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

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 04 2007 - 16:33:03 PDT

:) It's hard for me, Gordon, as my own interests militate against me
cutting things up into pieces like this, though I accept that in the
relevant professions this is what you have to do.

I can't see a difference in principle between constructing a plastic sign
which says "Please form a queue" and saying to a group of people "Please
form a queue". Of course I too can see that the first instance is not
normally described as "discoursing", because a plastic sign is used rather
than transient pressure waves, but I don't really see a difference in
principle. I do see a couple of differences in the relationship between the
producers and receivers of the respective signs though. The plastic
signboard is directed at another group of people rendered as objects,
whereas the verbal signs are directed at fellow individuals constituting a
subject. This I can see as a difference in principle.

So I'm trying to get at exactly what you see as the essential difference
here. Is it whether the exchange of signs takes place between subject and
object as opposed to individuals in a subject, or is it whether the sign is
made of pressure waves or plastic, or is it whether or not the maker of the
signs is expecting a response/argument about their statement? What if the
message "Please form a queue" was an email message? Is this "discoursing"?
If took it in turns to stand at the door and say over and over again in a
loud voice: "Please form a queue," would this be "discoursing"? What if a
customer suggests that the shop hands out tickets and engages the
salesperson in a discussion about that? I guess that could generate some
discoursing? What if the plastic sign was graffiti-ed by a customer so that
it said "Please serve the queue" would that then be discourse? :)

At 09:59 AM 4/10/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>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
>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
>>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

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Thu Oct 4 16:35 PDT 2007

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