Michael, Mike, Gordon, and Mary and others
Here is my sense of the discussion of sense and meaning thus far, assuming that a teacher and a group of students are discussing material that was read. The participants contribute their sense of what was read. All participants need not make a contribution, assuming that their sense correlates with the senses reported and discussed. The role of the each participant is to synthesize the contributions of the participants into a transformed sense, although some may continue to maintain their sense. As the discussion closes, participants are aware of other senses and may continue to transform their sense.
In coordinating the above the discussion, the teacher may have used a particular discourse tool, such as instructional Conversation or Paideia Seminar. The discourse approach is secondary tool (script) that includes roles, rules of participation, etc. The accompanying discourse mediates the interaction patterns among participants, directs attention, and indexes sense-making resources available. Over time, the participants internalize the discourse as a meta-language to mediate their participation in a reading group, and the participation of others.
A group at Penn State and Ohio State has just finished a meta-analysis of discussion approaches that is related to our discussion. Relevant to our discussion, they found that a discourse approach is taken up rather well by participants in two to three weeks. As might be expected, different discourse approaches mediate different levels of participation and contributions of participants and different sense-making. Most interesting to me was the finding that standardized measures of comprehension were not sensitive to the outcomes of any approaches.
Here are a few questions that I am pondering:
1. Are standardized measures of comprehension insensitive because different discourse constrain framing a reading comprehension task?
2. What might be a meaningful ways of developing transfer measures that are sensitive to discourse approaches.?
3. How long must one participate in a discourse approach before it is internalized and available at the level of action or operation?
4. What do L1 and L2 students internalize when they repeatedly participate in disorganized discussions?
5. Do different discussion approaches interact with different kinds of subject matter?
6. How can an observer or teacher diagnose students' problems that emerge in different discourse approaches?
7. How long does it take a teacher, and under what conditions, to master a set of discourse approaches and differentially apply them?
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