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Gender, Speech Styles and the Assessment of Discussion

Chapter 4 - Data Analysis I: The Classroom Discussions

4.2.4 Group VI

4.2.6 Group VI

There are four pupils in Group VI, two girls, G11 and G12, and two boys, B8 and B9. The male classroom teacher is also present for the entire discussion, and makes occasional contributions, to select the next speaker, to ask questions and to make evaluations. G11 is the speaker who is graded by the S.E.B., and she is assessed as Credit Level, Grade 1, the highest possible grade. B8 is the Chair, and G12 takes notes. The group is discussing the characters who appear in Act I of The Long and the Short and the Tall, which they have read in class. Teachers were shown an extract from this discussion (marked on the transcript in bold typeface) and asked to assess speaker G12, as part of this study. The results of the teachers' assessments are dealt with in Chapter Five. Floor apportionment

The mean turn length in this discussion is the longest of any looked at in this study; G11, who is awarded the highest grade given by the S.E.B., has longer mean turns than any other speaker in the data. This bears out the correlation between quantity of contribution and grade which is looked at in more detail in 4.3 below. The distribution of the floor is as follows:

speakerno.of words% age of words spokenno. of turns% age of turns takenav. turn length
B8 214 23.5 8 28.5 26.75
B9 194 21.5 6 21.5 32.3
G11 383 42.0 6 21.5 63.8
G12 95 10.5 4 14.5 23.75
T 23 2.5 4 14.5 5.75

Total number of words: 909

Total number of turns: 28

Average number of words per turn: 32.5

Total length of discussion: 5minutes 0seconds

G11 speaks almost twice as many words as anyone else, and has turns which are twice the group's average in length. The two boys, B8 and B9, speak similar amounts to one another, B8 taking slightly more frequent and shorter turns than B9, as might be expected from a speaker taking the role of chair. G12, the scribe, takes fewer turns than any other pupil in the group, and her average length of turn is shorter than the average for the group. The teacher speaks very little in comparison with the other speakers, but he controls the discussion when he does speak, selecting the next speaker (l.28), and closing topics by evaluating answers as complete (l.31), or continuing topics by evaluating the previous speaker's contribution as not satisfactory (l.76-77). Back channel support

The ratio of back channel items to the number of words in the discussion is low. G11 receives the most back channel items, but gives few (she receives 5 and gives 1). B9, on the other hand, gives the most (6) and receives the fewest (1). G12 gives no back channel support. This resembles the pattern noted in discussions I and III concerning the distribution of back channel support: the person who speaks most receives most back channel support items, and the speaker who gives most receives fewest. The table below shows the distribution of back channel support.


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

B8 B9 0 B9 B8 2

G11 2 G11 2

G12 0 G12 2

T 0 T 0

B8 gives 2 items B9 gives 6 items

B8 receives 3 items B9 receives 1 item


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

G11 B8 0 G12 B8 0

B9 1 B9 0

G12 0 G11 0

T 0 T 0

G11 gives 1 item G12 gives 0 items

G11 receives 5 item G12 receives 2 items


Giver recipient no. of items

T B8 1

B9 0

G11 1

G12 0

T gives 2 items

T receives 0 items

Total number of back channel items in discussion: 11

Ratio of back channel items to number of words: 1:82.5

The relatively infrequent back channel support, and its unequal distribution, suggest a non-co- operative rather then a co-operative discussion. Questions and tag questions

Questions are used in a variety of ways in this discussion. Apart from the set questions read out by B8 in his role as chairperson, there are few cases of speakers using questions to invite others' opinions. "Real questions" function mostly as polite ways of challenging someone else's idea, or to gain and retain the floor; ie. for competitive rather than co-operative ends.

An example of using a question to challenge someone else's idea and take the floor occurs at line 12, when B8 disputes a point B9 has made:


12. B8: (1) do (.) do you think so (.) because


13. B8: (.) he doesn't (.) Bamforth (.) he doesn't stop Bamforth


14. B8: from doing it (.) Bamforth still (1) keeps (1) going on


15. B8: at a lot of other people (.) he doesn't stop him


A similar use is made of a question form by B8 at lines 20, where B8 disagrees with B9: "mm yeah but d'you not think he could be a bit stricter...".

At lines 69-70, G11 asks a question as a rhetorical device which functions as a means of extending her own turn:


69. G11: when (.) you know h. (.) when (.) you know how if they


70. G11: shoot a prisoner of war it would go down very heavily


71. G11: on them when they get back to camp (1) he wasn't all that


72. G11: bothered about killing (1) the prisoner


Both G11 and B8 are using questions competitively therefore, to gain the floor and to challenge other speakers.

Only one formal tag question is used, by G12 at lines 32-33. B9 responds to G12's tag with back channel agreement. Informal tag questions, on the other hand, appear frequently in longer turns where speakers are developing ideas, presumably to monitor whether other members of the group follow the speaker's train of thought, support it, and/or still accept that the speaker continues to holds the floor (eg. 'you know', uttered B9 at lines 8, 10; G11 at lines 58, 63; G12 at lines 50, 53). None of the mid-turn informal tags receives a response, unless there is eye contact or nodding which is not visible on the film. This is a non-co-operative aspect of the discussion. Epistemic modality and hedging

The discussion contains periodic but not plentiful hedges, and very few epistemic modal forms. The hedges fall at fairly regular intervals throughout the discussion, rather than clustering around potentially contentious areas. Speakers in the group use hedges to different extents: B9 and G12 use proportionally far more hedges than G11 and B8. G12 uses on average one hedge in every 14 words she utters (7 hedges in 95 words), while B9 uses one hedge in every 17 word he utters (11 hedges in 194 words). B8 does not use hedges or epistemic modality, though he does indicate tentativeness to an extent with false starts and repetitions, for example, at lines 12-13.


12. B8: (1) do (.) do you think so (.) because


13. B8: (.) he doesn't (.) Bamforth (.) he doesn't stop Bamforth


14. B8: from doing it (.) Bamforth still (1) keeps (1) going on


G11 uses only 1 hedge in every 55 words she utters (7 hedges in her entire contribution of 383 words); she sometimes uses sort of and I think to hedge her statements, but more frequently does not hedge them, as at lines 35-36, where she disagrees with G12:


34. G12: (.) you know (.) there was Bamforth sort of the brightest


35. G11: =he eventually put

G12: one and he didn't really stop him much=


36. G11: Bamforth in his place though (.) he gave him a larger


37. B8: =mmm

B9: =that's right

G11: lecture =


Speakers do not commonly use hedges and epistemic modal forms to negotiate topics, therefore, and with regards to these features, the discussion is non-co-operative. G11 and B8 are particularly non-co- operative in this respect. Topic Development

Topic development in this discussion is formal and largely non-co-operative. The chair, B8, occasionally exercises explicit control of the floor, for example selecting B9 as the next speaker at line 5. The group stays very close to the topics raised in the set questions; this might be regarded as being constrained by the set task, or as responding directly to its demands. The teacher's presence probably contributes to the formality of the topic development: he intervenes to select G11 as the next speaker at line 28, and also extends the topic under discussion by asking further questions about it, at lines 76-78 and 80.

Another non-co-operative aspect of the discussion is that the four pupils develop points separately although they may agree with one another. Speakers raise separate examples to support the same point; for example, between lines 37 and 55, B8, B9, G11 and G12 all give illustrations from the text of Mitchum's skilful leadership, but all three make completely independent points and do not comment on the point made by the previous speaker. Only one speaker holds the floor a time: there is none of the overlapping speech and joint turn construction of Group IV, for example.

There is also explicit and some times unmitigated disagreement in the discussion. For example, B8 contradicts B9 at lines 12-15; G12 contradicts G11 at lines 32-35; at lines 78-80 B8, prompted by the teacher, contradicts G11's earlier point. This is a more competitive facet of the discussion.

There are also more co-operative aspects to the topic development, however. For example, G12 summarises the discussion at line 65, and B8 asks whether anyone wants to add anything at line 68. As both speakers are acting in role on these occasions, G12 in her role as scribe, B8 as chair, this is not spontaneous co- operativeness. Topic development in Group VI's discussion is therefore predominantly non-co-operative, with both co-operative and competitive aspects also observable. Lexical repetition

There is little lexical continuity in the sense of expanding on other speakers' turns in the discussion. Lexical items are infrequently repeated by another speaker except in the case of proper nouns from the play used in the set question being repeated. An example of this occurs when B9 at line 10 uses one of the names from the play, Bamforth, which B8 repeats at line 13; in this instance, B8 opposes B9's point, so the repetition is not co-operative.

There is a cluster of instances of lexical continuity at a point in the discussion where the conclusions which have been reached are being reviewed:

65. G12: he's a good leader yeah? / 65. B9: yeah he is a good leader

66. B8: he could be a bit stronger / 67. G12: could be a bit stronger

65. B9: he's realistic all through the first act / 67. B8: he's very realistic

The speakers here are using co-operative lexical repetition at a point of consensus in the discussion. Such repetition is much less frequent at other points in the discussion.

Lexical continuity is noticeably absent in the following instances:


49. G12: (.) I think he kept the m. morale of his


50. G12: men really high when he was saying you know the Japanese


51. G12: are just as scared as you are (.) there might only be a


52. B9: that's right

G12: few of them out there (.) running around in circles (.)


53. B9: I think he (.) eh I think he gives confidence to the

G12: you know and that's


54. B9: soldiers (.) you know he keeps the morale up (.)


When B9 begins his turn, he signals that he agrees with G12: "that's right". However, his following point seems identical to G12's in content, except it is rephrased. Initially, "kept" is replaced with "gives", "morale" is replaced with "confidence", and "men" is replaced with "soldiers". B9 then repeats the point, now substituting in some of G12's lexis: "he keeps the morale up". B9 does not use G12's "high" however; he uses "up" instead, as the particle with the verb "keep". This means that they make the same point independently, rather than making it jointly. This non-repetition is typical of all speakers. Interruptions and overlap

There are no instances of co-operative overlap in the discussion; the discussion is not co-operative in this respect. There is one instance of interruption: B9 interrupts G12 at line 52 (cited above). G12 stops speaking after B9 has spoken over her for five words of her turn. Her turn is grammatically incomplete, and it is unclear whether she has completed the content of what she intended to say. B9 is apparently agreeing with G12 when he interrupts her, but he reiterates her point in his turn as if it were his original point, suggesting that this is in fact a competitive move to take the floor, rather than a co- operative one which aims to support the other speaker.

There are also two cases of overlap: B8 overlaps B9 at line 20, G11 overlaps B8 at line 69. In the first case, B8's utterance challenges B9's, suggesting that the overlap is a competitive move. In the second case G11 responds to a question asked by B8 before he had completed the question. When the length of turns in this discussion is taken into account, "jumping in" appears to be competitive behaviour, since a speaker gaining the floor in this way will hold it for a relatively long time, and thus exclude other group members from the opportunity of speaking. Simultaneous speech

In keeping with other non-co-operative aspects of the discussion, there are no instances of simultaneous speech. Summary of Group VI discussion

This discussion on the whole displays a mixture of competitive and non-co-operative features. There are few co-operative features in the discussion. Competitive aspects include the unequal lengths of time for which speakers hold the floor, questions being used to challenge or extend the speaker's turn, one speaker modifying the lexical choices of the previous speaker, and the instance of interruption and two instances of overlap to acquire the floor. The interruption rate is not high, however.

Non-co-operative aspects include the very long turns, the relatively low frequency of back channel support items, and also of epistemic modal forms and hedges, the absence of overlapping and simultaneous speech, and the low quantity of lexical repetitions.

There are co-operative aspects to the discussion. For example, in comparison to the rest of the group, B9 uses relatively frequent back channel support. Consensus is reached on most areas under discussion. Thus the discussion is not solely competitive.

G11 uses competitive and non-co-operative features. She talks considerably more than other group members, taking much longer turns, which is competitive. She gives little back channel support, uses very few hedges or epistemic modal forms, does not overlap other speakers, repeat their lexis, or use simultaneous speech, which are non-co-operative features. She develops her ideas independently of, and sometimes in opposition to, other group members. G12 uses mainly non-co-operative features. She gives no back channel support, she does not overlap other speakers, or use simultaneous speech; she repeats others' lexis on only one occasion. Like G11, she develops her ideas independently of the other group members, rather than sharing their production. She is however, relatively co-operative in her use of hedges, compared to other members of the group.