“Liberty to do it our way”: Exploring Contested Discourses and Educational Spaces with Fifth Graders
May 1, 2011 7:00 p.m. EST/USA
In public elementary schools today, pressure to standardize curriculum, assessment, and instruction is rapidly whittling perceptions of what counts as literacy learning. With a narrow focus on literacy, limited space is made for dialogic inquiry and innovation, which in turn perpetuates educational inequities. Educators risk fostering compliance and cementing preconceived categorization of students, rather than critical thinking when orderliness supersedes deep thinking and negotiation.
Current educational research on space and place based pedagogies, in concert with critical sociocultural studies, frame this investigation of how discourse is co-constructed in contested educational spaces. Research questions for this study were as follows: How do discourses of categorization and compliance become normalized in a public elementary school? What happens when discourses of categorization and compliance are interrupted? How do students in mixed ability inquiry groups co-construct educational spaces in an alternative, multimodal, literacy curriculum? What are the structures and related ideologies, such as policies and beliefs about authority, in one elementary school that shape or constrain students’ school experiences? Using ethnographic and practitioner inquiry research methodologies, student knowledge about the ways in which discourses and educational spaces shape their educational experiences is foregrounded.
This qualitative year-long study in an urban elementary school with rigid structural procedures, such as ability grouped classrooms and uniform policies, Dr. Vander Zanden facilitated student-negotiated literacy learning through small group inquiry projects with fifth graders. Projects highlighted students’ creative expression and the complex strategies students use to perform in contested educational spaces. Dr. Vander Zanden argues that cultivating flexible spaces for literacy and a range of participation opportunities is necessary for democratic schooling. Heightened attention to the possibilities for talk in school spaces enables educators to co-construct spaces for dialogic inquiry and more fully include their students. Additionally, renewed awareness of the impossibility in applying one ‘right’ approach for literacy engagement or school trajectory demands thoughtful implementation of educational policies in schools.
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