theories proposed in B. F. Skinner’s ‘The technology of Teaching’.
His theories were universally accepted in educational institutions and this implemented in standard procedure within the teaching environment. My aim is to observe several teaching sessions in a college of Further Education and analyse the language used, specifically focusing on lexical and grammatical choices made by the teacher in order to engage students, I will apply the theories put forwards by Paul Grice; the Maxims of Quality, Quantity, Relevance and Manner, to see if they are adhered to or flouted within a modern classroom setting.
However, while the theory of teaching is important to my investigation, it is not its key constituent; a large part of the investigation shall be dedicated to analysing and examining the lexical, grammatical and syntactical choices made by teachers attempting to engage and ‘educate’ students. From my investigation I hope to discover if teachers of the same gender teaching the same subject to the same group of students interact and manage those students with an aim to educate them in the same manner. Methodology
I was obliged by circumstances to adjust my original question – that of analysing and addressing the differences in interactions between GCSE class rooms and college class rooms – because of limited access to school classes. This physical limitation affected the entirety of the investigation, transforming it from a comparative piece to a limited zone analysis. However, this in itself obligated me to collect a vastly larger amount of data from the class pool which I had access to, and as such the analysis of this data was much more in-depth than the original hypothesis would allow.
To allow myself to bring the theorists to focus, I have limited my analysis to student-teacher interactions within the passage where the teacher is directly interacting with a single student, or group of students. It is this interaction which is important to my analysis – the manner in which teachers manipulate and create situations where they can reinforce the ideas they are trying to instil within the students in such a manner that “education” is achieved. This process of dialogue is known as IRF – Initiation/Response/Follow up – and it is this which I will be analysing.
To gather this data I have recorded and transcribed a series of relevant interactions from four of the English Department’s classes taught within my college. All of these classes are at the same educational level- that of A-Level- and so are theoretically between students and teachers of equal relative status. Analysis 4. Significance of questioning A question or clarification was found to be the third most frequently used “cognitive strategy” out of a list of 17, making the student-teacher interaction one of the most academically beneficial parts of the classroom environment.
Studies have found that in Primary schools over 90% of the ‘questions’ asked are procedural – however in both my transcripts and my recordings I have found this to be very difference in an FE classroom. The percentage of academic questions can be seen to be much higher, highlighting the social-power differences between an FE classroom and that of a school.
This causes a much higher use of filler items such as ‘um and er’ and repetition, exceptionally exemplified by ‘Mia’(Ln68). As well as the abundance of non-verbal filler items, there is another speech pattern which can be seen as typical of students controlling the ‘floor’ – that of pauses. The second linguistic difference, especially relevant to B. F. Skinner’s teaching theories, is that of positive reinforcement. Sinclair and Coulthard state that ‘the crucial difference between the teacher and pupils elects is that the pupil provides no feedback’, that is the student does not ‘positively reinforce’ the teachers correct statements.
This is evident in our transcripts in Ln7/8 and Ln 161/162, where the teacher answering the question does not receive thanks or any affirmative contribution from the student. However, this positive reinforcement could be seen as implicit or pragmatic, and therefor still be a factor in the dialogue. Conclusion In accordance to the Theories put forwards by B. F. Skinner, we can see there is a tendency towards a more interactive, IRF based learning environment within classrooms in the FE sector than could be seen or presumed previously.
There has been, through all three teachers recorded for transcription, a distinct lack of the ‘Lecture’ style format of teaching. While this cross section of teachers is vastly too small to propose a global conclusion, it is evident that these interaction based methods have either become standard teaching procedure, or are close to becoming standardised. Rather than using silence to ‘control’ the class, it can be proposed that the ‘class’ as an entity is used as a learning tool, answering the questions of its members and helping to create new ideas.
It is entirely possible that the ratio of procedural/academic questions put forward by the class was distorted by the content of the class – due to time constraints, the majority of the classes recorded were focused more on learning and applying linguistic theory than performing ‘tasks’ and as such the opportunity to ask procedural questions was limited. In conclusion, I believe that my investigation has shown that my two teachers use language in very similar ways, with the purpose on manipulating learning.
While over such a small cross section of recordings it isn’t possible to truly compare their lexical choices – my recordings were influenced by class content, especially true for rick’s classes which consisted largely of student-led reading, containing considerably less IRF actions.
In other words, if the listener needs, let us say, five units of information from the speaker, but gets less, or more than the expected number, then the speaker is breaking the maxim of quantity. However, if the speaker gives the five required units of information, but is either too curt or long-winded in conveying them to the listener, then the maxim of manner is broken. The dividing line however, may be rather thin or unclear, and there are times when we may say that both the maxims of quantity and quality are broken by the same factors.