Developing an ethnographically grounded analytical framework

As described above, the study focused on post-observation feedback in initial English language teacher training. The research questions were:

  • 1. What are the generic features of feedback in this context?
  • 2. Which hegemonic positions are enacted and reproduced by these trainers?
  • 3. What strategies do these trainers and trainees use to introduce, maintain and negotiate power in their feedback sessions?
  • 4. Are these trainers and trainees adequately prepared to take part in feedback?

The research revealed that trainers and trainees oriented to genres, that is, 'a set of conventionalised expectations that members of a social group or network use to shape and construe the communicative activity that they are engaged in' (Rampton, 2006: 128). The genres identified included: 'self-evaluation' (sections of talk where trainees provided positive and negative feedback on their own lessons); 'trainer feedback' (where trainers provided positive and negative feedback on the trainees' lessons); and 'peer-feedback' (where trainees would provide positive and negative evaluations on the lessons taught by other trainees in their group). I focus on peer feedback in this section, because it was in the analysis and discussion of peer feedback data that the value of linguistic ethnography became clear (a fuller discussion of genre in this study and some of the following discussion can be found in Copland, 2011).

'Peer-feedback' was a feature of every feedback session and was also a theme in my fieldnotes. I consistently referred to it, noting for example, trainees' lack of engagement and undeveloped critical perspective and the effort trainers made to elicit comments from trainees. Trainees did peer feedback, but ineffectively, and trainers insisted on peer feedback, despite its superficiality. The ethnographic noticing and reflecting signalled that peer feedback was worthy of further investigation and so I conducted a linguistic analysis of peer feedback talk by identifying all instances in the data and then coding the talk according to function. This analysis showed that peer feedback generally exhibited particular features. It included a description (of what happened in the lesson) and positive feedback. If negative feedback was included, it was hedged, unelaborated and the trainee delivering the feedback linked the negative evaluation to a weakness in his/her own lesson delivery. Most of these features are present in the following example from the data: unelaborated negative feedback (italics), praise (underlined), link to weakness in own performance (bold):

Extract 1

I thought that was quite good. I wouldn't have thought of that and they really enjoyed the game at the end, didn't they, making the sentences. I thought () they seemed to really enjoy that activity of putting all the words together. I thought that was good cos that gave them the chance to use what they were learning, put it in the proper context. Um the only thing of working on, I thought, was the same as what I did last week, when somebody asks um says the wrong answer. I did the exactly the same and I said 'Ooh no!'. Um and then, like in my feedback, I think it was you suggested didn't you say to say something like 'Oh why did you think that?' or, 'Did everybody else get the same answer?' so to try and draw them out why they said no. So that stood out cos it was the same as what I did ((laugh)).

Both the linguistic and ethnographic analysis suggested that peer feedback was a site of unease, so I introduced it as a topic in the interviews. The trainees said they found the task of peer-feedback difficult and often face-threatening. They also said that they found giving feedback uncomfortable given their relative lack of experience. By contrast, trainers reported that peer feedback was a useful activity for trainees as it encouraged them to observe each other closely, it reduced the burden on the trainers to produce evaluative comment, and it provided opportunities for reflection. However, trainers also stated that it was often not successful because trainees were too busy focusing on their own lessons to pay attention to their peers' lessons.

The interview data confirmed my findings, from detailed analysis of fieldnotes and transcripts, that there was a mismatch between trainers' and trainees' views about the purpose, value and challenge of peer feedback. The interview data, in addition, suggested a number of reasons for this mismatch.

An ethnographically grounded analytical framework emerged organically as I worked with the different data sets, answering the questions, 'What's going on here?' and 'How do you know that?' These questions, elegant in their simplicity, are demanding. The first question required me to draw on analytical resources to interrogate first impressions and contradictory readings. The second ensured that I found supporting evidence for findings in different data sets. Both questions grounded the data (fieldnotes, recordings, interviews) in their context of use and both made me aware that my diggings and uncoverings were contingent and subjective. Developing this ethnographically grounded analytical framework involved a personal step-change, from banking on the linguistic data, with its perceived empirical rigour and validity, to developing an understanding of what the ethnographic brings in terms of accounting 'for what goes on, on the ground, in living colour' (Agar, 2008: 10). In the next section, I explain how working with this framework produced an even more fundamental shift - to embrace an ethnographic sensibility.

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