The relevance of gaze for producing student-student interaction in whole-class talk

Year: 2019

Author: Davidson, Christina, Edwards-Groves, Christine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Decades of educational research in classrooms has established teachers’ dominance of whole-class talk, including when they seek to promote discussion amongst students. Teachers frequently take every second turn in whole-class talk, generating question-answer-evaluation sequences, and maintain tight control over turn-taking through selection of next speakers. The relevance of gaze in the conduct of whole-class talk remains under-addressed, in spite of the current educational interest in multimodal aspects of communication. This paper addresses the ways that gaze functions in turn-taking in whole-class talk, specifically, to enable increased participation by students and student-led discussion.

Our examination of gaze focuses on whole-class talk involving a teacher and nineteen Year Three students. Data are drawn from a project that focused on promoting increased options for students’ talk in literacy lessons in primary classrooms. Here we provide a single-episode analysis employing conversation analysis. The hour-long recording that was selected for analysis showed evidence of sustained talk between students, a relative absence of questioning and evaluation by the teacher, and an absence of teacher turns that selected next speakers. Repeated viewings of the recording suggested that gaze was important for turn-taking between students. A detailed transcript was developed by us, drawing on Jefferson notation and conventions for recording gaze. Talk was analysed turn-by-turn. First, the analysis demonstrates how the achievement of mutual gaze was important for accomplishing recipiency in talk between individual students and the teacher, and in talk between students. The analysis then establishes how withholding or delaying gaze was used by the teacher to avoid being the specific recipient of talk and responding to it. We argue that delay or withholding of gaze by the teacher enabled the production of student-student talk in interaction rather than talk with her. Understanding how gaze functions in whole-class talk has implications for promoting increased opportunities for students’ participation in multi-party whole-class talk in the classroom.