Data analysis: making the ordinary extraordinary

The analysis builds on my previous work regarding quality in teaching language and literacy in which I argued that teachers experienced tensions between quality-as-abstract textualisation and quality-as-an-embodiment. This was connected to how practitioners are required to textualise their experiences in contrast to the embodied actuality of their experiences.  In this analysis I explore further the notion of ‘embodiment’: the ways in which practitioners assemble the disparate narratives that define their pedagogy.


While paper sets up a polarity it doesn’t rest on one. There are clearly overlaps and affordances between socio-cultural and cognitive theories of ALLN.  Bracewell and Witte (2008) point out that writing is social and material as well as cultural. Literacy as embodied how incoherencies are woven into a narrative: teacher / writer / professional / student –
Data analysis explores moments when participants touch upon these different ideas. The whole discussion is about writing – offers support in the writing of the assignment, participant is a writer (aspires to get scripts published), and the assignment itself is about teaching writing.  My focus is on literacy as the subject they teach but explores their ideas about literacy from multiple perspectives including how they experience their own engagements with text.

Analysis

University Diploma is part of general policy driven initiative to improve quality of literacy teaching predicated on basis that way to do that is define a body of knowledge to be taught and then training teachers in how to deliver it. Define what they need to know and qualification to assure their competence. There is a strong possibility that teachers may come to the course with little general interest in broader ideas about language literacy or pedagogy – but with a narrow instrumental interest in ‘tips & techniques’ that improve their teaching.

Dis/connections between context, motivation & engagement 

Joseph: teaching but not a teacher.

Has been teaching for 10 years, but talks in terms of being at a crossroads in life and asking himself ‘what do I actually want to do?’ Makes references to his age, to time running out and ‘his clock ticking’ – hinting at something of a desperation to achieve goals that are not fulfilled by teaching literacy. The qualification has an exchange value – he teaches in prison and sees the qualification as a way out of this context. The quiet desperation is evident throughout as he clearly feels this environment constrains his pedagogy. He talks about feeling burnt out, and is of the opinion that 10 years in this context is too much. Whatever the bonhomie between himself and students, there is always a threatening undercurrent.   Other teachers in prison have insisted on ensuring they see students as students and that whatever else defines the context is not their concern. But the context is physically inescapable, from the process required to observe a class, to moving around, to managing a classroom situation.

Pearl: trying to live by ideas about good interaction, feedback and talk

Had worked for years in a school – admin – upon retirement teacher and wanted to change career and teach adult literacy.  She is doing the course out of interest and works in an open access workshop in her local AEI.  She teaches on a 1-to-1 basis. Over a period of time she has worked with a single student who she has a good knowledge of. The knowledge has not been gathered as a direct result of a broadened assessment – but has been gleaned indirectly through general talk about other aspects of the students work. Not treated as being central to how literacy is taught. Throughout the tutorial she makes regular references to the reading and mentions specific theories and ideas about literacy.

She attempts throughout the directly relate these ideas to what she does. The attempts are open to discussion: what she means by context, collaboration and success are clearly ideas in the shaping. The qualification required by her student lurks and defines her pedagogy but not in a way that she experiences as constraining. This tutorial represents a shift in which we have agreed that it is possible her student may ultimately be more able to pass the test or at least improve her literacy if there is less insistent and exclusive focus on trying out multiple papers all the time.

Once conceptions of literacy are embodied they become part of a complex nexus of other considerations that cannot be teased out as a singular variable.  What and how we teach is not solely determined by technical considerations of what curricular documents say, what and how we construct our subject or what the environment determines but a shifting combination of these.

Teaching, testing and targeting:

i)                     ‘It’s not an excuse, it’s a business.’

A point sometimes made about teachers who have been practicing since the inception of SfL is that – as they have not experienced any other framework, they may not always have access to frames of reference that would enable critique. This may resonate but as the opening quote suggests this is not the case with Joseph. More concerning is that at times he embodies what might be more fairly understood as an environmental limitation.

It’s very target driven, when you are in a target driven environment professional judgement goes out the window, it suffers, because, that’s the main critique of my teaching, it’s not an excuse, it’s a business. They want more for less. It’s stressful; they are asking you for what you can’t deliver. It’s terribly stressful. I’ve had 10 years of it and I’m burnt out from it.  10 years.  It’s too long for this environment.  It’s too long. You should probably have a shelf life of 5 years.
Joseph, Prison Literacy Teacher

ii)                   She doesn’t have literacy in her life at all

Pearl grapples with ideas about literacy and is aware of the importance for her students to experience resonance between in-college and out-of-college literacies.  But here she seems to suggest that what she does in college with her as a teacher – even when she ‘provides’ her with a context drawn from real life, is ‘literacy’ but the ‘unschooled’ tasks she performs at home is not.

Respondent:   […] She didn’t do any literacy work at all.  She didn’t have literacy in her life at all.  As far as things like letter writing or reading she didn’t do any.  […] 
Interviewer:  What about things like managing her house or managing her family, or paying bills, or does she work at all?
Respondent:  Oh she works, she’s a cook and a cleaner.  […] I know that she functions in her job and in her daily life with these things perfectly well. 
Interviewer:    So with the literacy aspects of those things?
Respondent:  Yes, she does.  She has to write orders at work, she has to leave notes for people, she has to account for things that she’s done at work and as I say, make orders. 
BRACEWELL, R.J & WITTE, S.P 2008. Implications of Practice, Activity and Semiotic Theory for Cognitive Constructs of Writing Chapter 15 in ALBRIGHT, J. & LUKE, A. Pierre Bourdieu and literacy education, Routledge, Taylor & Francis: London.

GRENFELL, M., BLOOME, D., HARDY, C., PAHL, K., ROWSELL, J. & STREET, B. V. 2011. Language, Ethnography, and Education: Bridging New Literacy Studies and Bourdieu, Oxon, Routhledge.

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