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

From: Gordon Wells <gwells who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 04 2007 - 09:59:38 PDT

Andy and Mark,

I will try to reply piecemeal.
>Let's see if I understand you correctly, Gordon.
>Firstly, it is essential to your approach, isn't it, that the
>project is divided into subject and object?

I am assuming that the 'subjects' are those who are directly engaged
in an activity and are carrying out some action; the 'object' is what
is to be transformed through their action in order to create the
envisaged outcome, the achievement of this transformation is at the
same time the 'object/goal' of the action.

>So for example, a group of salespeople in a business might
>"discourse" about how to better serve their customers, and the
>result might be a sign saying "Please form a queue". The discussion
>amongst the salespeople is "discoursing" and the sign is a material
>tool. This is because the shoppers are regarded by the salespeople
>as an object to be manipulated, whereas they regard each other as
>part of the subject, to be treated as subjects.

I think your example involves two different actions. The object of
action 1 is to reach a decision about how to better serve the
customers; its outcome is a plan of action. Action 2 involves the
creation of the sign as artifact (which may or may not involve
discoursing in the process); this sign will then function as a tool
in mediating the service of the customers. Whether or not the
salespeople see shoppers as objects to be manipulated or as subjects
to be engaged with is a separate issue, though which stance is
adopted will certainly affect the substance of the discoursing in
action 1.

>How would this look if the "shoppers" are students attending a
>course and the "salespeople" are the tutor-group?
>Well, the same obviously. Is that right?

Yes, in the sense that tutors could adopt either stance. Tutors might
plan to create activities that are intended to transmit course
content, followed by tests to sort students by grades; in which case
they might be thinking of students as objects on an assembly line to
be transformed into A students or C+ students, etc. Or they might
plan activities in which they will engage in "instructional
conversations" (Tharp & Gallimore) with students as subjects in an
attempt to assist the students in transforming their understanding of
the course material (with the intended outcome that the students are
better able to engage in activities in which this understanding is
significant). But I don't think tutors could carry out either plan
without, at various points, engaging in discoursing in which students
were also 'subjects.'

>>I think this way of looking at things also applies to Mark's
>>example. He wrote:

>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?

I don't think any discourse is an activity in its own right. It is
always mediating the achievement of some goal beyond itself, which
typically, in the case of lessons, is that there should be a
transformation of the students' participation in activities for which
the knowledgeable skills in focus are necessary. Whether or not
triadic dialogue is the adopted genre, the active involvement of
students as subjects is necessary for the lesson to proceed. However,
as I have argued elsewhere, triadic dialogue can take a variety of
forms (i.e. different sub-genres) depending on whether or not the
teacher values the students' answers as contributions to jointly
constructed understandings or merely as evidence of whether they have
appropriated the predetermined knowledge/skills

About the example of the V-task, you ask:

>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?

The goal of the activity in which the students are involved is the
joint construction of a text. The discoursing - in L1 and l2 - is
mediating the achievement of that goal.

>xmca mailing list

Gordon Wells
Department of Education
University of California, Santa Cruz
xmca mailing list
Received on Thu Oct 4 10:05 PDT 2007

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