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Review of  Classroom Discourse and Teacher Development

Reviewer: Debra Vinci-Minogue
Book Title: Classroom Discourse and Teacher Development
Book Author: Steve Walsh
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 25.1573

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This textbook introduces new insights about the reflective practice of language teachers and classroom discourse. It is intended to appeal to language teachers, new and experienced, language teacher educators, and researchers in applied linguistics. The overarching theme is that reflective practice should be refocused by asking teachers to put classroom interaction and discourse at the forefront of their reflections.

The introductory chapter makes a case for putting an understanding of classroom discourse at the forefront of second language teacher education programs. The author also provides a brief layout of the book, describing and reviewing its fundamental features. This chapter concludes with the statement that one of the main tenets of the book is that reflective practice is currently an accepted activity, but that it does not have a correlated data-driven foundation to describe its value. If reflective practice is to survive, it must be reformed.

The second chapter, “Classroom discourse: an overview”, begins with an overview of classroom discourse for readers with little or no knowledge of this field. The author defines the terms discourse and discourse analysis, and provides excerpts from English language lessons throughout this chapter to serve as examples. The next section (2.2) offers information about the specific features of classroom discourse. The features presented include teachers’ control of interactions, teachers’ use of speech modifications, and teachers’ use of elicitation techniques, how teachers deal with errors, student-student interaction, and computer use in the language classroom. In the final section (2.3), the author examines a commonly used structure in classroom discourse, Initiation, Response, Feedback (IRF).

Chapter Three, “Classroom interactional competence”, begins with the author’s explanation of interactional competence. The suggestion is made that the focus of language education should be directed towards helping students use their existing skills and knowledge to interact by making the focus of attention interactional competence (Kramsch, 1986: 367). ‘Confluence’ is defined as the act of making spoken language fluent with another speaker (McCarthy, 2005), and the author proposes that being confluent is more important to effective communication than being fluent.

In section 3.2, the author uses data excerpts to demonstrate the strategies available to teachers and students to increase and advance opportunities for learning in classrooms. Some salient features that show evidence of classroom interactional competence include the use of longer wait-time, the use of requests for clarification, minimal use of response tokens that indicate to the other speaker that an understanding has been reached (right), (mmhh), teacher feedback -- the teacher responds to the content message as opposed to the linguistic forms (Carr, 2006). In the final section (3.3), an outline of possible methodologies is suggested for how classroom teachers might develop their own classroom interactional competence as part of their professional development.

Chapter Four, “SETT: self-evaluation of teacher talk”, presents a framework designed to foster teacher development via classroom interaction. In the first section (4.1), the author posits that the classroom is a real social context and that what takes place in a classroom is as real and authentic as what takes place outside. In section 4.2, the SETT framework designed by Walsh (2006) was intended to help teachers gain a closer understanding of their local context, describe the classroom interaction of their lessons, and develop an understanding of interactional processes. The SETT framework is comprised of four classroom micro-contexts called modes and thirteen interactional features called interactures. Classroom discourse is presented as a series of intricate and interrelated micro-texts. Meanings are co-constructed by teachers and learners and learning takes place through the consequent talk of teachers and learners.

The author reiterates in section 4.3 that the SETT framework is a generic instrument intended to be representative rather than comprehensive. The remainder of the section describes how SETT can be used as a tool for reflective practice in the teacher development process.

In Chapter Five, “Researching classroom discourse”, alternative approaches for researching classroom interaction are presented. Throughout the book, the author argues for teachers to become researchers of their classroom practices, this idea is summarized in this chapter. Section 5.1 addresses some issues associated with recording, transcription, and ethics.

Section 5.2 summarises three main approaches to researching classroom discourse: interaction analysis, discourse analysis, and conversation analysis. An overview of corpus-based approaches is introduced in section 5.3. Finally, in section 5.4, a combined approach of corpus linguistics and conversation analysis (CLCA) is presented.

Chapter Six, “Reflective practice revisited”, begins with Walsh arguing for a need to embark upon reflective practice in a more thoughtful and structured manner. The practice has become tired, overused, and outdated. The author suggests that classroom interaction should be the main focus of teacher reflection.

Sections 6.1 and 6.2 offer definitions and challenges of reflective practice. The work of early researchers like Dewey and Schon are highlighted since they attempted to define reflective practice. Russell (2005:48) concludes that “one reason for the undervaluing of reflection as a skill lies in the lack of a universally agreed definition of what constitutes reflection”. The author proposes in section 6.3 an approach to reflective practice that is more data-driven, more dialogic, and makes better use of appropriate tools used for reflection. Walsh makes a case for this approach by providing the reader with explicit rationales. for each point.

In Chapter Seven, “Conclusion”, the issues discussed in previous chapters are reviewed and Walsh reflects on the future direction each topic might take. He reviews the current perspective on teacher development and classroom discourse and then considers what the future could bring in research and professional practice. The chapter reviews current perspectives on classroom discourse (7.1) and teacher development (7.2).

This textbook is a valuable contribution to the field of language teaching and learning and teacher education. Unlike most texts in this field, which are generally verbose and not explicit in focus, this text has a tight focus on introducing new approaches to reflective practice in language teacher education. The reader can see the integral point that classroom interaction should be the focus of teacher reflective practice. The topic is explored in detail, and there is good balance between theoretical background information and the presentation and discussion of current research. The book is easy to read and the suggestion for implementing classroom interaction as the focus of reflective practice seems possible.

The simple yet innovative approach to reflective practice suggested by Walsh is refreshing as it invites the teacher to reflect on what takes place in the classroom. Walsh should be applauded for his position regarding the language classroom as a “real” social context. As noted above, Walsh contends that “what takes place in a classroom is as real and authentic as what takes place outside -- it is a genuine context in which we engage in real communication and interaction” (p.70). This approach is refreshing in that reflective practice has indeed become tired and overused. This challenges language teachers to investigate their practices at a deeper level and to share the benefits of such practice.

This is a thought-provoking textbook that will hopefully invite further research. It is recommended for language teachers, teacher educators, researchers, linguists, and anyone interested in the field of language teaching.

Carr, D. (ed.) (2006) Teacher training DVD series (set of fifteen DVDs). London: International House.

Kramsch, C. (1986) From language proficiency to interactional competence. Modern Language Journal, 70(4), 366-372.

McCarthy, M.J. (2005) Fluency and confluence: what fluent speakers do. The Language Teacher, 29(6), 26-28.

Russell, T. (2005) Can reflective practice be taught? Reflective Practice, 6(2), 199-204.

Walsh, S. (2006) Investigating classroom discourse. London: Routledge.
Debra Vinci-Minogue is a former French teacher and current Assistant Professor at Dominican University in River Forest, IL. Her research interests include foreign language teacher preparation, foreign language classroom discourse, and foreign language classroom anxiety.

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