Harvard Educational Review
  1. Classroom Discourse

    The Language of Learning and Teaching (2nd ed.)

    By Courtney B. Cazden

    Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. 216 pp. $24.00.

    Courtney Cazden, Professor Emerita at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote her classic text Classroom Discourse in 1988. In this second edition she revisits many issues from the original text, including the exploration of "teaching as a linguistic process in a cultural setting" (p. 1), and her belief that the study of classroom discourse is "a kind of applied linguistics — the study of situated language use in one social setting" (p. 3). That first edition examined what Cazden calls the languages of curriculum, control, and personal identity, addressing three research questions still central to this second edition:

    How do patterns of language use affect what counts as "knowledge," and what occurs as learning? How do these patterns affect the equality, or inequality, or students’ educational opportunities? What communication competence do these patterns presume and/or foster? (p. 3)

    Since the first edition was published, there has been "more emphasis on process and strategies for learning and doing" (p. 5), resulting in more classroom discussions, small-group work, and work with or at computers. Furthermore, equity issues — always of concern to Cazden — have gained national attention. More teachers are becoming "reflective practitioners," audio-taping and analyzing how language is used in their own classrooms. In this second edition, Cazden highlights these trends, asserting that since "the social ends of education are changing . . . our responsibilities for discourse . . . must change also" (p. 5). These ends include preparing a diverse population of students to participate fully in all aspects of society. Yet she also reinforces her original message: "The basic purpose of school is achieved through communication" (p. 2).

    Readers will find this a clearly organized, engaging, and provocative exploration of the many ways oral and written language can or could support learning and teaching. In chapter two, Cazden describes traditional sharing time as it occurs in many elementary classrooms. A child offers a narrative, describing the key agents and action, and then the teacher asks questions. Cazden analyzes the tensions between "the child’s intended meaning and the teacher’s valued form" (p. 27) of discourse. Cazden devotes the second half of the chapter to teacher research on sharing time.

    In chapters three and four, Cazden compares traditional and nontraditional lessons and then explores the role of discourse in student learning. She presents an overview of the three-part "I.R.E./F." tradition of classroom discourse sequence: teacher initiation, student response, and teacher evaluation/feedback. She contrasts this discourse with the nontraditional discourse documented in the mathematics instruction of renowned teacher researchers James Hiebert, Magdalene Lampert, and Deborah Ball, in which explanations are as welcome as answers, teachers probe students to expand their thinking, and students more often listen to, refer to, and even disagree with one another’s comments. Eschewing an either-or approach, Cazden encourages teachers "to have a repertoire of lesson structures and teaching styles" (p. 56). In chapter four, Cazden examines ways that dyadic or group interactions influence students’ mental processes of reconceptualization, internalization, and assimilation. She describes the Reading Recovery program (for children who have not learned to read after one year in school), Reciprocal Teaching (small-group structured practice in comprehension strategies), and Lampert’s mathematics instruction. Citing John Bruer, Cazden explains that discourse-intensive reform programs work because social interaction "makes hidden thought processes public" (p. 75).

    Drawing on research from teachers and researchers, chapter five analyzes specific features of classroom discourse that teachers and researchers might want to examine or change. Cazden examines turn-taking practices: teacher nomination, student self-selection, as well as such practices as requiring students to call on peers of the opposite gender, passing a "talking stick," or affirming overlapping speech. She also addresses how seating arrangements, teacher gaze, listening responsibilities, open versus closed questions, and pace and sequence shift students’ relationship to the content, and to one another.

    Chapter six, "Talk with Peers and Computers," further illustrates how "differences between learning in teacher-led lessons and learning in peer groups are becoming less marked" (p. 109). Cazden analyzes four intellectual roles students take on when working in pairs or small groups: spontaneous helping, assigned teaching or tutoring, reciprocal critique, and collaborative problem-solving. She then moves on to examine "talk with, at, through, and in relation to computers" (p. 123). Cazden illustrates that collaboration at the computer leads to variations in the I.R.E./F. format, and describes telecommunication projects conducted by middle and high school teachers involved in BreadNet (the electronic network of the Bread Loaf School of English). Highlighting concerns that computers are marginalized, both physically and conceptually, from the rest of the curriculum, Cazden reminds us that "the social organizations of classrooms [must] promote the habits of speaking and listening from which positive interpersonal relationships across [many types of] differences can grow" (pp. 133–134).

    Chapter seven addresses these differences directly, focusing on the difference between the "differential treatment perspective" that critiques curriculum that is overdifferentiated and thus gives some students better opportunities, and the "cultural differences" perspective that critiques underdifferentiated curriculum that fails to account for qualitative differences among students (p. 137). She first examines harmful overdifferentiation, citing Allington’s research about discrepancies between low and high reading groups in elementary schools. Next, drawing on research by Clay (about New Zealand Maoris and Whites), Heath (about U.S. middle-class Blacks and Whites), and Ballenger (about Boston Haitians), Cazden describes how teachers can take cultural differences into account by starting with content and talk familiar to students, using peer models for new kinds of talk, talking about talk, and inviting students to "talk more" (p. 162). Cazden pleads with teachers to "face those aspects of differential treatment that are within their sphere of influence . . . [to assure that] classroom discourse as the drama of teaching of learning [has] speaking parts for all" (p. 164).

    The final chapter revisits many of Cazden’s main concepts using new terms. She draws the connection between exploratory talk and first drafts of written texts. She also states that "accountable talk" (coined by Resnick at the University of Pittsburgh) and academic language can help students express ideas clearly and concisely, yet may also block students if forced upon them. Cazden closes by discussing work by African American educators Delpit and Shuy about "how (even whether) to deliberately help students to become more bidialectal" (p. 175), claiming their own speech patterns while also learning the dominant discourse.

    Cazden’s fascination with language, respect for teachers, and commitment to effective and equitable teaching practices shine through in this new edition of her classic work. She affirms the importance of teacher research and reminds educators that we must change our classroom language use to support the academic and language development for all students, advocating that we use "careful analysis and conscious control so that our implicit theories of the language of teaching and learning can be open to continual re-vision. Nothing less does justice to our profession and our children" (p. 181).

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    Book Notes

    Classroom Discourse
    By Courtney B. Cazden

    By Dalton Conley

    Edited by Barbara Darling-Smith

    The Skin That We Speak
    Edited by Lisa Delpit and Joanne Kilgour Dowdy

    Tell Me More
    Edited by Eleanor Duckworth

    Methods of Literacy Research
    Edited by Michael L. Kamil, Peter B. Mosenthal, P. David Pearson, and Rebecca Barr

    How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work
    By Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

    By Randall Kennedy

    Gifted Bilingual Students
    By Esther Kogan

    Teaching Problems and the Problems of Teaching
    By Magdalene Lampert.