A sequential analysis of classroom discourse in Italian primary schools: The many faces of the IRF pattern

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A sequential analysis of classroom discourse is needed to investigate the conditions under which the triadic initiation-response-feedback (IRF) pattern may host different teaching orientations.


The purpose of the study is twofold: first, to describe the characteristics of classroom discourse and, second, to identify and explore the different interactive sequences that can be captured with a sequential statistical analysis.


Twelve whole-class activities were video recorded in three Italian primary schools. We observed classroom interaction as it occurs naturally on an everyday basis. In total, we collected 587 min of video recordings. Subsequently, 828 triadic IRF patterns were extracted from this material and analysed with the programme Generalized Sequential Query (GSEQ).


The results indicate that classroom discourse may unfold in different ways. In particular, we identified and described four types of sequences. Dialogic sequences were triggered by authentic questions, and continued through further relaunches. Monologic sequences were directed to fulfil the teachers' pre-determined didactic purposes. Co-constructive sequences fostered deduction, reasoning, and thinking. Scaffolding sequences helped and sustained children with difficulties.


The application of sequential analyses allowed us to show that interactive sequences may account for a variety of meanings, thus making a significant contribution to the literature and research practice in classroom discourse.

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