Voicing Ourselves

Whose Words We Use When We Talk about Books

By Christian Knoeller

Subjects: Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series, Literacy, Culture, and Learning: Theory and Practice
Paperback : 9780791436585, 274 pages, March 1998
Hardcover : 9780791436578, 274 pages, March 1998

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Table of contents


Sarah Warshauer Freedman


1. Why Voice Matters When Talking About Books

Voice in Writing

Bakhtin's Theories of Voicing

Responding to Literature

Relationships Between Oral and Written Language

2. How This Study Was Conducted

Setting and Participants

Data Collection Procedures

Classroom Discourse Data Analysis

3. The Place of Voicing During Student-led Discussions

Varieties of Voicing: Whose Words Are Represented?

The Frequency of Voicing

Whose Words Are Voiced: The Influence of Texts and Teachers

Why Patterns of Voicing Differ Across Discussions

Student Voices: Negotiating Interpretations

4. The Art of Retelling: Voicing Authors

The Textual Category

An Overview of Textual Voicing Across Works

Voicing Authors

Student Voices: Negotiating Interpretations

5. The World of the Work: Voicing Characters and Groups

Voicing Characters

Voicing Societal Groups

Student Voices: Negotiating Interpretations

6. Dialectic and Dialogue: Voicing Self and Other

The Interactional Category

An Overview of Interactional Voicing Across Works

Voicing Other Students

Voicing Self


Student Voices: Negotiating Interpretations

7. The Work in the World: Contextual Voicing

The Contextual Category

The Range of Contextual Voices

Contextual Voicing in Context

Student Voices: Negotiating Interpretations

8. What Voicing Reveals About Teaching

Orchestrating Student-led Discussions

Implications of this Study

How Voicing Shapes Classroom Talk and Learning

Appendix A. Transcription Conventions

Appendix B. Focal Student Selection

Appendix C. The Great Divide Revisited: A Postscript for Linguists

Works Cited

Author Index

Subject Index

Using Bakhtinian theory, this study reveals how and why readers routinely refer to the words and ideas of others to interpret the meanings and implications of the books they read.


In a public high school classroom in the San Francisco Bay area, a group of twelfth graders have decided themselves to enroll for Advanced-Placement English. Faced with unprecedented diversity for such a class in terms of academic and ethnic backgrounds, veteran teacher Joan Cone dared to trust her students to lead their own discussions of a variety of provocative authors including Baldwin, Didion, Malcolm X, and Woolf. Voicing Ourselves examines a year's worth of such sessions, revealing how a teacher's role is transformed, and, moreover, offering an important component in any teacher's repertoire of instructional strategies: student-led discussion. Above all, the book shows the startling success of students licensed to engage one another directly in talk about books, revealing the richly social tapestry of such conversations.

Christian Knoeller is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. He has written two books, Office Communication, a textbook, and Song in Brown Bear Country, a book of poems.


"In Voicing Ourselves, Knoeller offers a concrete way to analyze how voices and voicing enter the writing and talk of students as they learn. He situates Bakhtin's theories alongside notions of voice put forth by composition theorists who have been writing about voice for the past several decades. In the end, Knoeller sorts through what is individual about voice--the voice that is part of our unique sense of self and our individual identity--and what is social--the voices that come from others and influence and shape who we are. Although Knoeller focuses on the interpretation of literature, the methods he develops for analyzing the influence of other voices on the individual learner could be applied to any kind of learning." -- Sarah Warshauer Freedman, University of California, Berkeley, from the Foreword

"I like the author's voice I hear--the presence I feel--as I read. The 'speaking personality' here cares very much about this work, about these students, about this teacher, about this classroom. He is genuinely interested in the interactions that occur in this community and how Bakhtin's notions of voice illuminate these. He's excited, engaged, and I am too.

"This study makes a major contribution to two areas of current interest in language education: (1) the social nature of text construction (oral and written), and (2) the potential of Bakhtin's insights for a reconsideration of classroom language events (the possibility of looking at classroom language events through a new and promising lens). The study is both insightful/creative and rigorous/disciplined. Insightfulness is the hallmark of this work." -- Judith Lindfors, University of Texas at Austin.