I recently revisited the naturalistic observations I’ve made of teachers who extended me the privilege of observing them put their interpretations of my conditions of learning into classroom practice
These data show that one of the things those teachers whom I judged to have been successful at turning the conditions into classroom practice
unconsciously did, was to create a learning culture which promoted a deep understanding of teaching, learning, and knowledge, which ‘fitted’ or ‘aligned with’ with their interpretations of the conditions of learning. My data further suggest they did this through the ‘discourse’ and ‘narratives’ they used while interacting with their students.
By ‘discourse’ I mean specific ways of thinking, behaving, and using language which reflect values and beliefs about how the world ‘works’. By ‘ narratives’ I mean the cultural stories which are embedded in the discourse we use in our day to day interactions with others.
According to Lakoff “A narrative has a point to it, a moral. It’s about how you should live your life or how you shouldn’t”. Put simply, narratives are the cultural stories that are constructed around the dominant frames/themes embedded in a discourse. The core meanings of these dominant frames become part of a larger frame (called a ‘ narrative’), which in turn becomes the central organizing idea for making sense and/or suggesting what is important and salient. Such narratives serve to weave the smaller frames embedded in the discourse into stories that help those who use the discourse make sense of situations, events, happenings, etc. Furthermore they are underpinned by a set of implicit, non-conscious, personal and group values, which significantly influence how we think and behave.
For example whereas ‘scientific’ discourse reflects the beliefs and values of practising scientists as they attempt to explain how the world ‘works’, ‘religious’ discourse reflects what theologians believe and value in their attempts to do the same thing. These discourses result in different ways of thinking about and talking about how the world ‘works’. They generate different stories or narratives about how the world ‘works’. This in turn results in quite different behaviours being adopted when responding to issues related to how the world ‘works’.
Classroom discourses are no different. The discourses teachers use will result in them (and ultimately their students) adopting different behaviours and narratives when responding to issues of teaching, learning, and knowing.
Discourses And Narratives Based On My Conditions of Learning
My data showed that the skilful teachers of literacy used similar, overlapping, discourses and narratives to shape the learning settings they were attempting to create. I identified these two overlapping discourses/ narratives in my data:
(a) ‘A pro-learning, pro-reading, pro-writing, meaning-making discourse and narrative’
(b) A discourse of ‘honouring-approximations’.
Let me elaborate on each.
(a) A ‘Pro-Learning, Pro-Reading, Pro-Writing, Meaning-Making Discourse’
By this I meant that these teachers used age-appropriate language to continually reinforce two overlapping, interrelated,‘narratives’ about ‘ teaching’, ‘learning’, ‘knowing’, and ‘meaning-making’ in the discourse they used in the classroom:
- The knowledge inside a learner’s head is simply the sum of all the meanings he/she has constructed with symbols in the course of normal living.
- Oral language is the main symbol system we use to do this, but there are others we also can use, including reading, writing, talking, listening, drawing, miming, dancing & moving, gesturing, constructing 3D models.
- No one can help making meanings. Everyone who has learned to talk is continually doing it. It’s what we all do ‘naturally’.
- These meanings are constructed from all the pictures, sounds, feelings, ideas, thoughts, words, intuitions, etc., that form in a learner’s mind as he/she experiences the world and shares these experiences with others.
- Reading, writing, talking, listening, drawing, miming, dancing & moving, gesturing, constructing 3D models, are all meaning-making activities/processes which learners can choose to engage in if they want to construct, re-construct or otherwise revise, extend, or increase their knowledge, and thus become effective learners who, ‘do well in school’.
- These activities/processes keep the meanings stored in the human brain in a constant state of flux as learners continually construct, de-construct, and reconstruct meanings using symbols. Over time the ‘pools’ of knowledge and understanding deepens and expands as more items of meaning are created and linked to each other.
- Collaboratively addressing and/or solving personally relevant problems using a wide range these meaning-making activities is an exciting, interesting, satisfying, worthwhile enterprise which is not only enjoyable, but can also provide access to knowledge, power, equity, justice, and other accoutrements of the ‘good life’.
(b) A Discourse Which Honours Approximations.
By this I meant that rather than a discourse which drew learners’ attention to the ‘wrong-ness’,‘in-correctness’, or ‘inappropriate-ness’ of their approximations, these teachers both encouraged and honoured approximations using language which emphasized that they were essential parts of the learning process. Some of these teachers consciously decided NOT to use terms like ‘ mistakes,’ ‘errors’, ‘right and wrong answers’ and talk instead about ‘high and low level’ -miscues’ or ‘- approximations’.
An Activity For You
I’d be interested in the discourse and narratives you use as you implement your interpretation of the conditions of learning.
I’d love you to share the narratives about teaching, learning, and knowledge you embed in the discourse you use in your classrooms.
I’d appreciate your ideas on the opportunities, forums, media, for regularly and consistently immersing your learners in such narratives, themes, and messages might you use.:
- Do you list them on class charts (using age-appropriate language) and regularly draw students’ attention to them?
- Do you prepare lessons which draw student’s attention to, and generate ‘conversations’ about them?
- Do you turn some of these narratives into inquiry projects for students to complete, e.g ‘‘What is knowledge and how do we construct it?’ ‘ What’s something I’m good at? How did I learn to be good at it?’
- Do you embed the narratives and messages in the everyday responses you give in your interactions with students?
- Do you collect and ‘ chart’ examples of these narratives and messages that occur in class or in their students’ lives outside of school?
Please respond if you have any comments or ideas relevant to classroom discourse and narratives.