14 SES 11 B, Adolescents' Identities, Attitudes and Parental Influence in Transitions
Adolescents move across a variety of sites –e.g. home, school, peer groups, sports clubs, worksites– that may introduce them to different ideas about what knowledge and skills are worth pursuing, what learning is, whether and why learning is important, and what the best way to learn is (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner & Cain, 1998; Wenger, 1998). Based on the different learning notions and experiences adolescents are introduced to, they develop a learner identity: a sense of themselves as learners that comprises their learning preferences, strengths and weaknesses. How adolescents understand themselves as learners influences how they approach new learning activities and contents (Coll & Falsafi, 2010). It may impact how and why adolescents may engage with or disengage from learning (e.g., Mortimer, Wortham, & Allard, 2010; Phelan, Davidson, & Cao, 1991).
Previous research indicates that discontinuities across sites in the purpose, meaning, and form of learning “require people either to shift in position and perspective or leave them troubled. In the latter case, discontinuity can have severe consequences for educational trajectories in terms of potential disengagement and drop-out” (Bronkhorst & Akkerman, 2016, p. 20). This appears to explain why especially students that come from a non-dominant ethnic and/or a low SES background, that are at risk of low achievements, or that are very talented, may come to believe that learning in school is not for them (Bronkhorst & Akkerman, 2016). When schools across Europe do not take into account that certain (groups of) students may have difficulties with moving across different sites, the development of favorable learner identities –learner identities that stimulate adolescents to keep learning and developing themselves– of some adolescents may be more supported in school than those of others.
Thus far, not much is known about how exactly adolescents’ learner identities are developed across different sites and over time, and how this may inform adolescents’ learner identity enactment and development in their current education. Therefore, we study the following research question: ‘How is the enactment and development of adolescents’ learner identity in formal education affected by learning experiences in other sites?’.
We approach the enactment and development of learner identities from a sociocultural practice perspective (e.g., Holland et al., 1998; Wenger, 1998). This means that we focus on how adolescents’ learner identities are continuously informed by their participation in various social and cultural contexts (e.g., home and school). Such sites are cultural because they are characterized by specific sets of learning norms, values and tools that guide the actions and judgments of the people participating in them. The different sites people move across are social because they are socially organized: in every site different social roles are made available, among which various learner identity positions can be found that are dependent on the site’s prevalent learning norms, values and tools. Possible examples of learner identity positions that may be present in a particular site are the creative learner, the disruptive student, and the social student. Adolescents enact and develop their learner identities based on their (often unconscious) identification with a mere selection of the identity positions that are available in the various sites they move across, while distancing themselves from others (Holland et al., 1998; Wenger, 1998). When discrepancies across contexts emerge in the learner identity positions that are adopted by or allocated to an adolescent, the adolescent has to negotiate the available identity positions in relation to his/her broader sociocultural context, as to maintain a coherent sense of him- or herself as a learner (Coll & Falsafi, 2010; Holland et al., 1998; Wenger, 1998).
In line with Holland et al. (1998) and Sfard and Prusak (2005), we believe that people tell others and themselves who they are as learners by developing narratives based on their experiences in various sociocultural sites. This is why we collected interview data. In-depth semi-structured interviews were performed that allow space for adolescents’ authentic narratives of themselves as a learner, while warranting the purpose of the interview. In total, eighteen Dutch ninth graders (seven boys and eleven girls) were interviewed twice over the course of the schoolyear of 2015-2016.We recruited respondents from three schools (a traditional, a Montessori and a Waldorf school) we already had obtained access to for another study. In the selection of respondents we aimed to find students that vary in the track they are enrolled in (the prevocational or the pre-university track), the extent to which they were performing well in school, and their socioeconomic status. Teachers helped us to select a heterogeneous group of respondents so that we could examine the impact of contextual continuities and discontinuities in the enactment and development of adolescents’ learner identity in formal education. The first interview concerned the respondents’ educational trajectory thus far, their experiences thereof, their current experiences of going to school, and their self-understanding as a learner within the context of school. The other interview addressed the respondents’ learning experiences in the out-of-school sites they participated in. Also, the respondents were asked to compare these learning experiences to their learning experiences in school. A narrative analysis was performed using Azevedo’s (2011) four core concepts. First, we explored adolescents’ learning preferences. Additionally, we coded for the different sites of practice in which these preferences were present. Third, we coded for each site’s conditions of practice, or, in other words, each site’s set of learning norms, values and tools. Finally, we looked for lines of practice. In this case, these concern Amanda’s unique clusters of preferences and conditions of practice that capture long-term continuities in her pursuit of the open-ended activity of learning. Lines of practice are understood to “represent that which really matters for the person in his/her extended engagement” (Azevedo, 2011, p. 163), and that people may actively pursue. Yet, lines of practice may change due to shifts in people’s preferences, in their interplay with conditions of practice (Azevedo, 2011). The first author coded the transcripts while the other authors critically observed the coding process.
Our first analysis of the data provides insights into how a high degree of contextual continuity may support adolescents’ learner identity enactment and development in formal education. Various students in our sample move across sociocultural sites where (almost) everyone agrees that obtaining a degree is highly important and that it is praiseworthy to work hard for and at school. Especially when people from these various sites have similar ideas about how one should learn and when they support adolescents with their school work when needed, adolescents seem both inclined to prioritize school over other activities and motivated to get the most out of their formal education. Being able to rely on people outside of school to be successful in school, appears to make these adolescents feel confident about their chances to succeed in formal education. These adolescents are strongly stimulated by the totality of their sociocultural surroundings to identify themselves with a particular identity position of a (good) leaner, because not doing so might be accompanied with negative social sanctions, and this appears to foster their enactment and development of a favorable learner identity. When, in contrast, a high degree of contextual discontinuity is present, and when this leaves adolescents troubled, two factors appear critical for their enactment and development of a favorable learner identity: the role models these adolescents selected (for example, parents, teachers or friends) and the learning notions that these role models offer, as well as the extent to which these adolescents’ formal education addresses their learning preferences (for example, hands-on or text-based learning). This implies that proper teacher-student relationships and the provision of a wide range of learning notions and experiences may support the enactment and development of a favorable learner identity in school among adolescents who move across sociocultural sites with rather different learning notions.
Azevedo, F.S. (2011). Lines of Practice: A Practice-Centered Theory of Interest Relationships. Cognition and Instruction, 29, 147-184. Bronkhorst, L. H., & Akkerman, S. F. (2016). At the boundary of school: Continuity and discontinuity in learning across contexts. Educational Research Review, 19, 18-35. Coll, C., & Falsafi, L. (2010). Learner identity. An educational and analytical tool. Revista de Educación, 353, 211-233. Holland, D., Lachicotte, W. Jr., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Mortimer, K. S., Wortham, S., & Allard, E. (2010). Helping immigrants identify as "university-bound students": Unexpected difficulties in teaching the hidden curriculum. Revista De Educacion, 353, 107-128. Phelan, P., Davidson, A. L., & Cao, H. T. (1991). Students’ Multiple Worlds: Negotiating the Boundaries of Family, Peer and School Cultures. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 22, 224-250. Sfard, A., & Prusak, A. (2005). Telling identities: In search of an analytic tool for investigating learning as a culturally shaped activity. Educational Researcher, 34(4), 14-22. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
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