Academic journal article High School Journal

Coaching Heavy as a Disciplinary Outsider: Negotiating Disciplinary Literacy for Adolescents

Academic journal article High School Journal

Coaching Heavy as a Disciplinary Outsider: Negotiating Disciplinary Literacy for Adolescents

Article excerpt

Instructional coaching runs the risk of being abandoned by policy makers and secondary schools if efficacy expectations related to adolescent literacy are not met (Knight, 2010; Walpole & McKenna, 2008). Research into coaching has examined the roles of coaches (Borman & Fenger, 2006; Smith, 2007) as well as the stances employed during collaborations (Costa & Garmston, 2002; Deussen et al., 2007; Ippolito, 2010), but insufficient research has explored how secondary coaches attempt to impact adolescent literacy in unfamiliar disciplines and the ways instructional coaches use coaching practices to negotiate disciplinary tensions. This paper is part of a larger qualitative study aimed at investigating the "heavy coaching" (Killion, 2009; 2010) discourse and practices employed by coaches at three different secondary schools as they attempted to improve the disciplinary literacy of students. In this paper, I present the case study of Eric, a former high school English teacher, as he worked with a high school algebra teacher, Jackie, over the course of a semester. While Eric attempted to coach heavy, the disciplinary tensions prompted him to employ situated coaching practices. Findings from this study suggest a disciplinary outsider status may be ameliorated through a coach's use of transparency and collaborative practitioner inquiry.

Key words: instructional coaching, disciplinary literacy, heavy coaching


Halfway into their ten-week collaboration at Davidson High School, Eric walked into Jackie's first hour freshman Enhanced Algebra class just as she began a lesson on factoring quadratics. (1) As students arranged desks into their group and opened their photocopied student booklets on quadratics to the six factoring problems, Eric, notepad in hand, settled in with the student group closest to him in order to question students about how they were attempting to solve the first problem. The problem, "8-15" in this unit on quadratics (Kysh, Salle, & Hoey, 2012a, p. 617), stated:

Use the process you developed in problem 8-13 to factor the following quadratics, if possible. If a quadratic cannot be factored, justify your conclusion.

a. [x.sup.2] + 9x + 18

b. 4[x.sup.2] + 17x - 15

c. 4[x.sup.2] - 8x + 3

d. 3[x.sup.2] + 5x - 3

"Why are you factoring that?" Eric asked a girl in the group as she looked up in confusion. "To find a product?" she answered. Eric then asked, "So, what does that mean?" His questioning left all three students a bit perplexed. "I'm trying to figure out what this is about, the big picture. Is this about solving a problem?" When students returned to their problem solving, Eric sought an answer from Jackie:

Eric: Hey, I've been asking students about the larger purpose for factoring and they are pretty much confused. I'm not really sure what that purpose is but I'm wondering if we could ... kind of like contextualize the inquiry process for them.

Jackie: Oh, cool. Wait, what do you mean? I am not sure we want to make it explicit because it will come naturally as we progress.

Eric: I guess. I was just thinking that I used a process for introducing essential questions in my English class at the start of the unit, and it might be a way to build inquiry here.

Jackie: I'm not sure where to fit it. You think we should just stop and do it now? I'm not so sure. Maybe we should hold off and talk about this on Wednesday.

When class ended and Eric arrived in the coaching office for debriefing with the researcher, it was apparent that his ongoing inquiry into the purpose of algebra and into ways of framing learning in inquiry for students had multiplied exponentially. Referencing his class notes, Eric synthesized his thoughts:

   They've figured out that the best way to figure these problems out
   is to graph them, but not a single girl in that first group could
   explain why they were doing this. … 
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