Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

The Nature of Teachers' Qualitative Judgements: A Matter of Context and Salience Part Two: Out-of-Context Judgements

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

The Nature of Teachers' Qualitative Judgements: A Matter of Context and Salience Part Two: Out-of-Context Judgements

Article excerpt

The preceding paper discussed how two Year 5 teachers accounted for their judgements of the literate capabilities of students in their own class on the basis of written texts produced by these students. It demonstrated the dynamic and complex nature of this process, clearly exemplifying the indexes that the teachers drew on and combined variously to reach a judgement at a particular point in time. This paper examines how the same two teachers accounted for their judgements of the writing performance of students unknown to them, but from the same year level. For this task, the teachers were asked to judge 25 samples of previously unsighted authentic pieces of student writing drawn from a range of schools in the south-east corner of Queensland. What this meant, in effect, was that the teachers were only able to draw on some of the indexes that were available to them in the previous activity. More specifically, the teachers were constrained in their judgements by not having the same range of knowledges available to them. In what follows we discuss firstly those indexes that were not readily available to the teachers in these out-of-context judgements, and then we consider those indexes that were common to both in-context and out-of-context.

Absence of salient indexes

A range of indexes was still called into play or activated in such a way that they had a point-in-time relevance, but what becomes of interest in this 'out- of-context' setting is how the teachers arrived at their judgements in the absence of certain knowledges (specifically Index 1-Community context, Index 5--Observations of the student, and Index 6--Knowledge of pedagogy) that they have earlier demonstrated as being integral to judgement processes at a particular point-in-time. There is ample evidence in the data of how the teachers in question tried to either call upon these indexes, or experienced difficulty in arriving at judgements in their absence. A possible explanation for such difficulty may lie in the teachers' reliance, as shown in the following extract discussed in paper one, on their recollected observations of 'the kid' and of how their interactions had a material impact on the student writing:

   ... but the feeling that you get about the kid, that's influencing 
   what goes into this is all of the other things that you see every 
   day, you know, when you're sitting there watching that kid or when 
   that kid's coming to your table, and he's asking, you know, Does 
   this sentence make sense? Is this sentence right? Then that kid will 
   change that sentence because of some talk that you've had ... 
   Whereas a kid whose piece of writing you just get there, you've got 
   no idea whether that kid's ever had anything to do with, do you 
   know, the teacher. (Val) 

The second teacher also demonstrated the high value she usually gave to having knowledge of the student, raising a further concern about the accuracy of such judgements in the absence of this knowledge:

   knowing the student does affect your marking scheme, yes, and 
   knowing them also gives them a more accurate, I think it's more 
   accurate assessment. (Sue) 

The following segment of talk clearly exemplifies the shifting nature, rather than static certainty, of judgement processes. In the first instance it again shows the value this teacher places on having knowledge of the student, but also on having regular access to that student so that the writer's intent can be determined. In fact, the teacher states that she would usually put off arriving at her judgement until she had that opportunity. For this teacher at least, judgement is enmeshed in talk with the student and other interactions. Importantly, however, the teacher did arrive at a grading decision, but qualified it by noting that the student in question could be worthy of a different grade on the basis of potential noted by the teacher in the writing, as noted below:

   I'd have to ask. … 
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