Teacher-Student Classroom Interactions: The Influence of Gender, Academic Dominance, and Teacher Communication Style

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Two Israeli grade 7 classes, with different teachers, were monitored and the lessons coded according to categories that were based on the conceptual framework of speech acts theory combined with role theory. The two classes differed in their academic composition: one class was dominated by females and the other was balanced by gender. Different classroom interactions were observed. The two teachers manifested different communication styles: one exercised more control, while the other was more influenced by the dominant students. The teachers did not have any bias against females; they were "gender blind." Thus, the findings indicated that gender, academic composition, and teacher communication style are important factors in teacher-student interactions.

Gender stereotypes exist in society at large and in education. These stereotypes portray males as dominant and females as subordinate (Tracy, 1987; Streitmatter, 1985). Moreover, these stereotypes may account for the finding that females traditionally have chosen predominantly humanistic fields, while males have chosen science and technology (Yogev & Ayalon, 1991; Clarricoates, 1978). Beginning in the 1970s, various studies reported on teachers' interactions with students: males were found to get more attention than did females (Brophy, 1985; Sadker, Sadker, & Klein, 1991).

An important factor influencing classroom interaction, in addition to student gender and academic standing, is the style of communication of the teacher. Different types of classification have been used to describe the various styles (Hammersley, 1990). Wubbles, Creton, and Hooy mayers (1992) have constructed a model of teacher communication styles based on Leary's (1957) interpersonal behavior model, in which teacher behavior is "mapped with the help of a proximity dimension (Cooperation-Opposition) and an influence dimension (Domination-Submission)" (p. 3). The latter dimension is relevant to the present study and, according to Levy and Wubbles (1992), pertains to "who is controlling the communication" (p. 24). Pollard (1982) has applied the concept of "coping strategy" to analyze the interaction between teachers and students. Pollard (1984) specifies the source of initiation of the interaction in the classroom: student or teacher. Using a model based on speech acts, Ramirez (1988) also has investigated pu pil-initiated versus teacher-initiated exchanges.

The present study investigated teacher-student interactions in two Israeli grade 7 classes. Specifically, the gender and academic composition of the classes and the teachers' communication styles were examined. Data were collected by videotaping the class lessons, and one aim of the study was to develop a methodological model to empirically analyze the classroom interactions.

CONCEPTUAL AND METHODOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK

Speech acts theory (Searle, 1970; Searle & Vanderveken, 1985; Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1984; Ramirez, 1988) combined with role theory (Jackson, 1968; Kedar-Voivodas, 1983) provides a conceptual framework for the study of teacher-student classroom interaction. Teacher-student interaction, by its very nature, can be characterized as a systematic and intensive social contact, necessitating a mechanism that maintains order and control (Jackson, 1968). The variables associated with the process of classroom interaction are determined by school roles and the structure of the lesson itself.

An alternative model, applied for the first time here, was implemented in the coding and analysis stages of this research (Shamai, Ilatov, Lazarovitz, & BenTsvi-Mayer, 1995). The model facilitates classroom observation and description, recording both quantitative and subtle qualitative characteristics of teacher-student interactions. In the course of the interaction, the teacher has the following roles: instructional, motivational, evaluative, managerial, and social. …

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