Academic journal article European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences, The

Transformations in Teachers' Discourse about Their Students during a School-Led Pedagogic Intervention

Academic journal article European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences, The

Transformations in Teachers' Discourse about Their Students during a School-Led Pedagogic Intervention

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

"Now I have to tell you this one thing that we decided to share with you. We're all here from this school and we all know our students: So, there was this extraordinary event. After we had told to the students that we will continue our project-day on Friday, there was this girl, Anni, who is not interested in school-going normally, well, she came on to me after our information session and asked me very quietly: " how is it, am I also coming? My classes normally begin at nine, but I'll also come at eight on Friday, won't I?" Well you all know what this means. I mean Anni would never do anything like this normally. So we were very surprised indeed." (Session 7, turn of talk 290)

This excerpt is from teachers' discussion in the end of a pedagogic intervention in a Finnish urban lower secondary school. It shows a teacher's surprise over the behaviour of her students during the project. This talk can seen as part of a lived ideology (Billig & al, 1988) that the teacher shares with the other teachers in this school. The example also shows a change in this ideology towards what we in this paper call envisioned ideology, a possibility for seeing students and their problems in a new light.

In this paper we focus on the central topic of student engagement through examining an intensive school-led research intervention project in one school. The intervention followed the principles of Developmental Work Research (Engeström, 2005). The aim of the intervention was together with the teachers to develop pedagogical practices and classroom culture towards engaging and problem-oriented knowledge work where students work together in groups and with a shared goal (Rainio, 2003). Here we focus on a specific aspect which we argue is central in improving student engagement in school: the ways in which teachers, in reflecting on their practice, conceptualise their students, their capabilities and engagement (ibid.; Hennessy, Haßler & Hofmann, under review). Literature on school change argues that enabling teachers a central place in the developing and letting their voices be heard are keys towards a more thorough change (Clark & Florio-Ruane, 2001; Pyhältö, Pietarinen & Soini, 2013). Moreover, we argue that conceptualisations of students and their engagement and learning in teachers' talk are part of the institutional practices in a school. Transforming these ways of talking about students is about reforming those institutional practices (Daniels, 2006; Virkkunen & al., 2012).

2. Problem Statement: Teacher conceptions of student engagement

"Engagement" is commonly used to refer to things such as commitment and being strongly dedicated , attracted or absorbed (Fredricks, Blumenfeld & Paris, 2004; Ketonen & Lonka, 2012). In discussions about enhancing student engagement in policy, practitioner literature and educational research, various discourses can be discerned (see Hofmann, 2008a). In this study we will discuss three which are also reflected in our data. One dominant discourse emphasises students' autonomy and choice. Research suggests that students of all ages ask for more autonomy (e.g., Pollard & Triggs, 2000; Rudduck & McIntyre, 2007). This emphasis is commonly reflected in policy 1816

discourse and practitioner literature. However, this notion of engaging students is not unproblematic. Not all students see themselves as equally able to make choices acceptable in the context of school. 'Student autonomy' may be appropriated by existing evaluative practice of school so that it becomes a tool for enhancing performance rather than one for the inclusion of student voice. (Hofmann, 2008a; Noyes, 2005.)

Another common discourse of student engagement revolves around students as active participants in school that is embedded in the society. This discourse resonates with 'progressivist' notions of the active naturally exploring child (cf. Edwards & Mercer, 1987), a Deweyan understanding of schooling as part of society and 'learning by doing' as well as a sociocultural notion of student engagement as participation in authentic activities (Rogoff et al. …

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