How and teachers. The first class was Year

How does the way in which teachers represent themselves
affect the student’s language?


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In this investigation,
I will be concentrating on the relationship between the way in which teachers
represent themselves in language and how the students choose to reflect that.
It is evident that teaching style has a larger impact on a child’s learning than their ‘ability’1.
I will conduct research based on short, covert recordings of lessons from 2 different
teachers, and use secondary research based on the linguistic effect of teaching


I aim to find out the relationship between teachers’
language and the way in which students respond, looking at factors such and
prestige, power and face.

I will consider the short and long-term aims of the teachers
and students and compare that to how they might wish to be represented.

I will evaluate the different student-teacher discourse


I decided that recording would be the best method of
gathering primary data as it allowed me to see, unadulterated, the exact
language used in the classroom. I decided on 3-4 minute blocks, at least 20
minutes into the lesson and no less than 15 minutes from the end of the lesson,
in order to get a high density of subject-related discourse, instead of the
general conversation that usually occurs at either end of the period. This
allowed me to get a much more accurate representation of the language used.

I selected 2 one-on-one tutoring classes, with two different
teachers, which could provide a clear indication on the interaction between a
student and a teacher.

After some background reading2
I decided the best things to look at were
elements of prestige, turn taking, and the difference between ‘recitation’ –
that being the impersonal teaching of a subject, and ‘conversation’ – when a
discourse is opened between students and teachers.

The first class was Year 5 (9 years old) English, in
preparation for 11+ exams. The second class was a Year 7 (age 11) mathematics
tutoring session.


1: Power

1.1  Turn Taking and Interruptions

An important
indication of power during discourse is that of turn taking. Clear-cut turns
indicate that the conversation is in a more formal register. As we can see in
Data Set 1 – this is evident, with only two interruptions, however in Data Set
2 the level of interruptions is much higher at 6. This indicates that the discourse
is of a less formal register in Data Set 2. Causing this may be the use of jokes
and other less formal terms like the use of the word “pew” and the following up
pun “the church of mathematics”. This use of humour lowers the register making
the teacher more approachable.

1.1.a Pauses and Quantity of Words

One of the ways
this effect can be seen is in that of how long the pauses are in the discourse.
In the first dataset, we can see that the teacher adds longer pauses at the end
of her sentences to facilitate turn taking, indicating a more formal
atmosphere. In addition to this, in the same time period ~35% less words are
used than in dataset 2, which would give the impression that the child may be
more apprehensive.

1.2 Face-Threatening Acts

In DS1 we see that
face-threatening acts are avoided for the most part, for example the correction
of the word ellipses (see phonetic transcription) – which was purposefully
reformulated (evidenced by the stress placed on the word and the following
micropause), but was not explicitly referred to. Jane does threaten the
hearer’s positive face with the sentence “because it said babbled”. Rapidly –
Mrs B then very quickly does the same thing with “its not necessarily
muttering”, although she employs positive politeness to minimise the act.
Another way this is avoiding is in the interaction “do you think he’s scared”,
rephrasing what Jane had just said, this causes her to revisit the idea.

In DS2 we see a
very different interaction, wherein the student is not afraid of threatening
the hearer’s positive face by ‘correcting’, when he says “-quincy” or “-four
over five”. This, as well as being an interruption, demonstrates that the child
holds knowledge that Mr T doesn’t have, and being presented without using any politeness
features, shows that the child is successful in this act, creating a looser
power structure.

1.3 Lexis and Prestige

The lexis used by
each of the parties transcribed shows their chosen register and just how ‘far’
the participants are from each other in terms of power.

Jane uses a high
number of non-fluency features such as ‘kind of’ or ‘like’ in her utterances, a
feature belonging to a less formal register, as well as her use of incomplete
phrases such as “because it said babbled” – although in the sample she speaks
far less than Mrs B, as she defers to what she suggests. Mrs B however, in her
use of more ‘difficult’ words like “attributed”, or “incomprehensible” heightens
her register to one more formal, however not one exceedingly so – for example
her heavy use of contractions (“isn’t”, “he’s” etc) – this makes her
approachable to the much younger student, while keeping her clearly marked as
the teacher. This is evidence of Labov’s ‘prestige’ theory, of utilised both
Overt and Covert Prestige, by using difficulty in lexical items to maintain her
status, while lowered that register to make her more approachable.

Contrastingly, in
Data Set 2, both participants employ a similar register, that of one much less
formal than Mrs B, by utilising Covert Prestige in order to create a more ‘friendly’
atmosphere. Small jokes such as “the church of mathematics” evidence this, and
we can see an effect in Daniel’s language, within which he is more likely to
interrupt, and uses lower register terms such as “yep” or creating a tag
question with the word “right”.

DATA ANALYSIS 2: Task-Orientated
Speech (TOS)

Definition in the context of this analysis: discourse between 2 or more people carrying
a common aim or task that both work together to achieve.

2.1 Lexis

The use of synonymy
and equivalent phrases aids in the common goal of teaching (communicating new
information). Mr T DS2 does this by rephrasing the same concept in different
ways (i.e. fraction – a concept presumably understood previously, instead of a
ratio). Mrs B calls this to action by asking the child “what does babbling
mean”. This interrogative phrase acts as a starting point for the following

The use of subject
specific vocabulary like ratio, fraction, babbling, muttering and mumbling aids
in the specific knowledge the students need to have, while providing clear
terminology to refer to those concepts later.

2.1.a Complexity

While both teachers
are aiming to impart knowledge onto the student, they differ in style because
of the difference in the subject they are teaching – English v Maths. This is
evident in the difference of the complexity of language used between the two
teachers – we see MRS B using more polysyllabic words – 35 compared to MR T’s
14, in the same number of words total. The number of ‘difficult words’ that is
the number of words which aren’t in the cited list of 3000 familiar words3,
totals to 26% of lexemes used, in comparison to 19% for MR T.

This commits to TOS
by then explaining the signification of the word, i.e. “incomprehensible ..
not easy for someone else to understand”

The opposite being
true in the maths lesson, we see MR T simplify his language in order to explain
a concept that Daniel seems to be having trouble with “whatever he has two of
he has three of” for example. This, in a more technical subject, simplifies the
visible notation or mathematical terminology. This repetitive form of
explanation can be seen in the number of unique words: 35% in the Maths lesson
compared to 47% in the English lesson.

2.1.b Subject Orientated

Mrs B tends to use
this type of lexeme sparingly such as “ellipses”, she talks about things in much
broader terms, helping Jane to understand the vocabulary with which she had no
previous experience, seemingly.

Mr T, however, uses
this type of word very commonly,, employing words such as “multiply”, “equals”,
various numbers and algebraic symbology, as this is the most effective manner
to communicate the necessary ideas for a more scientific subject such as maths,
wherein static ideas must be understood, not those that could be explained with
synonymy for example.  

Recitation vs Conversation

Recitation is the impersonal teaching of a subject or idea, whereas conversation is a personal,
communicative method of teaching wherein both parties ‘work together’.

The clearest
difference between the two teaching styles of that of Recitation and
Conversation, with MR T utilising the former, and MRS B the latter.

3.1 Discourse

MR T tends to
personalise using the first person plural pronoun “we”, only using the second
person once during the entire explanation. And, whilst there is a form of turn
taking, MR T tends to continue on one idea throughout, despite what Daniel

MRS B tends to
relate ideas to the child, leaving pauses at the end of her phrases in order to
give the child a chance to respond to what she says, and to build an idea
together, using the second person “you” across the conversation, and asking
direct questions.

This affect student
language in how they initiate speaking – Daniel initiates by interrupting, and
his average phrases are less than 7 words, and whereas Jane is more
apprehensive, her answers are longer and there is a positive affirmation that
she understands the new idea.

3.2 Lexis

One clear way this
is evidenced is in the use of verbs, Mrs B uses



Felix, ‘Do Learning & Teaching Styles Affect Students’ Performance? An
Empirical Study’, Journal of Business & Economics Research (JBER), 3

Nystrand, Martin, and And Others, Opening Dialogue: Understanding
the Dynamics of Language and Learning in the English Classroom. Language and
Literacy Series (Teachers College Press, P, 1997)

‘Word Count Tool – 3000 Familiar Words’, Word Count Tool – A Free
Word Counter accessed 22 January 2018



1: 9 Years Old – English Lesson DS1

how does the author show that arthur is babbling in line nineteen to twenty-one

3 there are a lot of ellipses (/??l?ps?z/)

MRS B: what do the ellipses (/??l?psi?z/) (.) tell


JANE: that (.) that he he’s um kind of
too scared so he keeps on repeating the word


MRS B: do you think he’s scared 3


JANE: yeah because he said um (.) from
the stone I promised (.) because he thinks that (.) the Ekter might not believe
him either


MRS B: 4 so the question wants to
know how can you tell that arthur is babbling

                 -because it said


MRS B: well yeah



MRS B: I mean tha- (.) that is (.)
perhaps they could’ve worded this question a little bi- what does (.) babbling


JANE: it means like muttering or


MRS B: (tuts) I (.) suppose 1 it
means a little bit more 1.5 it’s not necessarily muttering 5


JANE: inaudible


MRS B: so le- let’s think about so why
don’t you read it out loud and see if we can work out exactly what babbling is

JANE: from the stone I promised babbled
arthur (.) I tried to get inaudible but the door at the end was locked and i
knew he’d be cross and he saw the sword and I – I didn’t want it- him to miss
the tournament so I took it and I 1.5 dot dot dot


MRS B: is it something he (.) so you’re
right I- I agree that there are lots of ellipses (.) I suppose just looking at
that sentence (.) it is rather a long sentence as well isn’t it (.) so when
we’re when we’re babbling we’re talking in a very quick way if we’re talking
rapidly 1 and sometimes 1.5 that can be attributed to (.) being excited or
in shock (.) or 0.5 you know

JANE: -nervous








Seconds of pause

(text in italics)

Non-verbal sound described


Inaudible sound



-dash before word

Simultaneous speech


Phonetic transcription in IPA

Italicised words






MRS B: yes or nervous or in a way where
it’s 2 not really cl- we say incomprehensible where you where it’s not easy
for somebody else who’s listening to understand which is maybe all part of
maybe the nervv- you know the ner- sorta the shock of the situation so here
arthur doesn’t expect to be able to (.) if you put your pen down put your pen
down and just listen because we need to talk about this because I think (.)
it’s not a particularly easy question to answer



11 Years Old – Maths Lesson DS2

MR T: so its like this (.) take a pew
(.) and I’ll work this through


DANIEL: a pew is a seat in a church

MR T:         
                    -it is
1 the church of mathematics


DANIEL: aaah 1 nice (.) lovely (.)
right (.) okay


MR T: so what we’re saying here 2 is
that although err 0.5 so we’re saying 1 that (.) we’re expressing patrick
and (.) whoever the other person is (.) quincy 0.5 not as a 


MR T: ratio (.) but as a
fraction and we’re saying that the ratio (.) of patrick to err 



MR T: so he has umm (.) whatever he has
two of he has (.) three of and what we’re gonna end up with is patrick has four
of and quincy has five of 1 yeah thats right so we’re saying the ratio (.) of
(.) erm 2 patrick to quincy we’re relating things to patrick here (.) is in
the ratio of two (.) thirds 1 and that makes sense doesn’t it cause two
thirds of (.) three



MR T: is two (.) and we’re saying that
two thirds 2 and then what do I do (.) I add eight to him and I subtract five
from him (.) so that 0.5 two units (.) that ratio there plus   

DANIEL: -fraction 1 yeah


MR T: minus five (.) because that’s
patrick now               yep (.) 

           -four over five


TEACHER: equals four over five 1 then
what he says is ok now we cross-multiply

                 -but isn’t 
             that more of more of two x plus
eight and ten

                 – no no so
INAUDIBLE so all we’re doing at the moment (.) so yeah you’re right so th-
the initial condition is w- we’re not sure 1

                  because two plus
eight is ten right (.) so

TEACHER: yep we’re not quite sure we
know the total out here is (.) x (.)

CHILD: yep 0.5 no I mean of the


TEACHER: no no so it means its two x


TEACHER: and three x equals that we
then take it to the next step which is that I’m gonna solve this fraction I’m
gonna multiply by (.) erm (.) what is it you do (.)     
 yeah he 


TEACHER: multiplies by five so I end up
with five







Seconds of pause

(text in italics)

Non-verbal sound described


Inaudible sound



-dash before word

Simultaneous speech


Phonetic transcription in IPA

Italicised words










1 Felix Kamuche, ‘Do Learning &
Teaching Styles Affect Students’ Performance? An Empirical Study’, Journal
of Business & Economics Research (JBER), 3 (2011)

2 Martin Nystrand and Others, Opening
Dialogue: Understanding the Dynamics of Language and Learning in the English
Classroom. Language and Literacy Series (Teachers College Press, P, 1997).

3 ‘Word Count Tool – 3000 Familiar
Words’, Word Count Tool – A Free Word Counter
accessed 22 January 2018.

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