What shall we learn today? How students and teachers negotiate objects for learning in plenary classroom interaction

Carmen Konzett, University of Innsbruck – Austria

Foreign language courses in secondary schools are per definition sites for learning, whereby learning is the institutionally specific long-term aim and purpose of the social practices carried out in the classroom (cf. Carlgren 2009: 206; Gardner 2013: 606). But what about the learning targets that emerge in actual, day-to-day practices in the classroom? Responding to Carlgren’s call for “more studies of normal school practices” (2009: 208), this study investigates how students and teachers in ‘normal’ plenary classroom interaction observably attend to objects for learning or “learnables” (e.g. Majlesi 2014) and how they negotiate and establish what the currently relevant object for learning is. Learning targets are thus studied on a micro-level and are analytically treated in the way classroom participants themselves orient to them, namely as locally occasioned and emergent social objects made publicly visible and progressively shaped in interaction.

The data for this analysis stem from a longitudinal corpus currently including about 50 hours of video recordings of L2 French secondary school classrooms in Austria. The analysed sequences are instances of plenary classroom talk about a reading text (i.e. reading comprehension questions) in which both students and teachers treat problems of understanding as opportunities for learning while being temporarily or completely out of joint over what the nature of the object(s) for learning actually is. Despite the fact that typical classroom questions “tend to instruct the kinds of answers called for […] in [their] occasioned production” (Macbeth 2011: 444), my data show that these questions frequently leave room for interpretation which occasions negotiation processes. In these negotiations, objects for learning are observably attended to by participants. This may involve correction sequences (in which the teacher corrects the students), which, being “one of the ways in which members display and recognize that instructing is going on” (Macbeth 2004: 729) are also indicative of members’ orientations towards objects of learning. But the data also include instances where students “assert ownership of their own learning process” (Waring 2011: 215) by contesting the teacher’s perspective or by suggesting what they see as a relevant object for learning at that particular point.