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

4.4 Summary

4.4.1. The Classification of Discussion Styles

Is the classification of pupils' behaviour in class discussion as competitive, co-operative, or non-co-operative, feasible?

To a degree, it proved to be feasible to classify facets of pupils' behaviour in classroom discussion as competitive, co-operative, or non-co-operative, although speakers rarely used only one style. The speakers in Group VII were co-operative towards one another throughout the discussion, but B5 in Group III was the only speaker in the sample to use almost solely competitive features. Some speakers behaved co-operatively towards certain group members and competitively towards others, such as the girls in Group I, who treated each other with varying degrees of co-operativeness, but used competitive behaviour towards B1. Other speakers mixed co-operative, competitive, and non-co- operative features, in their behaviour towards a single addressee, such as G10 towards G9 in Group V.

The model does not therefore map straightforwardly onto pupils' behaviour in discussion groups. Nevertheless, there were correlations between groups of features, co-operative, non-co- operative or competitive, suggesting that the model is appropriate to a degree in describing pupils' behaviour in discussions. It can also usefully draw attention to some aspects of discussions such as floor distribution and ways of negotiating conflict. Therefore, although the model may not be able to describe completely someone's behaviour in a discussion, it can still help as a way to think about aspects of their behaviour.

4.4.2. Gender Differences

Do girls and boys differ in their use of these styles?

My data do not show clear differences in girls' and boys' usages across the range of the features investigated in this study; from this sample there is not a straightforward correspondence between gender and the use of one set of linguistic forms. Girls, as well as boys, exhibit some competitive forms: G4 in Group III for example; and G10 in Group V. The girls also exhibit non-co-operative features, G9 in Group V, and G12 in Group VI, for example. Neither do the boys use exclusively competitive forms. While B5 demonstrates a range of competitive forms, other boys, such as B2 in Group II and B7 in Group VI, do demonstrate some co-operative forms. However, there do appear to be co-operative forms which girls use and boys do not: lexical repetition and joint turn construction for example, which are evident among nine of the fifteen girls in the study (G1, G2, G3, G5, G6, G7, G13, G14, and G15), but not amongst any of the nine boys.

4.4.3. The Significance of the Addressee

To what degree does the extent to which an individual uses features of co- operative / non-co- operative / competitive talk vary depending on the addressee?

It appears that the degree to which an individual uses a co-operative, competitive, or non-co-operative style depends strongly on the addressee, and the relationship between the speaker and the addressee. For example, the girls in Group I, who are co-operative to one another (although G2 and G3 are more co-operative towards each other and less so towards G1) are non-co-operative and competitive in their behaviour towards B1. Similarly, G5 and G6 are co-operative towards each other, less so towards G7, and non-co-operative and competitive towards G8. In Group III, G5, B6 and B7 are competitive, at least in part, towards B5, but less so towards each other.

From these cases, it appears that speech style is not a fixed attribute of the speaker, but a response to the relationship between the speaker and the addressee.

Another variable which may affect the style group members use is the topic which they have been given to discuss; some topics may promote an adversarial style more than others. A discussion on the existence of the Loch Ness Monster (Group III) may be more likely to induce participants to take up extreme, polarised, positions. Other topics may make it difficult for speakers to do this, for example the ranking of possible endings to Twelfth Night (Group IV), or the ranking of qualities you would like in a teacher (Group V).

The data sample was not broad enough to investigate this possibility, but it is one which might be worth consideration from teachers setting topics for group discussions, and which might be considered in further research.

4.4.4. Mixed-Sex and Single-Sex Groups

Does the extent to which an individual uses features of co-operative / non-co- operative / competitive talk vary depending on whether they are in a mixed or single-sex group?

The discussion groups in the sample are very different in their gender mix and number of members, and so provide very limited information on this issue. It certainly does not appear that the girls in the single-sex groups are typically more co-operative than girls or boys in mixed-sex groups or single-sex boys' groups. Although the three girls in Group VII are all co-operative towards one another, and the single-sex boys groups and mixed groups do not display co-operative features to the same extent, if at all, the other two single-sex girls' groups are also less co- operative. G9 and G10 in Group V are largely non-co-operative and sometimes competitive towards one another. The girls in Group IV are partly co-operative, partly non-co-operative and competitive.

Without more data, it is impossible to say what effect being in a mixed or single-sex group has on the use of competitive or co-operative talk in the context of classroom assessment.

4.4.5. The Influence of Speech Style on Assessment

To what extent do the S.E.B.'s assessments appear to be influenced by the co- operative / non-co-operative / competitive style of talk used by the pupil?

From the bias diagnosed in the GRC towards competitive skills, and the lack of attention given to co- operative skills, it might be expected that a pupil demonstrating competitive skills would be marked higher, all other things being equal, than a pupil demonstrating co-operative skills. There was however no evidence in this study that there is a correlation between speech style and grade. Indeed, the girls in Group I, B5 in Group III, and G5 in Group IV are all singled out for criticism for their competitive behaviour.

The key trigger in the process of assigning grades appears to be verbosity, as discussed in 4.3.1 above. This is not unrelated to the style used by pupils, since I have suggested that longer turns are to be found in non-co-operative discussions, and longer turns appear to result in higher grades, as in the cases of G5, G10, and G11.

None of the pupils assessed by the S.E.B. displayed exclusively co- operative features so it is not possible to ascertain whether a pupil doing so would be penalised for taking shorter speaking turns. Comments made about G14 by teachers cited in Chapter Five did suggest that some teachers perceived the quality of her contribution to be low specifically because of her use of co-operative features. However, in the case of G14, her marks did not indicate that she was being marked down for her co- operative style. This aspect of the study remained inconclusive. In the next chapter, I investigate in more depth the issue of how teachers assess.