Building knowledge through discussion

Main Text  I  Annotated Discussion  I  Key to Annotations  I  References  I  Comments


"When children learn language, they are not simply engaging in one kind of learning among many; rather, they are learning the foundations of learning itself … Language is not a domain of human knowledge; language is the essential condition of knowing, the process by which experience becomes knowledge." (Halliday, 1993, pg 93)

CV:  It’s as though there were a custom amongst certain people for one person to throw another ball which he is supposed to catch and throw back; but some people, instead of throwing it back, put it back in their pocket.

Influenced both by Wittgenstein and Vygotsky (as well as Volosinov and Bakhtin), I want to explore the consequences of us talking of human activity from within a new vocabulary that takes our living, embodied nature seriously, from within what I shall call a relational rather than an individualistic way of talking. For, just as the child, 'with the help of the indicative function of words,... begins to master his (sic) attention, creating new structural centers in the perceived situation (Vygotsky, 1978, p.35), so we also, as investigators, can draw our own attention to otherwise unnoticed features of our own conduct, through the introduction of a new vocabulary, a new way of talking. (Shotter, 1996, pg 1)

Z 294: In one case we make a move in an existent game, in the other we establish a rule of the game. Moving a piece could be conceived in these two ways: as a paradigm for future moves, or as a move in an actual game.

“Few scholars would have been more comfortable with the importance Socrates gave to ‘living speech’ and the value of dialogue in the pursuit of development than Lev Vygotsky. In his classic work Thought and Language, Vygotsky described the intensively generative relationship between word and thought and between teacher and learner. Like Socrates, Vygotsky held that social interaction plays a pivotal role in developing a child’s ever-deepening relationship between words and concepts.” (Wolf, 2008, p 73)

Z 567: How could human behaviour be described? Surely only by sketching the actions of a variety of humans, as they are all mixed up together. What determines out judgement, our concepts and reactions, is not what one man is doing now, an individual action, but the whole hurly-burly of human actions, the background against which we see any action.

“What Vygotsky emphasizes that Wittgenstein partly misses, I think, is the importance of the 'boot-strap' function of this kind of talk in our cultural development: the way in which it can shift us from an unaware, spontaneous usage of words in a practical context, to a deliberate, self-conscious use of them in a solely intralinguistic (or disciplinary) context. (Shotter, 1996, pg 4) 


Example of an annotated learning discussion (back to top)

The following is an annotated learning discussion that is taken from Wells (1999, pg. 255-256) which involves a Year 6 teacher and two students. The teacher and students are discussing a caterpillar in a cocoon, also known as the state of chrysalis.

  • Student #1:  How do [caterpillars]eat?   .... [nuclear exchange / initiating move /demand]
  • Teacher:  Well, when you say ‘how do they eat’ you’re making an assumption that they DO eat  ... [dependent exchange / initiating move / give / indirect challenge]
  • Student #1:  I know they eat when they’re not in the chrysalis   ...   [dependent exchange / responding move / give / qualifying]
  • Teacher:  What do you see that makes you think they eat when they’re in the chrysalis? ... [dependent exchange / initiating move / demand]
  • Student #1:  Yeah, like is there food for them in the chrysalis? ... [reformulate / request information]
  • Teacher:  Okay, so, so, if the chrysalis feeds inside the chrysalis, what would the food be? Where does come from?
  • Student #2:  I think that they like ate, they ate a lot to get energy to change inside the chrysalis .. so I think there were eating the - like for seven days and they almost at the food you see there;s almost none left ... 
  • Teacher:  Uh huh
  • Student #2:  and - an now it’s got like a lot of energy to change and it’s changing insider .. That’s what I think.
  • Teacher:  So you’re - you think it doesn’t need food during THIS stage because it’s already store a lot?
  • Student #2:  Yeah

Key to Annotating a Learning Discussion (back to top)

From Wells, G. (1999) Dialogic inquiry: toward a sociocultural practice and theory of education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gordon Wells and others like him (e.g. Claire Painter) effectively explore how conversations between individuals (e.g. a parent and a child) can introduce knowledge which leads to the formulation, rendering, expansion and revision of ideas (and how to draw or see connections). The following are terms used to annotate conversations (or discourse exchanges).   

Item 1: Exchange Types

  • Nuclear exchange (self-contained conversation)
  • Dependent exchange (current conversation extending earlier discourse)
  • Embedded exchange (current conversation has digressed from main discourse, though this exchange may or not be necessary to clarify main discussion)

Item 2: Move Types

  • Initiating move: (the statement is seen as opening up discourse)
  • Responding move: (the move is directly responding to a previous move)
  • Follow-up move: (the move follows the thread and extends the discourse)

Item 3: Prospectiveness

  • Demand: (is the move a request?)
  • Give: (is the move satisfying a request?)
  • Acknowledge (is the move acknowledging/affirming/reinforcing an expression?)

Item 4: Function

  • Requesting information
  • ....................... a suggestion
  • ....................... an opinion
  • ....................... a justification/explanation
  • ....................... a Yes/No answer
  • ....................... confirmation
  • ....................... repetition
  • ....................... to speak
  • Check for understanding
  • Give information
  • .......... suggestion
  • .......... opinion
  • .......... justification
  • .......... confirmation
  • .......... relevant example
  • .......... yes or no answer
  • Qualify previous contribution
  • Clarify own previous contribution
  • Extend previous contribution
  • Repeat own previous contribution
  • Nominate next speaker
  • Acknowledge
  • Accept previous contribution
  • Reject previous contribution
  • Evaluate previous contribution
  • Reformulate previous contribution

References  (back to top)

  • Halliday, M. (1993). Towards a language-based theory of learning. In Linguistics and Education. Vol 5, No. 2. pp 93 - 116 
  • Shotter, J. (1996). Talking of saying, showing, gesturing and feeling in Wittgenstein and Vygotsky. In Communication Review Vol 1, No. 4. pp 471 - 495.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Wells, G. (1999) Dialogic inquiry: toward a sociocultural practice and theory of education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wittgenstein, L. (1967) Zettel. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  • _____________   (1980). Culture and value. Translated by Peter Winch. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the squid: the story and science of the reading brain. Cambridge: Icon Books.