Theses Doctoral

Working on Understanding in the Adult ESL Classroom: A Collaborative Endeavor

Boblett, Nancy Rolph

Over the past several decades, research that explored various teaching-and-learning contexts has provided valuable insights into teacher-learner interactional practices in second language classrooms. Many of these practices focus on learners’ language accuracy by targeting the correct answer, a worthy but perhaps insufficient goal; an additional teacher responsibility is to encourage learners to build on their understanding by reasoning through that correct answer. This current study adds to previous research by examining how one experienced teacher and her adult ESL students in a community language program in the U.S. engage in a particular type of interactive, collaborative work on understanding that moves beyond what is correct to why it is correct, which I call “digging.” Based on a conversation analytic examination of 15 hours of video-recorded classroom interaction, the findings showcase two complementary types of teacher-led digging that are preceded by a critical “pre-digging” phase, during which the teacher redirects learners’ attention and constitutes a group that will work together as a collective. The first type of digging zooms in on one particular language issue which the teacher frames as a language challenge for the group and works collaboratively with the collective toward resolving it. The second type of digging, by contrast, zooms out from a specific language issue to a larger pattern in either the learners’ native languages or the target language, English. In both types of digging, exploratory talk and various scaffolding techniques are employed to promote participation and learner agency. The findings contribute to the literature on classroom interaction by specifying, in fine-grained detail, the how-to of these teacher interactional practices during whole group work on understanding which involves the intricate work of every gaze, every gesture, every posture shift, every utterance, and every second of silence. Such specifications also enrich teacher educators’ pedagogical content knowledge by providing them a common language to talk about, and illuminate the complexity of, teaching as they guide students to “see” such complexity.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Waring, Hansun Zhang
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 29, 2020