Classroom discourse in a ninth-grade self-contained class for those labeled learning disabled

Della Nelson Levine, Fordham University


The teacher-researcher studied 10 videotaped lessons of a ninth-grade, secondary, social studies, self-contained special education class for those labeled learning disabled to ascertain patterns of verbal classroom discourse. The verbal transcription of these tapes was then analyzed. Peer discourse was analyzed using categories such as social statements referring to the world outside school, classroom-related social statements, bids for other students, attention, supporting classroom rules, complaints about the class or teacher, distracting the class, threatening or hostile responses, supporting class rules, and academic responses. Student-teacher discourse was analyzed according to statements used by teacher or student to control the classroom agenda and statements that related to the academic topics of discussion. Both classroom discussions and independent work situations were compared and contrasted. In classroom discussions, males dominated the verbal interchanges, while in independent work situations males and females spoke more equally. Side conversations occurred more frequently in discussions than during independent work. Tentative hypotheses emerging from the findings included the emergence of the teacher as the most powerful influence in the class, speaking most of THE time and controlling much of the class agenda, with students speaking more to the teacher than to each other; the dominance of social interactions among students (seemingly dictated by pregnancies, troubles with the law, sexual urges, quests for peer attention, and other very self-centered motivations); gender differences between males and females which were mediated by personality (males dominating discussion); the apparent importance of seemingly nonacademic discourse as a means of keeping students engaged in the classroom experience; the critical function of control as a means of providing order allowing academic discourse and protecting individual students; and the paradox that ostensibly chaotic discourse patterns may yet permit learning to take place, enabling students to stay involved in the class and engage in substantial intellectual activities.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Special education|Language arts|Social studies education

Recommended Citation

Levine, Della Nelson, "Classroom discourse in a ninth-grade self-contained class for those labeled learning disabled" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9938909.