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Unformatted text preview: FREIM :Eastenn MI University-CW9 FPIX ND. :734 487-3443 Feb. [215 2888 82:28PM P2 Vol. 71, No. 4, December 2006. pp. ass—set Smaller-n Communication journal E Routledge laylor 5. Francis Group Dialectical Tensions in the Classroom: Managing Tensions through Communication Carolyn M. Prentice at Michael W. Kramer Dialectical tens-irms have been tilSEL'l principally to study dyadic relationships and, more recently, groups. This study of the classrumn setting as a group provided insights into the dialectical tensions in the interactions among Students and lJ'GMEEJT students arid the instructor. Based on ethnographic methods afparticipani observation and interviews, three principal areas of dialectical tensions emerged for students; (at) their desire to par- ticipate and their desire to remain silent during class discussions, (ii) their desire for both predictable and novel classroom activities, and (c) managing their personal time and their class time. These tensions and the strategies cinder-its and the instructor used to manage them provide a clearer understanding of the group dynamics of classroom interactions. Much of the research on classroom dynamics has treated pedagogical technique as if the human beings involved in education are somehow removed From the realm of interpersonal communication. Along these lines, researchers have examined the way teacher behaviors such as frequency of praise, frequency of questioning, duration of wait time, use of humor, clarity, and enthusiasm potentially impact student out. comes (Nussbauin, 1992). A long line of research has specifically focused on immedi- acy behaviors, including verbal immediacy such as calling, students by name and using inclusive language, and nonverbal immediacy such as eye contact, touch. smil- ing, and casual dress (Andersen, 1979), although the relationship between teacher immediacy behaviors and student cognitive learning is unclear (11:55 St Siny‘lhc, 2001;. Richmond, Got-ham, 8r McCroskey, 1987). Carolyn M_ Prentice, Department of Cciitniillnication Studies, University ol'Soulh Dakota: MiCi'lElCI W- KNEW-1's Department of Communication, ‘llnivcrsity of MissoLiri‘ “Columbia. A previous version of this manuscript Watt presented at the NCA National Convention in Chicago, IL, November 2004. Correspondence concerning this article nhnnlri hr- m'irirmstcri tn the. first author at Department oi" Crn'l'lrnnnitml‘inn Studies. 315 Nl‘Jtfll‘mDm Hall, University nl'South Dakota. Vet-million, 5].) Email, lit-mail: Carolyn.Prenticefifiustlntlu lSSN tint-794x (prim) ti'fi 2006 Southern States Commtmication Association nan.- roman/iimmensemamas FREIM :EaS‘tET‘r‘I MI University-CW5) FFIX ND. :734 487-3443 34-0 The Southern Coinm-rrnication fottrnnl Recently, Rawlins [2000) ship. The public testimonies oFstudents about Favorite teac pttblic service announcements and people’s apparent that instructional communication with ottr teachers and students as persons. T interperstmal communication theorie contmonicatitm. In the last decade, ottr understandin ships has expanded by applying the dialectical perspective. Rather than viewing rel t-ionships as necessarily progressing toward some teleological go or as consisting ot'dualistic choices between opposites or par dependent or independent). dialectical theorists, such as Baxter- {I996}1 suggested that relationships are always in a state of flux, influenced by oppos- ing Forces or tensions within the individuals, context, and greater society that pull interactants in different directions. Everyday relational life is negotiated through ctmirnunication as interactants selectively resist, succumb to, and attempt to balance these opposing forces. Dialectical tensions are not solely dyadic; when people join groups they experience dialectical tensions that are unique to groups (e.g., Kramer, 2004). Thus, the class- room provides a place to study dialectical tensions as they affect both instructional and group interactions. By examining classroom interactions From this perspective. this study builds upon a theory oi" grottp dialectics and expands our understanding of instructional communication. Review of Literature Dielectrics in Interpersonal Relationships Dialectical tensions are opposing or contradictory Forces experienced by people in their relationships, such as the simultaneous need For autonomy and interdepen- dence, For open sharing and privacy, and for change and stability (Baxter, 1990; Baxter 8: Montgomery, 1996). Although dialectics can be traced back to ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle and Lao Tze (Baxter 8: M ontgomery. 1996), our mod- ern perspective reaches hack to the early twentieth century Russian philosopher Bakhtin (193.1) who spoke specifically of the presence of two opposing Forces in all language interactions. According to Baithtin, these two Forces are the centripetal (uni- Fying) Forces oi" a single national language and vision and the CentriFugal (diversify— ing) forces of a multitude oF voices in dialogue. Language and meaning are created between people in the interplay oi" these two opposing forces. Thus, the interaction of these two poles create a “contradictory and multi—langoaged world” (Balthlin, I981, p. 275). A con-rmunication scholar, Bochner (1984), envisioned. that a study of the fundamental oppositions that emerge in interpersonal bonding might advance our understanding of human relationships. issued a call to reconsider teaching as a form of friend- hers that are broadcast on memories of their school days make it is, in essence. interpersonal. We interact herefore, it seems appropriate to look to s to enhance our understanding of instructional g of commt‘tnication in interpersonal relation" ,1. al of more closeness adoxes (e.g., either being and Montgomery Feb. [215 ElZilZiB 82:28PM P3 in the d (1996), the pulled by n tical tensio human belt et'in'tFortablt include dial Lional dialer .1992). Thes desirable tl't one need it never reach sions (Baxtt ways that a opposing Fe and growth Scholars the nature 0 as occurring edness, ope: explored int: .l-€|.owever, B: tradictions’l than existin Werner, 8: i tension havi recognized t that are spet Since rela tensions the cal tensions use to maria! piled a list 0 did not con tionai stratel the dominan Similarly in Changes witl midway poii simttitaneou ambiguous l: struct the ter rest firmntion The dysfunt FREIM :EaS‘tET‘r‘I MI University-CTF‘I FFIX ND. :734 4137-3443 a form of friend— I: are broadcast on 1001 days make it one]. We interact opriate to look to lg ofinstructional personal relation-- ban viewing rela- )f tnore closeness (c.g., eitltcr being .nd Montgomery tenced by oppos- eociety that pull gotiated through tempt to balance 5 they experience Thus, the class- ath instructional this perspective, :r understanding ed by people in 1nd interdepen- r (Baxter, 19.90: back to ancient .996), our tuod— .an philosopher ing forces in all :eutripetal (uni- Fugal (diversifyn ting are created tlte interaction arid” (Bak‘htin, ed that a study might advance Clossromn Minted-ins at: | In the dialectical tension perspective promulgated by Baxter and Montgomery (1996), the cotteept of opposing forces recognizes that people in relationships are pulled by many different forces that cart never be resolved. Neither pole in a dialec- tical tension is more desirable than another; both are equally important. Tints. httman beings find their way in the world by balancing these tensions, finding a cotnfortable spot between the centripetal and centrifugal forces These tensions include dialecties related to the context within the larger social system and interac- tiottal dialectics related to the maintenance of interpersonal relationships (Rawlins, 1992). These tensions are not sitnple either/or decisions, where one pole is tnore desirable than the other, nor are they problems that can be resolved by Choosing one need instead of the other. From a dialectical perspective, normal relationships never reach stasis beeattse participants must continually cope with the dialectical ten- sions (Baxter St Simon, 1993). As a result, people attempt to balance the forces in ways that are most comfortable for them within a specific context and time, The opposing threes are always fluctuating as the relational partners experience change and growth both internally and externally (Baxter 8: Montgomery, .1996). Scholars studying dialectical tensions have experienced disagreements concerning the nature of these opposing forces. Baxter (1990) originally conceived these tensions as occurring along specific dimensions of a relationship, such as autonomy-connect- edness, opennessuclosedrtess, and predictability—novelty. As a result, researchers have explored individual binary oppositions, such as distance and closeness (Hess, 2000). However, Baxter and others have reconccptualieed these dialectics as a “knot of con- lrtttlictions”—ovcrlapping centripetal or cetitt'itiigal forces that are interrelated rather than existing as simple binary oppositions (Baxter 3: Montgomery, 1998; Brown, Werner, 8t Altman, 1991-1). Due to this eoneeptualitcation, changes in managing one tension him: it ripple client on other tensions. Along these lines, Cnnvillc (1998) recognized that each relationship is unique and may manifest “indigenous tensions” that are specific to the relationship and not experienced in other relationships. Since relationships are maintained by individuals striving to balance the dialectical tensions they experience, researchers have moved beyond simply identifying dialecti- cal tensions to exploring the communication and other behavioral strategies people use to manage the tensions (Baxter, 1.990, 1994.). Baxter and Montgomery (1996) cornu- piled a list of thesis strategies from the findings of various researchers. Although they did not consider their list eidtaustive, Baxter and Montgomery identified six func- tional strategies, as well as two dysfunctional strategies. First, in spiraling inversion, the dominance of one pole may change, either with time or history of the relationship. Similarly in the second strategy, segmentation, the dominance of a particular pole changes with the activity-of the moment. Third, some people strive for balance, a midway poittt between the poles by favoring neither one. Fourth, integrnrim-t—the simultaneous recognition of both poles—is sometimes reached through rituals or ambiguous language. Fifth, in recalibration, people can temporarily refraine or recon- struct the tensions so that they do not seem oppositional. A final functional strategy is reofiirmntion, in which people accept the reality of the tensions and celebrate them. The dysfunctional strategies involve either denying the existence of the tensions Feb. o5 pianos“ o2: 29PM P4 FREIM :EaStET‘r‘I MI University-CW9 FFIX ND. :734 487-3443 342 The Southern Commimication Journal (tier-rial) or tolerating them as inevitably unpleasant (disorientation). Regardless of the strategy, individuals attempt to manage the tensions through communication. Dialectic: in Group Settings Given that Bridge and Baxter (1992) found similar dialectical tensions in interpersonal and organizational contexts, it is not surprising that researchers have begun applying the dialectical. approach in the study of groups. The goal of such research is not to find the key to successful groups but to expose the messy, ambigu- ous, and fluctuating nature of communication processes in groups (Johnson tit Long, 2002). Recently, researchers have specifically applied a dialectical perspective to group settings and reported some tensions that are similar to, as well as distinct from, those experienced in dyadic relationships, For example, similar to autonomy and connectedness at the interpersonal level, Adelinan and Frey (1997) discussed attach- ment and detachment, and Kramer (2004) discussed commitment to the group and commitment to other life activities. Similar to predictability and novelty in interpersonal settings are tensions related to ordered and emergent activities in grOups (Benoit, Kramer, Dixon, tit Benoit, 2003; Kramer). However, tensions related to appropriate and inappropriate behavior, as well as inclusion and exclusion, appear to he distinctly part of the group context (Kramer). In applying a dialectical perspective to groups, Kramer (2.004) found that some of the strategies for managing the tensions were similar to those used at the interpersonal level. For example, switching back and forth between poles over time is similar to spiraling inversion. However, Kramer identified two communication strategies unique to the group contexts: Individuals managed tensions by negotiating their commitment to the group prior to joining or by venting to others about: the discomfort of the tensions WllllUlll. discussing it with the target of the discomfort. Overall, the research op group dialectics has demonstrated how group members communicate to manage the multiple levels of tensions within and between groups. Group scholars have also studied paradoxes, a construct similar to dialectical tensions in that both recognize the presence of opposites. However, a paradoxical perspective focuses on resolving the tensions by extruding, displacing or subjugating one side in favor of the other (Sniith 8t Berg. 1957). Thus, when Barge ([994, 1996, I997) examined paradoxes involved in leading small groups, such as the symbolic versus substantive roles and centralizing versus deeentraliring control, his focus was on resolving those issues rather than seeing them as the ongoing tensions of a dialectical perspective. A dialectical approach to groups does not see distinct poles that can he resolved throuin dualistic choices. but rather as interconnecting, ongoing, opposing pressures (Johnson St Long, 2002). Classroom Dynamics A small university class provides a unique context for examining a‘ naturally occur- ring group, a bona fide group, using a dialectical perspective. Members of a class 1):,1-Tx7aaw-g— .x A. _ .. a ’r‘r’. film Feb. [215 ElZilZiB 82:29PM P5 (professor an groups, they taneous .tnern tive has not although vari and have cxai ln examini large body of faction with groups. How did not cnl'lsl t‘esoarchets ha individual lea: opinion, the I pation signific actiVities desig Falsa (2.002) f comfortable, r if teachers pro dialectical tent they exist not ‘ Despite this instruction of and tensions in about pedagog dialectical issttl phonics or wh streaming (Nel by teachers, SLIM translate into a. [992; Arnett 3: the subject site tension the Cla.‘ small stories of where students incd the teache personal friend due to group i not applied die In the preset sions that were the classroom s educational set‘ gested that ther FREIM :EaStET‘r‘I MI University-Chit FFIX ND. :734 487-3443 gardless of the ication. tensions in earchers have goal of such issy, ambigun ason 8: Long, crspecrive to listi 11 ct fl‘orn, .tonomy and assed attach- o the group Cl novelty iti activities in sions related ision, appear that some of titer-personal is similar to egies unique onirnitment nt'ort of the the research it to manage i dialectical paradoxical suhjugating 1994., 1996, re symbolic ., his locus unions of a stinct poles connecting, “ally occur- : of a class (iiits‘s‘l'rlom Uni/m ti. \. (professor and students) form a group For a semester. Lilte other mum-ally no. in l llls“ groups, lliey function within a context and their members have n'tttlliplt- simul taneous memberships in other groups (Stohl & Putnam, 1994). A dialectic-st poi-spit tive has not been ttsed previously to examine university classrooms as poniln.‘ although various scholars have examined the use of small groups in the claw-(mm and have examined dialectical tensions in education settings. In examining the use of groups in classrooms, Allen and Plant (1999) reviewed a large body of research that examined outcomes, such as cognitive. learning or satis- faction with the class, when comparing cooperative and collaborative classroom groups. However, because this research focused on part-class instruction groups, it did not consider the communication. process of the entire class as a group. A few researchers have studied students From the perspective of small groups rather than individual learners. For example, Fassinger (1995) found that, contrary to popular opinion, the personality traits of the professor did not. ail—act student class partici— pation significantly. Instead, student: participation was influenced n'iore hy classroom activities designed to promote student interactions. Similarly,Anderson. and Carra- Falsa (2002) found that students wanted to interact with their fellow students .in a comfortahle, respectful setting and were more likely to enjoy collaht'iration Willi peers if teachers provided them with this iii—class opportunity. These findings suggest that dialectical tensions concerning participation and nonparticipation in. the classroom may exist not only between teacher and students hut also among the students. Despite this ol'iscrvation, dialectical theory has not been explicitly connected to instruction of a class as a group, although scholars have pointed ottt contradictions and tensions inherent in the educational system, sometimes drawing on Baldwin’s ideas ahout pedagogical discourse (Dyson, 2002; Williams, 2005). SCholars have Focused on dialectical issues in education such as the tensions between teaching reading thrt'iugh phonics or whole language, or hetween separate special education classes and main-- streaming (Nelson, Palonslcy, 8t McCarthy, 2004). Others have focused on tensions Felt by teachers, such as the tension between being a specialist: and a generalist, which can translate into a tension hetween teaching deeply and broadly iii the classroom (Arnett, 1992; Arnett s: Arneson, 1999). Others have identified the tension hetween focusing on the subject and focusing on the students as learners (Palmer, 1998). To manage this tension the classroom must he hoth hospitable and charged; it must honor both the small stories of the students and the big story of the discipline; and it must he a place where students can speak and remain silent (Palmer). Although Rawlins (2000) exam-- ined the. teacher--studcnt relationship using the same dialectical tensions identified in personal friendships, he did not examine tensions in student-student relatioi'tships clue to group processes in the classroom. In general, crjimmunication scholars have not applied dialectical tensions to classrt'ionl settings. In the present study we explored students’ experiences to discover dialectical ten- sions that were indigenous to the university class as a small group. We also expected the classroom setting to reveal tension management. strategies that may he unique to educational settings. Given that previous research on classroom dynamics has slig- ,osted that there are various tensions in the college classroom, hut there has not heert Feb. [215 2888 212:3E1F'l‘1 PE FREIM :Eastern MI University-CTFI FF‘IX ND 487-3443 344 The. Southern Coo-innmicutiun journal a systematic analysis of classroom interaction based on dialectical theory, this study addressed the following twu questions: Iter What dialectical tensions occur in the communication of college classroom members (both teacher and students) as they meet over the course of a semester? RQE: How do members of a college class manage the dialectical tensions through their communication? Methods Iohnson and Long (2002) recommended ttse of comprehensive, in-depth, qualitative research methods when applying a dialectical perspective to groups to gain an under- standing of the complexity of the interrelatcdness of grottp tensions. They specifically encouraged using participant-observation approaches in combination with other approaches. An ethnographic approach afforded the opportunity for observation and in-clepth interview to provide a th...
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