school classroom

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KYOTO, Japan — A healthy back-and-forth, or flow of communication, between teacher and students is essential to the learning process. However, new research out of Japan suggests teachers may want to choose their words very carefully. Researchers say phrases as simple as “isn’t it?” or “right?” could potentially leave certain students searching for answers and disrupting their learning.

Leading an entire class in a lesson, regardless of the topic, is a tough task. Teachers must command the attention of dozens of pupils, ideally in a constructive, back-and-forth discussion. Students inevitably become distracted, so teachers often employ a variety of methods to remind the entire class that they are an equal and important part of the lesson. One such tactic educators commonly use is adding an extra phrase such as “you know,” “isn’t it,” or “right?” following a one-on-one interaction with a student so as to make the discussion more inclusive for the whole class.

For this latest research, Dr. Mika Ishino of Doshisha University explored the topic of teachers’ use of epistemic stance markers (‘isn’t it?’ or ‘right?’) in classrooms. Technically speaking, an epistemic stance marker is a word which modifies the tone of a sentence, to increase the interpersonal interaction between the speaker and the listener. Since this research was conducted through video recordings of classroom interactions between teachers and students in Japan, analyzed interactions took place in the Japanese language.

“‘ne’ is roughly equivalent to English interrogative tags ‘you know’, ‘isn’t it’, and ‘right?’. It mainly marks the sharedness of the referent information between the speaker and the hearer,” explains Professor Ishino in a university release.

Female student raising hand in class
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Researchers found that the epistemic stance marker “ne” is frequently used in the third-turn during teacher-student interactions. The first turn is when a teacher asks a question to the entire class. The second turn takes place when a single student raises their hand and is chosen to answer the question. The third turn entails the teacher repeating the answer and adding “ne” to open the interaction and include the rest of the students in this exchange.

“When the teachers produced their third-turn repeat in response to an individual student’s reply, they marked the repeated item with the Japanese epistemic stance marker, ‘ne’ or ‘na’, and shifted their gaze from the respondent individual to other students or ‘public space’ such as the blackboard,” Dr. Ishino observes. “In doing so, the teachers treated the rest of the students as the party who also had access to the questioning item in the same manner as the respondent student.”

The use of the third-turn repeat “ne” allows teachers to modify the nature of one-on-one interactions so that all students in the class, including distracted students, receive equal status in the discussion. When that happens, the teacher usually moves on to the next question or lesson rather quickly. Here’s where things can go astray. Dr. Ishino found that this practice can have a negative impact on student involvement and learning. When a teacher uses the third-turn repeat as a consistent strategy, all while failing to check if all the students are in sync, they run the risk of certain students falling behind. Some students may want to ask follow-up questions but don’t feel they get the chance.

“If there is a possibility that some students were not on the same page with the respondent student or did not know the answer to the questioning items, the inclusive third-turn repeat is designed to limit the students’ responses to a silent agreement,” Dr. Ishino concludes.

All in all, researchers say this study indicates that when interacting with multiple students, it is crucial for teachers to ensure that no student feels more privileged than others. Additionally, while using third-term repeats like “ne” may be a helpful way to encourage inclusive learning during classroom discussions, it can also have significant negative repercussions on student involvement and learning in the long term.

The study is published in the journal Classroom Discourse.

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Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

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