STARN: Scots Teaching and Resource Network

Back to contents page

Gender, Speech Styles and the Assessment of Discussion

Chapter 4 - Data Analysis I: The Classroom Discussions

4.2.2 Group II

There are two boys in Group II, B3 and B4. The male teacher is walking around the classroom, monitoring the pupils, and contributing to their discussion on two occasions. The set task is to rank, in order of how difficult the rules are to obey, a set of nine rules which American soldiers were expected to obey during the Vietnam War. The rules have been given to the boys on cards, which they are arranging on the table; this activity means they can avoid oral communication to a large extent. The speaker who is graded by the S.E.B. is B3, who is assessed as Foundation Level, Grade 5. Both boys seem relatively uninterested in the task, producing some co- operative features, some non-co-operative features, but no competitive features. Floor apportionment

In this discussion, both participants appear reticent and speak little.

speakerno.of words% age of words spokenno. of turns% age of turns takenav. turn length
B3 117 74.5 11 58 10.6 words
B4 40 25.5 8 42 5.0 words

total no. of words: 157

total no. of turns: 19

average turn length: 8.2 words

total length of discussion: 3minutes 30seconds

In all B3 spoke 117 words and B4 spoke only 40. B3's turns were longer on average than B4's: the average length of B3's turn was 10.6 words, while the average length of B4's turn was 5 words. Although the distribution of turns and the turn length is far from equal, B3 does not compete with B4 for the floor; his longer and more frequent turns follow long pauses. The speakers do use co-operative strategies, such as questions, to draw the other into the discussion. Back channel support

B4 gives B3 considerably more back channel support than the latter gives B4.

Giver recipient no.of items Giver recipient no. of items

B3 B4 1 B4 B3 5

B3 gives 1 item B4 gives 5 items

B3 receives 5 items B4 receives 1 item

There were six back channel items in the discussion, five given by B4 to B3, and one given by B3 to B4. There was an average of one back channel item per 26 words uttered, a relatively high rate, and twice the frequency which occurred in Group I. As in Group I, however, the speaker who talks more, B3, receives more items of back channel support and gives fewer, while B4 gives more back channel support items and receives fewer. In this case, B4's responses sometimes appear to function as minimal turns, a way of returning the floor to B3, who carries most of the conversation. B4 does however supply some back channel support which indicates both speakers are exploring a concept co- operatively:

2. B3: (5) mm c. how can you make friends (1) with

3. B3: ah people when you don't know whether they're

B4: (.) friends or

4. B3: (.) aye

B4: enemies

B4 here completes B3's turn ("friends or enemies"), and B3 accepts the completion ("aye"). In this respect, the conversation is co-operative. Questions and tag questions

Questions in this context also appear to function co-operatively. Without any signs of commitment to the task, B3 and B4 do collaborate, using three questions which have the effect of bringing the other speaker into the discussion. Their lack of eagerness suggests they use questions as a way of passing the responsibility for the discussion onto the other speaker (lines 9-10, for example), but this cannot be shown conclusively from the recording. Epistemic modality and hedging

The two boys use hedging and epistemic modal forms to soften the force of their propositions in the discussion (eg. B3: 'maybe', line 1, 'probably' line 9, 'I think' line 15, 'could' line 17; B4: 'I think' line 1), and thus are acting co-operatively in this aspect of their talk. Topic development

The discussion is slow moving; neither boy takes very long turns, and there are frequently long pauses between turns. Because of the long pauses between turns, there is a disjointed quality to the discussion. The informational content of the conversation is low; much of the talk refers exophorically to the cards in front of the boys, which they rearrange with minimum discussion. As a result, the talk follows closely their arrangements of the cards, without really developing into a discussion of the problems facing soldiers, or the difficulty of keeping certain rules (although they do briefly comment of both these aspects of the task). Neither B3 nor B4 suddenly changes the topic, or rejects a topic the other has raised, so they are not competitive in this respect. Each responds to the other's previous turn, so it is possible to describe both as co-operative. However, in this short discussion, the behaviour of the speakers appears to be a result of inertia as much as co-operativeness. Lexical repetition

Very little lexical continuity occurs in the discussion. While B3 has lexical items in his contributions relating to the rules written on the cards in front of the two boys, B4's comments do not. B4 responds to B3 with simple agreement or disagreement, and asks questions ("what's this", "what about that one"). As a result there is little lexical continuity.

There is one instance of lexical repetition at lines 2-4:

2. B3: (5) mmm c. how can you make friends (1) with


3. B3: ah people when you don't know whether they're

B4: (.) friends or

4. B3: (.) aye

B4: enemies

B4 completes B3's turn by supplying "friends or enemies", a completion B3 accepts with "aye". B4 uses B3's word "friends " in his formulation. Although there is very little lexical recycling in this discussion, the single instance is co-operative, and suggests the attitude of the two boys is supportive rather that not. Interruptions and overlap

There are no instances of interruption or of overlapping speech in this discussion. Neither do the two speakers 'latch on' at the end of each other's turns. Most turns have pauses between them, ranging from less than 0.5 seconds to 7 seconds in length. Both speakers are non-co-operative in this respect. In combination with others mentioned already, the pauses between their turn taking gives the appearance of the speakers being uncommitted to the discussion. Simultaneous speech

There are no occurrences of simultaneous speech in the discussion. Although the two boys use some co-operative features, they do not do so to the extent that one speaker predicts how the other's turn will end, and joins in. They are non-co-operative regarding this feature. Summary of Group II discussion

The two boys use some co-operative features. They provide each other with back channel support; they use questions to draw the other into the discussion; they use hedges and epistemic modal forms to soften their proposals. However, this does not extend to the co-operative use of features such as lexical continuity, except at lines 2-4, nor to the use of overlapping or simultaneous speech.

In this context, the two boys do not use competitive forms. They do use some co-operative features, though not all the co-operative features considered in this study, and they use no competitive features.

To look specifically at B3's profile, he uses co-operative and non-co-operative features. He gives only one item of back channel support, talks more than his partner, does not overlap his partner's turns, repeat his lexis, or speak simultaneously with him.. However, he does not interrupt his partner, or use other competitive forms, and he does hedge his propositions.