Advice Giving, Managing Interruptions and the Construction of ‘Teachable Moments’

Advice Giving, Managing Interruptions and the Construction of ‘Teachable Moments’ Abstract The focus of this article is on home visiting in child welfare, an activity which involves a publicly accountable performance of professional tasks in a private space. We specifically examine a recording of a visit by a home learning worker to a mother and her three-year-old child with special needs. In the first part of the article, sequential analysis is combined with an understanding of frame and participant alignment (Goffman). We note how the child’s behaviour forces the worker and mother to suspend the advice-giving format. We examine how the interruptions are attended to by the talkers and how twice an interruption is seized upon by the home learning worker to develop a ‘teachable moment’ in which the mother is coached in the demonstration of a learning sequence. In the second part of the article, we re-examine our analysis together with the practitioner so as to throw light on the context of relevant client and case categories, including the longer-term perspective of this specific professional intervention. This results in an enriched perspective on the interactional ‘value’ of interruptions. INTRODUCTION Home visiting is a prevalent and recurrent feature of health and social care interventions, but compared to office or clinic-based encounters it has received little attention in the literature. In the home, professionals are faced with a wider range of interactional dilemmas in terms of managing their inventions within the situational contingencies and complexities of family life (phones ringing, television sets on, other visitors who call in, etc.). A major contrast with office encounters is that the professional enters the client’s physical habitat and s/he may struggle to establish his/her intended intervention1 (Ferguson 2011). The nature of the interaction in a home visit is highly varied, even within a single encounter, yet it has received scant attention in the professional discourse literature. Two noted exceptions are Leppanen (1998) and Baggens (2004) on health visiting. There may be elements of support and surveillance, and talk may revolve around giving advice, telling troubles, managing crisis, organizational follow-up, etc. One advantage of the home visit is undoubtedly that the intervention can be tailored to the particular context of the client’s home, furthermore visiting itself may count as a sign of professional outreach. For instance, in the case below a home learning worker is providing a service to enable the mother of a three-year-old child with autism to establish a programme of learning, play, and development adapted to the family’s particular needs. Our focus will be on how an advice-giving intervention is interrupted a number of times by the co-present child and how this is attended to interactively by the mother and the professional visitor. The analytic section of the article is divided in two large sections: following an outline of theoretical concepts, data and methodology, we first concentrate on what constitutes an interruption for the participating talkers and how this is made manifest in the talk. In our analysis of relevant sequences from an audio-recorded home visit, we demonstrate how in two instances, there is a transformation of the situation, as the interruption is seized upon by the worker to construct a ‘teachable moment’ (Havighurst 1953)—an unplanned opportunity for the worker in the role of an instructor to offer interactional insight to her client. Crucial are timing and a particular lead in the recipient’s behaviour which occasions and warrants the seizure. We will argue that the interactional facts of the home visiting situation, including the dynamics of the interruptions and the construction of teachable moments, need to be understood in the Goffmanian terms of ‘competing frames’ (Goffman 1974, 1981), as providing a necessary complementary perspective to an analysis of conversational sequence (Hutchby and Wooffitt 2008; Liddicoat 2011) in a focal dyad. In the second part of the article, we discuss with the worker the relevance and appropriateness of our analysis in the light of the wider professional ambitions for the series of home visits from which the recorded visit was drawn (the recorded visit occurred towards the end of the larger intervention as the case was about to be closed). In this part of the article our focus is on the professional’s contextualization of the data instances and of our analysis of them. This double focus is justified, for two reasons. First, while the deployment of discourse analytical methods can produce a-personal observations and generalizable patterns of interactional conduct, professionals in practice mostly talk about their own communicative practices through client-, case-, and category-specific lenses: what sort of communicative approach does the type of condition, client, or situation invite at this particular point in the intervention? With Candlin (2003: 389), we argue that what professionals have to say about their own communicative practices is equally central to professional discourse. This requires empirical accounts of interactional conduct to be matched with descriptions of professional communicative concepts (e.g. what do practitioners mean by ‘advice’), and a readiness to venture into practitioner understandings of instances of communicative practice (see also Hall and Slembrouck 2001). Secondly, home visits are not only complicated because of the interactional challenges that come with entering the client’s private world—the occurrence of interruptions is one manifestation of this—they are also complicated because home visits deal with multiple versions of clienthood. While particular versions of the client are displayed in our initial data analysis, alternative formulations emerged in our discussion with the professional. One key question appears to be: to what extent is the intervention in the case examined mother-centred or child-centred, and how is this being managed interactionally during the home visit? This is a question of considerable professional relevance and weight and one which in our data is echoed interactionally in the ‘social choreography’ of moving between multiple frames of reference and activity (Aronsson 1998). Moreover, in the current institutional climate, professionals are increasingly encouraged to examine their own practices (Munro 2011). While discourse analysis provides a worthwhile toolkit which lends analytical rigour to such a process and contributes to fostering professional self-awareness about interactional dynamics and outcomes, a complementary perspective on the wider views of professionals about their engagement with clients can increase the purview of professional discourse studies. A purposeful relationship of mutual benefit is being established over the longer term. By bringing in the professional’s voice, we seek to create opportunities for dialogue and reflection, since we are interested in how our analysis can contribute to professional development, as well as how professional notions can complement and challenge discourse analysis. DATA AND METHODOLOGY The data in this article form part of a corpus of recorded home visits in different regions of the UK.2 A range of professionals is represented. The particular visit concentrated on in this article is by a home learning worker; it is one in a series over a period of several months, which focused on the (language) development of the child. It took 46 min. During this particular visit, the worker introduced learning materials and also discussed the child’s upcoming attendance at day nursery. The larger data collection project formed part of a professional development initiative with four local authorities in the UK, as part of which the professional audio-recorded the encounter in the client’s home for purposes of analysis and reflection in team discussions and through individual interviews. Video-recording of the home visits was not an option (the equipment and the on-site technical support needed would have meant an intrusive distraction in a private setting). For the second part of the analysis we relied on a follow-up interview with the practitioner. For each of the recorded home visits in our corpus, semi-structured interviews were used to engage with the professionals’ analyses of their own communicative behaviour. Before the interview the home learning worker was provided with a transcript of the interaction and the text of the first part of this article, to which she was invited to respond. She was interviewed by one of the two researchers. The interview took place in the social work office and lasted 75 min. As suggested already above, her comments enable a specific type of data triangulation which contributes to ‘a thick description’ (Geertz 1973) of the recorded discursive event in a series of professional interventions and in which the insights of interactional analysis are complemented with introspective interview data (Gumperz 2003: 117). Ethical approval for the research was obtained from the National Social Care Research Ethics Committee (Reference 12-IEC08-0004) in March 2012. LITERATURE REVIEW: THE CO-PRESENCE OF CHILDREN DURING PROFESSIONAL ENCOUNTERS AND THE ‘INTERRUPTIONS’ THEY MAY CAUSE In this article we consider how an interactional sequence between two adults in a home visit is affected by the simultaneous presence of a child who demands ‘online’ attention, resulting in pauses in the talk between the adults. The small boy (aged 3) is in the living room of the apartment where the encounter takes place. As the child invites attention, by embarking on particular actions in his own right or by calling on his mother to perform certain actions (e.g. going out with him), activity on the sides of the main conversation is being acknowledged, resulting in particular child-minding actions. Arguably, attention to the child during such encounters is better thought of as quasi-permanently in the background, as the presence of young infants is a recurrent feature of home visiting in child welfare. Children of this age typically require constant monitoring, though not necessarily focused interaction. As the child’s attention-inviting moves count as potentially ‘interruptive’ for the conversation between his mother and the home learning coordinator, a dilemma is posed: whether to prioritize the talk between worker and mother in which child-relevant advice is being communicated, or whether to prioritize the child’s behaviour in situ, especially as the child’s learning and development is a target of professional intervention. Generally, interlocutors in talk avoid interruptions, because it is considered impolite and may undermine the other’s talk. The literature on interruptions tends to concentrate on two-person exchanges and interruption as a disruption of turn-taking. Sacks et al. (1974) indicate the orderliness of turn-taking in interaction. Interruptions nevertheless occur frequently. However, those which occur near turn-transition relevant places may, allowing slightly divergent perceptions of turn completeness, be interpreted as normal speaker switches (Beattie 1983). As Hutchby (1992: 344) underlines, an interruption is a member’s evaluative construct (more than just a sub-class of speech overlap). It is a category which participants attend to in the light of rights and obligations and therefore unavoidably a moral feature of the interactional environment (cf. analyses of interruptions in terms of the management of asymmetrical relations; West and Zimmerman 1977: 524). Even though we recognize the strongly evaluative terms which surround discussions of interruptions as conversational phenomena, we agree with Hutchby (1992) that there is no external vantage point for determining what constitutes an interruption. A stretch of overlapping speech may or may not occur and the result may be that a speaker gives way or not, and even in the latter case the nature of the interruption’s ‘moral load’ and the degree to which it applies is by no means given. Hutchby (1992: 368) concludes that we must concentrate on speakers’ displayed orientations to the ‘interruptiveness’ of certain interactional moves—for example, verbal or non-verbal moves which appear to be interruptive in the sequential sense are not necessarily treated as interruptions in the moral sense and for analysts it is important to pay attention to how a move’s interruptive quality is being responded to, how it is apologized or accounted for, how overlap gets resolved, etc. O’Reilly (2006), in her study of interruptions by children in therapeutic encounters with adults, observes how a normative orientation of children’s deferring to adult conversation is generally kept up, but amenable to situational circumstance. While the expectation is that ‘adults are most likely to simply ignore an interruption from a child and not listen at all’ (2006: 552), occasions are noted in which an interruption is treated as allowable, for example, when it is directly relevant to the topic of talk at hand. In contrast, O’Reilly continues, when a child’s extreme behaviour is being discussed, interruptions appear to be ruled out, which may have to do with a heightening of focus. Overall, this suggests that in the therapy room the nature of each contribution is treated as consequential and is therefore tightly monitored by the therapist. In doing so, a therapist may treat any interruption as a subject of therapeutic relevance for parent–child interaction, a point which returns in our analysis of ‘teachable moments’ below. More generally, in family conversations children are increasingly allocated more space. This fits in with some professional contexts of child welfare, where a client-centred ideology of listening to the child means that at any point a child’s contribution has relevance—for example, in home visits, informal chat between worker and child is often maintained whilst the advice giving with the adult proceeds. The therapeutic contexts studied by O’Reilly may therefore be more oriented to conversation between adults than the home visiting context studied here. The facts of the home visiting situation also need to be elucidated further in the Goffmanian terms of ‘co-presence’ (Goffman 1959, 1974) and the occurrence of multiple, even competing frames of activity (Slembrouck 2009).3 Goffman defines co-presence as the minimal level of social interaction which occurs when individuals signal through their bodily and facial demeanour or any other means, their use and occupation of a space, in particular their awareness of one another’s presence and, with that, their accessibility to one another (or lack of it) for purposes of focused interaction. In passing, it is worth stressing how this particular emphasis on co-presence has made it possible for interactional research to define the relevant analytical space in terms of something wider than the narrow situation involving only the primary interactants. The scope of analysis is extended to include the behaviour of ‘bystanders’, ‘spectators’, or any other roles taken up by others who are co-present in the larger situation but who do not (necessarily) form part of the focal interactional dyad.4 The home visit analysed here can thus be characterized as entailing a dominant situation and a co-present third party: the three-year-old boy is there in the room, but he is not a primary interactant in the advice-giving encounter. At the same time, the child is more than just an accidental witness to the situation: he stands in a permanent relationship of mutual accessibility with the mother. It is quite natural for family members to share the space of the home during professional or other visits. One can argue how in the case of this visit, the visitor’s frame is temporarily laid over the home context, and for the duration of the visit, it is also dominant, while a secondary, but arguably more permanent, definition of the situation, one of child minding, continues to apply. In the background of the worker–mother dyad, the secondary definition is susceptible to interactional moves which put it (temporarily) in the foreground. Children who are around need to be kept an eye on, and, at times, attended to directly. Ways of attending to the interruptiveness of the child’s actions Compared to office encounters, it may be less clear what constitutes an interruption during a home visit, since conversational topic and turn allocation are likely to be treated as more susceptible to the comings and goings of home life. In total, there were five sequences during the home learning worker’s visit in which actions by the child are attended to by the two adult talkers. The adult dyad is mostly one of advice giving, as the worker sets up various learning programmes for the child. The child is not invited into the conversation, but he is within sight and audible on the tape, mostly babbling in a contented fashion. As displayed in the examples below, the construal of the instances as interruptions involves the production of pauses, apologies, their cancellation, as well as (acknowledged) explanations for the child’s behaviour (not every instance has all of these features; the list suggests a possible range, which needs to be established in further research on the basis of a wider corpus). In the transcriptions, ‘HLW’ is the home learning worker, ‘C’ is the child, and ‘M’ is the mother. In our first extract, the child’s interruptive move results in a pause in the mother–worker interaction. The mother does not complete her turn (03), but instead attends to the interruptive move by addressing the child directly (04, ‘C get inside’). The worker takes a back seat but does not acknowledge the interruptive occurrence verbally. In ‘05’, the home learning worker picks up where the conversation was left off. Extract 1 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) In the second example (which forms part of the longer sequence of three successive interruptions analysed as excerpt 6 below), the mother halts the conversation and apologizes for the interruption before she crosses the room to address the child (02 and 04). The worker first responds by accepting the apology (03, ‘it’s okay’) and, as the conversation with the mother is resumed, she briefly recapitulates her point, almost verbatim (05). The occurrence of an apology (02, ‘sorry’) signals the mother’s perception of the child’s behaviour as an ‘interruption’ which is disruptive of another focal activity. Extract 2 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there Our third excerpt is a 30-s sequence in which the mother stops the child’s climbing actions and attends to his coughing. There is an intermediate attempt to continue the advice giving (05, ‘erm’), suggesting the worker has anticipated closure. However, the mother continues to attend to the child’s actions (06, ‘it’s not there for you to stand on’). The mother’s apology (08, ‘sorry about this’) is acknowledged by the worker, who cancels its need (09, ‘that’s alright don’t worry don’t worry don’t apologise’). The cancellation is emphatically reassuring. Extract 3 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. In the fourth excerpt, an explanation rather than an apology is provided for the child’s interruptive actions (03, ‘he wants to go the park’). Mother and worker are discussing a picture display; as the worker concludes her turn (01), the mother addresses the child (02). Extract 4 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway In this extract, the worker’s acknowledgement of the provided explanation (04, ‘I know’) cancels the need to apologize. The interruption is concluded with a double-voiced promise (turn 05): the father will take the child out, it is hoped. The worker does not acknowledge the solution for the ‘problem’ of going to the park, but instead returns without further ado (06) to the topic of the schedule which is to be posted on the kitchen wall. THE CREATION OF TWO TEACHABLE MOMENTS In our next two excerpts, instead of an advice sequence being returned to after the pause in the worker–mother dyad, a teachable moment emerges out of interruptive behaviour. In the first instance this occurs at turn 4. Leading up to this point, the child is attempting to put on his coat to go out. This results in an interruption. The mother reciprocates with an expression of her own wishes (01): ‘I don’t want to go’. The worker now enters the dyad between mother and child and responds by querying the child, seeking clarification of his wishes (02, ‘do I have to put it on?’). The mother states that he has the wrong coat (03, ‘it’s the wrong one anyway’), this way undermining an unstated assumption which informs the child’s apparent behaviour. Note that this turn is directed at both the worker and the child, as the two adults now take part in the child rearing frame of activity. Extract 5 [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) In turn 04, the worker transforms the definition of the situation: a teachable moment is created, an action sequence to demonstrate and try out a particular routine with the child. A teachable moment (Havighurst 1953) is an unplanned opportunity that arises in an educational setting where a teacher or instructor has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her student(s). Crucial are timing and a particular lead in the recipient’s behaviour which occasions the seizure. In the teachable moment above, a preferred form of mother–child interaction is being tried out for real. The worker provides online coaching whilst the receiver is in role. In the example expression ‘say “we’re putting our coats away now”’ (turn 04), the worker uses a sing-song tone, indexing child-directed talk. The mother inserts the utterance in her next turn (turn 05). A second cue is provided (06, ‘say “C are you going to take your coat off”’). It is prefaced with a meta-instruction ‘try and keep your language really simple’. The transition back to the adult–adult frame of advice giving is managed in the final turn by stating that the action which was tried out fits with the kind of work they were discussing previously (10, the use of a visual schedule). In our sixth and final extract, a series of three interruptions comes after a long turn with supportive talk; the interruptive sequence again results in a teachable moment (this comes at turn 10). There is an abrupt interruption when the mother first tells C off for climbing (turn 02); she uses a loud voice. The worker at this point pauses her contribution, and provides a laugh in response to the mother’s ironic comment on the child’s feigned deafness (turn 03). The worker returns to support talk in turn 04 but the mother pursues a further interruption (turns 04 to 08), this interruption has been analysed above as excerpt 2. Extract 6 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine Following a second recapitulation in the adult–adult dyad (08, ‘erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive’), the mother is very direct with the child, the third interruption. The mother appears to slip briefly into her native tongue to admonish the child (09),5 suggesting that the mother–child dialogue has excluded the worker. In response, the worker slips into a coaching role, addressing the mother from the sidelines. Her turn ‘do you want to close the door’ (10) is echoed in the mother’s next turn ‘close the door C’ (11). This is followed by an explicit instruction to praise the child (12, ‘give him praise’), which is taken up in the immediate next turn: the mothers claps her hands and this is accompanied by an assessment: ‘good boy’ (13). The instruction routine is concluded with positive feedback by the worker: ‘that’s it that’s fine’ (14). The temporary suspension of the advice-giving format of the mother–worker dyad counts as a change in participant alignment, in Goffman’s (1981) terminology, ‘a change in footing’. In the first four excerpts, during these interruptions, the home learning worker took a back seat and waited for the child-minding actions to take their course, before resuming the advice-giving talk (compare with Goffman 1981:155–6 on alignments that are put ‘on hold’). In extracts 5 and 6, however, the worker allows her own alignment to the events in the apartment to be transformed as a result of the interruption: while being temporarily re-positioned on the sidelines, she adopts a coaching role by offering support to the ways in which the mother attends to the child. The creation of these two teachable moments can thus be described as examples of ‘keying’ (Goffman 1974:44): ‘a given activity, one already meaningful in terms of some primary framework (here: child minding), is transformed into something patterned on this activity but seen by the participants to be something quite else (here: coaching a mother)’. The worker provides the client with cues and instructions for how to act and what to say. The role is akin to that of a coach or director of a play. The child-minding frame has been transformed into one of child development.6 The interpretation of child-initiated interruptions Our findings in some respects contradict the existing but limited research literature on children and interruptions in social welfare encounters. O’Reilly (2006) concludes on the basis of 22-h of office-based family therapy that when children attempt to interrupt parental interaction with the therapist, they are ignored, unless they persist and then the acknowledgement is mostly negative; however, interruptions on topic-relevant issues are usually attended to. Adding further observations about professionals interrupting clients, O’Reilly situates her findings as corroborating other work (Strong 1979) on the routine exclusion of children from clinical encounters and as strengthening how children are being construed as possessing less than ordinary competence. In our data, each of the interruptions originates in the child’s behaviour on the sidelines. They are not on ‘topic relevant issues’. In fact, they are not verbal initiations. It is mostly the mother who construes the child’s moves as interruptions, selecting from his behaviours those that require a response within the interactional frame space she shares with the home learning worker, thereby allowing them to become an interruption by responding to them in a particular way. She provides reasons for the child’s behaviour and apologizes for some of the disruptive effects. In extract 2, it is particularly apparent how the mother’s apology halts the conversation to create a space within which to attend to the child directly. In each of the examined cases, her address of the child is not announced (explanations and apologies follow, but do not come first; at various points the direction of attention to the child overlaps with the worker’s talk). The unspoken assumption is that the frame of child minding cannot stop while talking to another adult, but interruptions may be apologized for as having an impact on the adult frame of professional–client interaction. While the third-party interruptions are accepted by both interlocutors as a normal feature of their conversation, the mother’s use of an apology nevertheless entails an implicit subscription to a wider understanding of interruptions being negative. On her part, the home learning worker, who, like the family therapist, works both with mother and child, interactionally gives way, so that the exchange between mother and child can be dealt with in its own right, while using her institutional position to exonerate the mother of the need to apologize for these interruptions. The latter detail underlines how the child’s development and the mother–child dyad are both within the remit of the professional intervention. Our interactional analysis of six sequences has also revealed some of the complexities that surround the occurrence of interruptions during home visits in which a professional works both with mother and child. We are noting the normality of interruptions, in addition to its frame pausing and transforming capacities. Interruptions affect participants’ alignments to a frame, but the normality of the interrupted dyad can be restored quickly. Interruptions may also be seized upon to ‘key’ the definition of the situation in a particular direction which harmonizes with the interrupted frame (the home learning worker’s momentary adoption of a coaching role accords with the interrupted frame of professional advice giving): in extracts 5 and 6, the child-minding sequence becomes both an ‘exercise’ and an ‘actual performance’ in the development of a child–mother role relationship. A child-initiated instance of child minding has been turned into an instance of child development work. Our analysis thus foregrounds the need to recognize ways of talking as frame specific, and the definition of the situation as involving dynamically evolving frame layers. A sequential analysis of the turns-at-talk needs to heed the facts of frame, footing and keying to demonstrate the rich complexities involved. At the same time, the interactional management of cross-cutting and sequentially evolving frame categories (advice giving to parents, child minding, doing child development work) presupposes professional vision, as, amongst others, testified by the nature of the shifts in participant alignment. The challenge is one of ‘social choreography’ (Aronsson 1998), which involves the negotiation of client identities vis-à-vis a range of relevant role categories.7 Re-visiting our analysis in an interview with the professional In the remainder of this article, we develop an additional perspective to the data facts of the six analysed sequences, including the two teachable moments. Complementing our analysis of how the interruptions were managed sequentially, we add a thick description (Geertz 1973) of their occurrences by examining in detail the contextual layers which inform the interaction. We do so on the basis of the recorded interview in which the home learning worker responded to our initial analysis. We are not suggesting that these descriptions provide a definitive explanation for the interactional patterning that has been identified. Instead we wish to consider some of the surrounding influences, as seen from the point of view of the professional participant in the encounter. As argued in our introduction, the pursuit of a participant perspective beyond the sequential minutiae and frame layers of co-presence of recorded exchanges requires that we venture into professionals’ situated understandings of a client case and its specific interactional dynamics (Slembrouck and Hall 2011: 494). The home learning worker’s overall response to our analysis was that we had made a number of interpretations on the basis of an atypical case with typical features of work (cf. Cicourel (2007) on ecological validity). HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session In addition, we have identified four dimensions in the practitioner’s professional response to our analysis. Individualized client categories The professional task which was managed during this particular professional intervention was one of considerable complexity: encourage the mother to adjust her perceptions of self and of the child with autism, build the mother’s self-confidence in interacting with the child, and strategically attend to the three-year-old’s speech development. During the interview, the home learning worker articulated for herself a direct connection between her interactional engagement and a particular assessment of the individuals to which the client categories applied. In this particular case, the child’s ‘autism was quite significant’, he ‘didn’t hold eye contact at all’, and ‘had unusual habits’. He was ‘quite boisterous as a child’ and it ‘took me quite a bit of time to find out the things that I could engage with him’. At the same time, the mother was characterized as ‘very young’ and ‘very needy’; at times, the worker saw herself as taking on the role of the parent’s mother, situations in which ‘I could potentially be seen as her mother’, especially as ‘she herself had not had a very good childhood […] she looked to me for words of support and encouragement’, while the worker was also recognizing that ‘I mustn’t be dominant because her mother is’. In sum, this particular visit was not typical but nor was this particular client. The worker added that with other clients and during earlier visits it had been much easier to set time aside for direct work with the child. The dual orientation of the work The professional’s work had a dual orientation, focusing on mother and child. Although assigned to the child (‘my role as a home learning worker is specifically targeted at the child’), for the worker it was equally a matter of ‘educating the parent, supporting the parent to change some of their behaviour’. This necessitated a particular flexibility during the home visits: ‘I could walk in and you know all hell could be breaking loose and you have to go with what is going on in the family’. A hands-on approach was needed: ‘if the parent was stressed in some way or whatever I would follow her lead and with this particular family I think quite often I did stray from my planned activities’. It was the most complicated case the practitioner had had as a home learning worker because of being pulled in particular directions: ‘I think she was always very happy for me not to play with the child and to address her needs’. The worker adds that at various times she had to sit down with the team manager and gauge how well she was balancing the two orientations. The situation required active monitoring, so as to make sure that the child was receiving its share of the professional’s time. One strategy to guarantee this, reported the worker, was to insert ‘modelling’ at the beginning of the home visit, so that this aspect would definitely be covered. The hands-on flexibility needed during the visit as well as the lesser usefulness of a prepared structure for the visit made this family context different from typical visits. Explaining interruptions Although the interruptions are presented by the worker as normal routine features of the interaction as the child needed to be kept an eye on while mother and worker were talking, their occurrence is also linked to a particular version of the family and its home context. The child had to be kept ‘constantly in view’: although he was three he would often put himself in situations that could be dangerous […] I think she needed to have him in view and probably as a professional I would want to have him in view also she had big glass cabinets in the room which he would often kind of you know it would be very easy to break them and yeah there were a couple of instances where he was climbing he was very very active as a child so you did have to watch him The learning worker responds to the interruptions by repeating what was said earlier, so that the advice giving could succeed: yeah and it was a very normal interaction for us we would have these conversations we would stop and start again and I suppose you can see that with the way I repeat myself in terms of making sure she’s heard what I’ve said because she does often get distracted In the worker’s experience of the event, the interruptions were becoming more disruptive, added to which was a recurring impression of the mother failing to pay full attention: ‘she was distracted in that visit’ and ‘quite often this was the case with that mother’. There was a need ‘to constantly reinforce things’. Asked whether the mother provided feedback which signalled uptake, the home learning worker responded with a picture of a client caught in a highly demanding and energy-consuming situation: well that maybe comes into the interruptions that when someone’s distracted like that […] she often seemed like she wasn’t quite present erm she had a lot on her mind I think a lot of the time and she really struggled I think to manage his behaviour […] I think you can see it’s there it was six examples because that was her life it’s constantly up and down up and down stop this stop doing that so quite tiring for her she often looked very tired when I saw her The interruptions were to be attended to as ‘interruptions’ because they were made on mother–worker time. By going for a teachable moment the interruptions were rendered constructively, as an alternative to putting the child in another room—a move which one could not possibly afford with the child in this case. Seizing upon teachable moments? In the interview, the home learning worker observes that teachable moments are not necessarily called that way, but the identified sequences are recognized as typical for her kind of work: it’s definitely seizing upon occurrences that happen in front of you and using them as teachable moment is as good a word as any of them absolutely that’s something we would do quite a lot the best way of teaching is to demonstrate through modelling modelling is a key part of it so you might actively do it yourself and take the parental role and show them what to do but then there would be other times when you would be quite direct and say do this now do this now and really show them how it would work The worker adds that teachable moments can only be used in advanced worker–client relationships. Similar to advice giving, there is a concern that instruction might be resented by the client, especially if it comes too early in the intervention (Heritage and Sefi 1992, Hall and Slembrouck 2013). they have to trust you enough to try out these ideas that you’re suggesting I think because we were so far in our relationship […] it was easy for me at this point to say say this do this because we already previously talked about it so she knew why I was saying it er you know when you read it [the transcription] back it’s quite comfortable erm you know […] you wouldn’t necessarily do that on a first visit or a second visit it would be after a bit of time after you’ve raised those issues and brought them into people’s awareness you say ah now what we’re talking about there’s a perfect example yeah As part of enacting a teachable moment, the worker would often invite an appreciative response from the client after instruction, for example, did that feel ok? This did not happen here, because there was ‘a lot to get through on this particular visit’. Continuing on data extract 6, the learning worker commented: you can see here how I was able to really direct here and say praise him now and those were little things that we talked about previously you really need to offer good praise so you […] but she was stuck in a negative cycle so sometimes you have to prompt this is a good time to do it this is an opportunity The coaching is done quietly, from the sidelines of the child-minding scene, because the worker does not want to take over the role of the parent: it is about […] giving her that chance to actually do that that’s what I would do quite naturally as part of that role […] you don’t want to be dominant and certainly in this particular instance this person’s mother her mother was very dominant so you wouldn’t want to do that anyway […] it’s coaching really In terms of professional interventions with children with disabilities more generally, various styles and configurations can be noted during home visits. The speech therapist or a physiotherapist for example is likely to carry out a series of interactions with the child—instructing, guiding, and coaching. While these are being accomplished, co-present parents are in the role of an observing bystander. In the encounter analysed in this article, the home learning worker apparently avoids direct work with the child, with the exception of greetings and closings. We initially took this to be the result of a strong motivation to support and empower the mother (direct work with the child might even be seen as coming with the risk of undermining the mother’s position as the child’s primary co-interactant). During the interview we learned that in fact the three configurations featured regularly in the course of the professional’s series of visits: mother interacting with child and the worker as a bystander-coach, mother–worker interaction with child in the background, and focused worker–child interaction with mother as a bystander-observer. The recorded visit had been different to previous visits because it did not involve direct work with the child. De-clientification The audio-recorded home visit came at a particular stage in the intervention, as the child was being prepared for nursery school (Messmer and Hitzler 2011). The case was about to be closed for the home learning worker: [it] was over to her now so we talked we made a lots of reference to him talking and the bits of things that she was doing and putting up the timetable and whatever so it’s all about encouraging him to speak so […] the direct work that I’d done was kind of almost over The mother was aware of this: ‘she knew our time was coming to an end and she didn’t want it to come to an end’. To facilitate the move to the next stage, intensive interaction with the mother was needed. CONCLUSION Interruptions during professional home visits are much more than merely behavioural instances. By one version—an idealized practice of child minding—these child-minding moments do not count as interruptions at all. The phenomenon of the ‘interrupting child’, whether stating its routine normality or (as some literature does) pedagogically advocating its preferred absence, draws one into a fundamental discussion of what child development and professional intervention are all about. This begs the question to what extent interactional phenomena which are described as ‘interruptions’ can be separated from the value-laden professional understandings of particular types of work. If the worker did not enable the child’s interruptions, professionals might worry that she might be missing out on crucial aspects of the work—and this sets up a moral stance to the significance of an interruption, a point also implied by O’Reilly’s (2006, 2007) conclusions for family therapy interaction. The interruptions display for the worker examples of child–mother interaction and enable the two teachable moments. Whereas child-initiated interruptions in some pedagogical writing are considered negative, the professional vision of the home learning worker construes the interruptions by the child as potentially positive and as carrying potential for demonstration and learning, though it is recognized that their interactional management posed considerable challenges. In the data instances, we have seen the worker self-monitor her alignments within interconnected frames of activity: advice-giving, child-minding, teachable moments. It was noted that on two occasions the worker tried to recommence the advice giving before the child-minding sequence had been completed. This highlights the delicacy of timing in the case of frame-restoring moves. In particular, the management of the two teachable moments both fitted into the occasion of child minding but they were also marked as educating (cf. ‘that’s it that’s fine’, the concluding turn of excerpt 6). As noted above, the mother in the analysed interaction is the custodian of the child’s action. In therapy, this may be different. As reported by O’Reilly (2006, 2007), the therapist sets the interpretation of the child’s actions, since at any point they may become relevant for therapeutic consideration. There is arguably a general point to be made here about a home learning worker refraining from such assessments, as child welfare professionals—particularly during home visits—will be careful not to occupy discursive positions in which they appear to present definitive formulations of a child when the parents are present. Is the concept of an interruption troublesome from the professional’s point of view? The home learning worker is working within a child-centred framework, which presupposes listening to the child, attending to the child, focusing the intervention on the child. To that extent, a characterization of the child’s involvement in talk as interruptive itself might be deemed contradictory to the spirit of child-centred practice. In other home visiting data in our corpus, we see the worker frequently engaging in talk with the child, alongside talk with the parents and sometimes on completely different topics. In some cases, the worker divides the visit in a child part and an adult part (Hall et al. 2010). Underneath the home learning worker’s account is an assumption that a failure to attend to the child’s actions runs counter to child-centred practice. A strong version of child-centred practice in this case would be that help to the mother is only relevant if it helps the child. This observation harmonizes with Cicourel’s (1992) conclusion that professional judgement is never abstracted from context, both local and more broadly-conceived. It is always situated against some specific cost-benefit analysis, and realized through some event- and person-sensitive performance. While making the case for empirically and qualitatively embracing the diversity and range of practices exemplified during professional home visits, our analysis has also underlined the interpretative and explanatory value of complementing interactional analysis with in-depth understanding of situated professional vision (Goodwin 1994). The professional’s classification of this particular home visit as ‘atypical’ invokes a professional understanding within the range of typical and recognizable categories routinely deployed in the professional world, that is, that client are individuals, that work will have a dual orientation, that a worker is at one point preparing to conclude her intervention, etc. While the dimensions of work listed are typical, this particular case resulted in an atypical dynamics. The distinctions noted are quite meaningful to the professional world, and will be to a range of professionals. Here, the professional’s comments qualify the status of the ‘discourse analysis’ in the sense that the interactional patterns which have been noted need to be understood in the light of a series of home visits, in terms of a polarization perhaps of the ‘normal’ dualities of work in which attention is divided between parent and child clients, as well as in terms of professional perceptions of what professionals typically do. In the interview, the professional is doing accountability work while commenting on our analysis (Hall et al. 2006). The interview provides a professional justification for the recorded activity and this entails a dialogic engagement with our analysis and with categories and dimensions of professional work which are used to compare and contrast cases. Also this forms part of ‘professional vision’. Put briefly: interruptions are indexical of the professional work to be done. Such a view is in agreement with publications which self-identify as ‘applied discourse analysis’ or ‘applied conversation analysis’ (Antaki 2011). Put in a perspective of professional development, interactional analysis must be made relevant to the professions in terms which make sense to the professional world, adding depth to professional understanding with the benefit of systematic analysis and enriching our analyses of interactional dynamics with the benefit of situated professional understandings. While professionals often use terminology which is identical to that used by discourse analysts (e.g. ‘giving advice’), they may understand such categories in quite different terms. A bi-directional engagement with each other’s terminology and concepts is invited, in ways which enrich both scientific understanding and professional practice. Another way of formulating this stresses the relevance of coordinated team effort, in which professional practitioners dialogically engage in teams with discourse analysts. Stef Slembrouck is a Senior Full Professor in the Linguistics Department at Ghent University. He has published widely on interactional practices in a range of institutional and professional domains, including social work, health, education and administrative practices. Address for correspondence: Linguistics Department, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, Ghent B-9000, Belgium. <stef.slembrouck@ugent.be> Christopher Hall (Senior Research Fellow, Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University) is a social work researcher with a particular interest in discourse and narrative approaches to social work. He has carried out research into policy and practice in child protection and mental health. NOTES 1 Home visits are carried out by a large number of professionals in the human services, for example, social workers, health visitors, housing officers, therapists. Often the visit is for the practical convenience of the service user, but the home may also be the focus of the intervention, for example, to examine and work on home conditions and relationships. 2 The current corpus consists of 31 home visits (12 are located in the London-based unit from which the data used here are drawn). The visits lasted between 15 and 65 min. 3 Other home visits in our corpus showed a range of possible distractions—a plumber in one, the social worker receives a phone call, a boyfriend gets involved uninvited, a child goes near to the fire, etc. 4 The concept of ‘co-presence’ underlines Goffman’s (1974, 1981) interest in interactional centre, margin, and boundary, including shifting foci of attention when human interactants share a particular physical space while not necessarily the whole time being engaged in one-and-the-same activity or conversation. 5 In turn 09, the child’s name (‘C’ in the transcription) is pronounced using Lingala vowels at two points where English has a shwa. We are grateful to Michael Meeuwis for pointing this out to us. 6 The point about transformation aligns well with an earlier formulation of focused interaction being shielded by a ‘semi-permeable membrane’ (Goffman 1961: 66ff.). Focused interaction requires immersion and dedicated attention. A membrane can be argued to shield it from external elements receiving attention, but the membrane is ‘semi-permeable’ because some elements outside the focused dyad are more easily or inevitably let through. Child minding on a semi-attend track during a professional home visit is an example of this second possibility. Goffman adds how the incorporation of features and behaviours which pass through the membrane are subject to rules of transformation. Arguably, the transformation of an interruption into a ‘teachable’ moment provides an example of this. 7 As our data analysis is limited by what has been audibly recorded, the body-spatial dynamics of interactional choreography has remained under-analysed. REFERENCES Aronsson K. 1998 . ‘Identity-in-interaction and social choreography Research on Language and Social Interaction 31 : 75 – 89 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Antaki C. (ed.). 2011 . ‘Six kinds of applied conversation analysis’ in Applied Conversation Analysis . Palgrave , pp. 1 – 14 . Baggens C. 2004 . ‘The institution enters the family home. Home visits in Sweden to new parents by the child health care nurse Journal of Community Health Nursing 1 : 15 – 27 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Beattie G. 1983 . Talk: An Analysis of Speech and Non-Verbal Behaviour in Conversation . McGraw-Hill . Candlin S. 2003 . ‘Issues arising when the professional workplace is the site of applied linguistic research Applied Linguistics 24 : 386 – 94 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Cicourel A. 1992 . ‘The interpenetration of communicative contexts: Examples from medical encounters’, in Duranti A. , Goodwin C. (eds): Rethinking Context . Cambridge University Press , pp. 291 – 310 . Cicourel A. 2007 . ‘A personal, retrospective view of ecological validity Text and Talk 27 : 735 – 52 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ferguson H. 2011 . Child Protection Practice . Palgrave . Geertz C. 1973 . ‘Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture’ in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays . Basic Books , pp. 3 – 30 . Goffman E. 1959 . The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life . Anchor-Doubleday . Goffman E. 1961 . Encounters. Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction . Bobbs-Merrill . Goffman E. 1974 . Frame Analysis . Harper and Row . Goffman E. 1981 . Forms of Talk . Pennsylvania UP . Goodwin C. 1994 . ‘Professional vision American Anthropologist 96 : 606 – 33 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Gumperz J. 2003 . ‘Response essay’, in Eerdmans S. , Prevignano C. , Thibault P. (eds): Language and Interaction . John Benamins , pp. 104 – 26 . Hall C. , Slembrouck S. . 2001 . ‘Parent participation in social work meetings: The case of child protection conferences European Journal of Social Work 4 : 143 – 60 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hall C. , Slembrouck S. , Sarangi S. . 2006 . Language Practices in Social Work: Categorisation and Accountability in Child Welfare . Routledge . Hall C. , Slembrouck S. , Haig E. , Lee A. . 2010 . ‘The management of professional and other roles during boundary work in child welfare International Journal of Social Welfare 19 : 348 – 57 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hall C. , Slembrouck S. . 2013 . ‘Advice-giving’ in Hall C. , Juhila K. , Matarese M. , Van Nijnnatten C. (eds): Analysing Social Work Communication . Routledge , pp. 98 – 116 . Havighurst R. 1953 . Human Development and Education . Longmans . Heritage J. , Sefi S. . 1992 . ‘Dilemmas of advice giving: aspects of the delivery and reception of advice in interactions between health visitors and first-time mothers’ in Drew P. , Heritage J. (eds): Talk at Work . CUP , pp. 359 – 419 . Hutchby I. 1992 . ‘Confrontation talk: Aspects of “interruption” in argument sequences on talk radio Text 12 : 343 – 71 . Hutchby I. , Wooffitt R. . 2008 . Conversation Analysis , 2nd edn Polity . Liddicoat A. 2011 . An Introduction to Conversation Analysis . Continuum . Leppanen V. 1998 . ‘The straightforwardness of advice: Advice-giving in interactions between Swedish district nurses and patients Research on Language and Social Interaction 31 : 209 – 39 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Messmer H. , Hitzler S. . 2011 . ‘Declientification: Undoing client identifies in care planning conferences on the termination of residential care British Journal of Social Work 41 : 778 – 98 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Munro E. 2011 . The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report. A child-centred system . TSO . Cm 8062 O’Reilly M. 2006 . ‘Should children be seen and not heard? An examination of how children’s interruptions are treated in family therapy Discourse Studies 8 : 549 – 66 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS O’Reilly M. 2007 . ‘What value is there in children’s talk? Investigating family therapists’ interruptions of parents and children during the therapeutic process Journal of Pragmatics 40 : 507 – 24 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sacks H. , Schegloff E. , Jefferson G. . 1974 . ‘A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation Language 50 : 696 – 735 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Slembrouck S. 2009 . ‘Goffman’s frame analysis: A recent rejoinder’ in Slembrouck S. , Taverniers M. (eds): From “Will” to “Well”. Studies in Linguistics Offered to Anne-Marie Simon-Vandenbergen . Academia Press , pp. 381 – 92 . Slembrouck S. , Hall C. . 2011 . ‘Family support and home visiting: Understanding communication, “good practice” and interactional skills’ in Candlin C. , Sarangi S. (eds): Handbook of Communication in Organisations and Professions . Walter de Gruyter , pp. 481 – 97 . Slembrouck S. , Hall C. . 2013 . ‘Boundary work’ in Hall C. , Juhila K. , Matarese M. , Van Nijnnatten C. (eds): Analysing Social Work Communication . Routledge , pp. 61 – 78 . Strong P. 1979 . The Ceremonial Order of the Clinic: Patients, Doctors and Medical Bureaucracies . Routledge and Kegan Paul . West C. , Zimmerman D. . 1977 . ‘Women’s place in everyday talk: Reflections on parent-child interaction Social Problems 24 : 521 – 9 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © Oxford University Press 2017 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Applied Linguistics Oxford University Press

Advice Giving, Managing Interruptions and the Construction of ‘Teachable Moments’

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© Oxford University Press 2017
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0142-6001
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1477-450X
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10.1093/applin/amx004
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Abstract

Abstract The focus of this article is on home visiting in child welfare, an activity which involves a publicly accountable performance of professional tasks in a private space. We specifically examine a recording of a visit by a home learning worker to a mother and her three-year-old child with special needs. In the first part of the article, sequential analysis is combined with an understanding of frame and participant alignment (Goffman). We note how the child’s behaviour forces the worker and mother to suspend the advice-giving format. We examine how the interruptions are attended to by the talkers and how twice an interruption is seized upon by the home learning worker to develop a ‘teachable moment’ in which the mother is coached in the demonstration of a learning sequence. In the second part of the article, we re-examine our analysis together with the practitioner so as to throw light on the context of relevant client and case categories, including the longer-term perspective of this specific professional intervention. This results in an enriched perspective on the interactional ‘value’ of interruptions. INTRODUCTION Home visiting is a prevalent and recurrent feature of health and social care interventions, but compared to office or clinic-based encounters it has received little attention in the literature. In the home, professionals are faced with a wider range of interactional dilemmas in terms of managing their inventions within the situational contingencies and complexities of family life (phones ringing, television sets on, other visitors who call in, etc.). A major contrast with office encounters is that the professional enters the client’s physical habitat and s/he may struggle to establish his/her intended intervention1 (Ferguson 2011). The nature of the interaction in a home visit is highly varied, even within a single encounter, yet it has received scant attention in the professional discourse literature. Two noted exceptions are Leppanen (1998) and Baggens (2004) on health visiting. There may be elements of support and surveillance, and talk may revolve around giving advice, telling troubles, managing crisis, organizational follow-up, etc. One advantage of the home visit is undoubtedly that the intervention can be tailored to the particular context of the client’s home, furthermore visiting itself may count as a sign of professional outreach. For instance, in the case below a home learning worker is providing a service to enable the mother of a three-year-old child with autism to establish a programme of learning, play, and development adapted to the family’s particular needs. Our focus will be on how an advice-giving intervention is interrupted a number of times by the co-present child and how this is attended to interactively by the mother and the professional visitor. The analytic section of the article is divided in two large sections: following an outline of theoretical concepts, data and methodology, we first concentrate on what constitutes an interruption for the participating talkers and how this is made manifest in the talk. In our analysis of relevant sequences from an audio-recorded home visit, we demonstrate how in two instances, there is a transformation of the situation, as the interruption is seized upon by the worker to construct a ‘teachable moment’ (Havighurst 1953)—an unplanned opportunity for the worker in the role of an instructor to offer interactional insight to her client. Crucial are timing and a particular lead in the recipient’s behaviour which occasions and warrants the seizure. We will argue that the interactional facts of the home visiting situation, including the dynamics of the interruptions and the construction of teachable moments, need to be understood in the Goffmanian terms of ‘competing frames’ (Goffman 1974, 1981), as providing a necessary complementary perspective to an analysis of conversational sequence (Hutchby and Wooffitt 2008; Liddicoat 2011) in a focal dyad. In the second part of the article, we discuss with the worker the relevance and appropriateness of our analysis in the light of the wider professional ambitions for the series of home visits from which the recorded visit was drawn (the recorded visit occurred towards the end of the larger intervention as the case was about to be closed). In this part of the article our focus is on the professional’s contextualization of the data instances and of our analysis of them. This double focus is justified, for two reasons. First, while the deployment of discourse analytical methods can produce a-personal observations and generalizable patterns of interactional conduct, professionals in practice mostly talk about their own communicative practices through client-, case-, and category-specific lenses: what sort of communicative approach does the type of condition, client, or situation invite at this particular point in the intervention? With Candlin (2003: 389), we argue that what professionals have to say about their own communicative practices is equally central to professional discourse. This requires empirical accounts of interactional conduct to be matched with descriptions of professional communicative concepts (e.g. what do practitioners mean by ‘advice’), and a readiness to venture into practitioner understandings of instances of communicative practice (see also Hall and Slembrouck 2001). Secondly, home visits are not only complicated because of the interactional challenges that come with entering the client’s private world—the occurrence of interruptions is one manifestation of this—they are also complicated because home visits deal with multiple versions of clienthood. While particular versions of the client are displayed in our initial data analysis, alternative formulations emerged in our discussion with the professional. One key question appears to be: to what extent is the intervention in the case examined mother-centred or child-centred, and how is this being managed interactionally during the home visit? This is a question of considerable professional relevance and weight and one which in our data is echoed interactionally in the ‘social choreography’ of moving between multiple frames of reference and activity (Aronsson 1998). Moreover, in the current institutional climate, professionals are increasingly encouraged to examine their own practices (Munro 2011). While discourse analysis provides a worthwhile toolkit which lends analytical rigour to such a process and contributes to fostering professional self-awareness about interactional dynamics and outcomes, a complementary perspective on the wider views of professionals about their engagement with clients can increase the purview of professional discourse studies. A purposeful relationship of mutual benefit is being established over the longer term. By bringing in the professional’s voice, we seek to create opportunities for dialogue and reflection, since we are interested in how our analysis can contribute to professional development, as well as how professional notions can complement and challenge discourse analysis. DATA AND METHODOLOGY The data in this article form part of a corpus of recorded home visits in different regions of the UK.2 A range of professionals is represented. The particular visit concentrated on in this article is by a home learning worker; it is one in a series over a period of several months, which focused on the (language) development of the child. It took 46 min. During this particular visit, the worker introduced learning materials and also discussed the child’s upcoming attendance at day nursery. The larger data collection project formed part of a professional development initiative with four local authorities in the UK, as part of which the professional audio-recorded the encounter in the client’s home for purposes of analysis and reflection in team discussions and through individual interviews. Video-recording of the home visits was not an option (the equipment and the on-site technical support needed would have meant an intrusive distraction in a private setting). For the second part of the analysis we relied on a follow-up interview with the practitioner. For each of the recorded home visits in our corpus, semi-structured interviews were used to engage with the professionals’ analyses of their own communicative behaviour. Before the interview the home learning worker was provided with a transcript of the interaction and the text of the first part of this article, to which she was invited to respond. She was interviewed by one of the two researchers. The interview took place in the social work office and lasted 75 min. As suggested already above, her comments enable a specific type of data triangulation which contributes to ‘a thick description’ (Geertz 1973) of the recorded discursive event in a series of professional interventions and in which the insights of interactional analysis are complemented with introspective interview data (Gumperz 2003: 117). Ethical approval for the research was obtained from the National Social Care Research Ethics Committee (Reference 12-IEC08-0004) in March 2012. LITERATURE REVIEW: THE CO-PRESENCE OF CHILDREN DURING PROFESSIONAL ENCOUNTERS AND THE ‘INTERRUPTIONS’ THEY MAY CAUSE In this article we consider how an interactional sequence between two adults in a home visit is affected by the simultaneous presence of a child who demands ‘online’ attention, resulting in pauses in the talk between the adults. The small boy (aged 3) is in the living room of the apartment where the encounter takes place. As the child invites attention, by embarking on particular actions in his own right or by calling on his mother to perform certain actions (e.g. going out with him), activity on the sides of the main conversation is being acknowledged, resulting in particular child-minding actions. Arguably, attention to the child during such encounters is better thought of as quasi-permanently in the background, as the presence of young infants is a recurrent feature of home visiting in child welfare. Children of this age typically require constant monitoring, though not necessarily focused interaction. As the child’s attention-inviting moves count as potentially ‘interruptive’ for the conversation between his mother and the home learning coordinator, a dilemma is posed: whether to prioritize the talk between worker and mother in which child-relevant advice is being communicated, or whether to prioritize the child’s behaviour in situ, especially as the child’s learning and development is a target of professional intervention. Generally, interlocutors in talk avoid interruptions, because it is considered impolite and may undermine the other’s talk. The literature on interruptions tends to concentrate on two-person exchanges and interruption as a disruption of turn-taking. Sacks et al. (1974) indicate the orderliness of turn-taking in interaction. Interruptions nevertheless occur frequently. However, those which occur near turn-transition relevant places may, allowing slightly divergent perceptions of turn completeness, be interpreted as normal speaker switches (Beattie 1983). As Hutchby (1992: 344) underlines, an interruption is a member’s evaluative construct (more than just a sub-class of speech overlap). It is a category which participants attend to in the light of rights and obligations and therefore unavoidably a moral feature of the interactional environment (cf. analyses of interruptions in terms of the management of asymmetrical relations; West and Zimmerman 1977: 524). Even though we recognize the strongly evaluative terms which surround discussions of interruptions as conversational phenomena, we agree with Hutchby (1992) that there is no external vantage point for determining what constitutes an interruption. A stretch of overlapping speech may or may not occur and the result may be that a speaker gives way or not, and even in the latter case the nature of the interruption’s ‘moral load’ and the degree to which it applies is by no means given. Hutchby (1992: 368) concludes that we must concentrate on speakers’ displayed orientations to the ‘interruptiveness’ of certain interactional moves—for example, verbal or non-verbal moves which appear to be interruptive in the sequential sense are not necessarily treated as interruptions in the moral sense and for analysts it is important to pay attention to how a move’s interruptive quality is being responded to, how it is apologized or accounted for, how overlap gets resolved, etc. O’Reilly (2006), in her study of interruptions by children in therapeutic encounters with adults, observes how a normative orientation of children’s deferring to adult conversation is generally kept up, but amenable to situational circumstance. While the expectation is that ‘adults are most likely to simply ignore an interruption from a child and not listen at all’ (2006: 552), occasions are noted in which an interruption is treated as allowable, for example, when it is directly relevant to the topic of talk at hand. In contrast, O’Reilly continues, when a child’s extreme behaviour is being discussed, interruptions appear to be ruled out, which may have to do with a heightening of focus. Overall, this suggests that in the therapy room the nature of each contribution is treated as consequential and is therefore tightly monitored by the therapist. In doing so, a therapist may treat any interruption as a subject of therapeutic relevance for parent–child interaction, a point which returns in our analysis of ‘teachable moments’ below. More generally, in family conversations children are increasingly allocated more space. This fits in with some professional contexts of child welfare, where a client-centred ideology of listening to the child means that at any point a child’s contribution has relevance—for example, in home visits, informal chat between worker and child is often maintained whilst the advice giving with the adult proceeds. The therapeutic contexts studied by O’Reilly may therefore be more oriented to conversation between adults than the home visiting context studied here. The facts of the home visiting situation also need to be elucidated further in the Goffmanian terms of ‘co-presence’ (Goffman 1959, 1974) and the occurrence of multiple, even competing frames of activity (Slembrouck 2009).3 Goffman defines co-presence as the minimal level of social interaction which occurs when individuals signal through their bodily and facial demeanour or any other means, their use and occupation of a space, in particular their awareness of one another’s presence and, with that, their accessibility to one another (or lack of it) for purposes of focused interaction. In passing, it is worth stressing how this particular emphasis on co-presence has made it possible for interactional research to define the relevant analytical space in terms of something wider than the narrow situation involving only the primary interactants. The scope of analysis is extended to include the behaviour of ‘bystanders’, ‘spectators’, or any other roles taken up by others who are co-present in the larger situation but who do not (necessarily) form part of the focal interactional dyad.4 The home visit analysed here can thus be characterized as entailing a dominant situation and a co-present third party: the three-year-old boy is there in the room, but he is not a primary interactant in the advice-giving encounter. At the same time, the child is more than just an accidental witness to the situation: he stands in a permanent relationship of mutual accessibility with the mother. It is quite natural for family members to share the space of the home during professional or other visits. One can argue how in the case of this visit, the visitor’s frame is temporarily laid over the home context, and for the duration of the visit, it is also dominant, while a secondary, but arguably more permanent, definition of the situation, one of child minding, continues to apply. In the background of the worker–mother dyad, the secondary definition is susceptible to interactional moves which put it (temporarily) in the foreground. Children who are around need to be kept an eye on, and, at times, attended to directly. Ways of attending to the interruptiveness of the child’s actions Compared to office encounters, it may be less clear what constitutes an interruption during a home visit, since conversational topic and turn allocation are likely to be treated as more susceptible to the comings and goings of home life. In total, there were five sequences during the home learning worker’s visit in which actions by the child are attended to by the two adult talkers. The adult dyad is mostly one of advice giving, as the worker sets up various learning programmes for the child. The child is not invited into the conversation, but he is within sight and audible on the tape, mostly babbling in a contented fashion. As displayed in the examples below, the construal of the instances as interruptions involves the production of pauses, apologies, their cancellation, as well as (acknowledged) explanations for the child’s behaviour (not every instance has all of these features; the list suggests a possible range, which needs to be established in further research on the basis of a wider corpus). In the transcriptions, ‘HLW’ is the home learning worker, ‘C’ is the child, and ‘M’ is the mother. In our first extract, the child’s interruptive move results in a pause in the mother–worker interaction. The mother does not complete her turn (03), but instead attends to the interruptive move by addressing the child directly (04, ‘C get inside’). The worker takes a back seat but does not acknowledge the interruptive occurrence verbally. In ‘05’, the home learning worker picks up where the conversation was left off. Extract 1 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) 01 HLW: (…) so have a try this week and if you can’t we’ll talk about it next week and we’ll see if there is anything I can do to help ehm the [02 M: the border] the border 03 M (to HLW): I was going to do one for the 04 M (to C): C get inside 05 HLW: did [the worker at the nursery] not talk to you about that? Cos I thought he might (…) In the second example (which forms part of the longer sequence of three successive interruptions analysed as excerpt 6 below), the mother halts the conversation and apologizes for the interruption before she crosses the room to address the child (02 and 04). The worker first responds by accepting the apology (03, ‘it’s okay’) and, as the conversation with the mother is resumed, she briefly recapitulates her point, almost verbatim (05). The occurrence of an apology (02, ‘sorry’) signals the mother’s perception of the child’s behaviour as an ‘interruption’ which is disruptive of another focal activity. Extract 2 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 01 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know maybe you perhaps thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah 02 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 03 HLW (to M): it’s okay 04 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 05 HLW (to M): erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there Our third excerpt is a 30-s sequence in which the mother stops the child’s climbing actions and attends to his coughing. There is an intermediate attempt to continue the advice giving (05, ‘erm’), suggesting the worker has anticipated closure. However, the mother continues to attend to the child’s actions (06, ‘it’s not there for you to stand on’). The mother’s apology (08, ‘sorry about this’) is acknowledged by the worker, who cancels its need (09, ‘that’s alright don’t worry don’t worry don’t apologise’). The cancellation is emphatically reassuring. Extract 3 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. 01 HLW: We just need to move that on a bit further which is it’s happening now isn’t it (-) [C handles the door] 02 M (talking very quietly, to HLW): xxx xxx 03 HLW (to M): it’s not is it 04 M (to C): C no no 05 HLW (to M): erm 06 M (to C): boy (-) it’s not there for you to stand on (-) excuse me ah ah [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. [C coughs, door is handled again] [10-s pause during which C coughs a number of times] 07 M (to?): xxx xxx 08 M (to HLW): sorry about this 09 HLW: that’s alright, don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t apologise 10 M (ironic voice): I’m here telling you my problems again 11 HLW: that’s alright don’t worry, don’t worry. I wanted to see how you felt about that meeting on Tuesday, cos I thought it was quite important. In the fourth excerpt, an explanation rather than an apology is provided for the child’s interruptive actions (03, ‘he wants to go the park’). Mother and worker are discussing a picture display; as the worker concludes her turn (01), the mother addresses the child (02). Extract 4 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway 01 HLW (to M, emphatically): no no no no that’s fine 02 M (to C, overlapping with turn 01): C can you put the coat down please (-) thank you 03 M (to HLW): he wants to go to the park 04 HLW: I know 05 M (to C): wait. dad’ll take you hopefully 06 HLW: ‘cos I was going to do the daily schedule with you anyway In this extract, the worker’s acknowledgement of the provided explanation (04, ‘I know’) cancels the need to apologize. The interruption is concluded with a double-voiced promise (turn 05): the father will take the child out, it is hoped. The worker does not acknowledge the solution for the ‘problem’ of going to the park, but instead returns without further ado (06) to the topic of the schedule which is to be posted on the kitchen wall. THE CREATION OF TWO TEACHABLE MOMENTS In our next two excerpts, instead of an advice sequence being returned to after the pause in the worker–mother dyad, a teachable moment emerges out of interruptive behaviour. In the first instance this occurs at turn 4. Leading up to this point, the child is attempting to put on his coat to go out. This results in an interruption. The mother reciprocates with an expression of her own wishes (01): ‘I don’t want to go’. The worker now enters the dyad between mother and child and responds by querying the child, seeking clarification of his wishes (02, ‘do I have to put it on?’). The mother states that he has the wrong coat (03, ‘it’s the wrong one anyway’), this way undermining an unstated assumption which informs the child’s apparent behaviour. Note that this turn is directed at both the worker and the child, as the two adults now take part in the child rearing frame of activity. Extract 5 [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) [C tries to put on his coat] 01 M (to C): I don’t want to go out 02 HLW (to C): do I have to put it on? 03 M (to HLW and C): it’s the wrong one anyway 04 HLW (to M): if you tried to hang your coat now would he do it? go on try and hang it up and say ‘we’re putting our coats away now’. we’re going to. I’ll hold this for you. 05 M (to C): oh C up. we are putting our coats away now 06 HLW (to M): try and keep your language really simple say ‘C are you going to take your coat off’ 07 M: (to C): C are you going to take your coat off. yeah. come on. no 08 HLW (to M): ok right. you put yours away (-) 09 M (to C): xx 10 HLW: ok. so this is where the visual timetable is going to help you (…) In turn 04, the worker transforms the definition of the situation: a teachable moment is created, an action sequence to demonstrate and try out a particular routine with the child. A teachable moment (Havighurst 1953) is an unplanned opportunity that arises in an educational setting where a teacher or instructor has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her student(s). Crucial are timing and a particular lead in the recipient’s behaviour which occasions the seizure. In the teachable moment above, a preferred form of mother–child interaction is being tried out for real. The worker provides online coaching whilst the receiver is in role. In the example expression ‘say “we’re putting our coats away now”’ (turn 04), the worker uses a sing-song tone, indexing child-directed talk. The mother inserts the utterance in her next turn (turn 05). A second cue is provided (06, ‘say “C are you going to take your coat off”’). It is prefaced with a meta-instruction ‘try and keep your language really simple’. The transition back to the adult–adult frame of advice giving is managed in the final turn by stating that the action which was tried out fits with the kind of work they were discussing previously (10, the use of a visual schedule). In our sixth and final extract, a series of three interruptions comes after a long turn with supportive talk; the interruptive sequence again results in a teachable moment (this comes at turn 10). There is an abrupt interruption when the mother first tells C off for climbing (turn 02); she uses a loud voice. The worker at this point pauses her contribution, and provides a laugh in response to the mother’s ironic comment on the child’s feigned deafness (turn 03). The worker returns to support talk in turn 04 but the mother pursues a further interruption (turns 04 to 08), this interruption has been analysed above as excerpt 2. Extract 6 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine 01 HLW (to M): […] I can’t give you a 100% guarantee and say he is going or he isn’t but at the moment he’s making steps towards talking really big steps 02 M (to C, very loud): C hey (-) no jumping or whatever you were doing climbing (slow and emphatic) C NO CLIMBING [2-s pause] 03 M (to HLW): he thinks he’s so smart pretending [HLW laughs, M now quietly] that he can’t hear 04 HLW (to M): so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that because you’ve seen how how you’ve managed to achieved other things and I want you to see I know perhaps maybe you thought it was going to be quicker than it is. Yeah. 05 M (to HLW): sorry [M gets up and walks to other side of the room] 06 HLW (to M): it’s okay 07 M (to C): that’s it, come on you are not doing that again 08 HLW (to M): erm (-) so yeah I want you to try and stay positive on that one ok cos everything that we are doing at the moment is trying to get him to talk all the pictures and all the visual stuff is all trying to make him talk and that’s what’s started to make him babble, so it’s there 09 M (to C, loud): NO NO (-) C IN IN (-) xxxxx 10 HLW (to M, quiet voice): do you want to close the door 11 M (to C, loud): CLOSE THE DOOR C [C closes the door, babbles] 12 HLW (to M, silent voice): give him praise 13 M (to C, loud): [while clapping hands] GOOD BOY 14 HLW (to M): that’s it that’s fine Following a second recapitulation in the adult–adult dyad (08, ‘erm so yeah I want you to try and stay positive’), the mother is very direct with the child, the third interruption. The mother appears to slip briefly into her native tongue to admonish the child (09),5 suggesting that the mother–child dialogue has excluded the worker. In response, the worker slips into a coaching role, addressing the mother from the sidelines. Her turn ‘do you want to close the door’ (10) is echoed in the mother’s next turn ‘close the door C’ (11). This is followed by an explicit instruction to praise the child (12, ‘give him praise’), which is taken up in the immediate next turn: the mothers claps her hands and this is accompanied by an assessment: ‘good boy’ (13). The instruction routine is concluded with positive feedback by the worker: ‘that’s it that’s fine’ (14). The temporary suspension of the advice-giving format of the mother–worker dyad counts as a change in participant alignment, in Goffman’s (1981) terminology, ‘a change in footing’. In the first four excerpts, during these interruptions, the home learning worker took a back seat and waited for the child-minding actions to take their course, before resuming the advice-giving talk (compare with Goffman 1981:155–6 on alignments that are put ‘on hold’). In extracts 5 and 6, however, the worker allows her own alignment to the events in the apartment to be transformed as a result of the interruption: while being temporarily re-positioned on the sidelines, she adopts a coaching role by offering support to the ways in which the mother attends to the child. The creation of these two teachable moments can thus be described as examples of ‘keying’ (Goffman 1974:44): ‘a given activity, one already meaningful in terms of some primary framework (here: child minding), is transformed into something patterned on this activity but seen by the participants to be something quite else (here: coaching a mother)’. The worker provides the client with cues and instructions for how to act and what to say. The role is akin to that of a coach or director of a play. The child-minding frame has been transformed into one of child development.6 The interpretation of child-initiated interruptions Our findings in some respects contradict the existing but limited research literature on children and interruptions in social welfare encounters. O’Reilly (2006) concludes on the basis of 22-h of office-based family therapy that when children attempt to interrupt parental interaction with the therapist, they are ignored, unless they persist and then the acknowledgement is mostly negative; however, interruptions on topic-relevant issues are usually attended to. Adding further observations about professionals interrupting clients, O’Reilly situates her findings as corroborating other work (Strong 1979) on the routine exclusion of children from clinical encounters and as strengthening how children are being construed as possessing less than ordinary competence. In our data, each of the interruptions originates in the child’s behaviour on the sidelines. They are not on ‘topic relevant issues’. In fact, they are not verbal initiations. It is mostly the mother who construes the child’s moves as interruptions, selecting from his behaviours those that require a response within the interactional frame space she shares with the home learning worker, thereby allowing them to become an interruption by responding to them in a particular way. She provides reasons for the child’s behaviour and apologizes for some of the disruptive effects. In extract 2, it is particularly apparent how the mother’s apology halts the conversation to create a space within which to attend to the child directly. In each of the examined cases, her address of the child is not announced (explanations and apologies follow, but do not come first; at various points the direction of attention to the child overlaps with the worker’s talk). The unspoken assumption is that the frame of child minding cannot stop while talking to another adult, but interruptions may be apologized for as having an impact on the adult frame of professional–client interaction. While the third-party interruptions are accepted by both interlocutors as a normal feature of their conversation, the mother’s use of an apology nevertheless entails an implicit subscription to a wider understanding of interruptions being negative. On her part, the home learning worker, who, like the family therapist, works both with mother and child, interactionally gives way, so that the exchange between mother and child can be dealt with in its own right, while using her institutional position to exonerate the mother of the need to apologize for these interruptions. The latter detail underlines how the child’s development and the mother–child dyad are both within the remit of the professional intervention. Our interactional analysis of six sequences has also revealed some of the complexities that surround the occurrence of interruptions during home visits in which a professional works both with mother and child. We are noting the normality of interruptions, in addition to its frame pausing and transforming capacities. Interruptions affect participants’ alignments to a frame, but the normality of the interrupted dyad can be restored quickly. Interruptions may also be seized upon to ‘key’ the definition of the situation in a particular direction which harmonizes with the interrupted frame (the home learning worker’s momentary adoption of a coaching role accords with the interrupted frame of professional advice giving): in extracts 5 and 6, the child-minding sequence becomes both an ‘exercise’ and an ‘actual performance’ in the development of a child–mother role relationship. A child-initiated instance of child minding has been turned into an instance of child development work. Our analysis thus foregrounds the need to recognize ways of talking as frame specific, and the definition of the situation as involving dynamically evolving frame layers. A sequential analysis of the turns-at-talk needs to heed the facts of frame, footing and keying to demonstrate the rich complexities involved. At the same time, the interactional management of cross-cutting and sequentially evolving frame categories (advice giving to parents, child minding, doing child development work) presupposes professional vision, as, amongst others, testified by the nature of the shifts in participant alignment. The challenge is one of ‘social choreography’ (Aronsson 1998), which involves the negotiation of client identities vis-à-vis a range of relevant role categories.7 Re-visiting our analysis in an interview with the professional In the remainder of this article, we develop an additional perspective to the data facts of the six analysed sequences, including the two teachable moments. Complementing our analysis of how the interruptions were managed sequentially, we add a thick description (Geertz 1973) of their occurrences by examining in detail the contextual layers which inform the interaction. We do so on the basis of the recorded interview in which the home learning worker responded to our initial analysis. We are not suggesting that these descriptions provide a definitive explanation for the interactional patterning that has been identified. Instead we wish to consider some of the surrounding influences, as seen from the point of view of the professional participant in the encounter. As argued in our introduction, the pursuit of a participant perspective beyond the sequential minutiae and frame layers of co-presence of recorded exchanges requires that we venture into professionals’ situated understandings of a client case and its specific interactional dynamics (Slembrouck and Hall 2011: 494). The home learning worker’s overall response to our analysis was that we had made a number of interpretations on the basis of an atypical case with typical features of work (cf. Cicourel (2007) on ecological validity). HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session HLW: no I mean that was my that was my main comment really just as I was reading I kinda thought ooh okay I see why you got that from this session but it would not necessarily been a typical session In addition, we have identified four dimensions in the practitioner’s professional response to our analysis. Individualized client categories The professional task which was managed during this particular professional intervention was one of considerable complexity: encourage the mother to adjust her perceptions of self and of the child with autism, build the mother’s self-confidence in interacting with the child, and strategically attend to the three-year-old’s speech development. During the interview, the home learning worker articulated for herself a direct connection between her interactional engagement and a particular assessment of the individuals to which the client categories applied. In this particular case, the child’s ‘autism was quite significant’, he ‘didn’t hold eye contact at all’, and ‘had unusual habits’. He was ‘quite boisterous as a child’ and it ‘took me quite a bit of time to find out the things that I could engage with him’. At the same time, the mother was characterized as ‘very young’ and ‘very needy’; at times, the worker saw herself as taking on the role of the parent’s mother, situations in which ‘I could potentially be seen as her mother’, especially as ‘she herself had not had a very good childhood […] she looked to me for words of support and encouragement’, while the worker was also recognizing that ‘I mustn’t be dominant because her mother is’. In sum, this particular visit was not typical but nor was this particular client. The worker added that with other clients and during earlier visits it had been much easier to set time aside for direct work with the child. The dual orientation of the work The professional’s work had a dual orientation, focusing on mother and child. Although assigned to the child (‘my role as a home learning worker is specifically targeted at the child’), for the worker it was equally a matter of ‘educating the parent, supporting the parent to change some of their behaviour’. This necessitated a particular flexibility during the home visits: ‘I could walk in and you know all hell could be breaking loose and you have to go with what is going on in the family’. A hands-on approach was needed: ‘if the parent was stressed in some way or whatever I would follow her lead and with this particular family I think quite often I did stray from my planned activities’. It was the most complicated case the practitioner had had as a home learning worker because of being pulled in particular directions: ‘I think she was always very happy for me not to play with the child and to address her needs’. The worker adds that at various times she had to sit down with the team manager and gauge how well she was balancing the two orientations. The situation required active monitoring, so as to make sure that the child was receiving its share of the professional’s time. One strategy to guarantee this, reported the worker, was to insert ‘modelling’ at the beginning of the home visit, so that this aspect would definitely be covered. The hands-on flexibility needed during the visit as well as the lesser usefulness of a prepared structure for the visit made this family context different from typical visits. Explaining interruptions Although the interruptions are presented by the worker as normal routine features of the interaction as the child needed to be kept an eye on while mother and worker were talking, their occurrence is also linked to a particular version of the family and its home context. The child had to be kept ‘constantly in view’: although he was three he would often put himself in situations that could be dangerous […] I think she needed to have him in view and probably as a professional I would want to have him in view also she had big glass cabinets in the room which he would often kind of you know it would be very easy to break them and yeah there were a couple of instances where he was climbing he was very very active as a child so you did have to watch him The learning worker responds to the interruptions by repeating what was said earlier, so that the advice giving could succeed: yeah and it was a very normal interaction for us we would have these conversations we would stop and start again and I suppose you can see that with the way I repeat myself in terms of making sure she’s heard what I’ve said because she does often get distracted In the worker’s experience of the event, the interruptions were becoming more disruptive, added to which was a recurring impression of the mother failing to pay full attention: ‘she was distracted in that visit’ and ‘quite often this was the case with that mother’. There was a need ‘to constantly reinforce things’. Asked whether the mother provided feedback which signalled uptake, the home learning worker responded with a picture of a client caught in a highly demanding and energy-consuming situation: well that maybe comes into the interruptions that when someone’s distracted like that […] she often seemed like she wasn’t quite present erm she had a lot on her mind I think a lot of the time and she really struggled I think to manage his behaviour […] I think you can see it’s there it was six examples because that was her life it’s constantly up and down up and down stop this stop doing that so quite tiring for her she often looked very tired when I saw her The interruptions were to be attended to as ‘interruptions’ because they were made on mother–worker time. By going for a teachable moment the interruptions were rendered constructively, as an alternative to putting the child in another room—a move which one could not possibly afford with the child in this case. Seizing upon teachable moments? In the interview, the home learning worker observes that teachable moments are not necessarily called that way, but the identified sequences are recognized as typical for her kind of work: it’s definitely seizing upon occurrences that happen in front of you and using them as teachable moment is as good a word as any of them absolutely that’s something we would do quite a lot the best way of teaching is to demonstrate through modelling modelling is a key part of it so you might actively do it yourself and take the parental role and show them what to do but then there would be other times when you would be quite direct and say do this now do this now and really show them how it would work The worker adds that teachable moments can only be used in advanced worker–client relationships. Similar to advice giving, there is a concern that instruction might be resented by the client, especially if it comes too early in the intervention (Heritage and Sefi 1992, Hall and Slembrouck 2013). they have to trust you enough to try out these ideas that you’re suggesting I think because we were so far in our relationship […] it was easy for me at this point to say say this do this because we already previously talked about it so she knew why I was saying it er you know when you read it [the transcription] back it’s quite comfortable erm you know […] you wouldn’t necessarily do that on a first visit or a second visit it would be after a bit of time after you’ve raised those issues and brought them into people’s awareness you say ah now what we’re talking about there’s a perfect example yeah As part of enacting a teachable moment, the worker would often invite an appreciative response from the client after instruction, for example, did that feel ok? This did not happen here, because there was ‘a lot to get through on this particular visit’. Continuing on data extract 6, the learning worker commented: you can see here how I was able to really direct here and say praise him now and those were little things that we talked about previously you really need to offer good praise so you […] but she was stuck in a negative cycle so sometimes you have to prompt this is a good time to do it this is an opportunity The coaching is done quietly, from the sidelines of the child-minding scene, because the worker does not want to take over the role of the parent: it is about […] giving her that chance to actually do that that’s what I would do quite naturally as part of that role […] you don’t want to be dominant and certainly in this particular instance this person’s mother her mother was very dominant so you wouldn’t want to do that anyway […] it’s coaching really In terms of professional interventions with children with disabilities more generally, various styles and configurations can be noted during home visits. The speech therapist or a physiotherapist for example is likely to carry out a series of interactions with the child—instructing, guiding, and coaching. While these are being accomplished, co-present parents are in the role of an observing bystander. In the encounter analysed in this article, the home learning worker apparently avoids direct work with the child, with the exception of greetings and closings. We initially took this to be the result of a strong motivation to support and empower the mother (direct work with the child might even be seen as coming with the risk of undermining the mother’s position as the child’s primary co-interactant). During the interview we learned that in fact the three configurations featured regularly in the course of the professional’s series of visits: mother interacting with child and the worker as a bystander-coach, mother–worker interaction with child in the background, and focused worker–child interaction with mother as a bystander-observer. The recorded visit had been different to previous visits because it did not involve direct work with the child. De-clientification The audio-recorded home visit came at a particular stage in the intervention, as the child was being prepared for nursery school (Messmer and Hitzler 2011). The case was about to be closed for the home learning worker: [it] was over to her now so we talked we made a lots of reference to him talking and the bits of things that she was doing and putting up the timetable and whatever so it’s all about encouraging him to speak so […] the direct work that I’d done was kind of almost over The mother was aware of this: ‘she knew our time was coming to an end and she didn’t want it to come to an end’. To facilitate the move to the next stage, intensive interaction with the mother was needed. CONCLUSION Interruptions during professional home visits are much more than merely behavioural instances. By one version—an idealized practice of child minding—these child-minding moments do not count as interruptions at all. The phenomenon of the ‘interrupting child’, whether stating its routine normality or (as some literature does) pedagogically advocating its preferred absence, draws one into a fundamental discussion of what child development and professional intervention are all about. This begs the question to what extent interactional phenomena which are described as ‘interruptions’ can be separated from the value-laden professional understandings of particular types of work. If the worker did not enable the child’s interruptions, professionals might worry that she might be missing out on crucial aspects of the work—and this sets up a moral stance to the significance of an interruption, a point also implied by O’Reilly’s (2006, 2007) conclusions for family therapy interaction. The interruptions display for the worker examples of child–mother interaction and enable the two teachable moments. Whereas child-initiated interruptions in some pedagogical writing are considered negative, the professional vision of the home learning worker construes the interruptions by the child as potentially positive and as carrying potential for demonstration and learning, though it is recognized that their interactional management posed considerable challenges. In the data instances, we have seen the worker self-monitor her alignments within interconnected frames of activity: advice-giving, child-minding, teachable moments. It was noted that on two occasions the worker tried to recommence the advice giving before the child-minding sequence had been completed. This highlights the delicacy of timing in the case of frame-restoring moves. In particular, the management of the two teachable moments both fitted into the occasion of child minding but they were also marked as educating (cf. ‘that’s it that’s fine’, the concluding turn of excerpt 6). As noted above, the mother in the analysed interaction is the custodian of the child’s action. In therapy, this may be different. As reported by O’Reilly (2006, 2007), the therapist sets the interpretation of the child’s actions, since at any point they may become relevant for therapeutic consideration. There is arguably a general point to be made here about a home learning worker refraining from such assessments, as child welfare professionals—particularly during home visits—will be careful not to occupy discursive positions in which they appear to present definitive formulations of a child when the parents are present. Is the concept of an interruption troublesome from the professional’s point of view? The home learning worker is working within a child-centred framework, which presupposes listening to the child, attending to the child, focusing the intervention on the child. To that extent, a characterization of the child’s involvement in talk as interruptive itself might be deemed contradictory to the spirit of child-centred practice. In other home visiting data in our corpus, we see the worker frequently engaging in talk with the child, alongside talk with the parents and sometimes on completely different topics. In some cases, the worker divides the visit in a child part and an adult part (Hall et al. 2010). Underneath the home learning worker’s account is an assumption that a failure to attend to the child’s actions runs counter to child-centred practice. A strong version of child-centred practice in this case would be that help to the mother is only relevant if it helps the child. This observation harmonizes with Cicourel’s (1992) conclusion that professional judgement is never abstracted from context, both local and more broadly-conceived. It is always situated against some specific cost-benefit analysis, and realized through some event- and person-sensitive performance. While making the case for empirically and qualitatively embracing the diversity and range of practices exemplified during professional home visits, our analysis has also underlined the interpretative and explanatory value of complementing interactional analysis with in-depth understanding of situated professional vision (Goodwin 1994). The professional’s classification of this particular home visit as ‘atypical’ invokes a professional understanding within the range of typical and recognizable categories routinely deployed in the professional world, that is, that client are individuals, that work will have a dual orientation, that a worker is at one point preparing to conclude her intervention, etc. While the dimensions of work listed are typical, this particular case resulted in an atypical dynamics. The distinctions noted are quite meaningful to the professional world, and will be to a range of professionals. Here, the professional’s comments qualify the status of the ‘discourse analysis’ in the sense that the interactional patterns which have been noted need to be understood in the light of a series of home visits, in terms of a polarization perhaps of the ‘normal’ dualities of work in which attention is divided between parent and child clients, as well as in terms of professional perceptions of what professionals typically do. In the interview, the professional is doing accountability work while commenting on our analysis (Hall et al. 2006). The interview provides a professional justification for the recorded activity and this entails a dialogic engagement with our analysis and with categories and dimensions of professional work which are used to compare and contrast cases. Also this forms part of ‘professional vision’. Put briefly: interruptions are indexical of the professional work to be done. Such a view is in agreement with publications which self-identify as ‘applied discourse analysis’ or ‘applied conversation analysis’ (Antaki 2011). Put in a perspective of professional development, interactional analysis must be made relevant to the professions in terms which make sense to the professional world, adding depth to professional understanding with the benefit of systematic analysis and enriching our analyses of interactional dynamics with the benefit of situated professional understandings. While professionals often use terminology which is identical to that used by discourse analysts (e.g. ‘giving advice’), they may understand such categories in quite different terms. A bi-directional engagement with each other’s terminology and concepts is invited, in ways which enrich both scientific understanding and professional practice. Another way of formulating this stresses the relevance of coordinated team effort, in which professional practitioners dialogically engage in teams with discourse analysts. Stef Slembrouck is a Senior Full Professor in the Linguistics Department at Ghent University. He has published widely on interactional practices in a range of institutional and professional domains, including social work, health, education and administrative practices. Address for correspondence: Linguistics Department, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, Ghent B-9000, Belgium. <stef.slembrouck@ugent.be> Christopher Hall (Senior Research Fellow, Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University) is a social work researcher with a particular interest in discourse and narrative approaches to social work. He has carried out research into policy and practice in child protection and mental health. NOTES 1 Home visits are carried out by a large number of professionals in the human services, for example, social workers, health visitors, housing officers, therapists. Often the visit is for the practical convenience of the service user, but the home may also be the focus of the intervention, for example, to examine and work on home conditions and relationships. 2 The current corpus consists of 31 home visits (12 are located in the London-based unit from which the data used here are drawn). The visits lasted between 15 and 65 min. 3 Other home visits in our corpus showed a range of possible distractions—a plumber in one, the social worker receives a phone call, a boyfriend gets involved uninvited, a child goes near to the fire, etc. 4 The concept of ‘co-presence’ underlines Goffman’s (1974, 1981) interest in interactional centre, margin, and boundary, including shifting foci of attention when human interactants share a particular physical space while not necessarily the whole time being engaged in one-and-the-same activity or conversation. 5 In turn 09, the child’s name (‘C’ in the transcription) is pronounced using Lingala vowels at two points where English has a shwa. We are grateful to Michael Meeuwis for pointing this out to us. 6 The point about transformation aligns well with an earlier formulation of focused interaction being shielded by a ‘semi-permeable membrane’ (Goffman 1961: 66ff.). Focused interaction requires immersion and dedicated attention. 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Applied LinguisticsOxford University Press

Published: Mar 7, 2017

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