Understanding Classroom Interaction


Understanding Classroom Interaction  through Teacher-Student Interactivity in Primary School

  • This article is based on a constructivist conception of teaching and learning and presents interactivity as a theoretical and methodological reference to describe the teacher’s practice in the classroom. A system for analyzing interactivity is suggested that includes: segments of interactivity, percentages of turns, exchanges between the teacher and the students and between the students and the actions of the teacher and the students. The description of teacher-student interactivity in an elementary class is exemplified.

Understanding Classroom Interaction

  • Starting from a constructivist conception of the teaching and the learning, this work presents teacher-students interactivity as theoretical and methodological options to describe the practice of the teaching in the classroom. A system of analysis of the interactivity is suggested that considers: interactivity segments, percentage of turns in the discourse, interaction between teacher-students and students-students, behaviors of the teacher and the students. The description the teacher-students interactivity is exemplified in a classroom of primary/ elementary school.
  • From a constructivist conception of the teaching and learning process, it is conceptualized as a constructive, cultural and communicative process In this context, teaching and learning processes are characterized as processes of construction of shared meanings, where discourse has a preponderant role as an instrument of mediation, which due to its semiotic nature is inserted in educational activity to define it as a joint discursive activity between teacher and students. Indeed, in the classroom through the discourse, the teacher makes his understanding of the curricular contents visible and negotiates with the students the approach to the contents. The students, through their discourse, show their understanding of the contents, and both in this discursive activity “come to an agreement” to build a shared understanding of the contents, procedures and school tasks.
  • At the beginning of a didactic sequence, the teacher and the students have different areas of knowledge about physical and social reality. The teacher, as he has a more complete and complex understanding of the contents, performs an “adaptation” to present a simplified version that can enter into inter-subjectivity with the level of understanding of the students. The teacher’s help to the students ‘constructive process should (desirably) be coupled with the students’ learning process. However, through language as an instrument of inter-mental thinking of a semiotic nature, the teacher induces his students to more complex levels of understanding.
  • In this sense, to understand the educational act inside the classroom, it is suggested that the image of an interactive triangle: students -contents- teacher. The student as the architect of their own learning and through a joint activity with the teacher and classmates, constructs meanings and attributes meaning to the contents and tasks (as is desirable), generating processes of cognitive structuring, with the help of effective and motivational aspects. . On the other hand, the curricular contents represent cultural knowledge intentionally organized for learning in the school institution. The teacher has a liaison function to help students to approach and appropriate these contents. The student actively elaborates meanings in relation to the contents and specific knowledge thanks to the mediation and guidance of the teacher -as desirable. In this way, for the student, the learning process implies going through different levels of understanding of the contents and procedures, and the teaching or the role of the teacher is precisely to help students to build higher levels (Large and complex). The constructivist conception rescues the role of the teacher as a guide, facilitator or mediator of learning, by pointing out that what the teacher “thinks, does or says” is relevant to the students’ learning process. Therefore, in the constructivist approach, it is expected that, above rote learning or the acquisition of inert knowledge, the teacher implements didactic strategies so that the student “owns” or appropriates the knowledge and can use it in a flexible and functional way.
  • Interactivity is defined as the organization of joint activity between teacher and students, through both discursive and non-discursive actions around the content or school task. Interactivity is characterized by some distinctive features:
  • a. It is built, takes shape and develops with the joint participation of the teacher and students. Interactivity is not given a priori, but is built as the teaching and learning process takes place in the classroom.
  • b. It involves a double construction process: the student’s own constructive process and the joint construction of the activity between teacher and students.
  • c. It involves the discursive and non-discursive activities of the teacher and students.
  • d. The interaction between teacher and students is carried out around a certain content or task, and therefore has an instructional purpose.
  • It occurs within a temporal dimension of the teaching and learning process, as a shared history around the negotiation of the meanings of school knowledge and the social dynamics of the classroom.
  • It is regulated by a structure of social participation (roles, duties and communicative rights of the participants) coupled with the structure of the academic task (characteristics and sequencing of the learning content).
  • Considering these distinctive features and the temporal dimension of the educational act, a proposal for an analysis of the joint activity between teacher and students is suggested, which allows capturing these interactive processes at the macro and micro level. The macro level captures the organization of the joint activity during the teaching and learning process; the micro level, the semiotic medication for the construction and negotiation of meanings.
  • The proposed system for the description of interactivity is composed of four levels: didactic sequence, session, interactivity segments and messages.
  1. The didactic sequence represents a small expression of the teaching-learning process, with beginning, middle and end, including the elements of the educational process (intention, content, tasks and evaluation). It corresponds to the number of sessions that the teacher uses to teach a content or topic. For example, to work on the topic of the Human Body, a teacher can assign 4 classes.
  2. The session represents a part of the didactic sequence, where the joint activity of the previous class is retaken and the continuity of the didactic sequence is ensured. In the example above, it corresponds to one of the four classes.
  3. The segments of interactivity are forms of organization of the joint activity within the sessions and are distinguished as patterns of action between the teacher and his students that have a structuring of social participation, an academic structuring according to the task and a purpose specific instructional.
  4. Messages are units of meaning and communicative behavior that create joint activity between the teacher and his students, making the negotiation of the meanings of the curricular contents visible. They contemplate extracts of the participants’ discourse, made up of prosodic elements (intonation, pauses, etc.), para linguistic (gestures) and linguistic (speech), which together constitute the discursive activity of the teacher and students, for the construction of shared meanings around school content and assignments.

Sum up

  • The class is a social activity that has an organization model or activity structure with a beginning and an end, and that like all types of social activity it is built with the participation of its actors. According to the author, the structure of the class is episodic, with clearly defined episodes of 1 to 20 minutes, which can be identified by changes in the type of activity or in the topic. In the class flow, clues are presented to indicate the limits between the episodes, such as a “good”, “already” or “now” expressed by the teacher.



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