The negotiation of academic language stylistic registers in three elementary school classrooms
The purpose of this dissertation is to analyze how fifth grade students from diverse language backgrounds negotiate academic language with their teachers during class lessons in a bilingual elementary school in Washington, D.C. The existing research on classroom communication--anthropological and otherwise--posits that certain communication patterns negatively influence the academic outcomes of language minority students to a degree not found among their language majority peers. This dissertation argues that many of the models of communication researchers have used to support this hypothesis are limited because they are not supported by extended examples of linguistic data that show dynamic interaction patterns between students and teachers. Consequently, much of this research portrays students as passive. This dissertation shows how the application of anthropological method and theory to classroom data reveals negotiation patterns in which students play active roles in the construction of academic language, thereby expanding both researchers' and teachers' conceptualizations of classroom communication. The data in this dissertation reveal that students and teachers negotiate broad, discourse-level styles of language, or stylistic registers. This finding differs from previous research on classroom communication, in which scholars have used the concept register to suggest that academic language varies according to discrete lexical, grammatical, and syntactic features. Through discourse analysis of classroom transcripts, two patterns of negotiation are identified in this research: cooperative and contested negotiation. Cooperative negotiation refers to instances when conversation participants affirm the perspectives and goals of co-participants regarding the legitimacy of the stylistic register at hand. Instances when conversation participants assert viewpoints and goals that contradict those of co-participants are referred to as contested negotiation. The data in this study suggest that the presence of cooperative and contested negotiation patterns are not arbitrary, but, rather, are the result of teachers' pedagogical choices. It is argued in this dissertation that the language of the teachers reflects their intentions regarding the roles they want students to play in the construction of academic language. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of its contributions to anthropological theory, implications for teachers, and future research directions.