Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Blimey! A post!

Apologies for the long lay-off. A catenation of foul circumstances has hit me, making it difficult to keep my blogs on track at the moment. Since one of these foulnesses is a legal issue, I've felt it better to keep out of sight for the time being.
I'm going to post, as soon as possible, my presentation on Global Englishes and the Language City Paradigm to the English UK Teachers' Conference in November, but it'll take a little time to do the blurb I want to add to it, so I'll leave that for later. I'll also say what I thought about this year's conference, but for now I'll just limit myself to saying that I saw Luke Meddings, looking incredibly grumpy in a duffel coat, heading towards the exit after his presentation.
For today, I just wanted to add an interesting thought about classroom interaction I've just had. Does classroom interaction follow a power law distribution? I read this fascinating article by Alok Jha in The Guardian about it, and it has got me wondering - does the 80/20 law (i.e. 20 % of the participants contribute 80% of the output) also work in 'meaningful' oral exchanges in class?
In theory, of course, it shouldn't. We should expect each and every student to make an equal amount of contribution. In an ideal world, were we to plot every student's contribution, we should expect a graph to exhibit a nearly straight horizontal line, showing equal distribution. However, in reality, I suspect this is not the case. We all know that certain students try to hog all the speaking time and attention, and it is one of the TEFLer's skills in classroom management that curtails this. But when you factor in Teacher Talk Time as well, what happens?
I would anticipate that with a newbie teacher, the Power Law Distribution holds up pretty well as a reliable way of showing the distribution of who contributes most. By the way, I'm limiting myself to oral interactions here, rather than reading and writing, as with these there's far more likely to be an equal distribution of  'meaningful' work. With an experienced teacher, one would expect the distribution of who contributes what to be a much flatter line.
There's only one way to find out however: you'd need to video a series of classes, at different levels, with different instructors, over the course of, say, 150 hours of instruction, or the amount we'd expect students to progress a level in their language comprehension - let's say A2 to B1, as that's a good level to monitor, along with a B2 to C1 control group. You would then need to transcribe and time each and every student's oral interactions as well as every time the teacher speaks, then plot it on a power distribution curve. I bet you get a classic power distribution with new teachers and a flatter line with better classroom managers. I suspect that different methodologies and approaches may also yield different results.
Who'd like to try it?


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