19 SES 08 B, Students, Learning and Engagement Practices
Sociocultural approaches to learning in the school classroom demonstrate how any explanations must account for much more than restricting our focus to changes of behaviour in individuals. In a move to acknowledge context and collectives theorists such as Wertsch (1991) has given us concepts like persons-interacting-with-mediational-means or Lave & Wengerʻs (1991) situated learning. Carr et al. (2009) adapts Wertschʻs living in the middle to “learning in the middle”. We now have a better understanding of how identity formation and learning emerges out of participation in contexts through conceptual frameworks such as communites of practice (Wenger, 1998) and activity theory (Engstrom, Miettinen & Punamaki, 1999). This has helped shift our explanation of individual identity and capability to collective engagement in classroom spaces. However there is a tendancy to forget these understandings when accounting for why children are not learning as expected. This is pronounced in relation to disability where the identification of impairment can be used to explain/accept failure and exclusion, rather than considering other more interactional accounts (Shakespeare, 2009). Maintaining a duality of focus rather than forgrounding either the context or the individual is an ongoing challenge for ethnography. In the mean time new materialism and post humanism is encouraging us to expand what we take notice of in the space that individuals inhabit (Malone, 2016).
The aim of this paper is to take on the ethnographical challenge of evidencing this sociocultural complexity.
Observing and understanding embodied individuals engagedin negotiating meaningful mediated action with other individuals who, by taking part in joint activities, are immersed in in a wider project of being and becoming is the challenge for ethnography. Interpeting engagement happens in the context of people coming together and participating in practices. Engagement, while strongly connected to improving achievement (Christenson, Reschly & Wylie, 2012) is no longer just about the individual, but the contribution of actors to a network of embodied and mediated action who are in constant tension. Not a tension that is static, but one that is mostly in equilibrium within the classroom. Engagement generates meanings that inform both individual experience and emerging student identity, as well as student participation in communities of practice. Over time, the meanings generated and negotiated emerge as an outcome for the individual in a process of being and becoming. Childhood Studies has been keen to demonstrate this is embodied learning for children (not restricted to the cognitive) across the various contexts of individual childhoods (Prout, 2005). Being and becoming are embodied within the child creating a trajectory for learning, transformation, and development with respect to participation in the larger community.
The challenge for ethnographers is to find ways to elaborate on these dense networks that make up a space. My research question is how do I explain engagement in the daily routines and interactions of different communities of practice (classrooms) as they contribute to the ongoing learning of a disabled student and his wider learning trajectories? I will draw on a specific ethnographic study looking at a disabled child in a school setting to highlight the practicalities of theorizing learning in the middle.
Jack (a pseudonym) is a student with a memory impairment, living in a New Zealand city and attending regular schools. The impairment was significant enough to warrant his schools providing teacher aide support for much of the school week. The presenter took on the role of participant observer in Jack's schools for three years from when Jack was 11-years of age until he was 14. The study began as Jack moved to a middle school (more than 400 11-12 year olds) for two years before Jack moved to a larger high school in the same area. Ethnography. Michael spent approximately 2 weeks (either mornings or afternoons) out of each 10-week term in the classroom and other school settings. In addition, Jack, his parents and his teachers, and other school staff, were interviewed at least annually. The aim was to deepen our understanding of Jack by observing the cyclical patterns (Hammersley 2006) of his existence at school. Ethical consent was accumulative and recurring, starting with Jack and his family, the school, the teacher, other classroom adults, and then classroom students (Gaffney, 2013). An ethnographic case study framework (Merriam 1998) was used to highlight the socio-cultural understandings of disability and impairment. The aim was to articulate the links between practice and experience by asking what is happening, how and why (Silverman 2006). As ethnographer, I took the approach of negotiating with both students and adults how I might engage with classroom and school activities (Bogdan and Biklen 2007). As I wanted students to share with me their views on classroom activities and practices as they occurred, it was important that both children and adults were comfortable with my presence. I did this by taking an interest in what students were doing, avoiding being judgmental, letting classroom members set the pace of their relationships with me, and drawing on my previous teaching experience. I took care not to spend too much time with Jack, but rather positioned myself as someone who took an interest in what all students were doing. Methodologically this offered the opportunity to compare Jack's classroom experiences with those of others in the classroom.
I will present examples of ethnographic data that show not only how certain types of engagement is afforded but is also how it is actively 'called forth' or 'demanded' within the environment by: " What is promoted as being good to do/be at school? " What opportunities students recognize as points of engagement? " What activities are offered and how are they being mediated? The examples will show that both students and adults are learning within an ecology of engagement based on their responses to questions as to why, where and when, and how for themselves and for others. Engagement is now a matter of understanding both what a group of individuals bring to a classroom and the demands made of them by the community of practice that 'call forth' (Gaffney, 2014) certain ways of doing and being from participants. This would account for why there were different 'Jacks' present as demonstrated by his differing peer relationships across each year or the teacher who recognized that Jack was more confident in one class rather than another. Answers to the questions of knowing why, where and when, and how (Carr et al., 2009) must now take account of both the individual and the community. Engagement does not necessarily mean following the programme designated by the teacher. I will show how students might 'follow' the teacher's instruction for a learning activity, at the same time as some were using these as opportunities to explore their own shared interests and knowledge. For Jack, his classroom engagement and learning was very much influenced by other students rather than his impairment. The challenge for me as ethnographer was to be able to articulate this ecology.
Bogdan R.C., and S.K. Biklen. 2007. Qualitative research for education: An introduction to theories and methods, 5th ed. Boston: Pearson. Carr, M., Smith, A. B., Duncan, J., Jones, C., Lee, W., & Marshall, K. (2009). Learning in the making: Disposition and design in early education. Rotterdam: Sense. Christenson, S.L., Reschly, A.L., & Wylie, C., (2012). Handbook of research on student engagement. New York: Springer. Engstrom, Y., Miettinen, R., & Punamaki, R., (1999). Perspectives of activity theory. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. Gaffney, M. Case Study 15: The challenge of ongoing consent. (2013). In Ethical Research Involving Children. Graham A., Powell. M., Anderson, D. & Fitzgerald, R. (eds). Florence, UNICEF Office of Research, Innocenti. 147-149. Gaffney, M. 2014. Calling forth disability in the classroom. Disability and Society 29, 359-372. doi: 10.1080/09687599.2013.816627 Hammersley, M. 2006. Ethnography: Problems and prospects. Ethnography and Education 1: 3-14. doi:10.1080/17457820500512697 Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University. Malone, K. (2016). Reconsidering childrenʻs encounters with nature and place using posthumanism. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 32(1), 42-56. Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Prout, A. (2005). The future of childhood: Towards the interdisciplinary study of children. London: Routledge Falmer. Shakespeare, T. (2009). Disability: A complex interaction. In H. Daniels, H. Lauder, J. Porter & S. Hartshorn (Eds.), Knowledge, values and educational policy: A critical perspective (pp. 184-197). London: Routledge. Silverman, D. (2006). Interpreting Qualitative Data (3rd ed.). London: SAGE. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York: Cambridge University. Wertsch, J.V. (1991). Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard.
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