Common methods

We now turn to differences between the two perspectives with regard to their logics and methods of inquiry. For linguistic ethnography, we have a relatively robust tradition of methodological reflection to build upon; for pedagogical inquiry, we have sought to reconstruct the implicit methods of inquiry from our interactions with the teachers in our workshops. As such, the comparison is rather problematic: on the one hand, a carefully thought through and debated set of research methods; on the other hand, a set of intuitive, ad hoc moves practitioners make when confronted with unfamiliar representations of classroom practice. But our point is not to argue for the relative merits of one or the other system, rather to highlight the differences in order to find ways of coping with them better.

The primary issue in the pedagogical perspective - i.e., Is the teaching good? - leads to three central analytic moves:

  • 1. Identification of relevant standards for good teaching. Since the question of what constitutes good teaching is highly contested in Israel, very often analysis begins with claims about what is important in teaching this particular subject or that particular age group. For example, participants in the discussion of Tomer's data drew attention to a range of various indicators of teaching quality, among them student behaviour (on task, attentive, not disruptive), student interest, depth and accuracy of historical investigation, relevance to students (and their identities), quality of the teacher responses to student contributions, the extent to which students responded to one another, and the 'feel' of the classroom climate. In some cases, the standards were made explicit; in most cases they can be inferred from what was said.
  • 2. Evaluation of the episode according to those standards. Depending upon course participants' values and priorities, the episode that Tomer presented (from the identity exploration / history lesson) was deemed to be excellent or problematic teaching. For example, the initial responses of a number of students was to compliment the teacher on the orderly and respectful classroom learning environment. One commented, 'The students are so exceptional - first of all there's something respectful about them. It really shows that time isn't wasted on discipline problems, no stopping the flow [of the lesson].' Another affirmed, 'Yes, they're so well-behaved.' Other students favourably evaluated the lesson because the students appeared to be so involved, and related the topic of discussion to their own lives and selves. On the contrary, two other students contended, students' discussions of their own experiences marginalised and even distorted the historical knowledge that should be the focus of a history lesson. This issue - personal relevance vs disciplinary knowledge - was a central topic of group discussion. However, since the main point of contention is normative - What should be our educational priorities? - the episode itself provided little assistance in developing our ideas, and indeed was quickly abandoned in favour of more general claims about what knowledge is worth knowing and how people learn.
  • 3. Drawing conclusions about how practice should be improved and/or what the recorded practice says about the observed teacher. After assessing the quality of the teaching observed, participants often offer suggestions of what the teacher should be doing differently. For example, in the discussion of Tomer's data one of participants suggested that the teacher should have challenged students' problematic historical analogies, and most of the participants agreed that Tomer needs to work with the teacher on summarising and extending pupils' ideas (rather than moving on to the next pupil without offering substantive feedback). Another teacher explained that in such a situation as the observed teacher found himself she would split the students into more intimate, small discussion groups, or pursue the personal issues raised in one-on-one consultations. Evaluations - both negative and positive - often give rise to explanations, which are usually rooted in the unique circumstances of the lesson (e.g., 'it's because he's a supply teacher that they treat him this way') or student background. In the case of Tomer's data, for example, teachers commented on the students' relatively affluent background as a 'mitigating' factor in the teacher's success: the implication being that if he were to teach that way with 'normal' students he would have a much harder time achieving such a positive classroom climate and good student behaviour.

Our specific approach to linguistic ethnographic analysis of classroom discourse and interaction has been elaborated elsewhere (Lefstein & Snell, 2011b, 2014); here we briefly touch upon the main analytic processes we engage in when conducting micro-analysis of interesting or surprising events. After having received explanation of background, watched and/or heard the recording twice, and studied the transcript, we engage in the following:

  • 1. Interrogation of context. We try to make sense of the event more globally before delving into specifics. This typically involves asking questions about the context (the school, participants and the lesson) and the type of event or discourse genre(s) participants are engaged in.
  • 2. Selection of moment(s) for micro-analysis. We often collect initial comments in which each participant notes something that caught their attention. This first round of comments usually draws attention to particular moments that warrant further investigation, because they are not well understood, because participants have offered conflicting interpretations of them, and/or because something interesting or unexpected is happening in them.
  • 3. Line-by-line micro-analytic brainstorm of select moments. We then proceed line-by-line, brainstorming about 'Why that now?' 'What else could have happened, but didn't?' 'How does this turn relate to the preceding one?' (see Rampton, 2006).
  • 4. Weighing emergent interpretations. We pursue the different possibilities, testing out ideas on the basis of the available evidence, or discussing how interpretations could be further elaborated through investigation of the rest of the corpus or further data collection, for example.
  • 5. Generalising beyond the event. Finally - and we often don't manage to get to this stage in the time available in the seminar - we speculate about the possible patterns or meanings that extend beyond the event and address larger social issues and/or theoretical ideas. Such generalisation is speculative at this stage, and part of the discussion is methodological: what else would we want to investigate in order to test and/or extend these theoretical ideas further?

So, for example, in the discussion of Tomer's data, we selected for further analysis the event in which Noa talked about how she learned to stop referring stereotypically to her 'blonde' friends. We asked about what kind of event Noa was engaged in, looked in detail at the way she constructed her utterance, and how it related to the previous and subsequent turns. Among other issues, the micro-analytic brainstorm raised questions about what is being expected of students in such a lesson, i.e., what are the rules of the identity exploration game? This line of analysis gave way to speculation about the emergence of what Ecclestone and Hayes (2009) call 'therapeutic education', and how the rise of this educational ideology might be affecting classroom order, power relations and the teaching of disciplinary content.

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