Material from all three teachers was included evenly in the analytical process, but the extracts presented in the paper are teachers B and C. Extracts were chosen on the basis that they represent repeatedly seen conversational patterns, were succinct, and could make sense to a reader outside the overall context of the conversation that had preceded the extract.
There are a wide range of interactive patterns involved in inquiry. Here, we focus on three overarching practices which we observed repeatedly across the whole data set: turn-taking talk that involves questions and reformulations; talk that develops participants’ competence in a specific way of talking about experience; and talk that reinforces intersubjective connection and affiliation. The observed features of these three interactional practices are presented below and are illustrated through reference to numbered lines on transcript examples. The interactional practices are interrelated so overlap is inevitable. In each of the three sections below, therefore, priority is given to highlighting the key features of the practice under consideration, but aspects of the other two are also mentioned (T = teacher; A, B, or C = group; P = participant numbered in the order of first to speak).
Turn-Taking Talk that Involves Questioning and Reformulations
A turn-taking feature of generic pedagogical discourse contexts is a three-turn sequence in which the teacher asks a question (first turn), followed by the participant(s) answer (second turn), and then the turn routinely goes back to the teacher who gives a response (third turn) (Lee 2007). We found this characteristic three-turn sequence to be consistently employed by the MB teacher during inquiry sequences. Participants usually self-select to respond and shape the teacher’s third-turn response by choosing the timing and content of their second-turn contributions. A range of methods of teacher first- and third-turn responses were observed with a common theme of reformulating participants’ talk to satisfy the institutional aims of the MB course.
Extract 1 (session 2)
In extract 1, the teacher offers a complex first-turn part which contains a number of rephrased questions and instructions for the participants (1–7). In questioning the participants, the teacher also does some instructing work: establishing what is expected and required of participants in their next turn. The teacher alternates between a permissive, tentative openness which allows whatever was “experienced” or “noticed” to be shared (“perhaps sharing,” “different things”) and a prescriptive instruction about what is required of them (“let’s start off just by … just … little snippets”). The teacher limits the type of preferred range of possible response options and specifically directs the participants to talk about what they noticed in their experience as opposed to, for example, asking for feedback on the exercise or an evaluative question like “how well did you manage that?”
When a participant offers a second turn that is an evaluative, comparative response (8), the teacher is quick to offer a third turn (10). She talks over the participant and rather than responding directly to the evaluative aspect of the talk (i.e., class vs. home) she subtly reformulates what the participant has said by redescribing the participants’ recent experience: the comparative “easier,” which might have been developed into a story, becomes an emphasized and stand-alone “ease of focus.”
This reformulation does at least two further things. First, it is affiliative, in the sense that the teacher echoes the participants’ own words (easier) with a slight, but significant, modification (ease) that is actually a repair that redirects the participant’s offered focus, while at the same time doing description and acknowledgment rather than challenge or evaluation. Second, it successfully generalizes to, and includes, the group (note the multiple-participant “yes” in lines 12 and 14). The teacher then broadens the reformulation to the whole by giving emphasis to “all” (13). This interactional pattern of widening the learning outcomes from one individual’s experience to the group was frequently seen.
Extract 2 (later in same session from which extract 1 was taken)
Extract 2 also shows how third-turn responses are used to widen the learning to the whole group following a series of turn-taking exchanges with one participant. In the lead up to this exchange, the teacher and participant 3 have together recreated her memory of her experience of her mind repeatedly being carried away with “bizarre thoughts.” In extract 2, the teacher and participant collaboratively construct the idea that the participant was not aware of her mind drifting to “bizarre thoughts” (see “thought” (104) repaired to “aware” (106, 113, 117)).
The teacher opens the exchange with a first-turn question, prefaced by a demonstration of keen curiosity (“love to ask you”) in the learning theme that she is directing the conversation toward (knowing that the mind wanders). In a series of closely overlapping turns (97–104), the participant responds to the teacher’s questions with recognition that she had “never really thought about it.” The teacher then introduces this as an example of the key theme of this stage of the program: “automatic” (111). She then extends this reformulation to others (“we are not aware” (113)), normalizes the experience (114), and communicates (through demonstrating her own curiosity) that this new awareness is a significant piece of learning (116–7). Note how the participant moves from “I” (104) to the less personal “you” (108), demonstrating her shifting sense that this is not a personal phenomenon. Thus, there is a co-constructed interactional build up to the learning point of universality, which the teacher directionally steers and participants collaborate in.
In summary, the turn-taking process is a co-construction in which the teacher opens the dialogue, a series of turns take place during which participants’ memories of their experience are collaboratively re-constructed, and then the teacher gathers, expands, and reformulates the learning for the benefit of the whole group. This gathering process sometimes takes place after a turn-taking sequence with one participant and at other times after a series of turns with several participants. The teacher determines the end point for the series of turns of questions and answers.
When the teacher offers third-turn reformulations of participant experience for the whole group, they sometimes keep their turn for an extended time. Thus, didactic teaching follows on and is linked to themes that participants have already introduced. Learning themes are only introduced as examples of them emerge in participants’ accounts of their specific experience.
The Development of Skills in a Particular Way of Describing Experience
Participants’ talk is shaped by the teacher toward the conversational norms of a MB class. This can be seen in action within the talk in a number of ways.
Extract 3 (which occurs in session 2 between extracts 1 and 2)
Extract 3 shows how the teacher directionally leads the focus of the conversation back to the sorts of areas of focus for a MB class—in this particular instance to a focus on specific experience in a specific practice. Following an exchange with a participant who is experiencing difficulty with mind wandering in the practice, the teacher widens the exploration to the whole group (56–8). The question builds toward the theme of universality through appeal to others’ experiences. However, participant 2 takes the interaction away from a specific exploration of experience within recent practice (65–70). The teacher interrupts and overlaps with the participant with an emphatic “Okay” (71) before bringing the focus back (71–6) with the highly directive “so we are going to stay with this practice” with its emphatic “this.” The teacher continues with a softer affiliative tone and an invitation to “just for now stay” (75). The teacher redirects the focus of discussion back to the recent practice.
In summary, a range of interactional practices through which the teacher aims to train participants’ competence in describing their experience in ways consistent with mindfulness practice were seen in the data:
First, participants are learning to anchor their learning in specific direct experience rather than in generalized ideas about experience, and when participants become less specific, they are firmly redirected.
Second, participants generally only speak about their own immediate experience, so they predominantly use the pronoun “I,” are redirected when they generalize beyond their own experience, and are not generally given space to elaborate about their experience. The teacher draws out themes that are likely to be universal to everyone, so during the third-turn reformulations, they make a pronoun shift to “us” and “we” (see 113–7, extract 2) and speak about “the” mind rather than using the possessive “your” mind (see 113, extract 3). Generally, the teacher is the member of the group who is given space to generalize experience in these ways.
Third, participant talk that is a detailed, rich, non-analytic account of a specific and recent example of immediate experience that relates to key learning themes produces greater displays of interest from the teacher and to longer time sequences of turn-taking with the teacher. In extract 2, the teacher uses each turn with participant 3 as an invitation to display key learning themes to the whole group. By contrast, when participants are not offering contributions that fit, teachers either explicitly redirect the interaction or offer short emphatic minimal response tokens which project for an end to the turn-taking (see the “okay” at line 71 in extract 3).
Fourth, teachers appear to be training participants to display interest and curiosity in ordinary everyday experience and in mind patterns that might have previously been off radar (see 94–6 in extract 2 where participant 3 is asked if she has noticed mind wandering and expresses that she had never thought of it before (104–5)). The teacher is actively directing participants toward recognition that in this context the apparently ordinary becomes an important topic, and socially normative responses are descriptive reports about noticing recent direct experience.
Fifth, participants are being trained to speak in the language of “noticing” and “being aware of” experience (e.g., see 2, 6, 10, 14 in extract 1) as they retrospectively co-construct their experience using language. In other recordings, teachers would specifically reward participants’ noticing skills with the expression “good noticing”, and noticing of a “small” experience is rewarded with an emphasized positive assessment.
Talk that Constructs Intersubjective Connection and Affiliation
As has been noted in Sections 1 and 2 above the MB teachers’ talk seems designed to produce a sense of affiliation and connection both between teacher and participant, and across the whole group (including the teacher), through a repeated practice of constructing a connection with the universality of human experience (e.g., extract 3, lines 113–117).
Extract 4 (session 4)
Extract 4 shows teacher–participant affiliation being created through interaction. The teacher validates the participants’ experience and communicates affiliation through the soft, long “mmm” (3). There are regular, and often long, pauses (11, 13, 17, 19) which may demonstrate willingness of both the teacher and the participant to stay with her experience and that this is an okay place to be together. Notice also how teacher and participant match each other’s pace and tone (see the rising intonation of the teacher in 16 which follows the participant’s emphasis on “coming”).
The teachers generally used many highly positive minimal response tokens (Jefferson 1984) (words, such as “right,” “sure,” “yeh,” “mm”) often overlapping with participants’ talk. Here, in extract 4, the teacher’s “mm’s” overlap with the participant’s words and in this instance communicate affiliation and actively signal to the participant to continue because what she is saying is of interest and value. As expressed earlier, these minimal responses can also be used to close down and change topic (see the “okay” in 71, extract 3).
Extract 5 (session 2) (picking up a short while after extract 1)
In extract 5, the teacher offers an echo of tone and content of the phrase “very difficult,” performing a sense of alliance and affiliation with participant 3 as she shares her experience of challenge and communicates difficulty (though interpolated laughter). The participant is able to come in with a completely contrasting experience (28), implying that (although this is only session 2) an encouraging, invitational atmosphere has been established and is continually being reinforced through conversation. In other session recordings, the teachers explicitly encourage participants to share experiences that might “be the same as or different to” what has just been shared.
Although the sequences of transcript tend to be between the teacher and one other participant, it is important to remember that every conversation happens in the presence of the whole group. The teachers frequently use strategies during a turn-taking sequence with one participant to ensure wider participation, to encourage affiliation between everyone present, and to encourage recognition that the theme being explored is relevant to everyone.