Macquarie University
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The pragmatics of feedback: a study of mitigation in the supervisory discourse of TESOL teacher educators

posted on 2022-03-29, 02:13 authored by Ruth Wajnryb
This research project investigates the language of supervisory conferences. A grounded theory approach is taken to the analysis of data drawn from teacher educators in TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) in their feedback discussions with teachers following observed lessons.--Supervisory talk is investigated within a linguistic framework of politeness theory: while the supervisory role includes the obligation of criticism, the act of criticism is constrained by the face-to-face encounter of the supervisory conference. A central construct is the notion of fragility: the supervisory conference-an event which is equated with the talk that achieves it - is considered to be inherently fragile. The aim of the project is to investigate the language so as to uncover the source of the fragility.--Findings suggest that the perceived tension derives from a tug-of-war of essential elements: while the supervisory position affords discoursal power (the right to raise and pursue topics, take long turns, drive the discourse etc), the fa-threatening nature of the event obliges supervisors to resort to social/strategic skills to protect the teacher's face, as well as their own. The textualisation of this restraint takes the form of linguistic mitigation - devices rooted in syntax and semantics that allow supervisors to undercut the force of their own assertions. Mitigation is posited as the means by which supervisors resolve the clash-of-goals that is central to their role. However, mitigation is risky because it may interfere with message clarity.-- The product of the grounded study is a typology of utterance-level mitigation. The typology has three macro-categories (syntactic, semantic and indirectness) and fourteen sub-categories.-- The study was triangulated through an ethnographic investigation of supervisory concerns about feedback; and through an experiment designed to gauge teachers' perceptions of variously mitigated supervisory language. Findings from both studies corroborate the central tenet by contributing images of supervision that support the clash-of-goals thesis.--The projected applied outcome is in supervisor training where, it is suggested, strategic training delivered in a framework of politeness theory would reduce the unwitting dependence on mitigation and hence the risk of message distortion.--Suggestions for further research conclude the study.


Alternative Title

Study of mitigation in the supervisory discourse of TESOL teacher educators

Table of Contents

Introduction The research question and the professional context of the inquiry -- Literature review: substantive survey -- Literature review: methodological survey -- Research method -- The prgamatics of feedback -- An ethnographic portrait of supervision -- Perceptions of mitigation -- Conclusion.


Includes bibliography

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, School of Education

Department, Centre or School

School of Education

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Harry Thompson


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Ruth Wajnryb 1994.






413 leaves

Former Identifiers

mq:3116 1284278