Applying Linguistic Ethnography to Educational Practice: Notes on the Interaction of Academic Research and Professional Sensibilities

Adam Lefstein and Mirit Israeli

Academic concepts, methods and research knowledge are often criticised as irrelevant or useless for addressing problems of educational practice. Liat, a full-time Science teacher and part-time Masters student, expressed this sentiment in a recent seminar on 'Discourse, Teaching and Learning': 'I'm four years into this degree [programme] and the academic world is truly irrelevant to that of the educational system. It's all bullshit: research, research, research. Nothing at all relevant to schools, nothing.' (We have translated this and all other quotations from the workshops from Hebrew; the original transcripts are available upon request.) This chapter is about our attempt to address this challenge by introducing educational practitioners to linguistic ethnographic research of classroom practice.

We came to linguistic ethnography from educational work with teachers and students in schools, and it is upon the realm of professional practice that we seek to bring linguistic ethnographic insights to bear. This move is less straightforward than it may seem. Linguistic ethnographic methods are not ideal for addressing central questions that occupy educational practitioners, such as what students are learning or how effective the teaching is. Moreover, practitioners' professional sensibilities are generally different from ethnographers' analytic dispositions. Nevertheless, linguistic ethnography has broadened our understanding of pedagogy and classroom practice, and we are convinced that linguistic ethnographic perspectives can potentially benefit practitioners. Indeed, we spend a lot of our time trying to communicate these perspectives to teachers. In this chapter we use that experience as an opportunity to examine the differences between linguistic ethnographic and pedagogic perspectives, to explore their interaction in teacher development workshops we have conducted, and to reflect upon the advantages and limitations of linguistic ethnography as a tool for teachers, and how it might be adapted. We highlight fundamental divergences between how we and the teachers look at classroom practice, and describe how and why we often talk past each other.

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