Courtney Cazden

COURTNEY CAZDEN

My name is Courtney Cazden C O U R T N E Y Cazden CA Z D E N  uh from the Harvard Graduate school of Education.

Uh classroom discourse uh refers to all the language that’s used in the classroom.  The language uh between teacher and students and the language that students use with each other.  Uh especially during the sort of formal official part of the uh uh uh classroom day.  Um but really all of the talk that goes on within the classroom walls.  And it has always been important because it’s the medium of teaching and learning.  But it becomes particularly important and given a great deal more emphasis and uh attention in the last 5, 10 years for several reasons.  One is because of the changing nature of the economy and the changing nature of jobs and therefore of the skills that are needed for uh a wide distribution of jobs.  And uh economists are talking about what they call new basic skills which of course include uh uh literacy and numeracy, reading, writing, and arithmatic, the good old R’s.  uh but now they also include uh ability to communicate orally as well as in writing.  More and more jobs require oral communication.  Uh among uh employees, staff members, uh team work and so on.  So ability to talk and solve problems with others is becoming a new basic skill of in human resource development as it’s as it’s called.  And the other uh complementary reason is that the nature of knowledge and the goal of schooling uh has changed from uh just learning facts like multiplication tables, though those are still important, but also being able to solve problems and think through processes of solving problems.  And so there is more time spent in classrooms talking about processes, processes of learning, processes of solving problems.  Uh and teachers asking how do you know that, can you explain to us what you did uh to get that uh answer.  And encouraging students to talk with each other even to argue with each other about alternative solutions uh and which one is better than the other and why.  So it’s not just individual learners talking with teachers, but with but what has come to be called rather widely uh developing within a classroom a community of learners uh where there is talk among students as well as between them and the teacher about whatever it is they’re studying.

Well inquiring into classroom discourse patterns um takes uh uh it raises tough questions for teachers.  It’s one thing for a person like me, an outside researcher, to come in with uh audio tape recorders or even a video recorder um but and and uh take a trans take a tape recording of what goes on in the classroom.  And then go away to the peace and quite of a research office somewhere and transcribe the tape and look at it and uh analyze it in all kinds of ways.  But that uh of limited help to the teacher, still of course we can take the tape recording as well as the transcript back to the teacher and uh uh give her a chance to look at it, listen to it, reflect on it, and so on.  Um but that kind of collaborative work obviously doesn’t help uh uh the the big number of teachers all over the country, in many different kinds of classrooms with many different kinds of groupings of kids.  So that one of the very productive trends in the last five or ten years again has been teacher research into their own classrooms.  Sometimes working collaborativly with somebody from a nearby university, sometimes just working with other teachers.  Uh inquiring into their own classroom discourse happenings.  Uh and if they can do it with other teachers and brain storm and uh be friendly critics uh critical friends I guess is a common word these days to each other, um and while some many teachers are afraid of taking of using audio tapes I wouldn’t suggest uh the teachers try video taping.  Uh uh I mean that’s really very difficult to do yourself because nobody stays still in the classroom.  Uh but audio tapes are possible.  Um just a few days ago I uh heard a teacher talk about how she was very interested in what children who were working in science groups at different science centers, using different materials around the room, solving problems which the whole class had agreed on ahead of time, uh and she was very interested in what kind of talk was going on in those groups. And she obviously couldn’t get around to all of them to listen in (cough) so she set up a little tape recorder uh on a stand near one of the groups and turned it on.  Uh and the children as we know from many many experiences children get used to tape record recorders around very very easily.  You don’t have to worry about them being self conscious.  Teachers can be self conscious, but kids rarely are.  Um she hung this little tape recorder or placed it on a stand right near where the children were working and it was the kind of tape recorded that uh where the tape runs for a certain kength of time and then automatically reverses so that you can she can get if she wanted to 90 minutes um without having to fuss with it and turn the tape over or anything.  Um and then later in the day at home, in the evening, whenever, or driving to work uh on her tape deck in the car she could listen to what the uh children uh were were up to , what they were talking about.  Uh and she found it very very illuminating. Now maybe she would want to um make some notes on who was speaking because that’s a very important part of classroom discourse.  Um it’s important uh that we try to keep track of who is getting the practice in this basic, new basic skill of uh clear oral communication.  Uh and who’s being silent and especially if the silent ones are also the ones who are having a harder time understanding, we want to try and see if we can find ways to draw those children into the conversation.  Um maybe by changing the grouping so that the silent ones aren’t always in a groups with very talkative ones who are apt to to dominate the conversation.  But I think it really does take uh teachers going to some a little bit extra work to try and get some distance from the life and talk of their classrooms.  Uh the kind of distance that taking a tape recorder and listening to it at another time, even letting kids listen to it, they love to hear their own voices.  And get them to reflect also on who’s uh really participating here and who isn’t and what can we do about that and so on. 

Well in the planning what teachers uh how teachers can use uh think about classroom discourse as they’re planning before they get into the classroom so to speak, as they’re thinking about what activities they’re going to uh engage in themselves and have for kids they can certainly think about uh the distribution during the school day of different size groups.  When is it going to be most effective to have a whole group discussion?  When is gonna be more effective to have simultaneous small groups where of course more kids can get more chance to orally explain their ideas uh in the same amount of time because you will have simultaneous conversations around the room.  And what those how those groups should be composed.  Do you want if you have a heterogeneous group up classroom uh group of some uh more advanced students and some less advanced do you want to uh mix them so that each groups has some more advanced kids and some less advanced and in something like science that may be very very productive because  uh the children will exchange uh ideas about uh solutions to experimental problems, causal explanations about why something happened.  In reading uh teaching reading uh especially with young children  uh teachers sometimes uh do uh for 15 or 20 minutes a day homogeneous grouping so that the children are more on the same uh achievement level uh so and then of course you may need to plan want to plan teachers may want to plan for the kind of time when they can circulate around and work with individual students.  Let’s say on um um compositions that they are writing.  So the nature of grouping and the effect of groups, uh size of groups and composition of groups on the kind of talk and the kind of learning that goes on during that time is something that teachers can think about ahead of time as they plan how the day’s going to go. 

Um I think we have really covered that.

Well there are several lessons that I think can usefully be transferred from what we know about early language development in homes and communities to um thinking about language development in schools.  Uh and here I’m thinking about the transfer of ideas about what we learned from first language learning in the home and community where the child is learning whatever is the language of that home community.  Be it English or Spanish or Navajo or whatever.  And uh what can we transfer from what we know about those situations to the classroom situation where many children are learning a second language.  Often English uh but not always.  Uh and there are some things that uh do transfer uh and I’ll mention one of those uh sort of morals of the story and one big difference which creates a challenge for the classroom setting.  The um positive moral is that when children are learning a language they frequently make what we have to consider as positive constructive cognitively impressive mistakes.  Example from little kids 2, 3 year olds, uh a 3 year old learning English in the natural home situation will make mistakes mistakes by our uh standardized English conventional norms, will make mistakes like uh daddy goed office.  Instead of saying daddy went, daddy goed, which in a transcription we would write G O E D.  Now that’s a mistake, we don’t say goed.  Probably almost certainly the child the little child never heard anybody around him or her say goed, it’s a construction that child has made up because the human mind, even the 2 nad 3 year old human mind, tries to find patterns.  You can’t learn a language by learning each item separately.  It’s impossible.  And over the course of evolution our minds in all kinds of areas of life but especially with respect to learning a language which is obviously so critical to human survival over the millenia, we look for patterns.  And the 3 year old does to.  And so many verbs do form their plural, their past tense by uh adding the –ed sound.  Played, uh bathed, uh etc.  And so the child using what he knows and his disposition her disposition to find patterns figures past tense of go is goed.  Uh another very common mistake same uh to the same reason is saying that’s mines.  That’s not yours that’s mines.  Well it we talk about yours and hers and theirs and ours why not mines.  Patterns, that’s what I mean by a productive mistake.  Now the further developmental sequence is that it could well be the case and often is that before the child said goed he may have actually said went correctly.  He learned that as an item, a separate item.  But then this this desire to find and make patterns takes over so temporarily there’s this productive mistake that is an evidence of profoundly important work going on in the little child’s head.  And then finally uh over some period of time some months probably the child gets it sorted out and knows there are some things regular and some things irregular and that problem is is solved.  So you get what what psychologist talk of as the u shape curve of learning.  It looks fine in the beginning, or near the beginning, when the child is saying went and then there’s a drop.  Oh my goodness look at what these mistakes that are coming in goed, mines, etc.  And then curve goes back up again and uh the correct forms of both kinds appear in the child’s speech.  And when I say know I don’t mean know consciously but know as shown in use.  Now that kind of uh sequence undoubtedly happens in second language learning in school.  And teachers shouldn’t get uh concerned that their teaching has failed or that the child is dumb if something you thought they’d learned all of a sudden drops out, they’re working on some pattern or they’re trying to insert that earlier learning in some new more complex poll putting uh the equivalent of goed and went in some more complex sentence and as the whole thing is just an overload and they just revert to some earlier mistake in pattern.  Uh so that I think that can carry over.  Now what doesn’t carry over and what is harder in the second language learning situation in school is that people learn their first language when they’re little.  And the activities they’re engaged in and the responses that people give to them when they’re 2 and 3 give the learner access to meaning separate from the language.  With little kids you’re looking at pictures, you’re pointing to objects.  A glass or a pen or a paper or a chair.  Uh and you’re rolling balls and talking about rolling balls and something falls off the table and you talk about that.  So that there’s an access to the meaning at the same time as you’re hearing the word the access coming through pictures and objects and act and actions.  In school you can approximate that kind of availability of meaning in kindergarten because they’re too there is a lot of stuff and activities with stuff to talk about and refer to.  But as learners are older and this is a critical issue with immigrant children who may come into schools, English speaking schools, at 8 years of age or even 15 years of age, when normal classroom discourse is pretty much words only.  And there isn’t the availability of uh of simultaneous access to meanings unless the teacher works hard to make those available, to make access to meaning available in the visual form, of charts and graphs and gestures.  Uh a simultaneous of the talking about, graphs and charts and tables are marvelous material because they’re presented non verbally.  And yet they are material they can talk from and talk about and point at the numbers and the lines and so on.  Pictures the same way, photographs.  Science activities are an excellent material because you can science is done with laboratory kinds of experiments as well as discussions about what you learned from that experimental work because you can talk in the context of the activity and then go back to the your desk and sit down and hold a discussion without the objects to point to to try and talk in the what we call decontextualized situation of depending now more on words alone.  And that’s a real challenge for older teachers with older learners. 

Well that’s uh I think we’ve covered that because that’s what I wanted to get into this access to meaning.

Concentrated language encounters is a is a phrase that um a college and I coined uh oh my uh almost 30 years ago, to refer to uh the cons the word concentrated is the critical uh um issue here.  When when young children are learning language in the home you have hours of conversation.  School is this necessarily kind of concentrated encounter, you have a limited time not to speak of lots of kids.  Uh and so in a sense concentrated language encounters uh is a name that we could give to virtually everything that goes on in the classroom because you’re trying to maximize uh opportunities for learning including learning through talk uh in a short period of time.  And so much to to talk about.  Um but a an Australian college, Brian Grey, uh working with Abariginal children in the middle fo Australia in the so called Red Center, took the idea of concentrated language encounters, he found that term um heroistically useful to think with in planning a program for children origianally in Alice Springs in the very center of Australia.  Um and the Abiriginal, these Abiriginal children, he wanted to help them um learn mainstream Australian English and to become literate, to read and write in that language as well.  And so he took the term and developed a very imaginative program um in which he would take the children uh, not he personally but the teachers he was working with in the public school and in Alice Springs, took the teacher took the children on field trips to important uh mainstream institutions in the Alice Springs uh area.  They were important to the Abiriginal people such as the Abiriginal health clinic and they would watch the different people carrying out their roles.  The uh secretary who sat at the door and took peoples names and uh found out what their problem was and the uh of course the doctors and the nurse and all the various people in different roles in the health clinic.  And un the children would watch and uh listen to the conversations that were going on between the nurse and uh a child patient who came in with uh a sore foot or uh whatever.  And then back in the classroom they role played a health clinic.  Uh with uh people, children playing the role of the receptionist and the uh doctor and the nurse and of course the patient and the patient’s mother and so on and so forth.  They even used the while they were in the health clinic they watched to see how paper and writing on paper entered into the getting the health work done.  Receptionist taking messages, uh the doctor writing out prescriptions, uh and they had their little pieces of paper and and writing on them uh when they role played back in the classroom.  Very important that the teacher entered into the play in role.  So she prompted, encouraged, uh uh would uh be the doctor and come in and uh explain something to the mother uh now that was a concentrated encounter of the kind of language, oral and written, that is used in that setting.  And the learning of it by a field trip, the play the replaying it in school uh was the kind an example of the kind of program he developed that I think is a beautiful example of uh concentrated language encounter where you are concentrating a naturally occurring speech situation for learning purposes.

The the biggest uh challenge for classrooms and for teachers comes out of the simple obvious fact that teachers realize again everyday and many moments in everyday especially with young children is that as a mother or father or grandmother, grandfather, aunt or uncle, with a young child in your family you know a lot about the history of that young child.  You have shared places and people and activities and that shared background knowledge uh is an enormous resource for carrying on a good conversation.  Teachers and schools start out as strangers to their children.  And the children are strangers to them.  And they’re strangers in the double sense of not knowing that individual child’s history and life outside of school, but in many cases increasingly many cases throughout this country and probably throughout the world because of the migration of peoples, teachers are strangers not only in an individual sense but in a cultural sense.  If  it’s so if the children in their classroom are children from families like their own they can make some good guesses, but if it’s they’re children from families from cultural communities very different from their own, again African American, Hispanic American, Navajo, Upic in Alaska, Mung, where ever, the more different from their from their teacher’s own cultural as well as individual background, the harder it’s going to be for her to make deep connections and carry on really complex conversations. If you if you think of what happens when you’re sitting on a park bench or in an airplane seat with a stranger, the initial conversation is pretty trivial, and then you may hit on something that is a shared background experience.  You’ve both been to the same place or you’re both fans of the same basketball team, or you both may have read the same book, uh that can get you into a more complex conversation.  Complex in terms of ideas and complex in terms of language.  Uh so the challenge for teachers is somehow to give herself a crash course in learning as much as she can about the cultural communities that her children come from.  And that is a really a tough task especially where teachers are teaching children from different communities, not just one that may be different from her own, but is still just one.  Uh teachers have found different ways to give themselves that crash course.  Talking with parents, if there’s a language difference hopefully there’s somebody available there in the school in a liason kind of role, going to uh cultural events in the community, making sure you’ll be welcomed but going whether it’s fiestas or fairs even church services to be sure that you’ll be welcomed and again a liason person from whom you can get advice as to what would be appropriate, how what would be appropriate ways and places that I could meet and see and understand.  Even being observant in the supermarket.  Now I know that many teachers don’t live where they teach, but to spend some time in the community where they teach, after school or weekends.  Uh to be some combination of a tourist and an ethnographer.  Enjoying differences as tourist do, but being sort of more especially observant for your special teaching purpose as ethnographers would do.  Uh uh the daughter of Margaret Mead, Kathryn Bates, uh who is herself an anthropologist, uh has a wonderful book in which she talks about ethnography as a as a way of life in a changing world.  Uh learning how to learn about uh other people and other cultures.  Talking to representatives of those groups who may be part of the school staff.  Uh these are you have to be imaginative in each particular situation about what the resources are for this kind of crash course, but it’s very important.

I think my uh soapbox iss iss issue at the moment, the thing that I perhaps talk more about than any other when I am talking with uh with teachers is the concern for equity.  Uh it’s one thing and a very important objective all by itself, to have a great discussion of ways of solving a math problem or a great discussion about the meaning uh of a particular uh way that a writer uh writes about uh an event.  And uh what that event means in the context of the story line but also what that writers ways of describing the event means in terms of her interpretation of what she what messages she’s trying to get across.  Um but just having a great discussion is not enough.  We have to pay attention to who’s participating in that discussion.  Who’s voices are getting into the air.  And who’s voices are we not hearing.  So that the issue of what I’ve come to call speaking rights and listening responsibilites among students and on the part of the teachers is very very very important.  To try and make sure as much as possible that all students have rights, not just to speak, but to be heard and by that I mean to have their ideas consid considered seriously.  And to have those ideas become part of the subsequent flow of the talk.  It’s no good if you get a turn to say something but then the conversations closes around you like scar tissue as if you’d never said it in the first place. (cough) Children, just like grown ups like us, want a chance to talk but we also want to know from peoples responses that they heard, they listened, they took account of what we said.  So um that’s what I mean about listening the listening responsibilities part, it’s not just giving people a chance to speak, but that other people have a responsibility to listen and consider.  And uh teachers have to make sure they don’t talk too much and dominate the conversation uh but they also can encourage students to listen to each other.  Even when Mary says something or Maria says something, to ask another child did you hear what Maria said?  Could you say that again so we’re we’re sure we all hear it?  Um and encouraging uh Juan, uh what do you think about what Maria said, what would you like to say back to her?  Uh those kinds of orchestrating moves on the part of the teacher uh that uh have the uh(cough) those kinds of orchestrating moves on the part of the teacher they really help to create this community of learners with equity within it for different children to participate at different times but all in the end getting a chance to speak and be heard is I think probably what I’m emphasizing most today.