A Situative Perspective on Developing Writing Pedagogy in a Teacher Professional Learning Community

By Pella, Shannon | Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

A Situative Perspective on Developing Writing Pedagogy in a Teacher Professional Learning Community


Pella, Shannon, Teacher Education Quarterly


The bulk of current research on teacher professional development is focused on teacher learning in the context of teacher professional learning communities (PLCs). In teacher PLCs, groups of teachers meet regularly to increase their own learning and the learning of their students. Teacher PLCs offer a learning model in which, "new ideas and strategies emerge, take root, and develop, and where competence can be truly cultivated and nurtured" (Lieberman & Miller, 2008, p. 2). Findings from this research suggests that teacher PLCs can lead to long-term capacity development and gains in student achievement (DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Grossman, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2001; Lieberman, & Miller, 2008; Lieberman, & Wood, 2003; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2006; Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006).

Research on teacher professional development has recognized the nature of situated learning in the context of teacher PLCs (Putnam & Borko, 2000). Situative perspectives of teacher learning can provide a multi-focal research lens, affording the study of multiple units of analysis: the individuals, the community context, and the social interactions of teachers as they develop knowledge for teaching (Borko, 2004; Putnam & Borko, 2000). According to situated learning theory posited by Jean Lave (1996), as researchers approach the study of learning as a situated process, learning is not characterized exclusively in terms of knowledge acquisition or outcomes. Instead, by focusing on the interactions in and across particular social and physical contexts, learning is a process of social engagement or participation in a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

In this study, I focused on the situated nature of teacher learning in a PLC that was based on the lesson study model for teacher professional development. My primary units of analysis were the engagements of four middle school language arts teachers as they participated in a lesson study focused on teaching and learning writing. I defined engagements as participants' interactions with their own and each others' prior and locally shared experiences, forms of knowledge, and material resources. I selected this focus based on the situative analytic methods suggested by Lemke (1997) in his ecosocial systems model, where he suggests that the primary units of analysis are not things or people, but processes and practices. According to his views on situated cognition theory, Lemke (1997) posited that an ecosocial system includes not only humans in their situated physical environment, but also the social practices, meaning relations, and all interactions between humans and their material ecosystems.

My focus on participants' engagements also included a widened lens through which I studied how participants interacted with the features of the locally adapted teacher PLC model. These multiple foci involved my use of an integrated theoretical approach that combined social learning theory, situated cognition, and the principles of constructivism. As suggested by Borko (2004), "The ability to use multiple frameworks at the same time is a key strength of situative research perspectives" (p. 8). By foregrounding and detailing participants' engagements, I sought to provide a fuller, more complex account of how this locally designed teacher PLC fostered transformations in teachers' perceptions and pedagogy.

Research Questions

This study addressed the following research questions: What is the nature of participants' situated engagements in their collaborative inquiry about teaching and learning writing? How did these engagements contribute to transformations in teacher perspectives and pedagogy?

My findings are discussed in the following themes, which emerged from the data:

(a) Participants synthesized their own and each others' prior knowledge, experiences, and resources from diverse theoretical frameworks in teaching and learning writing. …

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