4.3.5 Topic Development

Topic development in my data operates under the constraints of the set tasks. To an extent abrupt shifts of topic are built into the activity of classroom discussion. Pupils have a list of questions or other brief to complete, and these will to a large extent determine the development of topic in a discussion. If one pupil in the group is told by the teacher to chair the discussion, that pupil may take responsibility for moving the group through a list of set questions, thus influencing the pattern of topic.

Nevertheless, there were differences between groups in how they dealt with topic shift. Group III was competitive in this respect, with sudden topic changes being introduced by G4, the chairperson and B6, in an attempt to wrest the floor from B5. In other groups, topic shift was by consensus only, in Group VII, between the girls in Group I, and between G5, G6, and G7 in Group IV. Thus there were marked differences between competitive and co-operative topic shift even within the restrictions of the classroom task.

The construction of joint turns seemed to be particularly sensitive to speakers' relationships with one another. While in some groups, joint turn construction was very frequent, in others it did not occur at all. Joint turn construction occurred less between boys than girls, and not at all in the most competitive group (III) and non- co-operative groups (V and VI). There was one instance between the two boys in Group II, and many between the girls in Group I, G5, G6, and G7 in Group IV, and in Group VII. However, even in Groups I and IV where joint turn construction was frequent, speakers appeared to use it selectively, constructing turns jointly with one speaker and not with another. Only in Group VII did all each of the three group members construct turns jointly with the other two.

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