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How Students Talk

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Introduction:
Children and youth also use a characteristic speech register when they are in a classroom and playing the role of students in the presence of a teacher. Their register – student talk – differs somewhat from the teacher’s because of their obvious differences in responsibilities, levels of knowledge, and relationships with each other and with the teacher. Student-talk and teacher-talk are similar in that both involve language strategies that guide content and procedures, and that sometimes seek to limit the inappropriate behavior of others. Compared to teachers’, though, students’ language strategies often pursue these goals a bit more indirectly.
Agenda Enforcement
Sometimes students interrupt a discussion to ask about or remind others, and especially the teacher, of an agreed-on agenda. For example, if the teacher tells students to open their text to an incorrect page a student may raise her hand to correct the teacher – or even do so without raising a hand. This communication strategy is one of more public, direct ways that students influence activities in the classroom, but its power is limited, since it does not create new activities, but simply returns the class to activities agreed on previously.
Digression Attempts
During a discussion or activity, a student asks a question or makes a statement that is not relevant to the task at hand. For example, while the teacher is leading students in a discussion of a story that they read a student raises his hand and asks, “Mr X, when does recess begin?”
Side Talk
One student talks to another student, either to be sociable (“Did you see that movie last week?”) or to get information needed for the current assigned task (“What page are we on?”). Sometimes side talk also serves to control or limit fellow students’ behavior, and in this way functions like control-talk by teachers (as when a student whispers, “Shhh! I’m trying to listen” or “Go ahead and ask her!”). The ability of such talk to influence classmates’ behavior is real, but limited, since students generally do not have as much authority as teachers.
Calling Out
A student speaks out of turn without being recognized by the teacher. The student’s comment may or may not be relevant to the ongoing task or topic, and the teacher may or may not acknowledge or respond to it. Whether ignored or not, however, calling out may change the direction of a discussion by influencing fellow students’ thinking or behavior, or by triggering procedural and control talk by the teacher. (“Jason, it’s not your turn; I only call on students who raise their hands.”)
Answering a Question With a Question
Instead of answering a teacher’s “test” question directly, the student responds with a question of her own, either for clarification or as a stalling tactic (“Do you mean X?”). Either way, the effect is to shift the discussion or questioning to content or topics that are safer and more familiar.
Silence
The student says nothing in response to a speaker’s comments or to an invitation to speak. The speaker could be either the teacher or a fellow student. The silence makes the speaker less likely to continue the current topic, and more likely to seek a new one.
Eye Contact and Gaze Aversion
The student looks directly at the teacher while the teacher is speaking, or else deliberately averts gaze. The timing of eye gaze depends partly on cultural expectations that the student brings to school. But it may also represent a deliberate choice by the student - a message to the teacher and to classmates.
Posture
The same can be said about sitting posture. The student may adopt any variety of postures while sitting (sit up straight vs slouching)
In classroom situations, listening is conventionally indicated by looking directly at the teacher, and either sitting up straight or leaning slightly forward. Although these behaviors can be faked, they tend to indicate, and to be taken as, a show of interest in and acceptance of what a speaker is saying.
By engaging in or avoiding these behaviors, therefore, students can sometimes influence the length and direction of a discussion or activity.