Re: [xmca] Some comments on Gordon's article

From: MARK DE BOER <mark who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 03 2007 - 19:44:28 PDT

Here is a take from my research and perspective.

In my research for my MA in TEFL, I have proposed a type of Task
Based Learning lesson and labeled it the V-task.
Working with my students, I wanted to move away from the Sinclair and
Coulthard proposed IRF model of discourse in the classroom, which is
based on an Initiation-Response-Feedback discourse, the teacher being
the center of the classroom. In this setting, the teacher Initiates,
students Respond, and the teacher then provides Feedback on that
response. This type of classroom is still widely evident in Japan,
especially with the PPP methodology very much alive. (PPP is
Presentation, Practise, Produce – teachers introduce vocabulary
along with a set phrase and the students practice using it, then
follow with an activity in which it is used).
I proposed a complementary model to theirs to try and understand the
discourse that was going on inside of a V-task classroom. I’ll go
into that in a bit.

In the case of the IRF model classroom, I would venture to guess that
discourse is an activity in its own right, the students and the
teacher are not moving towards any particular goal. The lesson is
rote practice and the only outcome would be the ‘acquisition’ of
the set phrase. Is that the goal? Or would this kind of discourse be
considered constitutive discourse?

If I put forth a second classroom scenario, one from a V-task lesson,
in which the students are working collaboratively to produce a final
product, and that final product would be one for the group or it
could be individually produced, what kind of discourse would this be
considered as?

The lesson I did for the research paper was based on the following:

I did a dictogloss lesson in which students listen to a conversation
from a CD three times, take notes, during and in between listenings,
and following the third listening, discuss what they have heard with
their peers and reconstruct the conversation collaboratively. This
involves negotiation, asking for clarification, and checking
spelling. At the end of the lesson, the students hand in a final copy
of the conversation from their group’s efforts. The goal of the V-
task is for the students to complete the task, yet the objective is
for them to learn how to access the language in order to complete the
goal. In a TBL lesson such as ones outlined by Nunan, Skehan, Ellis,
Willis, discussions about another student’s family tree, or sleeping
habits, are they considered to be ancillary? If students are learning
how to learn the English language and they do a task which leads them
in this direction are they now involved in a different type of

Or can we even say that this discourse is not an activity in its own
right? Is the EFL classroom a special setting in which, where
language is discussed as in this V-task, dictogloss exercise, is
considered not the norm? In the video provided and transcribed in the
paper, the discourse is very different from the IRF classroom, but
more lends itself to the V-task classroom. What I’m asking here
though is this: If the students are using a mix of L1 and L2 to
discuss L2 and produce a conversation in L2 from one media to another
(in this case from CD to paper) and they are in discussing the
language they are using in order to write it down, are they actually
working towards a goal? Is this a separate activity?

I propose that it was ancillary based on the idea from lines 136-138
that “the discourse in these events ensure that all the participants
are working toward the same goal and are coordinating their
individual actions and their use of mediating artifacts to achieve
Could this be labeled then as an ancillary classroom genre? Or are
their more processes involved here? In the case of a Sinclair and
Coulthard IRF teacher centered classroom where the students are
responding to the teachers questions and then in turn the teacher
provides feedback, could also be labeled as ancillary as based on the
shopping discourse – “discoursing mediates the ongoing action”.

I disagree, although what is in Wells’ paper constitutes that both
examples above would be ancillary, (they are certainly not
constitutive), yet would see them as separate. They cannot be the same.

In the conclusion, 573-575 “I am arguing that discoursing should not
be considered as an activity in its own right but as an operation
using linguistic resources that are variously drawn on to coconstruct
the appropriate genre for the action that the discoursing mediates.”
Maybe I’m drawing too much of a fine line here in disagreeing with
Wells at this point. Or maybe the classroom genre brings in an
entirely new set of rules, but I think in this case it is the genre
that dictates the discourse. In a classroom where students and
teachers are negotiating their way through a student’s ZPD, through
scaffolding, versus a teacher standing in front of the classroom
asking display questions are two very different discourse types and
the genre dictates the discourse in the latter. Yet I think that in
the V-task setting where the students are collaboratively discussing
a conversation to reconstruct it in order to learn English, falls
under the ancillary and the above conclusion statement is still valid.
I don’t think that the IRF classroom though would be constitutive,
there is direction there, but at the same time line 567 “it is
important to recognize that goals are often emergent in the action –
particularly when the action is wholly mediated by constitutive
discourse.” Does this mean that the students in a V-task lesson are
discoursing in this manner? Constitutive discoursing – they are not
playing, they are only talking about the football game? They are only
talking about L2? I can’t see that.

My questions then are as follows:
In an IRF classroom, how do you see the discourse? Is it ancillary?
Constitutive? Or is it an activity in its own right?
In a V-task classroom – I would guess it’s ancillary is this

I’m really not quite sure how the discourse could be seen as an
operation in order to coconstruct the appropriate genre, for an
action that the discoursing mediates, if the genre is already decided
and there is no ‘goal’ other than the movement through a page of a

If this is the case, it might be interesting to somehow prove that
the discourse is an activity in its own right if the language target
is not acquired.

Mark _______________________________________________
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Received on Wed Oct 3 19:48 PDT 2007

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