ERG SES E 03, Assessment and Education
Since parent-teacher conferences are the main institutional milieu where the childrens’ primary social world (i.e. the family and the school) can connect and co-construct a cooperative dialogue, a great amount of research has been devoted to analyzing teachers’ and parents’ perception as well as students’ perceptions mostly by means of self-report methodologies (Epstein & Salinas, 2004; Milani, 2008, Granata, Mejeri & Rizzi, 2015). Comparatively, there are relatively few studies on how PTC are accomplished as an interactive achievement, i.e. how participants (differently) construct the “assessable child”, deliver and acknowledge the assessments and achieve (or not) a common understanding of the child’s status (but see Baker & Keogh, 1995; Pillet-Shore, 2003, 2012, 2013, 2015; Kotthoff, 2015; Howard & Lipinoga, 2010). Hence, studying parent-teacher conferences as communicative events may shed light on: a) how domestic and scholastic negotiate their respective roles, objectives and functions and b) how professional identity is negotiated and how this negotiation can impact on teachers’ work and - ultimately - on the children’s career.
We advance that a detailed analysis of how the management of knowledge and the negotiation of epistemic authority occur in parent-teacher conference, will also help in critically rethinking some “pedagogical certainties” concerning school-family communication and their possible outcomes.
As teachers’ communicative practice of “Delivering assessments” are the most recurrent institutional activities occurring in parent-teacher conference, in this paper we focus on a recurrent way use by teachers to perform assessment: the mitigation (see Fraser, 1980; 2010; Orletti and Fatigante, 2009). Whether they engage in positive or negative assessment, the teachers almost never design their assessing turns as straightforward statements. Epistemological cautiousness has been thought of as a notable feature of institutional interaction where professionals “avoid committing themselves to taking firm positions” (Heritage, 2004, 238) for different reasons, ranging from the management of epistemic uncertainty, to avoid positioning, from maximizing a response by the recipient, to minimizing the impact of bad news. We also noticed that, in our data, epistemic cautiousness appears at stake even when the teachers communicate good news (i.e. a child’s improvement). We suggest that in performing mitigated assessment, the teachers display and enact their “professional vision” (Goodwin, 1994): their expert pedagogical knowledge makes them see the child’s achievement as provisory or possibly contingent as it depends on myriad variables and children cognitive development is not a linear path. By routinely avoiding certainty in performing assessment and assessment relevant activities, the teachers appear to be oriented to their expert knowledge and “talk into being” their institutional relevant identity.
Methodology Data collection We videotaped the parent-teacher conferences occurring in a primary school of a medium sized urban center in Centre Italy (currently N. 46, lasting ten to fifty minutes). The participants’ consent was obtained according to the Italian law n. 196/2003, which establishes the norms concerning the handling of personal and sensitive data. Data have been transcribed using the conversation analytic transcription conventions developed by Jefferson (2004). Data Analysis Data collected through audio/videotapes will be analyzed according to the multi-modal Conversation Analysis’ techniques. The use of conversation analysis provides an appropriate method through which examining the fine details of the interaction, shedding light on the way in which power and status is reflected and acted out within the structure of the talk itself.
Objectives The study aims at contributing to the literature on parent-teacher conferences with a particular attention on how teachers manages their professional identity by constructing their assessment about the child. Previous studies on PTC (Pillet-Shore, 2015, 2016 ) report an institutional distribution of types of activities: while praising is the teachers’ preferred activity (vs. the dispreferred criticizing), parents are average more critical and less prone to praise their children. Our study corroborates these results while adding further nuances: mitigation and forms of not straightforward production of assessment signaling dispreference concern also positive assessments. At least in the Italian corpus, teachers appear to routinely avoid certainty in assessing, enacting a local variant of the institutional epistemic cautiousness (Heritage, 2004) which typically characterizes care professionals. However against this overall modal background, still a preference for “praising” is at stake at least in some circumstances.
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