Contrasting pedagogical and linguistic ethnographic perspectives

In this section we discuss the central differences between the two visions that have emerged from our reflection on the various workshops conducted with teachers. We analyse differences on multiple dimensions, including key questions, assumptions, common methods, forms of reasoning and problems (summarised in Table 10.1; note that due to space limitations not all the rows on the table are discussed explicitly in the chapter).

It is not by chance that the two perspectives appear here as diametrically opposed. Our analytic strategy involves comparing the two perspectives, such that each serves as the backdrop against which aspects of the other stand out. No doubt, other important aspects of teacher professional vision have gone unnoticed by us, since they accord with our own perspective. Moreover, each perspective has emerged in interaction with the other. Hence, what we present here is not necessarily how teachers think about and gaze upon video-recordings in general, but rather how they have responded when discussing the materials with us, i.e. when pressed to consider our linguistic ethnographic perspective. Likewise, our particular take on linguistic ethnography is partially the product of our work with teachers: we emphasise certain aspects of linguistic ethnography in our teaching specifically as a response to perceived problems with how teachers respond to video. Hence, the professional visions discussed here are not necessarily inherent, independent or general.

We illustrate the two professional visions with an example taken from a data analysis session in the 'Discourse, Teaching and Learning' M.A. seminar at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in May 2013. Most of the 14 students attending the course were practising teachers who returned to University part-time to study for an M.A. degree in Curriculum and Instruction (other students were in the doctoral programme or studying educational counselling). The course aims to introduce participants to central approaches in the study of classroom interaction, discourse, teaching and learning, and to give them opportunities to critically examine practice in their own or another's classrooms. The hope is that some of the students will go on to conduct research in classrooms, taking advantage of the concepts and methods studied, and that all of the participants will find the perspectives encountered helpful in reflecting on their own pedagogical beliefs and practice.

The seminar is organised into two semesters. In the first semester students are introduced to key concepts and methods in the study of discourse and interaction, and to central issues and seminal studies in classroom discourse research. In the second semester, the seminar functions as a data analysis workshop for investigating video- and/or audiorecorded materials chosen by the students.

The example we focus on here occurred in one of the data analysis workshops. Tomer, a Computing teacher at an Experimental School in affluent north Tel-Aviv, brought to the session a video recording of two segments from a 7th grade history lesson. Tomer selected these segments as relatively good examples of an innovative educational programme, for which he acts as school coordinator, called Identity Exploration. In explaining this programme, Tomer quoted from Flum & Kaplan (2006), who suggest that 'the primary focus of students' engagement in school- work should be to intentionally and consciously examine, investigate, and evaluate the relevance and meaning of content and action to their sense of who they are and who they want to be' (p. 102). Tomer sought to examine in the course data analysis session the extent to which the students actually engaged in such identity exploration. He was concerned about this question for professional reasons - as programme coordinator it is his job to help teachers facilitate pupils' identity exploration - and also as he intended to focus on this issue in his seminar research paper.

Pedagogical perspective

Linguistic ethnographic perspective

Key questions

Focus of analysis: Evaluation of professional practice

  • • Is the teaching good?
  • • Are the students learning?
  • • How could the practice be improved?
  • • What does it say about me and/or her as a teacher?

Focus of analysis: Description of interaction

  • • What is going on here?
  • • What kind of discourse genre is this?
  • • In what ways is the episode an interesting or unusual case of this discourse genre?
  • • What structures, ideologies and identities are being enacted and/ or resisted?

Key assumptions

  • • The main thing that happens in classrooms is teaching and learning.
  • • The teacher is in charge / controls the activity.
  • • The key categories for understanding pupil participation and success are levels of cognitive ability.
  • • Classrooms are sites of multiple activities and concerns, such as social identification, negotiating interpersonal and power relations, and 'doing school'. Academic learning is often marginal to both pupils and teacher.
  • • Often pupils constrain teacher activity just as much as teachers constrain pupils; control is jointly constructed.
  • • 'Ability' is at least partially a social construction, context-dependent.
  • • Teachers and pupils act rationally; the analyst's challenge is to understand what makes seemingly irrational action rational within the given context.

Key concepts (examples)

Learning, understanding, engagement, interest, motivation, discipline, ability, specific teaching strategies.

Discourse genre, footing, repair, participation framework, preference organisation, procedural display, social identification.

Common

methods

Logic of inquiry: projection of pedagogical preferences onto the event

  • 1) What should we expect from good teaching?
  • 2) Is it evident in the episode? i.e. is this good teaching?
  • 3a) What should the teacher be doing differently?

OR

3b) Are there mitigating circumstances?

Logic of inquiry: micro-analysis of interesting or surprising events

  • 1) Interrogation of context.
  • 2) Selection of moment for micro-analysis.
  • 3) Line-by-line brainstorm.
  • 4) Weighing emergent interpretations.
  • 5) Generalising beyond the event.

Common forms of reasoning

  • • General, holistic / impressionistic.
  • • Own experience as a key source of authority and basis for claims.
  • • Attributing actions to type of pupil or teacher.
  • • Specihc, pointing at line numbers, words.
  • • Research literature on classroom discourse (and generally on interaction) as a key source of authority and basis for claims.
  • • Attributing behaviour to situation.

Common material representations and highlighting systems

Lesson plans, worksheets, pupil work, examinations, report cards; Occasionally: teacher evaluation (e.g. RAMA tool).

Audio- and/or video-recordings, transcripts, fieldnotes, pupil work; Sometimes: lesson plan, curricular materials.

Chief limitation

Focuses on what is missing rather than what is present.

Privileges (a) the 'here and now' (recorded data) over longer time scales, and (b) social dynamics over cognitive interests, thereby marginalising learning.

In the workshop we investigated this and other issues through a process that included the following stages (this was the basic structure for all the data analysis workshops, though the divisions were often less neat than outlined here):

  • (a) Presentation by Tomer of the background to the school, segment and his research;
  • (b) Watching the segments and attending to the transcript provided by Tomer;
  • (c) Posing clarification questions;
  • (d) Watching the segments for a second time;
  • (e) Relatively free-flowing discussion in which students comment upon what they noticed or found significant or interesting, and address Tomer's question about whether pupils engage in identity exploration in the segments. During this segment the course lecturer is relatively silent.
  • (f) Focused micro-analytic investigation of select events, led by the course lecturer.
  • (g) Conclusion, in which we reflect back upon the workshop and what, if anything, we learned.

We now use this and similar sessions (where appropriate) to illustrate the differences between pedagogic and linguistic ethnographic professional visions.

 
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