Classroom Communication Context and Language Impairment

Classroom Communication Context: This is a review of an article published in the journal, Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools.

The article examines the role that context has on classroom discourse, or classroom communication. The author, Kathleen Peets, begins by explaining that classroom communication is dramatically different from communication in a child's home.

The classroom has unique interactional rules and a specific type of language that can be difficult for a child to engage with and master: decontextualized language.

The author describes the classroom context as being a power asymmetry that exists between teacher and student, in that the teacher chooses conversational topics, evaluates the students responses and generally knows the answers to the questions with which they prompt students.

The demands of decontextualized language are great for typically developing children; the author presumes the demands are even greater for children with language impairment.

Goals of the study

Classroom Communication Context cont...

The goals of the study were to characterize the communication skills of children identified as having language disorder in the context of four classroom communication types.

Eleven students' verbal complexity, turn taking behaviour and self monitoring strategies were examined and compared, while they participated in four different classroom contexts.

The four classroom contexts were - a teacher-student writing conference; a group lesson; a collaborative peer interaction, and sharing time, a narrative task.

The study focused on two research questions:

Do the students' communicative patterns differ as a function of classroom context?


What do contextual differences tell us about the shifting set of communicative demands in the classroom?


Classroom Communication Context cont...

Repeated measures ANOVA's were used to assess the impact that context had on the communicative performance of the students. Results indicated that the communication performance of the students did vary as a function of context in the classroom.

The author discovered that the answer to the first research question was that students' communication patterns do indeed differ in varied classroom contexts. The author also revealed that children with language impairment may be strong in one context, but not as strong in other contexts.

Language productivity and complexity varied due to context. For instance, children with language impairment produce less talk in a group interaction and produce more language in a monologic discourse(monologue).

Self-Monitoring: self monitoring ability also varied depending on the context. When the children participated in the two more academic contexts of journal writing and the group lesson they showed higher self-monitoring than compared to self-monitoring in the context of peer play.

Turn Taking: the study revealed that children's turn taking did differ as a function of context. An area that fascinated me was the author's findings that perhaps children need to talk more in the classroom without strong teacher control in order to practice more complex language. The author believes this an area worthy of exploration in terms of language intervention.


The author concluded that varied samples provide a more comprehensive perspective of children's strengths and weaknesses than a single sample. The author also found that the sampling contexts should represent the diverse communication demands that a typical primary school classroom features.

The findings of this study suggest that any future representative samples should include narrative (due to its wide use of language variability) , peer interaction communication (due to the unique conversational type it produces) and academic communication (due to its fast paced turn-taking demands).

To read an abstract of the article, or to buy the article please follow this link to the journal,
Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools.


Peets, K.F. (2009) The Effects of Context on the Classroom Discourse Skills of Children With Language Impairment. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools Vol.40 5-16

Content Updated 8/11

Return from Classroom Communication Context to Language Literacy Research

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