Relationship-building through embodied feedback: Teacher-student alignment in writing conferences

Elena Shvidko, Purdue University


Over the last two decades, an impressive amount of work has been done on the interaction that takes place during writing conferences (Ewert, 2009). However, most previous studies focused on the instructional aspects of conference discourse, without considering its affective components. Yet conferences are by no means emotionally neutral (Witt & Kerssen-Griep, 2011), as they involve evaluation of student work, correction, directions for improvement, and even criticism—that is, they involve potentially face-threatening acts. Therefore, it is important for teachers to know how to conference with students in non-threatening and affiliative ways. The present study examines 1) the interactional resources, including talk and embodied action (e.g., gaze, facial expression, gesture, body position) that one experienced writing instructor used in writing conferences to respond to student writers and their writings in affiliative ways, and 2) the interactional resources that the teacher used to repair disaffiliative actions—either her own or those of the students—in conference interaction. The data for the study are comprised of 14 video recordings of conference interaction between one instructor and two students collected over a 16-week semester in an introductory composition course for international students at a large U.S. university. Data were analyzed using methods from conversation analysis (Jefferson, 1988; Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson, 1974; Schegloff, 2007; Schegloff & Sacks, 1973) and multimodal interaction analysis (Nishino & Atkinson, 2015; Norris, 2004, 2013). The conceptual framework adopted in this study is based on the notions of embodied interaction (Streeck, Goodwin, & LeBaron, 2011a, 2011b), embodied participation frameworks (Goodwin, 2000a), and alignment (Atkinson, Churchill, Nishino, & Okada, 2007). Findings indicate that the instructor was responsive to the potentialities of face-threatening acts during conference interaction, and she effectively employed various interactional resources not only in responding to student writing in affiliative and non-threatening ways, but also in repairing the disruption in alignment caused by disaffiliative actions of either of the participants. This study demonstrates the value of teachers’ embodied actions not only as tools that facilitate instruction but also as resources that can be used to keep a positive atmosphere in writing conferences. The findings contribute to the existing body of research on writing conferences, feedback, embodied practices in teacher-student interaction, and teacher-student relationships and rapport. The study also has implications for general classroom pedagogy, second language teaching, and second language writing instruction.




Silva, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Language arts

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