Finnish or maths? A longitudinal view on student-initiated question sequences in classrooms of mathematics with L2 users of Finnish

Niina Lilja, University of Tampere, Finland

In recent years, learner-initiated actions have started to attract more and more attention in research on classroom interaction. It has been recognized that by taking the initiative and by actively contributing to interaction learners take responsibility of their learning processes (see e.g. Waring 2011, Garton 2012). However, our understanding of the interactional functions learner initiatives have in organizing classroom interaction and of the role they play in learning processes is still in its infancy.

This paper focuses on learner-initiated question sequences in a classroom of young adult immigrants studying mathematics in their second language (Finnish). The data consist of 40 lessons that have been videotaped during two school years. It is part of a larger research project focusing on language learning processes of young adult immigrants who have immigrated to Finland in the final years of the compulsory education stage or after it (at the age of 15–18) and who attend the Finnish comprehensive school in order to qualify for upper secondary or vocational studies. The paper is based on the theoretical and methodological framework of conversation analysis and adopts a multisemiotic perspective to analyzing (language) learning in classroom interaction.

In the analysis, two different views on the student-initiated question sequences will be presented. First, the analysis gives an overall picture of forms and functions of the student-initiated questions in the data and shows how the questions are constructed, in what kind of sequential positions they are posed, and how they are responded to. Particular attention will be paid to questions indicating some sort of problem in understanding either the language of instruction or the mathematical subject content. The analysis illustrates what kind of learning opportunities these questions and answers to them create in interaction.

Second, the analysis focuses on the longitudinal development of the questioning practices. In order to do this, the questions of two different students will be followed through the time span of twelve months. The analysis demonstrates what kinds of changes take place in the practices of constructing a question and discusses how this reflects the possible development of the interactional competence of the students.

The observations made in the analysis will be discussed in relation to both the recent research on language learning in interaction and the research on content and language integrated learning.