One way to think of talk and interaction is to understand turns in talk as performing specific actions. So asking a child ‘How old are you?’ might work as a question that seeks information. Uttering ‘How old are you?’ might be heard as a complaint if directed at an adult who is playing with a child’s toys while the child watches. Asking ‘Do you need a hand?’ can be heard as a question and as an offer. So sometimes a number of actions may be performed in a single utterance. Schegloff (2007, page 8) suggests that to figure out what action is being done by talk we might ask ‘What could someone be doing by talking in this way? What does that bit of talk appear designed to do?’ Both questions are useful for analysing interaction in classrooms.
Talk and interaction encompasses verbal and non-verbal actions. Non-verbal actions are frequently referred to as embodied actions. In the classroom, hand raising is an important embodied action because it does something in the interaction, such as indicate that a student wishes to speak next. Looking at someone is another embodied action that can accomplish things interactionally. For example, a teacher’s glance at a student might be followed by the student speaking. The glance is taken to be selecting the student to speak. On the other hand, the embodied action of looking by the teacher might result in a student ceasing to speak while the teacher is speaking.
Turns have beginning points and end points. We are able to interact successfully because we anticipate the end point of another’s turn and so begin our own turn without a lot of overlap or with no overlap at all. Sometimes though, a turn by a speaker may become extended when the speaker goes past the point at which someone else might rightfully anticipate that it is possible to begin to speak. Teachers often take extended turns, evident in long gaps during their talk. Students usually do not begin speaking in those gaps because they anticipate that the teacher has not finished speaking and because teachers often nominate a speaker when they have finished their turn.
In much of this book, we have numbered lines in transcripts. This is not an interactional unit (such as a turn in talk) but rather is a way of numbering transcripts to be able to make specific reference to them during analysis or description (for example, ‘in line 23, the teacher takes an extended pause of several seconds’).
Talk is frequently two-party. A simple example of two-party talk is a phone-call between two people. In two-party talk the next speaker is frequently evident because talk moves between one speaker and the other. In three party talk, who speaks next is less clear. This is more so with four parties to the talk (Sacks, 1995). Multiparty is a term used to describe talk encompassing more than two parties to the talk. From the perspective of classroom talk and interaction, the initiation-response-feedback (IRF) is thought to produce two-party talk even though numerous students are present. That is, the questioning-answer-evaluation sequence constitutes talk as going back and forth between individual students and the teacher with the teacher very frequently being one party to the talk occurring.
In this book we use the term ordinary conversation to refer to every day talk that occurs outside of institutional settings such as school classrooms. We apply the term as it is used in conversation analysis to maintain a distinction between turn-taking in ordinary conversation and the more restricted forms of talk found in classrooms. By restricted, we mean that the rules of ordinary conversation are constrained in some way for the purposes of achieving institutional activity of one kind or another (Davidson, 2015). The frequency of evaluation of the talk of another is not usually found in ordinary conversation.
A commonsense perspective on overlap is that one speaker is interrupting the other. However, conversation analysis research has shown that overlaps are frequently orderly and that they commonly occur in a possible “transition-relevance place” (Schegloff, 2007, page 4) where change of speakers might occur without both talking at once for a long time (which may lead to difficulties in understanding). Overlap then is understood as frequently occurring because the next speaker is anticipating when it is possible to take their own turn.
Rules of turn-taking
Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974) first articulated the rules of the turn-taking system for ordinary conversation. Essentially, our orientations to these rules makes human social interaction possible because it enables us to address the problem of ‘who should talk next and when should they do so’ (Schegloff, 2007, page xiv). There are a small number of rules although these can appear complex for a non-conversation analyst audience. X presents a concise version of the rules:
Speakers may be nominated to speak next by the current speaker (this happens frequently in teacher-led classroom talk) or they may self-start without being nominated to speak next. Sometimes in classrooms, students might self-start and be reprimanded because it is ‘not their turn’.