Instructional Conversations in Learning to Write and Learning to Teach
Susan Florio-Ruane Michigan State University
This chapter is about instructional conversations between teachers and students. The issues in question are learning to write and learning to teach. The chapter explores some instructional limits of conversations typically held by teachers and students in the classroom. Examples are drawn from two strategic sites--the conversations held between young writers and their classroom teachers and those between beginning teachers and teacher educators. These are rich conversational situations to examine in tandem. What we learn in one can help us understand the other. This is so, not only because both sites depend on conversation to support learning and development, but because, as Donald Graves ( 1983) has aptly stated, writing and teaching are "twin crafts" in the sense that "the teaching of writing demands the control of two crafts, teaching and writing. They can neither be avoided, nor separated."
The chapter begins with an exploration of two popular images in cognitive science: the expert/novice conversation as the heart of cognitive development and the metaphor of the instructional "scaffold" that supports and extends the learner's intellectual growth. These ideas are explored with specific reference to the teaching and learning of writing in school and to the process of learning to teach.
The chapter continues with an examination of the instructional conversation of a teacher educator and a novice teacher. Like a play within a play, this vignette portrays their conversational struggle to discover how the novice teacher should best respond to the writing of one of her young pupils. This vignette sets the stage for an exploration of the limits and possibilities of instructional talk about text and about teaching.