4.3.2 Back Channel Support

This aspect of linguistic behaviour is not explicit in the GRC, not even as 'listening' or 'being supportive', although 'encouraging others to have their say' might be invoked if the assessor wanted to acknowledge a pupil's skilful use of back channel support. I have argued that in more co-operative discussions, speakers use a greater proportion of back channel support items. The ratio of back channel support items to words uttered for the seven discussions is shown below.

Group Ratio of back channel responses to words uttered

Group I 1:50

Group II 1:26

Group III 1:68

Group IV 1:69

Group V 1:97

Group VI 1:82

Group VII 1:24

These results show very variable rates of back channel support between the seven discussions. Group VII and Group II stand out as having at least twice as many items of back channel support as the others discussions, although in the case of Group II, B4 uses considerably more back channel support than B3, and appears to do so rather than have to make his own contributions, and both boys speak very little; thus the apparently high frequency of back channel response may be a consequence not of co- operativeness but reluctance to talk in their case. The lowest comparative rate of back channel support is in Group V between G9 and G10, with Group VI the second lowest. These figures bear out the overall profiles of these groups as predominantly non-co-operative and competitive. The back channel support in Group VII between G13, G14, and G15 is four times as frequent as in Group V, bearing out the overall profile for this group as co-operative. Groups I and IV were both analysed as having participants who were selectively co-operative towards certain group members, and non-co-operative and competitive in their treatment of other group members. The ratios for back channel support for these two groups place them between the most co- operative discussion and the more non-co-operative / competitive groups. The only discussion which does not correspond to this trend of the more co- operative the group, the higher the ratio of back channel items is Group III, which was decidedly competitive in most respects, but has a ratio for back channel support almost identical to that of Group IV.

Another important aspect of back channel support which has already been considered briefly in the group profiles is whether there is a causal link between receiving the greatest number of back channel support items and speaking the most in a group. Do powerful speakers receive more back channel support, or do the speakers who receive more back channel support dominate the discussion?

In all discussions in the study, the speaker who talked most received most back channel support (although this was only just the case in Group IV, where G5 and G6 speak to similar extents, and Group V, where the difference in back channel items received by G9 and G10 is only one). In many of the groups, the person who speaks least is given the least back channel support; this is true of Groups I, II, III (B6 and B7 both receive only one item of back channel support) IV, V, and VII (in Group VII, G14 receives just one less item than G15).

There also appears to be a correlation between talking less and giving more back channel support. This shows up in Group I, where G1 talks least of the three girls, but gives the most back channel support. It also shows up in Group II, in Group III, where B7 talks least but gives five items of back channel support (although G4 actually gives the most back channel support in that discussion: six items), in Group V, and in Group VI, where B9 gives the most items of back channel support while talking less than anyone except G12.

Finally, the speakers who speak most frequently produce relatively little of the back channel support in the discussion. This is the case in Groups I, II, III, and VI.

These figures suggest that in many of the groups in the sample, a hierarchy operates, according to which the person who speaks most in a group is supported most; the person who speaks least is supported least; those who speak most frequently do not support others very much, and those who speak little are frequently very supportive of other speakers. These trends show up strongly in groups I, II, and III, and in the other groups to a lesser degree.

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