Analyzing Advising Sessions for Rapport-Building Discursive Elements

Aslıhan Tuğçe Güler, Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Ankara, Turkey

Güler, A. T. (2021). Analyzing advising sessions for rapport-building discursive elements. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 12(3), 195–211. https://doi.org/10.37237/120302

Abstract

This study investigates the bond between the learning advisors and advisees that is presumed to be established by building rapport in the very first advising session through the use of intentional reflective dialogues. Applying basic advising strategies with the assistance of a structured dialogue eases the process of building rapport between the learning advisors and learners. Investigating this bond in terms of discursive functions of the talk between the advisors and advisees during advising sessions gives the opportunity to explore the concept of building rapport from a linguistic perspective. With respect to methodology, a corpus-based discourse analysis was adopted, and the analysis was performed on the recorded and transcribed talks of eight participants in four different advising sessions. The results of the study confirmed that rapport between the advisors and advisees can be built even in the very first advising session employing various rapport-building discourse functions. The results also provide insight and useful feedback to the learning advisors in the field as well as being input for the advising discourse.

Keywords: advising in language learning, building rapport, discourse analysis

A shift of focus from teaching to learning has resulted in an increase in the number of studies related to learners and the process of learning itself in recent years. Learner autonomy, as a focal point, derived from this shift and has been studied comprehensively in educational contexts since the 1980s. In his report to the Council of Europe, Holec (1981) first coined the term learner autonomy and defined it as “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning” (p. 3) and added, “it is rather a skill to be acquired than having an inborn capacity” (p. 3). From this definition of learner autonomy, it could be assumed that teaching in a formal context by professionals such as teachers or instructors may not suffice to be the equivalent of learning.

Studies related to learner autonomy provide a deeper content for the link between the inner processes of the learner and a better understanding of the learning process. According to Little (1995), learner autonomy is extensively supported by learning strategies, learner training, and pedagogical dialogues that, as a whole, could be defined by learning through interdependence. Benson (2011) summarizes the studies carried out on learner autonomy and highlights that studies on learner autonomy are heavily grounded in a sociocultural perspective with the inclusion of technological advances. He also puts advising in language teaching under the term teacher autonomy and states that the language advisor is responsible for guiding the language learner to make informed decisions about their own learning progress but not making those decisions on their behalf.

Advising in Language Learning (ALL) has been one of the fields featured in relation to learner autonomy. ALL is defined by Kato and Mynard (2016) as a process in which the learner is assisted in becoming an effective language learner with a high level of awareness and self-reflection. Therefore, ALL aims to help learners transform into reflective individuals with a high level of awareness by enhancing their ability to explore their learning beliefs, identify their language goals and needs, develop their independent study skills, and manage their affective issues. In this respect, the language instructors intending to specialize in advising first need to re-evaluate their existing beliefs and practices about language learning and then engage in learners with the assistance of intentionally structured reflective dialogue (Kato, 2017). This process of re-evaluation involves a shift in the practice and identity of language teachers (Morrison & Navarro, 2012).

Intentional reflective dialogue is the process of promoting learner autonomy through intentional one-to-one dialogue with the help of linguistic strategies and features to reflect and think more deeply with a focus on learner differences such as motivation, beliefs, values, and lifestyles (Kato, 2012). As Kato (2012) further states, the idea of creating a structured dialogue framework is based on preventing the possibility of fossilization and stagnation that may occur over time due to characteristic features or underlying assumptions of advisors. Some of these basic advising strategies are repeating, mirroring, restating, and summarizing, that are employed during the talk to create an understanding and emphatic communication with the learner (Kato & Mynard, 2016). Further, there are the strategies of giving positive feedback, empathizing, and complimenting serving the affective domain, which may result in a higher level of learner motivation. Metaview/linking and metaphors, powerful questions, intuiting, challenging, confronting, sharing, accountability, and silence are other advising strategies that are applied during advising sessions (Kato & Mynard, 2016).

These strategies are used in reflective dialogues in ALL sessions with learners along the learning trajectory from Getting started to Going deeper, Becoming aware, and Transformation in their processes of becoming self-reflective and autonomous learners (Kato & Mynard, 2016). In Getting started: setting the scene, “the advisor tries to build a rapport and trust by getting to know the advisee no matter how many sessions it takes” (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 100).

Rapport building has been studied from different perspectives as it affects classroom discourse indirectly. Building and maintaining rapport is one of the three key elements of creating a supportive learning environment, and it is as critical as supporting comprehension and classroom management (Anderman et al., 2011). According to Jiang and Ramsay (2005), rapport increases learning, motivates students, and reduces learner anxiety. As a variable influencing the learning process in various ways, it is best to understand what rapport is and what it is not.

Rapport is defined as an affective relationship between two individuals built on mutual trust and experience sharing (Catt et al., 2007). According to Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal (1990), the structure of rapport includes three main components in nature: mutual attentiveness, positivity, and coordination between participants. The researchers also underline that the existence of these components, though they may not be at the same level, enables a high-quality experience sharing process with mutual sharing and creates interpersonal influence and responsiveness.

Building, developing, or maintaining rapport in language learning is essential as it has a variety of benefits both for the learners and teachers. Rapport is built not only by the teacher; both teachers and learners are responsible for building and maintaining rapport (Lee, 2015). Dörnyei (1994) also states in his L2 motivation model that there are three basic teacher characteristics which are being emphatic, congruent, and accepting, that enhance learning. Similarly, Frisby and Martin (2010) state that teachers can create a safe learning environment where students freely interact both with their peers and teacher and contribute to the learning process positively.

Adel’s (2011) analysis of rapport building discourse functions in online and face-to-face study groups by forming two different corpora from two sets of materials (written and spoken) shows that rapport building is likely to have a regular linguistic pattern, and rapport building language is rather formulaic. As a result of this analysis, thirteen different rapport building discourse functions are identified under four major units: discourse structuring, intratextual, face-savings, and bonding.

The first unit discourse structuring includes two discourse functions: greeting and closing exchanges. The two discourse functions are critical in terms of social interaction as they are transitions from non-interaction to interaction and back to non-interaction (Laver, 1975, as cited in Adel, 2011). The second unit, intratextual, involves one discourse function named referring to in-group discourse that is applied when one of the group members refers to previous discourse to increase the social agreement. The face-saving unit also involves two discourse functions, apologizing and mitigating criticism. According to Brown and Levinson (1978), face-saving acts, regardless of being negative or positive, damage either the speaker or hearer. Being apologetic and mitigating are negative politeness strategies that minimize imposition on the hearer. The last unit, bonding, includes most of the discourse functions included in the taxonomy. These are agreeing, aligning with in-group, commiserating, complimenting, seeking agreement, offering encouragement, thanking, and responding to thanks.

Agreeing is the first bonding component referring to rapport building, and it involves sharing ideas, feelings, or values (Adel, 2011). Aligning with the in-group includes the message ‘we are the same’ while commiserating gives the signal of ‘we are in the same boat’. While aligning with in-group creates a co-identity in the group, commiserating gives the message of ‘sympathy’ towards other group members. Complimenting involves attention direction, which is a way of rapport building through social lubricants (Wolfson, 1983, as cited in Adel, 2011). Seeking agreement is practically seen in requests and comprehension checks. Offering encouragement is a positive message addressed to the interlocutor to curb their enthusiasm. Thanking and responding to thanks are the last two bonding components that show a clear appreciation. Table 1 below shows the rapport building taxonomy in detail with examples:

Table 1

Rapport Building Taxonomy with Examples (adapted from Adel, 2011, p. 2942)

Knowing about rapport building strategies is significant for teachers in order to improve the success and retention rate of students during online classes (Glazier, 2016) and co-create a friendly and positive classroom environment in language instruction classes (Nguyen, 2007). Vinagre and Esteban (2018) also emphasize that the exchange of affect tokens during talk builds up a more quality interaction than an exchange of information and ideas, which may explain students’ tendency to share their ideas and emotions rather than assessing their peers’ opinions and attitudes.

Studies in the field of ALL seek answers to the questions about its nature and effects on the learner and teacher by relating it to different concepts, such as motivation and anxiety (Curry, 2014; Manning, 2014). However, fewer studies are examining the language used outside the classroom, especially in advising sessions, in terms of achieving its aim of establishing rapport. The current study aims to investigate the discursive elements employed with the aim of rapport building. In this respect, this study will provide information regarding the use of rapport building discourse functions through the analyses of advising sessions. The results of the study are also significant in terms of providing input for the advising discourse.

In this regard, the current study has two aims; (1) to understand more about the nature of advising in terms of building rapport by investigating the advising sessions from a linguistic perspective, and (2) to provide more useful feedback to the language advisors with their sessions. As such, the research questions below are addressed:

1. How do language advisors build rapport with learners during advising sessions?

2. What rapport building strategies are employed during these advising sessions?

Method

Half of the study participants’ workplace, Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University School of Foreign Languages (AYBU-SFL), has been implementing a learning advisory program with the objective of promoting learner autonomy since 2017. The program was supported by Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University at the time, and ten voluntary English Instructors took professional advising training from Satoko Kato and Jo Mynard in Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS) in Japan and became learning advisors. Since then, the language advisors have been arranging advising sessions with learners who need and/or are looking for advising support in their processes of language learning.

The study took place in KUIS, after a five-day ALL training of the AYBU-SFL instructors as part of the first module of the program and these learning advisor candidates held and recorded advising sessions with voluntary advisees. The aim of the advising sessions was to build rapport with the help of structured reflective intentional dialogue; therefore, the trainees were expected to incorporate the advising strategies such as repeating, mirroring, restating, summarizing or the like to that end (Kato & Mynard, 2016).

Eight participants were recruited in this study. The participants could be classified into two categories: novice learning advisors and their advisees. The advisors were Turkish EFL instructors working at AYBU-SFL in Turkey, and all volunteer advisees were Japanese students studying at various departments at KUIS. All novice learning advisors were proficient in English, while all language advisees were intermediate level English speakers, so there were very few cases of communication breakdown. Of all the advisors, only one of them was male, while all the other advisees were female. The participants were given pseudonyms for ethical concerns. The advisees were briefly informed before the sessions, and they were already familiar with the procedure as they had previously used the advising service offered at the university.

In order to investigate rapport establishment during the advising sessions, corpus-based discourse analysis was applied. Each session was approximately one hour long, and a small-scale corpus with 12,335 words was compiled from four of the ten recorded and transcribed advising sessions. As for the analysis of the data, a mixed-method analysis approach was applied. AntConc software was employed for frequency analysis and KWIC (Key Word in Context) concordance analysis. For the qualitative part of the study, the small-scale corpus was also analyzed with UAM3 Corpus Tool, a linguistic annotation tool, based on Adel’s (2011) rapport building taxonomy to support the quantitative data. Sample exchanges of the dialogues were also presented as illustrative examples.

AntConc software is a corpus analysis toolkit designed for concordancing and analyzing texts further. The free version of the software could easily be downloaded online, and analyses such as the KWIC, concordance lines, lemmas, word frequency lists can be applied easily. For the current study, a frequency analysis was initially carried out. The frequency analysis as a basic statistical measure is run in order to describe highly frequent occurrences in the data quantitatively (Anthony, 2020). Then, a KWIC analysis was done in order to find the contexts of the most frequent words. The KWIC analysis tool creates concordance lines to provide word classes of specific words by showing them with different levels of annotation.

UAM3 is a corpus tool enabling linguistic annotation of a text with the options of document and segment coding. In this specific study, the segment coding option was utilized once a layer of annotation was created. The annotation layer was the rapport building discourse functions taxonomy by Adel (2011), which was created by the researcher in the corpus tool. Once the layer of annotation was added, the process of segment coding was done manually by the researcher. This process includes analyzing the corpus data for each segment of the layer by specifically pointing out words/phrases in the text. The corpus tool also allows researchers to run statistical analyses such as general text statistics and comparing different files/datasets as well as statistical significance analyses including t-statistics and Chi-squared statistics. However, for the current study, only counts and percentage analyses were run for intra-rater reliability.

For the data analysis procedure, both inter-rater and intra-rater reliability were considered. For inter-rater reliability, 25% per cent of the data (one of the transcribed sessions) were also analyzed by a fellow researcher with sufficient field knowledge, an EFL instructor and a learning advisor with three years of advising experience. To ensure intra-rater reliability, the researcher analyzed the transcribed data twice with a three-week interval.

Findings

Preliminary Analysis

Quantitative analysis of the data driven from the compiled corpus includes frequency analysis and KWIC concordance analysis. The results of the preliminary analysis showed that there are 625(N) occurrences of rapport building talk in the small-scale corpus. Frequency analysis of the 10 most frequently used rapport-building words is listed in Table 2 below:

Table 2

Frequency Analysis of Rapport Building (N = 625)

KWIC concordance analysis was then applied to examine the high-frequency words and phrases more closely. Two concordance examples show the uses of ‘right’ (with 19 ranks) and ‘yes’ (with 100 ranks) for illustration below (see Concordance 1):

Concordance 1. Sample of ‘right’ in the corpus

Concordance 2. Sample of ‘yes’ in the corpus

According to the results of the concordance analysis, while some high-frequency words such as ‘right’ clearly show discursive functions of building rapport, some other highly frequent words such as ‘yes’ need further analysis to decide if they involve rapport building functions in most occurrences. Therefore, further analysis of text annotations is required to analyze the segments of the data qualitatively. Results of the text annotations will be discussed in the main analysis part in detail.

Main Analysis

The main analysis was carried out based on the UAM3 corpus analysis tool for the purpose of linguistic text annotations. Annotations and coding schemes of the data were done manually based on Adel’s (2011) taxonomy of rapport building. Results showed that of all the 625 occurrences of rapport building discourse functions, ‘bonding’ was the most frequently applied discourse function with a frequency of 95.2% and 595 occurrences, followed by face-saving with a frequency of 2.56% and 16 occurrences (see Table 3):

Table 3

Rapport Building Type (N = 625)

A detailed analysis of the sub-categories of each rapport building discourse function type showed that ‘agreeing’ was the most frequent sub-category of bonding type as a discourse function (see Table 4). There were 187 occurrences of ‘agreeing’ with 29.92%, and that was followed by 116 occurrences of ‘seeking agreement ‘with 18.56%. The figures revealed that rapport was built in practice through sharing ideas, feelings, experiences, or values in ALL sessions. The sub-category of seeking agreement was mostly applied through tag questions such as …right?, …isn’t it?, Yes?, No?, complying with the results of Adel’s (2011) rapport building taxonomy. ‘Chatting’ was the third most frequent sub-category of bonding type of discourse functions, with 107 occurrences (17.12%). ‘Offering encouragement,’ another sub-category of bonding type discourse functions, was highly frequent, with 106 occurrences (16.95%).

Table 4

Rapport Building Sub-Categories (N = 625)

Further analysis of the data also revealed some similarities between the use of advising strategies and rapport building discursive strategies at some important points. Especially when investigating the most common bonding type of rapport building, advising strategies of summarizing, mirroring, repeating, and rephrasing were also clearly identified. The dialogue between a learning advisor and an advisee involving discursive functions of offering encouragement is illustrated in a sample exchange below. Similarly, summarizing as an advising strategy can be traced in this part of the session.

Excerpt 1. Sample exchange of ‘offering encouragement’

Advisor Instructor 1: […] Let’s summarize our talk and remember what kind of tools you have found to study.

Student 1: Article, English articles.

Advisor Instructor 1: Very nice

Student 1: Instagram

[…]

Advisor Instructor 1: E-mails

Student 1: On the internet, yeah.

Advisor Instructor 1: So, you have already found four different tools to study, do you think it will be useful for your reading studies? How will you organize it? You said you found four different tools like reading e-mails on the internet, Instagram, newspaper articles and you also said…

Student 1: Search for Justin Bieber

Advisor Instructor 1: Yeah, you are right. Would you like to have a plan for how long will you spend for each of them in a day? How many minutes? Would you like to plan? What can you do?

Student 1: Maybe I use Instagram before I go to bed.

Advisor Instructor 1: That’s a great idea. […]

An excerpt from another session below illustrates complimenting and thanking sub-categories of a bonding type of discourse functions. This sample exchange is from the very beginning of the advising session, providing an example of how rapport is built through complimenting and thanking from the first moment of the session. Kato and Mynard (2016) also state the importance of rapport building by highlighting that it is the first step of the learning trajectory and the first goal that needs to be accomplished during advising sessions, so it is the first role of a good language advisor (Mozzon-McPherson, 2000).

Excerpt 2. Sample exchange of ‘complimenting & thanking’

Advisor Teacher 3: You are welcome to the session. What does your name mean?

Student 3: Strong and beautiful.

Advisor Teacher 3: That’s good and it fits you.

Student 3: Thank you.

Advisor Teacher 3: You could be small, but you are so strong, and you are very beautiful.

Student 3: Thank you. […]

Chatting as a sub-category of a bonding type of discourse function includes small talk that is irrelevant to the main topic of conversation and mostly includes the weather, daily routines etc. (Adel, 2011). Park (2016) states that engaging students in informal conversations is one of the four main strategies of co-construction of rapport among teachers and students. Here in this sample exchange, chatting is followed by ‘excusing oneself’ for leaving the talk for a moment to bring some documents to provide for the topic of the conversation.

Excerpt 3. Sample exchange of ‘excusing & chatting’

Student 4: It is helpful, but it is lack of time, so when I see something, I can’t see its English. That’s why I memorize the Japanese meaning to English meaning. This is a very good way for me. This is one thing. And there is another thing, to memorize grammar or structure.

Advisor Teacher 4: […] So, you also improve yourself on how to construct sentences correctly.

Student 4: Can I bring my material?

Advisor Teacher 4: Sure.

Student 4: Excuse me.

Advisor Teacher 4: Is that a marvel bag? Do you like Marvel cartoons?

Student 4: Not really. […]

Commiserating is the bonding type that shows that the interlocutors have the same attitude or feeling towards negative phenomena (Adel, 2011). In this way, interlocutors may show similar complaints or disturbances towards the same issue, which promotes an affective bond. In the excerpt below, an example of commiserating as a bonding type of discursive function can be observed in this part of the talk. Likewise, repeating, as can be observed below, is one of the advising strategies that can be used to build rapport.

Excerpt 4. Sample exchange of ‘commiserating’

Student 1: When it comes to giving a presentation in front of people, I am always shaking.

Advisor Teacher 1: Shaking…

Student 1: Yes, I would say I am little bit awkward. It is awkward for me.

Advisor Teacher 1: Do not think like that. It is awkward for everybody. You know whenever I think about a presentation, I always think about I am on the stage, and I feel awkward first, but then I think about the achievement I will get, and the satisfaction and I become happy. It is awkward for everybody. Do not worry about it.

Student 1: Even if it is awkward for me, it is more awkward for the viewers.  […]

As is seen in the excerpts, discursive strategies of rapport building, specifically bonding type, and basic advising strategies of rapport building, specifically repeating, mirroring, restating, and summarizing, coexist in the talks. This is significant because of two reasons. First, the findings of the study confirm that basic advising strategies applied based on the intentional reflective dialogue are observable through text analysis. This means the first advising sessions following the five-day advising training were successful in terms of task completion, which was building rapport with the students. The findings also show that the intentional reflective dialogue framework of advising is not fixed to provide for the discursive strategies of building rapport as they do not overlap but coexist in the talks. However, the two frameworks bear striking similarities in terms of rapport building. It is obvious that language advising talks naturally include and allow an analysis of the same concept, rapport building, from different perspectives.

Discussion and Conclusion

The present study has offered new insights into the effectiveness of intentional reflective dialogues used in ALL. Specifically, this study explored rapport building language used in advising sessions from the perspective of discourse analysis and enabled the researcher to confirm the results of previous studies from this perspective. According to the results of the study, the bond between learning advisors and advisees can be built even in the very first session, and it can be observed through discursive functions of rapport building. Also, bonding type strategies such as agreeing, seeking agreement, offering encouragement, complementing, and chatting are the most commonly employed rapport building discourse functions in language advising sessions. Also, similar to previous research, rapport is established cooperatively both by the teachers and students (Tickle-Degnen & Rosenthal, 1990).

The results of the current study are in line with the previous research investigating rapport building in advising sessions. Lee (2015) also states that praising and expressing encouragement and empathy, as well as the use of mitigation devices, are among the most effective rapport building strategies as they involve the learner in the learning process and avoid imposition while giving advice. Likewise, before offering encouragement in excerpt 1, the learning advisor first asks specific questions about the advisee’s plans, then gives encouragement once s/he hears how the plan is organized.

Mynard and Thornton (2012) have also found that learning advisors may prefer to use more directive discursive strategies during advising sessions at times, and the purpose of such a preference is mostly to reflect and/or show learners their needs and awareness openly. As in excerpt 3, it seems that the advisor simply restates the advisee’s sentence about studying for grammar rules. However, the advisor may also have an aim of highlighting the fact that the learner has an awareness of improving grammar.

Several educational implications for practice arise from the findings of this study. The intentional reflective dialogue framework ensures rapport building during advising sessions. Therefore, the application of basic advising strategies should be employed in the follow-up sessions as well. Rapport building talk includes different characteristics and being aware of these characteristic features of the talk may ease the job of advisor teachers as it will provide more information about the non-propositional content of the sessions. Practically, the results of the study might also provide pedagogical implications for both language teachers in the classroom and educators at self-access learning centers.

The present study has some limitations. The results are not generalizable nationwide or internationally due to the small corpus size and the method of the study. The discrepancy between the cultural background of the learning advisors and advisees is not within the scope of the study and might be considered as one of the limitations since culture may play a significant role in the exchange of communication (Spencer-Oatey, 2000), especially in rapport building.

For further research, a replication of the study with more participants and a larger-scale corpus could be carried out. The current study consists of the very first advising sessions of the participating learning advisors and advisees. As such, these sessions focus mainly on introducing themselves and building rapport. A similar study could examine whether the advisors and the advisees, in their subsequent sessions, could maintain the rapport built in the first session. Another study of both written and spoken advising session materials could be conducted to compare how rapport is built and/or maintained in each. A final future research idea could be to analyze discursive functions that inhibit rapport building.

Notes on the Contributor

Aslıhan Tuğçe GÜLER, holding an MA degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Bilkent University, is currently a PhD student in the English Language Teaching program in METU, Turkey. She works as an EFL instructor at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Turkey. Her research interests include learner autonomy, discourse analysis, and intercultural communication.

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