'Education' Anthology - Section Two texts - Transcripts

Texts 13 Classroom discourse.

Part of a primary school lesson, so the age range will be 5- 8 or maybe to 11, depending on the set up of the system. Remember with all these extracts, you need to look carefully at the notation and make a note of things like pauses, overlaps, paralinguistic features (non-voiced speech) and the general 'stage directions' at the top. These will give you clues about who speaks, where, for what purpose and so on, which is always good for starters in your answer. Also have a quick calculate of length of utterance and frequency of different speaker utterance, as this is useful when you want to make points about who is setting an agenda and the whole business of which speaker has the power and how it is used. 

Remember too that you won't really be able to tell tone of voice except by guesswork, so you need to work out the clues by looking at the graphological features like exclamation marks and question marks and so on, to get some idea of how it sounded in real life. Again, this will inform your comments about what is going on in the interaction.

In this little exchange you can see straight away that it is the teacher who is in control of the process in the lesson. This is a classic example of what we call 'teacher-led' question and answer. The teacher wants a particular outcome and is focused very firmly on 'leading' the children to arrive at the 'right' answer. She wants them to get to the fact that birds of prey eat other animals and she sets up a series of questions in order to do so. Note the deliberate hesitations at the ends of some of the things she asks, giving the class a chance to 'fill in' the correct answer. The problem is that it takes quite some time for them to get there and along the way she 'discards' any answers that don't fit her idea of which one is 'right'. When she finally gets the answer 'animals' there is a strong tonal emphasis (the underlines) as she 'finishes' that part of the question/answer session. Then she immediately goes on to ask what we assume is going to be another set.

You need to say something about the fact that most of the answers coming from the pupils are monosyllabic. It's difficult to make a judgement as to why that might be without seeing and hearing the interaction on videotape, so you could argue that the children are either very young and not capable of forming coherent and fluent speech yet, or alternatively that they are intimidated by the barrage of questions, or that they just didn't understand the topic when the expert talked to them and don't know what to say for the best.

What seems to be obvious is that this interaction is quite formal, so you might want to make the point that the classroom set up is traditional - children in orderly rows and teacher in charge. Maybe you could stretch a point and say that the teacher may be quite old and set in her teaching ways - there certainly doesn't seem to be any spontaneity here and the children call her 'Miss' very often. On the other hand, that may not be a relevant indicator at all. The register used by the teacher is quite standard, with no obvious dialectic or class markers, although both she and the pupils use some elision at times (gonna and don't). I don't think there's a great deal of evidence to place this in any particular sociolect.

My gut feeling on this is that the teacher is using an inappropriate teaching style for this age range, but you could argue that she may be deliberately imposing a rigidity of question and answer because she needs to be sure that the information has sunk in. At any rate, it's not a style that encourages any sort of enthusiastic response from the class. Perhaps the topic is too difficult, or (dare we even think it?) too boring for the pupils.

Text 30 Two Narratives

The first narrative is an elevn year old talking to three other eleven year olds. The second is a six year old talking to her teacher after painting a dolphin.

The main things you will want to focus on are the fillers, the repetitions, the self repairs and the  false starts. Both of these transcripts show the process of self editing in talk. The eleven year old's description of Mister White the trainer is hesitant and shows a lack of fluency. You might like to suggest that this an attempt to add an anecdote to a series of other anecdotes, but the speaker doesn't seem to have thought out what to say and makes no specific point except to say that (s)he didn't like Mr White at first, but did later on. Since there is no indication of the context of the talk it's difficult to make any point other than this is talk form an pre-adolescent and may be typical of that inarticulate time of a child's life.

The six year old, however, is very different and her teacher, obviously wisely, makes no attempt to stem the flow of talk. You might want to say this is a six year old's 'chatter' and so it may be, but there is a great level of spontaneity here and the child has obviously enjoyed the outing to Windsor park to watch Flipper. Again you can see the process of self editing clearly, with many false starts and self-repairs. Note too the obvious dialect 'I done a dolphin' and the very high frequency of elision, especially on the word 'and' which is clipped to 'an throughout the transcript. You can locate the dialect to the South East with the occasional dropped 'h' ('the one who got it 'ad it, miss') as well as the misused tense of 'he give it to him' instead of 'he gave it to him'. The reference to Windsor Park helps, too.

If you want to make a point about education here, then maybe you should say something about the restraint the teacher shows. Obviously the pupil has learned a good deal about the way dolphins behave and the enthusiasm is very clear. The teacher doesn't try to correct the ungrammatical English at all, but encourages the child's enthusiasm by staying silent.

Text 32 Children talking

The first thing you notice about this transcript is the way that the participants interact with one another. If you do a quick scan of the length of utterance and the frequency from each of the five pupils here you'll see straight away that it's pretty well balanced. Joshua has the most utterances (17) but the other four share almost the same number (10,11,11,12). There seems to be a clear indication that Josh is the 'leader' of the group. He initiates many of the ideas and maintains a tenuous control over the experiment throughout. At one point he seems to be absent temporarily and Sarah says 'oh hurry up and get Josh'. Closer inspection, though, shows that this might not be the case. Each of the pupils makes suggestions throughout the process and no particular child assumes overall control of the group.

Because this is spontaneous talk and there is no evident teacher input at all, there is a very high frequency of overlaps and self-repair. Make the point that this would probably be quite natural, given the age of the group members (probably about 8+) and also maybe you could argue that the pupils know and like one another, too. If you want to make a very provocative point, you might say that some of the utterances from Sarah about having pips all over her hands are particularly 'girlie', as is her preoccupation with the general 'disgusting' feel of the mixture and her insistence on sharing that information with Chris. I wonder if Meera's repetition of 'got pips all over my hands' is said in a sarcastic tone, in imitation of Sarah's voice?

The registers are interesting, with a very clear indication of dialect with use of phrases like 'Hey up' and a high frequency of colloquialism, with lots of elision and ellipsis. It would be interesting to see how formal the register would have been if a teacher had been supervising the experiment. This exchange is very informal - 'yes' is 'yeah' throughout, so we can say that this is social or conversational talk, even though the context is in a classroom.

In terms of attitudes and values and also to focus on the educational side of things, what we have here is a very dynamic group situation. There is a very low level of formality but the pupils are 'on task' throughout the exchange. Reading the preamble, we can see that this experiment has been preceded by a series of connected lessons. The library book is followed by a story and then a practical scientific experiment. The level of laughter, for example, shows clearly that the pupils are well motivated and very interested in solving the problem they have been set. Compare the spontaneity of this talk to the stilted monosyllables of the pupils in text 13 and what is immediately obvious is that this is a different classroom 'feel' with some serious learning that is 'pupil-led' rather than 'teacher-led'.

Text 33

The last of the transcripts is obviously two older pupils. We are not given the ages of the speakers but it is clear from the description of the tasks set and the register and lexical choice, as well as the overall linguistic fluency of both speakers, that they are teenagers, possibly Year 11, 12 or even 13.

Once again, we have no teacher input at all, and transactional talk that has a specific focus. The discussion is an analysis of an advert which the two girls have produced. They are refining their work and presumably the task in hand is to make their original work more polished.

The registers here are an odd mixture of academic and colloquial, with a high frequency of Latinate lexis from both girls, although I think Claire probably uses a higher frequency than Lyndsey (Lyndsey gets 'stereotyping' wrong in line 106). Both of them, though clip words throughout and again we have frequent elision of 'yeh' for 'yes' as well as slang from both ('naff' and 'snotty'). On the whole, though, the slang is very infrequent and the registers of both speakers show quite a high level of formality.

Like the science group, these pupils stay on task and show a very focused attitude throughout the extract, with no teacher intervention. We are told that this kind of evaluation and discussion is customary in their classroom, so you could make the point that this is a useful way of educating pupils. Transactional talk (talk to 'do business') might be a good way to encourage the learning process. These two pupils certainly show a willingness to listen to one another and the frequent back-channelling gives positive feedback to the speaker.

There is no specific indication of regional accent or dialect here. Most of the exchange is in Standard English which you could argue shows that the pupils are from a fairly well-to-do background. I would stick my neck right out here and place this in a selective all-girl school, but I may be completely off the tree, so don't quote me.