Dialogic Inquiry
in the foreign language classroom
Noriko Iwasaki, SOAS
Why this topic?
To discuss a teacher’s personal take on
language teaching practice in the seminar
Students’ statements invoked my interest to
find what elements in the course might have
made the students engage in critical thinking
more (than my other reading courses and/or
other teachers who teach comparable
courses in the same institution.)
My training was:
My teaching experiences were:
in psycholinguistics (word retrieval, sentence
production, word recognition)
Experimental methods, quantitative analysis
Much more in lower levels (beginningintermediate courses) with emphasis on speaking
Today’s talk will reveal:
more about what made it difficult for a teacher to
carry out ‘effective’ dialogs than the interaction
that was effective.
Students’ statements
A student’s actual statement on a course evaluation was:
“(She) Encourages students to think and ask
questions, instead of just feeding information
to students.”
(In an introspective interview, to a question asking what
helped him read critically.)
“I don’t know. I think really what helped me was
the discussions that we were having, like not
just on a page, but like, oral dialogue about it.
That was, that was really helpful.” (S12)
“Dialogs” in education (Wells 1999: 119)
The crucial mediating role of discourse in knowing
and understanding has come to be increasingly
appreciated, and with it the significance of the
Bakhtinian emphasis on dialogue, attention has
turned to the critical role of teacher in initiating and
guiding this dialogue (Applebee, 1996; Mercer,
1995; Nystrand, 1997).
[More] radically, the creation of the kind of
classroom community in which the search for
understanding, and the dialogue through which this
is accomplished, pervades all areas of curriculum…
‘Triadic dialogue’
The ubiquitous structure of spoken texts of
classroom interaction is IRF (Sinclair and
Coulthard 1975) or ‘triadic dialogue’ (Lemke
Initiating move by the teacher (I)
Responding move by the student (R)
Follow-up move by the teacher (F)
It can “take a variety of forms and be
recruited by teachers for a wide variety of
functions (Nassaji & Wells 2000)
Analysis of ‘Triadic dialogue’
(Nassaji & Wells 2000)
Six categories of follow-up moves:
Three categories of information
Assumed known information
Personal Information
Negotiatory information (where the ‘answer’ is to be
reached through open-ended discussions between teacher
and student together).
General (excessive) emphasis on form
(vocabulary and grammar) in the Japanese
language programme
Meanings/contents are often trivialized or
neglected in activities of all skills.
Language classes construed as:
transmitting knowledge and information about
language and cultural facts
a place for students to “practice” language skills
(Kubota 2004; Wallace 2003)
Emphasis on the literal comprehension of
texts (Alderson and Urquhart 1984; Kern 2000)
‘Reading’ materials as language samples to
provide students to learn and practice grammar
and/or vocabulary
Culture is often taught as essentialized and
static especially because of the
misconception that Japanese society is
Need for diverse and dynamic perspectives of
culture (Kubota 2003)
Action Research
Action research is simply a form of selfreflective enquiry undertaken by participants
in order to improve the rationality and justice
of their own practices, their understanding of
these practices and the situations in which
the practices are carried out (Carr and
Kemmis 1986: 162)
Action Research:
First attempt (Iwasaki & Kumagai 2008)
Incorporated elements of critical approaches
in the course “Readings in Japanese
newspapers and magazines” to promote:
Sensitivity to author’s language choice
 Consideration of the author’s intention and
purpose of writing an article
 Self-reflection by both teachers and students
leading to “problematizing” or “interrogating” the
taken-for-granted concepts
 Students’ critical consciousness
(Kubota 1996, 47).
Challenges encountered
(Iwasaki & Kumagai 2008)
Teacher’s difficulty to carry on dialogues with
students (when there is no ONE answer)
An episode in which a student’s response would
have provided an opportunity to critically consider
ideology of dialects was missed. (The teacher asked
about the ‘feel’/nuance that the Osaka Dialect オモロ
イおばさん might have; a student responded ‘sounds
like an idiot’.)
Similar to what Kumagai (2007) reported about a
teacher who did not seize the opportunity to discuss
the use of katakana to alienate the language spoken
by ‘foreigners’ (and the speakers themselves).
Challenges encountered
(Iwasaki & Kumagai 2008)
Ineffective ways of asking questions:
Often yes/no-type questions
Questions that students could not answer (due
to students’ lack of sociocultural knowledge)
Not ordered in such a way that reflects ‘critical’
orientation (i.e., a series of comprehension
questions before questions about textual
features, or author’s intentions)
Readings in Japanese Traditional Culture
Continued action research aiming to:
highlight both the content (traditional Japanese
culture) and form (writers’ language choices)
 carry on more dialogues by:
 Asking critical questions upfront
 Open-ended questions
 Follow-up questions e.g., ‘Why do you think so?’
*Note from my teaching log (27 Jan 2008):
Colleague: “So.. students will learn Japanese by reading about
traditional culture.”
Me: “Well, students will read and think about traditional Japanese
culture and learn Japanese at the same time.”
Context: Japanese language programme
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
5 h/week
5 h/week
JPN 111
4 h/week
# of
JPN 112
JPN 113
Students (N=12)
First Lang
S 10
S 11
S 12
Goal 1: Traditional Japanese culture as
“dynamic and diverse evolving cultures”
Cultural contacts
Okinawa (vs. Japan)
Western Japan vs. Eastern Japan
Traditional Japanese culture as “dynamic
and diverse evolving cultures”
Diachronic changes (evolution of traditional
Japanese performing arts)
Modern twists
Goal 2: Reading between lines
Author’s intentions and language choices
Styles (plain, polite, and mix/shifts)
Sentence-ending expressions (i.e., modal
expressions: epistemic modals, interactional
Sino-Japanese, native, loanwords (from English)
Mimetic words
Orthography (from three scripts: katakana,
hiragana, kanji)
Polite Style, Plain Style, and Shifts
“Today is Wednesday.”
Kyoo-wa Suiyoobi da.
today-top Wednesday copula
Polite style: Kyoo-wa Suiyoobi desu.
Super polite style: Kyoo-wa Suiyoobi degozaimasu.
The plain and the polite forms in spoken and written
languages have very different meanings.
Speakers also shift their styles both in speaking and
writing to and create desired contexts (Cook 1996,
Maynard 1991, Noda 1998, Okamoto 1999)
Reading material selections
Views and opinions (rather than factual information)
 Selections from books (some in interviews/dialogues
in which performers express their views)
Articles from magazines and newspapers
(“traditional culture” as “news”)
Introductory books on Japanese music and on Japanese
performing arts (Rakugo, Kabuki, Bunraku, Kyogen, Noh).
NHK textbook (and TV programmes on Japanese
performing arts)
Magazine AERA
Newspaper articles (BBC, Mainichi Newspaper)
Essays from magazines
Special issue of Taiyoo
Research Questions
What factors might have led to or prevented
the teacher from achieving dialogues in a
foreign language classroom, which sought
knowledge of:
Traditional Japanese culture
Language choice (Styles: the plain style, polite
style, mix)
What might have led some students to think
that they had more opportunities to think in
this course?
My teaching logs, reflective journals, and questions
emailed to a peer teacher-scholar during the term
(About 120 entries, in Japanese)
 Teacher-student comments on students’ writings
 Retrospective interviews with 6 volunteer students
(out of 12 students) in the spring term (English)
 Though retrospective data may not be informative to
learn whether something was effective, it is
informative to learn what aspects the students think
contributed to their learning.
 Why not audio-/video-taped classroom discourse?
Difficult to get approval from the Internal Review Board
Where “dialogues” can happen
In the classroom
On their writing assignments
By email
In the classroom (pair and class discussions,
student-led discussion)
Course website
Reflective practice (Teacher, Student)
General Class activities
(100 min x 2/week)
Prior to class: Students read materials and answer
questions on a worksheet.
In class:
Comments on homework (writing assignments)
Some discussions from the last class
Discussions based on the worksheet questions
Further discussions (e.g., use of video clips)
Student-led discussions (once a week)
Preview of what is coming up
What the teacher logs tell us
Constant struggles (Log entries 11/1/08-)
 Students often produce short utterances reflecting
superficial or factual observations.
 Teacher failed to:
ask effective ‘follow-up’ questions, unsure of how to guide
students to think more deeply
provide enough time for students to think and respond
because she was overly concerned with class management,
or not sure how much critical thinking she could expect of
Recorded interactions were mostly triadic dialogues
with evaluation or short comments at the end. Only
a few instances of clear sequences of follow-up
questions were recorded on the logs.
A few examples
*All retrospectively re-constructed on the logs,
and translated to English:
1. About interpretation (T-S dialogue)
Meaning of a word
The writer’s stand (neutral or not)
About traditional culture (S-S dialogue)
About plain vs. polite forms (T-S) [in
Discovering different interpretations for a
loanword Saikederikku “psychedelic”
S7: I was surprised (by the sentence “Bunraku is psychedelic”).
T: What is the English equivalent?
S7: ‘Psychedelic”
T: Does it mean the same thing?
S7: Almost the same…
T: What does it mean in English?
S7: …having illusions by taking illegal drugs…
T: Illegal? Like..?
S7: For example, like hippies in the 70’s.
T: So is the meaning unfavorable for you?
S12: Yes.
T: But in this case, it may not be so negative, considering what
Hanabusa-san did…
S12: It means appealing to one’s psychology deeply.
T: Yeah. The words seem to have different meanings, don’t they?
By uncompleted sequences
About a BBC news article on a sumo scandal.
T: Do you think this article is written from a neutral
S7: Yes, I think so.
T: Why do you think so?
S7: Because the writer is a foreigner and does not
have a direct relationship with sumo.
T: Maybe so. He may not be biased. But I wonder if
not knowing helps one to be neutral or if knowing a
great deal helps one to be neutral….
Student-led discussion: Ice-breaker to
rethink ‘traditional culture’ (Log 25/1/08)
Student discussion on shamisen. Having realized the
classmates had not read the assigned reading, one of
the two student leaders provided a summary.
Leader1: Why was Sanshin so popular in Okinawa?
S12: it was tashinami (enjoyment/hobby for well-bred
people) at the time.
Leader1: China was very powerful and had economic
power. So (due to trading with China) Okinawa also
flourished. (Showing Sanshin and the Chinese
instrument Sanxian) What is different between them?
(pause) It is the top part, top part.
Student-led discussion: Ice-breaker to
rethink ‘traditional culture’ (Log 25/1/08)
Leader1: What is the definition of ‘traditional Japanese
S4: Culture before the Meiji era.
S5: Culture unique to Japan.
Leader2: well, then what about Sanshin? It came from
S5: (a bit taken back) But, Japanese people changed it. It
is Japanese tradition.
Leader2: Then what about cultural exchange? Is it good?
S8: There are good things and bad things. It is not good to
Thinking about styles (Log 25/1/08)
[Some questions about styles on slides]
T: How did you choose your style when you wrote the class essay?
Sa: We were told to write in desu/masu whenever we write.
Sb: Desu-masu is more polite.
T: Actually, that depends on whether you are speaking or writing.
The meanings of styles are very different in spoken language
and written language.
S12: I intuitively chose them.
T: Right. Native speakers may not necessarily consciously select
styles, and they probably intuitively select the style as you
probably do when you write in English.
Thinking about styles (Log 25/1/08)
T: What did you consider when you were choosing between the
S7: Audience.
T: Right. What else?
S5: Content. Whether you are writing a letter or academic essays.
One student asked whether you create distance between you and
the reader by choosing certain styles.
T: What style makes you sound closer to the reader?
S7: The plain style.
T: Yes, but are there any other ways?
S12: The use of particles.
T: What kinds of particles?
S12: Particles such as ne, and yo.
Findings from the teacher logs
Dialogs did not happen when:
The teacher was overly concerned with managing
the class (when planned materials were too much)
and did not give students sufficient time to think
and respond.
The teacher was unsure of
how to guide students to think beyond superficial facts of
culture, or
 what types/levels of thought to expect to elicit.
In these cases she ended up providing her own
interpretations, explanations, or justifications.
Findings from the teacher logs
More dialogues occurred when:
The question was sought to discover a student’s
views (their favorite sentence) with follow-up
questions for reasoning:
language as a tool/resource, whose use is also an
educational objective for the foreign language classroom
Teacher as a non-primary knower.
The teacher took advantage of multiple views and
interpretations of texts
Student and teacher close to equal as ‘knowers’.
What retrospective interviews tell us
A challenge that students bring based on
their experiences and histories:
Language class as a place to learn more words
and grammar.
Perceived role of class discussions
as a tool for knowledge construction
as the object of learning.
Language learning is about learning
What did you expect to learn in this course “Readings
in Traditional Japanese Culture”?
S7: I expected to learn a lot more vocabulary … and be
familiar with the, more not common grammar points
and to learn pretty much how the natives speak
because what we studied is textbooks, textbook
Japanese, and it pretty much isn’t what Japanese
people speak.
S2:I expected to learn more …words, more
vocabularies and expect to learn about Japanese
Class Discussions construed as helpful:
Language as the object vs. tool of learning
S7: [In another reading class] we looked at
words.. for every short story, we would have
like twenty vocab words per page. And even
though we understood at that time, we
understood it to understand the story, we
didn’t exactly use it as much through verbal..,
and it didn’t retain in the memory that often.
… And then, in [this] class, we did have more
discussions, and those discussions helped in
reinforcing the vocabulary.
Class Discussions construed as helpful:
Language as the object vs. tool of learning
S12: Well, I guess, uh a lot of times with the articles, I
would read it through and I would think I understood
it. Like I understood all the sentences. (They) kind of
made sense. But then I would come into class, and
you would be talking or we would have discussions,
and I kind of realized that I didn’t really understand
the points that the articles were trying to make? And
I hadn’t really read it critically. So.. what does that
mean? Uh, I guess it just means thinking deeper
about and not just reading the article as it is, but
drawing from other knowledge that you have too,
and maybe, what else is going on in the world, or
what are the implications. Um, you know.
Class Discussions construed as helpful:
Language as the object vs. tool of learning
S12: [when I answer questions given on the
worksheet] I think the information went like from
here to here [gesturing the movement from one item
to another item on the desk in front of him], and it
didn’t actually go to here [pointing to his head].
(laugh). So when you’d ask a question, I would go
like, Oh, wait, I don’t know. Then I’d have to look at
the kadaishi [worksheet] for what I put down. Then
I’d realize I didn’t really process it wholly. Maybe
that’s why reading critically is like really, making the
connection to the brain.
Potentials for Dialogic Inquiry
in the Foreign Language Classroom
“Language” as both resource/tool and object
of inquiry.
Teacher as non-primary knower:
When literal comprehension of texts and
treatment of ‘culture’ as static factual information
is discouraged, the teacher is no longer a primary
knower of the knowledge to be constructed,
creating a “more equal mode of participation”.
Much more “Personal Information” and “Negotiatory
Information” than “Assumed Known Information”
Teacher might have asked more open-ended
and engaging questions than before.
However, she continued to struggle to ask
follow-up questions for more negotiation
(justification, explanations, conjunctures) to
allow students to think deeply and critically.
Yet, there may have been more dialogues
than in other foreign language courses they
had taken, which gave them an impression
that this course encouraged them to think.
Could you summarize what you learned in
this course? (S12)
I guess what comes to mind is just uh how valuable culture is,
and why we study it, and um, it’s kind of, kind of caused
me to look at my own culture, and my own past. I think…
um I think the course was very, what do you call it, like
very intensely asking questions, about our society, about
the culture, and we are at a period where things are
changing so fast and people are kind of, leaving the past
behind, and just, you know, the i-phone comes out and
you get it, for… you know, new technology comes out and
you get it, and there is not a lot of reflection. Not a lot of
yeah, consideration about what you are doing. So.. just in
a bigger sense, I think that was a very self-reflective
course. And you know, and I am still, you know, I will I
think I will carry this course with me for many years. I
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The Dialogic Inquiry in the foreign language classroom