ABSTRACT

This study is concerned with the assessment of discussion skills in the Scottish public 16+ examination, Standard Grade English, and the role of gender in pupils' discussion styles and in teachers' assessment practices.

Seven classroom discussions amongst girls and boys in single-sex and mixed-sex groups were analysed, using Coates's model of co-operative / competitive talk, to investigate whether a correlation between gender and speech style emerged in this context (the literature predicted that girls were more likely to use co-operative features while boys were more likely to use competitive features).

Two pupils from the discussion data, both girls, using contrasting styles, were assessed by twenty-three teachers. The grades the teachers awarded these two pupils and their comments about the process of assessment were analysed to investigate the influence of speech style on grades awarded and whether teachers assessed discussion according to gender-specific norms.

The results showed that significant differences in the styles used by girls and boys did not emerge in the context of classroom discussion, although girls in the study did display certain co- operative features not displayed by the boys. Gender emerged as less significant a variable in teachers' assessment practices than teachers' lack of knowledge about language, and about discussion in particular.

This thesis contributes to a body of knowledge which suggests that gender differences are not clear cut, particularly when speakers are engaged in the same discourse activity. It appears from this research that more knowledge about discussion needs to be disseminated in schools if discussion assessment is to continue in its present form.


CONTENTS

Page number

Abstract i

Contents ii

INTRODUCTION 1


CHAPTER ONE

GENDER DIFFERENCES IN DISCUSSION

1.1. GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CONVERSATION STYLES 8

1.1.1 The Deficit Theory of Conversational Differences 12

1.1.2 The Dominance Theory of Conversational Differences 14

1.1.3 The Sub-cultural Theory of Conversational Differences 15

1.1.4 Summary 19

1.2 CO-OPERATIVE AND COMPETITIVE TALK 21

1.2.1 Coates on Women's Style / Men's Style 21

1.2.2 The 'Gossip' Framework 24

1.2.2.1 Setting 25

1.2.2.2 Participants 26

1.2.2.3 Topic 26

1.2.2.4 Functions of gossip 26

1.2.2.5 Formal features 27

1.2.2.6 Gossip reconsidered 28

1.3 STUDIES OF CLASSROOM TALK AND GENDER 31

1.4 LINGUISTICS FEATURES ASSOCIATED WITH COOPERATIVE AND COMPETITIVE SPEECH STYLES

1.4.1 Introductory 43

1.4.2 Floor Apportionment 44

1.4.3. Back Channel Support 47

1.4.4 Questions 51

1.4.5 Tag Questions 52

1.4.6 Epistemic Modality, Mitigated and Aggravated Forms 56

1.4.7 Topic Development 60

1.4.8 Lexical Repetition 64

1.4.9 Interruptions 65

1.4.10 Simultaneous Speech 67

1.4.11 Summary 69


CHAPTER TWO

THE ASSESSMENT OF DISCUSSION AT STANDARD GRADE 70

2.1 INTRODUCTORY 70

2.2 SCOTTISH STANDARD GRADE ENGLISH 71

2.3 ATTITUDES IN THE CLASSROOM TOWARDS

THE ASSESSMENT OF DISCUSSION 74

2.3.1 Introductory 74

2.3.2 Teachers' Attitudes Towards Discussion Assessment 75

2.3.3 Teachers' Awareness of Factors Influencing Assessment 80

2.3.3.1 Prior knowledge and expectations of pupils 80

2.3.3.2 Accent and dialect 80

2.3.3.3 Quantity of talk 81

2.3.4 Moderation 82

2.3.5 Pupils' Understanding of the Criteria 85

2.3.6 Responses of Pupils to Discussion Work 86

2.3.7 Teaching Talk 87

2.3.8 Changes in Education as a Result of the Introduction of

Oral Assessment 88

2.3.9 Summary 89

2.4 MODELS OF TALK UNDERLYING DISCUSSION

ASSESSMENT 90

2.5 COMPETITION AND CO-OPERATION IN

DISCUSSION ASSESSMENT 97

2.5.1 Introductory 97

2.5.2 The Grade Related Criteria 100

2.5.2.1 'Account taken of other contributions' 101

2.5.2.2 'Substance and relevance of contribution' 103

2.5.2.3 'Awareness of situation' 103

2.5.2.4 'Control of expression' 104

2.5.2.5 Comparison of the skills required

at foundation, general, and credit levels 105

2.5.3 The Grade Related Criteria and Co-operative / Competitive Talk 107

2.5.4 Assessment and Gender 108

2.5.5 Summary 113


CHAPTER THREE

METHODS USED IN THE COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS OF

THE DATA 114

3.1 INTRODUCTORY 114

3.2 CLASSROOM DISCUSSION DATA 114

3.2.1 The Source of the Classroom Discussion Data 114

3.2.2 Selection of Data 115

3.2.3 Transcription 118

3.2.4 The Analyses 120

3.3 THE ASSESSMENT PRACTICES OF CLASSROOM

TEACHERS 121

3.3.1 Preliminary Interviews with Teachers 121

3.3.2 The Assessment Sessions in Schools 123

3.3.2.1 The selection of appropriate discussions 124

3.3.2.2 Contacting English departments to participate 127

3.3.2.3 Session design 128

3.3.2.4 The rationale for the questionnaire 129

3.3.2.5 The pilot study 131

3.3.2.6 Conducting the main study 132

3.3.3 Analysis of the Data 134

3.3.4 Summary 135


CHAPTER FOUR

DATA ANALYSIS I : THE CLASSROOM DISCUSSIONS 136

4.1 INTRODUCTORY 136

4.2 ANALYSES OF THE SEVEN DISCUSSIONS 137

4.2.1 Group I 137

4.2.1.1 Floor apportionment 139

4.2.1.2 Back channel support 140

4.2.1.3 Questions and tag questions 141

4.2.1.4 Epistemic modality and hedging 142

4.2.1.5 Topic development 145

4.2.1.6 Lexical repetition 146

4.2.1.7 Interruptions and overlap 147

4.2.1.8 Simultaneous speech 148

4.2.1.9 Summary of Group I discussion 149

4.2.2 Group II 151

4.2.2.1 Floor apportionment 151

4.2.2.2 Back channel support 152

4.2.2.3 Questions and tag questions 153

4.2.2.4 Epistemic modality and hedging 153

4.2.2.5 Topic development 153

4.2.2.6 Lexical repetition 154

4.2.2.7 Interruptions and overlap 154

4.2.2.8 Simultaneous speech 155

4.2.2.9 Summary of Group II discussion 155

4.2.3 Group III 156

4.2.3.1 Floor apportionment 156

4.2.3.2 Back channel support 157

4.2.3.3 Questions and tag questions 158

4.2.3.4 Epistemic modality and hedging 159

4.2.3.5 Topic development 160

4.2.3.6 Lexical repetition 161

4.2.3.7 Interruptions and overlap 163

4.2.3.8 Simultaneous speech 164

4.2.3.9 Summary of Group III discussion 164

4.2.4 Group IV 165

4.2.4.1 Floor apportionment 165

4.2.4.2 Back channel support 166

4.2.4.3 Questions and tag questions 167

4.2.4.4 Epistemic modality and hedging 169

4.2.4.5 Topic development 171

4.2.4.6 Lexical repetition 173

4.2.4.7 Interruptions and overlap 174

4.2.4.8 Simultaneous speech 176

4.2.4.9 Summary of Group IV discussion 176

4.2.5 Group V 177

4.2.5.1 Floor apportionment 178

4.2.5.2 Back channel support 179

4.2.5.3 Questions and tag questions 179

4.2.5.4 Epistemic modality and hedging 179

4.2.5.5 Topic development 180

4.2.5.6 Lexical repetition 182

4.2.5.7 Interruptions and overlap 182

4.2.5.8 Simultaneous speech 183

4.2.5.9 Summary of Group V discussion 183

4.2.6 Group VI 184

4.2.6.1 Floor apportionment 184

4.2.6.2 Back channel support 185

4.2.6.3 Questions and tag questions 186

4.2.6.4 Epistemic modality and hedging 188

4.2.6.5 Topic development 189

4.2.6.6 Lexical repetition 190

4.2.6.7 Interruptions and overlap 191

4.2.6.8 Simultaneous speech192

4.2.6.9 Summary of Group VI discussion192

4.2.7 Group VII 193

4.2.7.1 Floor apportionment 193

4.2.7.2 Back channel support 194

4.2.7.3 Questions and tag questions 195

4.2.7.4 Epistemic modality and hedging 198

4.2.7.5 Topic development 201

4.2.7.6 Lexical repetition 204

4.2.7.7 Interruptions and overlap 205

4.2.7.8 Simultaneous speech 208

4.2.7.9 Summary of Group VII discussion 208

4.3 OVERVIEW OF DISCUSSIONS 209

4.3.1 Floor Apportionment 209

4.3.1.1 The distribution of the floor in mixed-sex groups 209

4.3.1.2 The distribution of the floor in single-sex groups 210

4.3.1.3 The influence of verbosity on the grades awarded by the S.E.B. 211

4.3.2 Back Channel Support 213

4.3.3 Questions and Tag Questions 216

4.3.4 Epistemic Modality and Hedging 216

4.3.5 Topic Development 217

4.3.6 Lexical Repetition 218

4.3.7 Interruption and Overlap 219

4.3.8 Simultaneous Speech 220

4.4 SUMMARY 220

4.4.1. The Classification of Discussion Styles 220

4.4.2. Gender Differences 221

4.4.3. The Significance of the Addressee 222

4.4.4. Mixed-Sex and Single-Sex Groups 223

4.4.5. The Influence of Speech Style on Assessment 224

CHAPTER FIVE

DATA ANALYSIS II: TEACHERS' GRADING BEHAVIOUR 225

5.1 INTRODUCTORY 225

5.2 THE GRADES AWARDED BY TEACHERS 229

5.3 ANALYSIS OF QUANTITATIVE DATA 232

5.4 TEACHERS' DISCUSSIONS ON THE PROCESS OF

ASSESSMENT 235

5.4.1 The GRC Categories which Teachers Invoked 236

5.4.1.1 Substance and relevance of contribution 238

5.4.1.2 Account taken of other contributions 241

5.4.1.3 Awareness of situation 243

5.4.1.4 Control of expression 245

5.4.2 Problem Areas in the Application of the GRC 248

5.5 UNSTATED CRITERIA 254

5.5.1 Intuition 255

5.5.2 Models of Discussion 257

5.5.2.1 The competitive model of discussion 258

5.5.2.2 The co-operative model of discussion 263

5.5.3 Competitive Features 267

5.5.4 Co-operative Features 272

5.6 SUMMARY 277

CHAPTER SIX

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION 279

6.1 INTRODUCTORY 279

6.2 SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION OF RESULTS 280

6.3 GENERAL FINDINGS 283

6.3.1 The Context of the Classroom 283

6.3.2 The Dynamics of Group Discussion 284

6.4 REFLECTIONS ON THE METHODOLOGY OF THE STUDY 285

6.5 IMPLICATIONS OF THIS STUDY FOR CURRENT

THINKING ABOUT LANGUAGE AND GENDER 286

6.6 POSSIBLE COURSES OF ACTION REGARDING

THE ASSESSMENT OF DISCUSSION 289

BIBLIOGRAPHY 293

APPENDIX I The Grade Related Criteria 303

APPENDIX II Questionnaire 304

APPENDIX III Transcriptions of Discussions 306

Group I 306

Group II 316

Group III 318

Group IV 331

Group V 343

Group VI 348

Group VII 362


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