Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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    2: Person to Person

Put It Into Practice: Activity A

Before You Watch
Analyze the Video
Examine the Topic
Put it Into Practice
Action Research Project
Reflect on Your Learning

Library Video Chart
Choose an Activity | Activity A | Activity B

Activity A: Analyzing Conversation Patterns

Teachers can become so tied to the patterns of communication they've developed over the years that they no longer notice them. For example, a teacher may not be aware that he or she is inappropriately praising form over message, as in Professor Hall's example about the teacher who praised a student's grammar when the boy said that his dog died.

One strategy for becoming reacquainted with our conversation patterns, and thus making it possible to enhance them, is to transcribe and analyze an actual classroom interaction. This consists of making a video or audio recording of part of a lesson, transcribing it, and then closely analyzing the class interactions.

This technique can be practiced whether you are currently teaching or not. If you are now teaching, transcribe a portion of your class that involves conversation. This can be a warm-up activity, a discussion of an interpretive task, a cultural discussion, an exploration of a thematic topic, or another discussion that you are interested in analyzing. If you are not teaching, you can record a colleague's classroom, a tutoring session you may be conducting, or a class that you yourself are taking. If you record a class that someone else is teaching, ask the teacher what his or her curricular goals are for the interaction before you begin to analyze the transcript.

The portion of the class that you transcribe need not be extensive in order to be rich in insights. In fact, you may want to do this frequently for short periods to assess your growth and to see how you are managing classroom talk. For your first transcript, try recording and transcribing 5 to 10 minutes of a classroom discussion between yourself and individual students or different groups of students. After you have analyzed the transcript, you can decide if you would like to have a shorter or longer transcript to work from next time, and if you would like to focus on a student-student interaction.

Once you have a transcript, analyze the interactions.
  1. First, identify each exchange as an IRE or an IRF communication pattern.
  1. For each IRE exchange, consider whether or not you (or the teacher) met the curricular goal using the IRE exchange. If not, describe how you could expand the conversation into an IRF exchange that incorporates more student responses. For example, what additional question could be asked following the students' responses? How can your questions be rephrased to elicit more extended responses? (Keep in mind, "yes/no" questions lead to "yes/no" answers.)
  1. For each IRF exchange, consider how well the interaction met the curricular goal. Did the conversation reach its full potential? If not, how might you change the activity or facilitate the discussion to expand the students' conversation? For example, were there any "yes/no" questions that could have been rephrased as open-ended questions?
  1. Once you have analyzed the transcript in terms of IRE and IRF exchanges, prepare a list of the habits that you consider a priority for enhancing future teacher/student interactions. For example, did you find that you often said "good," "excellent," or "great" after a student response, whether the message warranted that or not? If so, then include "respond to message, not to form" in your list of habits. Refer to this list of habits as you prepare and run activities in your classroom. As the year progresses, track how the changes to your communication habits have affected the level of IRF in your classroom.
If you were unable to transcribe your own classroom for this activity, consider repeating the activity once you have access to a classroom. The list of habits that you develop in Step 4 will be most effective and relevant to your practice if they are based on your own communication patterns. You can also transcribe student-student conversations and use them to help you teach communication strategies explicitly. Do this after you are comfortable with your own ability to manage communication and can model effective IRF conversations.

Assignment Submit the transcript and analysis of your classroom conversation.

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