01 SES 08 B, Professional Learning to Support Literacy
Since 2015, a five year long, nationwide professional development program (PDP) Läslyftet (eng. Enhancing literacy) is ongoing in Sweden. It was initiated by the Swedish Department of Education, targeting subject teachers from primary to upper secondary school. The PDP is aiming at improving students’ reading and writing skills. It is assumed that an overall increase in attainment results will be the result of improved literacy competence. The PDP also aims at implementing a model where mandators and principals give conditions for continuing and long term systematic quality work concerning students’ literacy development, based on local needs and conditions. The construction of Läslyftet corresponds with Timperley’s (2008) model Teacher inquiry and knowledge-building cycle (ref) where students’ attainment level is expected to increase by their teachers’ professional development.
The PDP is characterized by peer learning – in the Swedish context an umbrella term for professional development expected to occur when teachers, through structured collaboration and reflective dialogue about teaching issues, gain new insights, knowledge and skills – and where the notion of learning as a social process is central. International research in the field often define learning as participating in social practice (Levine, 2010) and the concept Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are often used. In Stoll et al (2006) successful PLCs are characterized by reflection, collaboration and shared values, visions and responsibility for students’ learning. It is often emphasized that PLCs need to focus on the learning of the students: “The goal of their actions is to enhance their effectiveness as professionals for the students’ benefits” (Stoll et al., 2006, p. 223).
During the PDP teachers are expected to read and discuss articles on literacy issues, watch films and try out and evaluate various teaching activities. The teachers are organized in groups, led by a colleague, a teacher of Swedish, who functions as a literacy facilitator. The facilitators are language teachers thus possessing foundational literacy knowledge, which is enhanced during an eight days training course that they are given at a local university, supervised by the Swedish Board of Education. Therefore, we assume that the facilitators are able to mediate the literacy content of the articles when needed, and to some extent function as literacy experts.
In a previous study (Andersson Varga & Randahl, 2017) the expected and experienced role (Thornberg, 2013) of the literacy facilitator was explored, revealing that the role of a moderator was both the predominating expected and the predominating experienced role. The role of a literacy expert was rejected by the facilitators
In this study two peer discussions, led by two different facilitators, are analyzed. One of the discussions takes place in a heterogeneous group of upper secondary school subject teachers whereas in the other peer discussion a more homogeneous group of subject teachers participate.
The research questions are
- What kind of mutual knowledge building processes are going on during the peer discussions?
- What role(s) does the facilitators take on – a moderator or more of a mediating tool scaffolding the literacy contents in the articles?
What impact does the participants’ notions of literacy have?
The material consists of two recorded and transcribed peer discussions where the literacy content in the articles are supposed to be discussed and elaborated. Peer discussion 1 is 82 minutes long and consists of 408 turns. Nine persons participate: the facilitator, five vocational teachers, a teacher of Swedish, a librarian and a head teacher. Peer discussion 2, is 55 minutes long and consists of 259 turns. Five persons participate: the facilitator, two secondary teachers of Swedish, and two late primary teachers of Swedish. The analytical focus is on the mutual knowledge building processes and the role of the facilitators. A prerequisite for meaning making to emerge in a discussion is intersubjectivity (Linell, 2017). It can be described as when the participants agree on what the discussion is about, often referred to as the object of the discussion, or the object of stance (Du Bois, 2007). The participants do not have to agree on how the object of stance is to be evaluated – they can position themselves in diverse ways in relation to the object. However, the participants must agree on what is the object of stance, otherwise the discussion will break down. Further, there is usually an implicit request for achieving a high level of consent “their interaction will normally serve to increase the range of sharedness” (Linell, 2017, p.109). Since intersubjectivity is achieved in dialogue it can be traced by analyzing the utterances and particularly the participants’ linguistic choices In a discussion the participants can take different stances regarding the object. In line with Kärkkäinen (2006) we differentiate between epistemic, affective and evaluative stances. By an epistemic stance the participants show their understanding of an object, with an affective stance the attitude of the object is shown, and an evaluative stance show how the object is valued by the participants (see also Melander & Sahlström, 2010). Due to their role in the PDP, the facilitators might take on epistemic responsibility. Therefore, the concepts epistemic access, epistemic primacy, and epistemic responsibility (Stivers et al, 2011) are used for analyzing their actions during the peer discussions Since the PDP is aiming at enhancing the quality of literacy instruction across the curriculum it is relevant to focus in participants’ notions of literacy expressed during the peer discussions and how these notions effect the knowledge building process.
The main finding in our study is that the two peer discussions hardly show any signs of literacy knowledge building processes. Our analysis reveals different possible explanations. In discussion 1 the content of the article is quite challenging and is being made irrelevant by the participants taking an evaluative stance, rather than trying to understand and elaborate on the literacy contents that it covered. Even though the facilitator is assumed having epistemic access she refrains from taking epistemic responsibility. Instead she sticks to the role of a moderator, mainly occupied with the turn taking of her colleagues, thus refraining from acting as a mediating tool or literacy expert. The discussion seems to be moving in an anxiety zone (Mariani, 1997). Another reason preventing knowledge building processes is the lack of mutual notion of literacy. On the contrary there is a gap between the vocational teachers’ emphasis on oracy and oral teaching and learning and the other participants for whom teaching from written language – reading and writing texts - seems natural. Discussion 2 is characterized by the teachers sharing of experiences, that sometimes concern their teaching of literacy, rather than elaborating the literacy content of the article and building new knowledge. We understand it as a consequence of the article, which does not seem challenging enough. Rather, the teachers are moving in their comfort zone (Mariani, 1997) during the whole discussion. In relation to their notions on literacy, all teachers position themselves in the same process oriented writing discourse (Ivanič, 2004). In the article a genre discourse (Ivanič, 2004) is introduced, that could have underpinned a critical reflection about teaching writing, but, the facilitator refrains from challenging her colleagues doing so. We conclude taking the role of moderator seems not sufficient for establishing a knowledge building process during peer discussions.
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