Student Initiation, Teacher Response, Student Follow-up: Towards an Appreciation of Student-initiated IRFs in the Language Classroom

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1 Student Initiation, Teacher Response, Student Follow-up: Towards an Appreciation of Student-initiated IRFs in the Language Classroom Abstract When the initiation-feedback-response (IRF) classroom exchange is discussed in writings on language education in particular and education more widely, it tends to be represented not only as a straightforward three-part teacher-initiated pattern. It also tends to receive a bad press - worse, I suggest, than it deserves. This may be in part precisely because its patterning tends to be oversimplified. Another reason, however, may be because IRFs are painted as contributing only to teacher talk (which by far outweighs student talk in most classrooms). Both student-initiated IRFs, and teacher and student variations on the three-part pattern, are under-explored. In this study I examine both. Using classroom transcripts from twelve German lessons taught in a British comprehensive school, I show that despite the clear teacherstudent asymmetry, students do initiate exchanges with the teacher, with 'academic' as well as 'procedural' questions. Such student initiations often occur in clusters or 'strings', one student paving the way for others. They are frequently preceded by a student 'Pre-initiation' (e.g. a bid) and then by teacher acknowledgement of this. Most student initiations are successful in that they result in a teacher response. Rarely, but notably, students do also sometimes follow up the teacher's response to their initiations. This 'follow-up' sometimes functions simultaneously as a new student initiation (thus continuing the student-led exchange, and at times initiating a struggle for discoursal control). At other times student followup' takes the form of a 'last word' of a given IRF, such as an expression of understanding. It is suggested that the frequency of occurrence and nature of student-initiated IRFs are related to the nature of the classroom activity. A person who asks a question has a right to talk again, after the other talks (Sacks, 1992: 49). Introduction In a footnote to a recent article, Edwards and Mercer quote from their own, earlier work: The basic IRF exchange structure an initiation by a teacher, which elicits a response from a pupil, followed by an evaluative comment or feedback from the teacher is, once seen, impossible to ignore in any classroom talk (Edwards and Mercer, 1987: 9) (Edwards and Mercer, 1994:

2 202). Reports in the literature of the teacher-initiated IRF are similarly impossible to ignore. More generally, teacher talk dominates (e.g. Bellack et al., 1966: 238; Allwright and Bailey, 1991: 139), and public student output is accordingly marked in most classrooms. But while student-talk may be relatively rare, this does not mean that it should be of little research interest. On the contrary, since students are the intended beneficiaries of education, and, more controversially, precisely because their talk is less evident, studenttalk should arguably be of greater research interest than that of the teacher. However, it is not (see Pinto da Silva, 2000). And while there may be practical reasons for this (the relative difficulty of recording student talk, particularly in groupwork, for example), it is always a shame in research (as elsewhere) when the (pragmatic) tail wags the (principle) dog. In this paper, I therefore choose to look at student talk, and to do so with a focus on the studentinitiated IRF. Student talk in the language classroom can be conceptualised in various ways. As regards learning, it can be seen as potentially useful output (Swain, 1985; 1999). The relationship between student talk and learning is a thorny but important one. Seliger (1977) famously claimed that students who talked most (the High Input Generators ) also performed better on English language tests, and suggested that the relationship was a causal one. This study has been widely criticised (e.g. Allwright and Bailey, 1991), but Swain has since claimed that certain types of output (in particular, collaborative dialogue ) are nevertheless valuable in language learning (1985, 1999; see also Mercer, 1995). And different types of output are likely to be of different cognitive value. Metalinguistic questions about the language system are of a different order 2

3 from utterances produced in the target language itself. Questions and comments about procedure are different again, and even more so are utterances which have apparently nothing to do with the topic of the lesson in hand. However, output of all sorts may also have wider social pedagogical effects students who talk, for example, are likely to become well known to the teacher, and sooner, than those who do not. Some types of student talk in the classroom may be intentionally used by that student as a learning strategy, or may in any case at times function as such. Questions are a case in point: Allwright and Bailey refer to students questions as possible hypothesis testing about the target language (1991: 126). In a study of ESL High School students, O Malley et al. found that a Question for clarification, i.e. Asking a teacher or other native speaker for repetition, paraphrasing, explanation and/or examples (1985: 34) was the third most frequent cognitive strategy out of a list of seventeen. ( Repetition was the most frequent; see also Brown, 1982; Rubin, 1981). The proportion of cognitive in relation to metacognitive strategies was greater for beginning students, and, importantly, the proportion of learning strategies reported by students varied depending on the learning activity (O Malley et al., 1985: 40). The value of student talk for learning may however in many classrooms be essentially limited, because of classroom procedures of which it is a part, many of which might well be seen as rituals. Edwards and Mercer for example argue that it is essentially through the pervasive phenomena of teacher control over the expression of knowledge that pupils understandings of things are frequently created as procedural rather than principled saying and doing what seems to be required, rather than working out a principled 3

4 understanding of how and why certain actions, expressions and procedures are appropriate or correct (1994: 189). The teacher-initiated IRF can be seen as a major contributor to this phenomenon of procedural student talk. Providing expected and evaluatable answers (what Edwards and Mercer call elicited contributions (1994: 190)) however may be of limited value both linguistically and in terms of how the students represent their actual level of understanding: It is clear that a child will be unable to display his (sic) total verbal competence if he is restricted to a passive response role, sandwiched between the teacher s initiation and feedback if the status relations between adult and child are highly asymmetrical, the child s language will characteristically be much less complex than in conversation with social equals (Stubbs, 1983: 116). A child may thus appear, wrongly, to be underachieving. On a rather different level, student talk can provide data for language learning, for example L2 output in the language classroom may provide insights into errors. Raabe (1986) makes an important distinction between such student talk in the target language as valuable interlanguage data, and student talk in the L1 as providing data on the language learning process. In particular, he suggests that students questions may provide insights into cognitive language learning processes. Though this paper is similarly concerned with students questions in the L1, it focuses primarily on classroom discourse patterns, student questions in conjunction with teacher responses and any student follow-up, and secondarily with the implications of these for learning processes. 4

5 The asymmetrical nature of classroom talk The asymmetry of the teacher-initiated IRF pattern can be seen as both representing and further constructing students relative powerlessness (Young, 1992). This powerlessness can be seen as both discoursal and epistemological. In the words of van Lier: The teacher exercises control in two ways: the structuring of classroom activity and knowledge of results or feedback (1988: 219). Discoursally, since an IRF typically consists of two teacher turns and one student turn, the teacher has twice as many turns as the student in most IRF exchanges. However, a question alone can also be seen as discoursally powerful. If one is introduced to the queen, one is not expected to ask questions (though she is expected to do this); presumably asking the queen a question would lend a certain, unacceptable discoursal control to the questioner, and what you might ask about may create an undesirable, unpredictable discoursal space (the reverse is apparently not true). A powerless person may become temporarily discoursally powerful by persistently asking questions to a relatively powerful partner, colleague, relative or acquaintance as a means of getting some sort of interaction since it is rude not to answer a question. Sacks notes, As long as one is in the position of doing the questions, then in part they have control of the conversation (1992: 54). However, the in part is important: temporary, local, discoursal power within a given institutional setting is unlikely to be sufficient to turn institutional asymmetry into symmetry. Too many spontaneous student questions, then, are often I suggest discouraged in the classroom: they may be seen by the teacher (however unconsciously) as tipping the balance of the 5

6 lesson too far towards an individual development and away from a cultural transmission model of education, unworkable at least when there is a set syllabus to follow. Epistemological asymmetry results also from a view of education as cultural transmission. The IRF is often seen as encouraging students to respond, but only with an evaluatable answer. Stubbs sees this as representing classroom knowledge as essentially closed, not open-ended. All questions have correct answers (1983: 125). This paradigm works since teachers typically already know the answers to their questions (and students presumably expect them to) whereas a student who asked a question to which s/he knew the answer would be seen as showing off. One function of the IRF has thus been identified as to test or assess students knowledge (Young, 1992: 100). And, of course, in the third part of teacher-initiated IRFs, the teacher also acts as judge. Teachers and students seeing (if not articulating) education as cultural transmission renders student evaluation or even feedback in the third part in a broader sense largely irrelevant. (Young claims critically that it is precisely because most learning is not (seen as) a shared enquiry that students do not provide feedback (1992: 101).) The IRF has thus been linked to student powerlessness both discoursally and epistemologically, and its identification was in part responsible for the oracy for cultural transformation movement of the 1970 s (MacLure, 1994), one assumption of which was that real student oracy would help redress ills and transform society (1994: 143). However, radical departures from the IRF have never been achieved (and MacLure observes that the idea of cultural 6

7 transformation has never entered the discourse of teachers to any great extent (1994: 145)). Lemke expresses it thus: teachers don t usually deviate from the Triadic pattern because maintaining it gives the teacher many advantages. In this structure teachers get to initiate exchanges, set the topic, and control the direction in which the topic develops. They get to decide which students will answer which questions and to say which answers are correct they can even decide which answers will count as the legitimate Answer (Lemke, 1990: 11). There is however no suggestion here that conscious, frequent and regular use of the IRF is a deliberate attempt by the teacher to achieve discoursal and epistemological dominance. Teacher-student asymmetry in the classroom is probably more usefully seen as a result of historical institutional practices, of a cultural transmission view of education and, in many contexts, of a (an increasing) emphasis on assessment and measurable objectives, which together shape the teacher s linguistic practices in this direction. It should also be said that, to date, the IRF has probably received more of a bad press than it deserves. Classroom observation and other experience suggests that it is not always testing but rather has different pedagogic functions (e.g. Wells, 1993). These may include checking and monitoring individual students existing knowledge, using the correct responses of some students as models of correct answers for the whole class, and providing opportunities to extend the students answer (Wells, 1993: 30). It can also be used to Socratise students encouraging them to guess or infer (Young, 1992). To even try to abandon it completely would probably amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater as Edwards and Mercer observe, the asymmetry of teacher and learner is essential to Vygotsky s zone of proximal development (1994: 201). 7

8 Candela also makes the point that since the content of the IRF allows the student a certain amount of discoursal freedom, this must be considered as well as the pattern: If indeed the responses are generally kept within an IRE structure, this does not mean that their content necessarily conforms to what the teacher may be expecting [students] to say (1999: 144). For example, the response by the student may be completely unexpected, and neither obviously right nor obviously wrong (by intention or otherwise). It is then hard for the teacher always to act as evaluator in any straightforward way. In the language classroom, teacher-student asymmetry may have a particular characterisation. Students in an ab initio FL classroom are likely to know very little of the language unlike science, of which they may have acquired some sort of everyday understanding. This means, arguably, that they are relatively unable to engage with the teacher s explanations (cf. the eleven and twelveyear-old science students whom Candela (1999) studied). In addition, the types of questions young language learners can ask must be limited by their lack of intellectual maturity in general together with a relative lack of metalinguistic knowledge. The essentially non-monolithic nature of classroom talk and of the teacher-initiated IRF Stubbs cynically describes the teacher-initiated IRF as effectively a monologue with the pupil supplying short answers on demand to contribute to the teacher s train of thought (1983: 125). This is likely to be often true. However, deviations within the IRF have also been documented (e.g. Hicks, 1986; Lemke, 1990; Candela, 1999). Often, for example, the correct answer is not simply given and that is that, but comes as a result of a series of 8

9 promptings by the teacher. For example (from my own data from a German classroom): T: right this one. Lyn Lyn: eine Briefmarke T: eine Briefmarke how do you say to England Lyn: fur England T: fur England or nach England. you could do either. fur England or nach England ([the author], 1996) The teacher s promptings may be seen as extending the three-part questionanswer exchange, or as starting a new one, in order to get the complete required answer. The pattern thus can be seen as IRFIRF, or IRP(rompt)RF 1, depending on the teacher s, the student s and the analyst s understanding of the exchange. Teacher interaction with a given student in a whole class session is thus frequently longer than three moves. More broadly, Hicks (1996: 18) identifies new kinds of activity structures some of which do not adhere to the teacher-directed IRE framework. In discussion formats, teachers revoicings of students comments are nonevaluative and nonfinal. Students have the last word. Further, though the teacher-initiated IRF is clearly predominant (Wells (1993: 2) estimated it to occupy 70% of classroom discourse in many secondary classrooms), it is virtually impossible for a whole lesson (in any subject) to consist entirely of such exchanges. It may prevail in whole-class teacherfronted chalk-and-talk work, but can hardly do so during silent reading, pair- or groupwork, a video, a debate, or a performance or presentation, without changing the nature of the event. In language classrooms where students perform dialogues and role-plays, and do pair- and groupwork, the teacherinitiated IRF may even not be the predominant exchange. Secondly, even in 9

10 whole class work, the teacher-initiated IRF may not be all that happens: even a short spell of classroom observation suggests that students also make comments (to the teacher, or apparently to themselves, in self-rehearsal of a linguistic feature (Allwright, 1980), or across the class to each other) and indeed ask as well as answer questions (see also Lemke, 1990). There is thus clearly some space for student-initiated IRFs within classroom talk in general and within student talk in general. Student-initiated IRFs Student-initiated IR or (especially) IRF cycles have predictably been found to be fewer than teacher initiated ones: Bellack et al. (1966: 209) for example found the ratio to be 6:1. One reason is presumably that it is harder for students to gain access to the talk. Sinclair and Coulthard note that Usually the child has to catch the teacher s attention and get permission to speak. This permission may not be granted. The initial bid may be countered with a not now or just a minute and the exchange may never get off the ground (1975: 52). They also observe that: In many classrooms children rarely ask questions and when they do they are mainly of the order Do we put the date or Can I go to the lavatory (1975: 52). Cazden (1988) makes an implicit but relevant distinction here, claiming that Children rarely ask questions [to the teacher] except for procedures and admissions (1986: 449). While many student questions will indeed be procedural (though frequently related to learning activities to do with the target language), it is not possible to rule out academic student questions, about the content of the lesson (in this case, the target language). Cazden s claim may of course be truer of children than 10

11 of adults, but rarely may be too strong even of lessons with children. Candela, for example, illustrates how eleven and twelve-year old children do ask questions, citing a boy who sets himself up as one who can request accounts (1999: 152). Even within what van Lier describes as the one-floor law of the classroom, i.e. that the classroom is characteristically reluctant to allow overlapping or simultaneous talk (1988: 98), there is no reason why the one-floor has to be held by the teacher. And indeed, as I too provide data to show, students do ask questions, academic as well as procedural, teachers do answer them, and student questioners do not always receive this response in complete silence. There are of course different types of academic questions. What can pragmatically function as a question extends syntactically way beyond (and frequently excludes) interrogative verb forms. If we take asking about something, and compare an appeal such as I m stuck, I can t do question three, is the answer to question three China?, these can all be seen as the same question, differently realised. Variation in student questions has been the focus of previous studies. Sato (1982) found that Asian students initiated significantly fewer turns (presumably including questions) than did non-asians in the same class. Brown (1985) looked at age, and found that whereas elderly learners tended to ask most of all to have phrases repeated, young adults tended to ask most about vocabulary. Raabe (1986) looked at the motivation for academic questions, and found that questions asked by German adult students taking beginners French courses tended to be motivated by underlying linguistic 11

12 contrasts (approx. 80%). Children s questions, I suggest, will be motivated by less metalinguistic concerns. It is however student follow-up that is probably the least documented aspect of the student-initiated IRF. Cazden, for example, writes All three components of the basic IRF sequence have been the focus of separate research (1986: 440), but follows this with sections on teacher questions, student responses and teacher evaluations; after this there is another section on Student Initiatives: Asking for Help but nothing on student follow-up to teachers responses (or indeed on teacher responses). This is at least partly because student follow-up is rare. Sinclair and Coulthard (1975: 52) claim that The crucial difference between teacher and pupil elicits is that the pupil provides no feedback (1975: 52). As Coulthard notes, an evaluation of a teacher reply would be cheeky (1992: 27). Since the teacher is the one who knows, evaluation is not appropriate (this may be particularly true in a beginners foreign language classroom). Stubbs (1983: 109) implies that student feedback is possible ( pupils do not generally overtly evaluate teachers answers! ) (my italics), but nevertheless characterises the student-to-teacher exchange structure as IR. In contrast, feedback is so usual for teachers that, as Coulthard points out (1975: 125), if it does not occur it is often a clue that the answer is wrong. It does occur for two reasons. Firstly, answers directed to the teacher are difficult for others to hear and thus the repetition, when it occurs, may be the first chance some children have to hear what their colleague said (and of course they need to know it, so any repetition is not only intended for the ears 12

13 of the student answerer). Secondly, as shown, many of the questions asked are ones to which the teacher-questioner already knows the answer, the intention being to discover whether the pupils also know (Coulthard, 1975: 125), and the logical corollary of this, if the answerer is to learn, is that s/he (and her/his colleagues) need to be told if the answer was indeed correct 2. However teacher feedback also occurs because many learner responses are also in fact, questions, which require answers, as is evident from one of Coulthard s own examples: Teacher: can anyone tell me what this means Pupil: does it mean danger men at work Teacher: yes (1975: 135): Such second position questions do not, of course, have to employ interrogatives, but might, for example, use rising intonation. When they ask questions, however, where these are in 1 st or 2 nd place, learners do not normally feel it is their responsibility to ensure their colleagues all hear the teacher s answer to their question; and because the learner probably did not know the answer already, he or she is normally unable, and thus unlikely to evaluate it. Further, because the teacher s response would seem less likely than that of the student to represent a genuine question, it will not require a further, thirdpart response from the student. The third position has been characterised not only (by Mehan, 1979) as evaluation but also (Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975 and 1991) as follow-up (a term I also use). The latter term is clearly the more inclusive, and more appropriate if classroom discourse analysis includes 13

14 the premise that all moves are open to all participants. Follow-up, for students, would be as unmarked as that for teachers if what existed in the classroom was a discourse world called conversation, or Young s shared enquiry (1992). Within the pedagogic discourse world, student follow-up remains rare (but again see Candela, 1999). That it does not seem to have been worthy of study however is a rather different matter, and one I address here. Distribution patterns of student- and teacher-initiated IRFs As regards the patterning and distribution of IRFs within whole lessons, Young (1992) notes that teacher-initiated IRFs occur not in isolation but in cycles: long strings which have a clear unity of purpose (1992: 94-5); Bellack et al. in their large scale study of 60 lessons and 15 teachers even looked at the average number of cycles per minute (1966: 198) 3. The distribution of students questions may be similar. Though Young (1992: 94) claims that students questions, unlike those of teachers long strings, tend to occur in isolation or small clusters, other researchers emphasise the clusters. Bellack et al. (1966: 209) found that once a pupil has initiated [a cycle] broken the ice either the same pupil or one of the other pupils is actually more likely to initiate the subsequent cycle than is the teacher. Lemke similarly shows how other students take the teacher s willingness to answer the first Student Question as an invitation to ask whatever questions they have accumulated up to that point (1990: 52). Such patterning evidence is clearly of interest for teacher education if student questions are seen as something that should be encouraged. 14

15 This study The objective of this study was to look at and describe student talk to the teacher in whole class work in the language classroom: in particular student initiations and third positions in student-initiated IRFs. The third position in particular has been underexplored, and was therefore of greater interest: how often did student follow-up occur? what was its nature? did it prompt a further teacher response? A second objective was to explore how student third positions were distributed within a wider context of a teaching programme: here, if, how, and with what student IRFs varied across several foreign language lessons. Data collection This study took place in a German classroom in a British comprehensive school. The students were 11 and 12 years old, in their first year at the school, and second term of German. There were twenty-seven students in the class, thirteen girls and fourteen boys. The teacher taught German to this class twice a week, in lessons of fifty minutes each. This was thus a naturalistic study, with all the inevitable complexities (see Stubbs, 1983). Twelve lessons were observed and audiorecorded, by me; I also sat at the back or side of the class throughout the data collection period. The audiorecordings were transcribed. They went through several listenings, including one by a fluent German speaker, and one by one of the students in the class, who not only amended the transcripts but also attached as many speaker names to utterances as she could. Nevertheless, the student talk in some parts of some transcripts is fragmented. This seems inevitable given the 15

16 tendency of students in British classrooms not always to wait to be called on before they talk, the presence of overlapping speech, and of such learning strategies as audible self-rehearsal. It is also an effect of the location of the tape recorder (which was placed at the front of the class). Analysis In order to limit and focus the data to be considered within the IRF framework, the analysis was of student-initiated academic questions to the teacher, and student feedback (if any) to the teacher s responses to those questions. Procedural questions were thus not considered in detail (though for the purpose of comparison, were originally identified and listed together with any teacher response and student follow-up). Definitions here (as in any discourse analysis) were crucial. A student question was a narrower category than a student solicit (Bellack, 1966; Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975; [the author], 1996). Excluded were suggestions and requests for permission. What counted was a question which clearly required information about something specific to do with the lesson in response, i.e. an academic question. Identifying these inevitably at times needed high-inference. Another criterion was that for a student turn to count as a question it required prominence, and/or to have a floor, i.e. be attended to by at least one other participant (van Lier, 1988: 103). This was operationalised through the criterion that it either received a response from the teacher or (since non-responses by the teacher are interesting too) whether it was recognisable as an academic question on the tape and transcript. 16

17 Miss (when this was all that was heard and transcribed) had to be excluded, since the student in question may not have been soliciting information of any sort. Excluded also were comments which received a teacher response (but which did not appear to require one), and student questions which were in fact answers to the teacher s questions. Similarly excluded were student questions which came in the middle of an extended stretch of talk between the teacher and that student, including questions immediately following her questions (i.e. a question about her question), and questions occurring within dialogue or role-play performances. van Lier notes that crucial is the identification of the learner s initiative, for example whether a particular contribution was initiated by the learner or made in response to a teacher s specific allocation (1988: 122). Here initiative was seen as using a question to open a new exchange. The distinction between academic and procedural questions was operationalised thus: academic questions had to be about the language only, whereas procedural questions, though they might be about the procedure of a learning activity, were essentially about the how of doing it, rather than the what. What counted as an academic student question was thus one that (a) required an answer about something specific, to do with the subject matter of the lesson, and (b) one which was, to use Allwright and Bailey s Participation model (1991: 128), a self-initiated turn. Such a turn was either unbidden (i.e. spontaneously called out), or bidden through a student non-verbal bid (e.g. a raised hand), or a verbal bid (e.g. Miss). If bidden, the verbal or nonverbal bid was seen as a pre-request. 17

18 Student follow-up was the student s response, if any, to the teacher s initial response to his or her question. This could be a response which took the interaction between the teacher and that student further than three moves, and was called a continuation ; or a case of the last word, i.e. it was followed by a teacher turn to another student, or a turn by another student. This analysis was partly quantitative. In particular, a study of student questions over twelve lessons is capable of showing patterns of occurrence of student solicits, something that could not be done looking qualitatively and deeply but solely at a few illustrative or revealing stretches of talk. However, the analysis was also qualitative in that several follow-up episodes were looked at in detail, as well as a stretch of talk which illustrates how clusters of student solicits can develop. Findings Various things were clear from even an initial examination of the data: (1) Students did ask academic as well as procedural questions (2) These questions were often preceded with a pre-request of some sort (3) Many of these questions were clustered together, in (parts of) certain lessons rather than others, even, occasionally, in long strings (4) Students sometimes followed-up the teacher s initial response to their academic questions with an utterance which led to a continuation of the teacher-student interaction (beyond the third turn ) (5) Students sometimes followed-up the teacher s initial response to their academic questions by having the last word I will look at each of these five first impression findings in turn. (1) Students did ask academic as well as procedural questions Though these cannot be seen as being entirely devoid of (general) teacher control (Edwards and Mercer, 1994: 190), students did make spontaneous 18

19 contributions, including initiations in the form of academic and procedural questions. Over these twelve lessons, there were 297 questions about procedure. These included questions about spelling, marks, the number of the current question, the page/test/topic/dialogue the class was currently on; about how many to number up to, what language to use; and hypothetical questions, e.g. What would happen if? There were, in contrast, 57 academic questions. (This works out at a more optimistic projected annual total than in Young s claim that pupils typically ask as few as ten [presumably academic] questions each per annum (1993: 101).) These included questions about spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. Unsurprisingly, given the age and level of German of these students, the questions were not sophisticated metalinguistic ones, concerning, say, rules governing the formation of tenses or word order. Most were clarificatory about what had been said, or about what something written down actually said. The questions can be categorised topically, as follows (see Appendix 1 for all (uncontextualised) actualisations): Question type Example Freq. Asking about spelling how do you spell Apfel 4 Asking about/checking the meaning does klein mean little and gros means 14 of a German word/phrase/sentence large Asking about/checking the German choc- miss what s chocolate cake 11 for an English word/phrase/sentence Asking for clarification of something more than one or just the one 19 Asking about pronunciation how do you pronounce on special 2 offer. im Sonder(xxx) Asking for approval is it all right 2 Asking a metalinguistic question what s the difference then 2 Asking a general knowledge question is Bonn the capital now. or is it Berlin 1 Unclear is it is it the 2 Total 57 Table 1: Types and frequencies of student academic questions This represents a range of academic question types. And though the biggest group is clarificatory (with 19 occurrences), clarification questions do not 19

20 make up the majority of this dataset. Absent from this list are specific questions about grammar (with the exception of the two metalinguistic questions) 4. Raabe (1986), in contrast, found that the majority of questions the beginners he was studying asked involved some sort of comparison between the target language and the L1 (or L3). However, given that the students in Raabe s study were adults and these pupils were only eleven or twelve years of age, and were not taught grammar explicitly, this is perhaps not surprising. Discoursally (but not necessarily academically), all but two questions succeeded in that they were responded to. (2) These questions were often preceded with a pre-initiation of some sort Given that the asymmetry of the classroom requires a student with a question to attract the teacher s attention, that there are many students and only one teacher, and that calling out is sometimes, though intermittently, frowned on, it is not surprising that these requests for information are frequently preceded by pre-initiations. Bids, for example hand-raising or calling out miss, are however not the only form of pre-initiation. A question may be called out and even acknowledged by the teacher but, perhaps because of the general classroom talk or because her mind is on some other students, needs repeating. Such a question can then also be seen as a pre-request. In this data, of the fifty-seven academic student questions, 17 started with a bid or other pre-request. Eight involved a bid, e.g. Gus: miss T: yes Gus: does klein mean little and groß mean large 20

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