Are student answers to teacher known-answer questions indication of learning?

Piera Margutti, Università per Stranieri Perugia, Italy

Are student answers to teacher known-answer questions indication of learning?rnPiera MarguttirnrnInteraction is a primordial site of instruction. In Western cultures, formal instruction is predominantly organized as three-part sequences (question–answer?assessment), shaping classroom teaching activities (Well 1993, Nassaji & Wells 2000, Lee 2006, Lyle 2008, Nassaji & Wells 2000) and, presumably, learning processes (Macbeth 2011). However, if the organization of teaching has long been documented in literature, no equal effort has been done to learning. Whereas teacher actions, such as questions and feedbacks, are viewed as indication of hidden decisions about pedagogic approaches ( i.e. dialogic and interactive vs. monologic and traditional) and, thus, observable evidence for the ‘teaching’ side of the instruction process, student answers are not equally viewed as evidence for learning.

Based on video-recordings of plenary instruction sequences in two 3rd-year whole-class primary school, the paper investigates the students’ answering activity. Plenary instruction sessions is a context where pupils happen to respond simultaneously, often using different resources. The analysis shows that answering in this context is not only the matter of wording the expected item, but a far more complex activity, entailing choices (design, word selection, timing, resources), each accomplishing a different coverage of the question requirements. Moreover, format and placement of the answer also display how students worked out their answers, each moving from a different basis (grammar, content, prior talk).

By investigating the resources pupils employ to answer (whether linguistic, verbal, or/and using the body as a means to convey meaning), and by looking at their placement in talk (whether prematurely deployed, occurring at transition-relevance points, or delayed) I will show that, in each case, although all appropriately responding to the question, pupils display a different understanding of the question and of its agenda. I demonstrate that the features of answer construction shed lights into pupils’ understanding of the question: that is, whether it is understood as part of the whole overarching pedagogic project of the lesson ? thus, capturing its implication for further development and reaching back to prior talk?, or merely on the grounds of its local and specific constraints and requirements (Margutti 2006). I argue that, in the former case, these answers can index that instruction has occurred as “the production of new understandings” (Koschmann 2011: 436) and, thus, as the result of learning.