UCSC education prof shares prize from Modern Language Association

Gordon Wells, a professor of education at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been named corecipient of the 21st annual Kenneth W. Mildenberger Prize awarded by the Modern Language Association (MLA) of America.

Wells and Hossein Nassaji of Centennial College in Toronto, Canada, shared the prize for their article, "What's the Use of Triadic Dialogue?: An Investigation of Teacher-Student Interaction," which appeared in the journal Applied Linguistics in 2000.

The article offers an in-depth discussion of the value of "triadic dialogue," a term that refers to a three-part pattern classroom interaction in which a teacher asks a student a question, the student replies, and the teacher offers a follow-up response. In the paper, Wells and Nassaji argue against the wholesale rejection of this form of interaction, which Wells noted "can be used in many ways, some of them good and some of them bad." The discussion is followed by an analysis of 44 actual classroom lessons that show the different ways in which triadic dialogue was used by a group of accomplished teachers. The paper includes transcripts of verbatim interactions.

"Triadic dialogue can be used to invite the student to explain or elaborate, which extends the interaction," said Wells. These extended interactions are more like conversations than quizzes and can be valuable motivators for students, he said.

"Students become engaged and interested and learn because they are interested rather than just to get past the test," said Wells, who conducts research collaboratively with teachers to discover how an "inquiry approach" to the curriculum changes and enriches the nature of classroom interactions.

Wells joined the UC Santa Cruz faculty in 2000. Prior to coming to UCSC, Wells was a professor at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and, until 1984, was the director of the longitudinal study of language development, "Language at Home and

at School", at the University of Bristol, England.

The Mildenberger Prize was established in 1979 and is awarded annually for an outstanding research publication in the field of teaching foreign languages and literatures. Wells and Nassaji each received a cash award of $250, a certificate, and a year's membership in the MLA. The prize was presented December 28 during the association's annual convention, which was held in New Orleans.

The selection committee's citation for the winning article lauded Wells and Nassaji for offering "a much more thoughtful and meaningful way of dealing with instruction and learning."

Established in 1883, the MLA is the largest American learned society in the humanities, with more than 30,000 members.