Talking at cross-purposes?: the effect of gender on New Zealand primary schoolchildren's interaction strategies in pair discussions
This thesis explores one aspect of the relationship between sex and language. Twenty pairs of eleven and twelve year old children were tape-recorded during two discussion tasks. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of the data were carried out to investigate to what extent previously reported sex differences in interactional style could be observed in this group of New Zealand school children. Particular attention was paid to the relationship between such differences and the way in which children learn through talk in peer discussion. Two general hypotheses were tested: (i) that girls would tend to use a more collaborative, polite, and affiliative style of interaction, while boys would tend to use a more competitive, task-oriented style, paying less attention to the processes of interaction, and (ii) that the style of interaction associated with females would be more conducive to effective discussion from a pedagogical point of view. There were no significant sex differences in the use of interruptive forms and overlaps. However, the girls produced more talk relative to the boys in the mixed-sex context, supportive minimal responses were distributed differently, suggesting different norms as to their use and function, and there was a marked sex difference in the use of strategies for expressing disagreement: the boys were over four times more likely than the girls to produce bald, unmodified disagreements (approximately half of their total disagreement responses), while over 90% of the girls' disagreement responses were qualified in some way. These differences in style were linked to the results of the qualitative analysis of the data which provided clear evidence that the sex composition of the dyads was an important variable in determining the overall quality of discussion, with the girls more likely to facilitate effective, open-ended, elaborated discussion than the boys.