n Journal for Language Teaching = Ijenali Yekufundzisa Lulwimi = Tydskrif vir Taalonderrig - Exploring prospective language teachers' constructions of 'discursive initiative' : generating hypotheses about their thinking




Teaching and learning in classrooms are discursively constructed in variations of the Initiation-Response-Feedback exchange pattern (Lee, 2007; Sinclair & Coulthard, 1991; Mehan, 1985; Sinclair & Brazil, 1982; McHoul, 1978). These discursive patterns and the content of the teacher's turns, we reason, represent indirect evidence of the teacher's thinking. At a more direct level, when we prompt prospective teachers to define the meanings they assign to key constructs in English Language Teaching, they articulate their consciously held understanding. Adopting a Kellyian perspective (Kelly, 1966/2003), one could argue that teacher training is supposed to be a trainer facilitated experimental process in which prospective teachers, as active participants, define, diversify, adjust and evolve a set of dynamic constructs for dealing optimally with the processes of classroom teaching and learning. This article reports on such a constructivist approach in an applied linguistics course for education students in the higher education (HE) sector. Specifically, it records prospective teachers' constructions of discursive initiative in the language classroom. If we argue from the premise that the language educator's ultimate aim is to replicate authentic communication in learning experiences (Savignon, 2007:207-230), it is worth our while to explore prospective teachers' constructions of discursive initiative in classroom context. The data-collection procedure involved an eight page self-reflective questionnaire, designed to elicit prospective teachers' personal constructions of various classroom-related concepts, including a 100-word outline of the concept ''discursive initiative''. We concluded that when learners (N = 30) are required to make sense of a classroom-related construct, they will invariably activate unique configurations of related meanings (consistent with Kelly's individuality and organisation corollaries). We also noticed shared meanings (i.e. Kelly's commonality corollary). We show that a constructs analysis of learner responses provides valuable information about learner frames of meaning which may serve as stepping stones to access preverbal construing, adopt a personalised approach to learning and raise learner awareness of classroom processes.


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