Radical Pedagogy


Radical Pedagogy (2006)

ISSN: 1524-6345

Political Aims and Classroom Dynamics: Generative Processes in Classroom Communities

Nancy Ares
Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development
University of Rochester


Linking the attention to social processes in sociocultural and situated learning theories with the emphasis on liberatory education in critical and culturally relevant pedagogies connects politics and processes in education. Three generative processes -- autonomy, responsibility, and contribution to classroom practice -- provide a conceptual and material bridge between classroom community processes and transformative goals for learning. They are integral to movement toward full participation in classrooms because they entail the ways in which activity becomes increasingly more central to the work of the community. In addition, they are important in inclusive transformative practice because they provide avenues for exercising power (e.g., responsibility), and for shaping practice in ways that are inclusive of participants’ lived experiences (e.g., contributions) and their cultures and languages (e.g., autonomy). By examining the fundamental underpinnings of transformative practice in a conventional classroom, this study adds to our understanding of ways in which radical practice can be pursued as a more general rather than ‘alternative’ pedagogy; and to efforts to support for teachers interested in “teaching against the grain”(Simon, 1992) in the current climate of accountability and standardization.


“Hope is an ontological need. ... hope, as an ontological need,
demands an anchoring in practice” (Freire, 1995, p. 8, 9).

While critical theory offers important insights and calls to action in teaching, the translation to practice can be difficult to negotiate for a variety of reasons, including structural, bureaucratic, and policy constraints (cf., Baglieri & Knopf, 2004; Currie & Knights, 2003; McLaren, Martin, Farahmandpur, & Jaramillo, 2004)) and the fact that such pedagogies resist generic definition, as they are grounded in specific situations and cultural and political contexts (Kamler & Comber, 1996; Luke, 1996). Such things as teachers’ knowledge of local and culturally specific knowledge on which to base transformative curriculum (cf., Woolridge, 2001) and working against teacher training that often doesn’t prepare teachers to venture into critical realms (Kumashiro, 2000) add to difficulties in pursuing radical pedagogies. Further, engaging in such activity introduces complex, difficult issues and questions to the enterprise, as “When teachers and students are engaged in critical literacy [and pedagogy], they will be asking complicated questions about language and power, about people and lifestyle, about morality and ethics, about who is advantaged by the ways things are and who is disadvantaged” (Comber, 2001, p. 271).

    Questioning things that are taken to be ‘natural’ or that often go unexamined is not an easy undertaking, as

    discomfort and unease often result (Kumashiro, 2000). Finally, while reports of critical literacies have

    included accounts of teachers who are enacting radical pedagogies (cf., Comber & Simpson, 2001),


    Such accounts can inspire others to action (Dressman, 1999), but they can also be easily written off as

    simply the narratives of some rare heroic educators and as irrelevant or impractical elsewhere… more

    analysis of the discursive practices, productive routines, institutional ethos, and curricula of classrooms

    where teachers are engaged in negotiating critical literacies is needed. (Comber, 2001, p. 279)

In related ways, some sociocultural and situated learning theories are critiqued for neglecting the political implications and consequences – or the effects on “interrelationships in a particular area of life involving power, authority, and influence” of classroom practice for individuals and groups (Encarta World English Dictionary). Other than those who focus on language and literacy (cf., Gee, 2004, 2001, 1999; Gutierrez and colleagues, 2001, 2000, 1997, 1995; Lee, 2001, 1991; Lankshear, 2003, 1998, 1997; Moje 1999; 2002), researchers working with sociocultural and situated learning theories have, until more recently, often avoided the political nature of teaching and learning. The focus has been on processes of, for example, community formation and evolution (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998), children’s apprenticeship into cultural practices (Rogoff, 1990), and the development of voluntary attention in children (Leontiev, 1932). This deficiency in attention to political implications limits these theoretical traditions’ contribution to transformative pedagogy and social change. Some restrict their efforts to “recogniz[e] the social value of mastery of such ‘knowledge domains’ as science and mathematics, [and] continue to emphasize these and other traditional school subjects” (O’Connor, 2003, p. 66). Thus, though these latter approaches seek to change learning environments to engage students in authentic practices of communities of, for example, scientists or historians (cf., Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989, Goos, 2005), the goals fall short of challenging structural and other sources of inequity, limiting the impact of their important insights into the activities and relations through which transformative classrooms exist and develop (Juzwik, 2004; O’Connor, 2003). In addition, others have adopted what O’Connor (2003) calls an asymmetrical view of learning, that “accounts for ‘learning’ and ‘failure’ in different ways” (p. 68), rather than viewing both as achievements that are enabled by learning environments. In such approaches, “difficulties that students have in learning to think and understand are interpreted as impediments to their participation in social practices” (Greeno et al., 1997, p. 99, as cited in O’Connor, 2003, p. 69), while the structural and other relations in schools and classrooms that are implicated in producing those difficulties go unexamined. Finally, still other approaches provide important insights into learning processes with their emphasis on social interaction, relations among participants, issues of access to legitimate participation in culturally valued activities, and some attention to relations of power (cf., Lave, 1993, 1996; Wertsch, 1991, 1998). However, attention to schooling in particular and to implications of this work for classroom practice has been less prominent, which provides challenges for those interested in using this work to illuminate political processes in classroom dynamics.

Importantly, while the research in critical literacy in particular (Comber & Simpson, 2001; Lensmire, 1994; Muspratt, Luke, & Freebody, 1997), as well as significant but relatively fewer efforts in other disciplines provide crucial, informative examples of transformative teachers and classrooms (e.g., Barton 1998, in science education; Gutstein, 2003, 1997, 1995, in mathematics education), less work has been done in more conventional classrooms to identify where the possibilities for transformation may lie (but see Kluth, Straut, & Biklen, 2003). Thus, the work presented here that looks at conventional teaching offers guidance for those interested in supporting change in more traditional classrooms. By examining the fundamental social AND political underpinnings of potentially transformative practice in a conventional classroom, this study adds to our understanding of ways in which radical practice can be pursued as a more general pedagogy, rather than the ‘alternative’ that it is often treated as, and may provide support for teachers interested in “teaching against the grain” (Simon, 1992) in the current climate of accountability and standardization.

This paper presents an empirically derived trio of classroom processes1 that bring together the emphasis on liberatory or transformative education in critical pedagogy (cf., Apple & King, 1983; Freire, 1995; Greene, 1988; McLaren, 1998; Shor, 1991) with the attention to social practice in sociocultural and situated learning theories (cf., Lave & Wenger, 1995; Lee & Smagorinsky, 2000; Rogoff, 1990, 1995; Wells, 2000; Wertsch, 1985, 1995). Wedding these frameworks is potentially valuable to educational researchers and practitioners because it bridges critical aims of education and processes that structure it.

The trio of generative classroom processes presented here includes changes in students’ 1) autonomy, or having control over and responsibility for decisions about their learning (Dickinson, 1995) , 2) responsibility for production of knowledge and practice, and 3) contribution to the practices of the community . The term generative captures the sense that these processes build on prior experience and foster students’ and communities’ dynamic, flexible knowledge and skills that support success in future activity. Thus, issues of both learning and agency are essential to this definition. Note that these processes involve classroom activities and interactions. Such things as curriculum materials and topics of study are seen as distinct, companion features of classrooms. For example, Comber (2001) identifies “core dynamic principles and repertoires of practice that can usefully be teased out as indicative pedagogical moves,” including “(re)designing texts with political and social intent and real-world use, subverting taken for granted ‘school’ texts, focusing on students’ use of local cultural texts, and examining how power is exercised and by whom” (p. 276). The focus of the model I propose here is the dynamic interactions and relationships among participants in classroom learning as another avenue for understanding possibilities for transformative practice.

This work contributes to a growing literature that seeks to understand classroom practices as emergent systems that are culturally, socially, and historically constructed, and to explicate those practices’ political and social consequences (cf., Ball, 2000; Gee, 1999; Dyson, 2000; Gutierrez, Rymes, & Larson, 1995). Increases in contribution, responsibility, and autonomy are integral to learning in practice and to movement toward full participation in classrooms because they entail the ways in which activity becomes increasingly more central to the work of the classroom community. In addition, they are important in transformative practice because they provide avenues for exercising power (e.g., responsibility), as well as for shaping practice in ways that are inclusive of participants’ lived experiences (e.g., contributions) and their cultures and languages (e.g., autonomy). As such, these generative processes provide both a conceptual and a material bridge between classroom practice and political aims of social justice. The processes presented here are designed to serve as an analytical device and to support enacting transformative practice.

Three claims structure this paper: 1) critical and sociocultural theories each have weaknesses that hinder researchers’ and practitioners’ understanding of transformative classroom practices; 2) the generative processes provide a powerful bridge that addresses some of those weaknesses; and 3) the processes are useful in understanding how inclusive transformative practices can emerge in multicultural, multilingual classrooms.

How Do Transformative Practices Happen?

Jennings, O’Keefe, and Shamlin (1999) assert that there is a rich literature addressing the benefits and importance of democratic or transformative practice, as well as structures and systems that inhibit educators from engaging students in them. However, there is less understanding of the underlying processes by which such practices emerge and how they are enacted (Ares, 2001; Jennings, O’Keefe, & Shamlin, 1999). McLaren (2000) recognizes the lack of guidance offered in the writing of many critical pedagogues, particularly Paulo Freire, but claims that that is an inherent good:

    The assertive generality of Freire’s formulations and pronouncements on pedagogy can be highly

    frustrating, in that they index important concerns but do not fully provide the necessary theoretical basis for

    positing more progressive and programmatic alternatives to the theories and perspectives that he is

    criticizing. For instance, few accounts are provided as to how teachers are to move from critical thought to

    critical practice. Yet, Freire’s weakness is also a source of his strength ... It is precisely his refusal to spell

    out alternative solutions that enables his work to be ‘reinvented’ in the contexts in which his readers find

    themselves, thereby enjoying a contextually specific ‘translation’ across geographic, geopolitical, and

    cultural borders (p. 13).

Providing opportunity for local reinvention of critical pedagogy is important. However, without a foundational theory of learning, teachers lack an anchoring framework for translating thought into action: “It is only through a valid and constructive theory of learning that teachers can generate classroom practices designed to meet the individual needs of different students as students evidence such needs” (Courts, 1997, p. 102). In the following excerpt of classroom activity, critical theory would help in identifying the importance of, for example, opportunities for choice in how to respond to the assignment, the teacher’s role, and shortcomings in the focus of the assignment:

    Within a unit on oceans, this assignment was designed to give students practice creating diagrams to

    accompany written text by having them design, draw, and label a submergible vehicle. The vehicle had to

    have a seat for each member of the group (4 to 5 per students group). Inez’ group drew four separate

    vehicles. The students discussed the merits of each member’s vehicle and incorporated what they considered

    the best ideas into a second set of four vehicles. Robert’s group discussed the fact that the assignment was to

    design, draw, and label one vehicle, but were unable to agree on how to accomplish it. They ended up with

    two drawings, one created by four members of the group and another done by Sylvia. In Henry’s group,

    each person created a separate drawing, but those drawings had similar elements such as round windows

    and periscopes. They discussed the merits of each drawing and chose Claudia’s as the one to exhibit. (field

    notes, Week 2)

A critical analysis may highlight that the assignment was disconnected from students’ lived experiences and apolitical; that each group could create a unique diagram and negotiate components to include; and that the teacher defined broad parameters of the task, but allowed groups to work independently. However, the processes through which student choice, teacher role, and apolitical content could yield transformative or reproductive practice are vague, given that a theory of learning is not available to examine whether students’ knowledge and skills emerge from, say, reorganization of schema (Piaget, year; Derry, 1996), social interaction with text and peers (Vygotsky, 1987; Bahktin, 1981), and/or participation in the cultural practices of schooling (Ares & Peercy, 2003; Rogoff, 1990). From what do transformative classroom practices emerge? What classroom interactions and activities foster their development? How can transformative practices be inclusive of the cultures and languages of non-dominant groups?

Given their focus on learning as changing participation in social, cultural, and historical activity within communities of practice, sociocultural and situated learning theories (cf., Cole & Engestrom, 1999; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1990; Wertsch, 1995) provide a useful framework from which to examine classroom processes by focusing attention on the concrete, material activities and interactions that underlie practice. They can support identifying classroom processes that afford opportunities for transformation of conventional classroom practice. In the classroom excerpt above, a sociocultural, situated learning analysis would highlight the influence of students’ serving as artists and writers; how they co-constructed the meaning of diagrams that accompany written text; and the affects of their negotiating group processes and outcomes on their literacy learning. Thus, these theories can help identify how negotiation of roles, contribution of ideas, and division of work function in generating classroom norms and students’ school-based learning about cooperative activity. However, examination of the sociopolitical implications of those norms and students’ learning, and their connection to issues of equity and justice in the larger world, is precluded given the lack of a theory of politics [e.g., “anything and anyplace where human social interactions and relationships have implications for how ‘social goods’ are or ought to be distributed” (Gee, 1999, p. 2)]. Largely ignored is the nature of the community formed, power relations within and between groups, and agency to change practice.

Identifying processes by which transformative practices emerge does not have to result in a prescriptive, technical sequence of steps to follow, stripping teaching down to a depoliticized activity. Instead, it can lead to an understanding of the dynamic structures that operate in classrooms to either reproduce or transform oppressive, monocultural pedagogies. Close examination of underlying processes (e.g., opportunity to shape learning and inquiry, contributions that help ground learning in lived experience) is necessary to truly understand how transformative teaching and learning are facilitated or stymied in classrooms, and to support teachers and students as they pursue them. This is especially true for conventional classrooms, if the goal is transformation of practice characterized as banking education (Freire, 1970).

Theoretical Framework

Transformative classrooms

Calls for transformative classroom practice have been increasingly represented in scholarly and research literature (cf., Fine, 1989; Freire & Macedo, 1987; Giroux, 1988; Kumashiro, 2000; McLaren, 1998; Shor, 1992), building on Paulo Freire’s work that posits, “Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power; problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality. The former attempts to maintain the submersion of consciousness; the latter strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality” (1970, p. 62). Dewey, too, has provided impetus for such calls for change in classroom practice, given his advocating that “A curriculum which acknowledges the social responsibilities of education must present situations where problems are relevant to the problems of living together, and where observation and information are calculated to develop social insight and interest” (1974, p. 371-72). Transformative practice has as its project social transformation, so the aims of education are not simply successful learning, but learning grounded in and emerging from critical examination of the social order and one’s place in it. The aim, further, is action in service of social justice as a consequence of school learning:

    The critical educator, however, is most interested in what Habermas calls emancipatory knowledge... [that]

    helps us understand how social relationships are distorted and manipulated by relations of power and

    privilege. It also aims at creating the conditions under which irrationality, domination, and oppression can

    be overcome and transformed through deliberative, collective action. In short, it creates the foundation for

    social justice, equality, and empowerment (McLaren, 1998, p. 175).

In critical pedagogy, then, transformative practice helps students develop skill in reflection and action that allows them to recognize and work against oppressive conditions in society, both for themselves and for others. However, liberatory processes that underlie such practice and how they would operate in classrooms are underspecified, a challenge to critical pedagogues. For example, Sahni (2001) critiques some critical theorists’ “exclusively political view of literacy and schools” (p. 34). The danger she points to is in part a result of attending to units of analysis (e.g., “abstract, large social and political structures (p. 33)) that are somewhat distant from the relationships and interactions through which classroom practices come into being.

Culture and language

More recent calls for transformative practice have taken on issues of culture and language (Au, 1988; Gay, 2000; Hollins, 1996; Ladson-Billings, 1997; Lee, 2000, 2001; Moll, 1998). These calls advocate for drawing on students’ cultural heritage, practices, knowledge, and languages in enacting transformative practice. Particular attention is paid to traditionally under-served people (e.g., students of color, English language learners), extending transformative practice to include attention to the sociocultural as well as the sociopolitical aspects of teaching and learning in a multicultural, multilingual society. As Ladson-Billings (1995) maintains “Culturally relevant pedagogy rests on three criteria or propositions: (a) Students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order” (p. 160). A growing number of researchers and theoreticians working in this critical vein do draw upon sociocultural theories to explore issues of culture and language in classrooms, particularly those examining literacy. For example, C.D. Lee (2000) pinpoints features of signifying in African American Vernacular English that are useful as intellectual resources for literary analysis. In addition to literacy, Moll and colleagues help teachers identify communities’ cultural and social resources, or funds of knowledge, that can be drawn on in service of rigorous academic learning in mathematics, science, and social studies (cf., Moll, 1990; González, Andrade, Civil, & Moll, 2001). Important works such as these center on increasing the academic success of particular groups of underserved students, and some also focus on supporting their healthy cultural identity development. The generative processes examined here contribute to that work by identifying processes that can be inclusive of students’ diverse cultural and linguistic resources; that cross contexts, domains, and particular language and/or cultural groups; and that are important in students’ and teachers’ development of skills and dispositions to challenge monolingual, monocultural classroom practice.

Sociocultural theories and communities of practice

These two theoretical frameworks’ focus on activity within social, cultural, and historical milieus are complementary, given that sociocultural approaches focus more closely on individuals’ learning and development, and situated learning theories concentrate on the development and behavior of communities. In sociocultural theories, human action is understood to be shaped by and to shape interaction with others and with cultural tools and symbols, i.e., language, texts, number systems, computers, etc. (cf., Vygotsky, 1987; Wertsch, 1991, 1995). These approaches focus on “the individual performing actions in a sociocultural setting, …emphasizing the sign-mediated and interactional aspects of action” (Engestrom, 1993, p. 11). In other words, individual learning and development is mediated by interaction with the world. Situated learning theories examine participants’ evolving membership in communities of practice, in which “participation in the cultural practice in which any knowledge exists is an epistemological principle of learning. The social structure of this practice, its power relations, and its conditions for legitimacy define possibilities for learning” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 98). Learning is inherent in that participation, as community members’ roles, responsibilities, and contributions become increasingly more central to the work of the community. In both theoretical frameworks, action in and with the world is the fundamental unit of analysis in examining learning and development.

These frameworks provide a powerful way to observe and organize our understanding of transformative practices because of the focus on productive, generative processes: “As teachers and students work together in a dynamic way, their knowledge of academic content and patterned ways of acting are transformed as they construct a community of practice” (Putney & Floriani, 1999, p. 18). Attention is paid as well to change in communities: “Since activity and the participation of individuals involved in it, their knowledge, and their perspectives are mutually constitutive, change is a fundamental property of communities of practice and their activities” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 117). This attention to individual and community change and to opportunities to participate is valuable in exploring transformative practice because it allows a focus on the material, dynamic opportunities that may emerge in classrooms for teachers and students to move beyond mere reproduction of traditional, transmission-oriented interactions and activities.

Bridging political and process emphases

A dualism often emerges from the two theoretical positions, with critical pedagogy emphasizing the political (or praxis, in Freire’s (1970) terms) and situated and sociocultural learning theories emphasizing the process. Each position is criticized for being myopic in ignoring either process or purpose: “In educational politics, process and product are often treated as incompatible alternatives; an emphasis on either is thought to lead to neglect of the other” (Wells, 2000, p. 107). To understand the genesis of this duality, it is important to clarify the distinction between transformation of participation in sociocultural theories and transformative classroom practices in critical pedagogy. In critical theories, transformative practice refers to a stance regarding the aims of teaching and learning, specifically the political, social, and economic empowerment of oppressed peoples. A sociocultural perspective typically refers to a particular stance regarding the nature of learning, as transformation of participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, Matusov, & White, 1996). Learning is a consequence of acting with and within a community of practice, as individuals’ knowledge, skills, and identity as members of the community change. A fruitful tack would be to bridge the duality by bringing together the strengths of each position to explore the processes by which political aims of transformative practice can be fulfilled in classrooms. Further, this approach can provide an important framework for discerning the ways in which transformative practice can incorporate students’ diverse cultures and languages as resources for teaching and learning.

A Trio of Generative Classroom Processes

As part of a case study of a 6th grade reading and language-arts classroom (Ares, 1998, 2001, 2003), I engaged in a comparative analytic process of going back and forth between Lave and Wenger’s (1991) examples of apprenticeship and the themes that emerged from the classroom data to examine participation in communities of practice. The three generative processes emerged from that analysis. Data analyses provided below serve as a heuristic that illuminates how these processes are important to understanding the development of transformative classroom practices. True transformative practice, beyond milder learning as transformation of knowledge and activity, requires that students have opportunity to influence in substantive ways the content and conduct of their learning. Thus, rather than “considering the political interests of participants and institution as critical for understanding individual practice” (Chaiklin, 1996, p. 397), found often in situated and sociocultural theory, I consider the practice of participants as critical for understanding emerging political implications and outcomes.

First, the processes are examined as they operated in a small group instruction session, an example of how they are useful in understanding possibilities for transformative practices in a conventional classroom. Included in that examination is attention to implications for transformative practice more generally. Identifying the case study classroom as a conventional one derives from the fact that the curriculum (e.g., topics, textbooks) was presented as politically neutral and it largely represented European American-centric perspectives and experiences, falling short of what it could have been to support the emerging community’s full engagement in inclusive transformative learning. In addition, during whole class activity, the teacher, Ms. Moss, engaged in a traditional recitation sequence of teacher initiation-student response-teacher evaluation (IRE, Mehan, 1979). However, her orchestration of small group work provided important opportunities for students to influence substantively the conduct of their learning. The invitation to shape the nature of their activity and interaction fostered the classroom community’s transformation of some critical aspects of conventional practice. Analyses of interviews with students and classroom observations showed that shared work and decision-making were important to them in their work in groups (see also Ares, 1998, 2003). They also valued group work as giving them opportunities to give and get help, creating a sense of community that included mutual assistance: “Groups help each other. Now that we’re in groups, we had some people who were makin’ Cs and now they’re up to As and Bs. We can help each other and can ask somebody” (student focus group #2). They made clear that Ms. Moss was the most powerful person in the classroom, but they also stressed that they felt that they were able to influence what went on there as well. As such, this classroom provided an opportunity to examine opportunities for transformation in conventional practice and may serve to highlight opportunities to make inroads into classrooms where more radical pedagogical practice may not be explicitly supported and valued.

Data analyses show that small group interactions were focused on active student contribution to classroom practice rather than student response to the teacher’s direction and control of instruction. As a result, the classroom community included interactions in which there was a high value placed on respecting each other’s contributions, on a sense of community/belonging, and a sense of their community being a unique place. In the excerpt below, Ms. Moss assigned a group task in the following way:

    I want you to think of words that are adjectives that describe donuts. As a group, you’re going to have to

    think of words that describe how it sounds, how it looks, how it smells, how it tastes, and how it feels. These

    words must describe these donuts...You all are going to take these words that you came up with, these

    adjectives, and you are, as a group, going to provide the class with a commercial. You are going to invent,

    to create with your great imaginations, some type of a new donut. ... You as a group are going to come to

    the front of the room and try to persuade us to buy your donut. Everyone’s going to have a part.... You all

    have creative people, you all are creative people. You have some people who draw well, some people who

    speak well, some people who may do something else well. I want you to use your great imaginations to

    come up with a great commercial (field notes, Week 7).

Analysis of field notes revealed that students tasted, smelled, poked, dropped, and studied the donuts provided, offering suggestions of words that captured what they were sensing. They also brainstormed what might constitute a type of donut none of them had seen before. Some in the groups took on the task of drawing what the group agreed upon, others wrote down the adjectives they had compiled, and still others wrote scripts for their commercial. Ms. Moss remained on the periphery, leaving the groups to work until the end of the class, when she asked what props they might need for their commercial.

Autonomy -- freedom from dependence on or control by another entity

Ms. Moss’s directions to students provided an important opportunity for transformation of conventional, teacher-centered practice. Examination of the excerpt and field notes show that students had considerable autonomy in determining their own roles and the working of their groups as they negotiated the requirements and possibilities of their task. Instead of their roles and prospects for participation being dictated, students had opportunity to determine the nature of their activity as members of the community and as learners, negotiating varied roles and drawing on group members’ multiple strengths. The content of their learning was also jointly constructed, rather than being imposed by Ms. Moss or their textbooks. Further, students as a collective also had considerable group autonomy because they were given latitude to work without Ms. Moss’s direct guidance. The nature of the community that emerged was one in which goals were negotiated, as were roles and outcomes, largely by students. In interviews, students pointed to the fact that it was their decision in their groups to divvy up questions and to then come to consensus on the answers they would submit, rather than Ms. Moss assigning that kind of division of labor and collective responsibility. Sociocultural and situated learning theories’ focus on activity directs attention to the ways that through interaction in small groups, consensus seeking became a community norm, rather than competition for one’s ideas to predominate. Liberatory pedagogy’s focus on students’ control of the conduct of their learning highlights that some aims of social justice were implicitly supported, as students’ autonomy included opportunity for multiple voices to be integrated in accomplishing small group tasks.

More generally, autonomy is important to transformative practice because it provides students a venue for developing self-governance, making decisions, weighing alternatives, evaluating their own and others’ opinions and claims, and for considering implications of their and others’ actions. The amount of autonomy in determining the conduct and content of what is learned provides a way to gauge how much opportunity is afforded to direct learning and to influence classroom practice, serving as a measure of whether classroom practice is relatively more reproductive or transformative. In addition, group autonomy, for students as separate from their teacher or for traditionally underserved groups, allows diverse resources to be brought to bear in those same activities (e.g., decision-making, self-governance). In classrooms focused on reproduction of conventional, teacher-directed practice, little if any autonomy is available to students as they are reliant on and controlled by the teacher and/or textbook regarding what to learn and how to engage the material.

Responsibility – being accountable to and for something

Responsibility in the small group assignment above was important in transformation of traditional practice because it highlighted individuals’ and groups’ roles in the construction of practice. Ms. Moss’s instructions set up the small group task so that responsibility, including both authority and obligation, was an explicit element of groups’ work (“You are all creative,” and “You each have a part”). Students were expected to add their understanding to the classroom community’s definition of adjectives, as well as of being a student. Their understanding was given credence and they had a duty to help in determining those definitions. Thus, they were accountable to the group to participate and to contribute. In addition, their jointly constructed list of descriptive words was used to produce a presentation of their unique, collective creation, so that there was individual responsibility to take part, as well as shared, group responsibility to produce an interesting and attractive presentation. Indeed, focus group responses to questions about what it meant to be a classmate in Ms. Moss’ class gave a more general picture of the nature of responsibility there -- “Do your work. Cooperate. Get along. Help each other.” (student focus group #1) – that melded both individual and group responsibility.

On the whole, and similar to autonomy, responsibility for learning and participation in classrooms is also related to the amounts of latitude and control afforded students, influencing the ways in which they construct their membership in communities. Thus, the degree to which individuals have power in and duty to the classroom community can be viewed as another measure of their opportunities to reproduce or transform learning and practice. In conventional practice, students often have little or no responsibility for their learning or to the classroom community other than to be passive followers of the teacher’s lead. In relation to social action and justice, being given responsibility for learning and for interaction supports students’ developing notions of themselves as active agents cognizant not only of their individual interests, but committed also to the collective interests of the community.

Contribution to practice – giving to a common endeavor for a specific purpose

Students’ contributions to the small group activity included multiple examples and functions of adjectives, as well as persuasive speech. In addition, they contributed multiple and varied ways of interacting in their groups (e.g., some drawing, some writing scripts). As a result, individuals’ and groups’ contributions combined to build community norms for participation that were important in defining the lesson. Transformative practice here included students’ involvement in substantive additions, deletions, and changes to conventional practice, with individual students supplying descriptive words, groups adding to norms for peer interaction, and the classroom community moving Ms. Moss’s role from central to peripheral in constructing the content of students’ learning. Further, the political aspects of the community included students’ vital influence on the conduct of their learning as, over time, the inclusion of consensus building as a valued process became integral to classroom practice. Thus, students were engaged in transformative practice in small group instruction in that they were involved in community-centered construction of activity. That this was important to them was clear across all the interviews, with a strong theme emerging around contributing to everyone’s success: “Group work helps kids who aren’t doing as well because students can help each other. It’s a group thing, not just a one-person” (Student focus group #2).

The importance of being responsible, autonomous community members has been noted elsewhere “... in the community-of-learners model based on theoretical notions of learning as transformation of participation in which responsibility and autonomy are both desired” (Rogoff, 1994, p. 210; see also Sahni, 2001). As shown here, contribution to practice is also essential to participation in transformative activity and learning. This claim is linked to Lave and Wenger’s (1991) notion of legitimacy of participation because individuals’ substantive additions or changes to practice involve them in shaping practice. Gaining legitimacy involves moving toward full participation in that contributions to critical aspects of practice increase. This is evident in Mayan midwives’ apprenticeship: girls move from “passing messages, running errands, getting needed supplies” to “supporting the laboring woman ... Eventually, she may even administer prenatal massages to selected clients ... ending with what is in Yucatan the culturally most significant, the birth of the placenta” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 68, 69). In transformative classroom practice, students’ contributions to the content and the conduct of learning are substantive and central to the evolution of a dynamic community, rather than the reproduction of a more static one. In addition, their contributions provide important fodder for enacted, lived curriculum that includes students’ interests, concerns, as well as prior knowledge and experience, all central features of critical pedagogy.

Ms. Moss’s classroom was not a fully transformative one. Throughout the course of my research, topics of study were most often drawn from the English and reading textbooks rather than from students’ lives. Those texts did not address issues of equity, social responsibility, oppression, or opportunity, but were more traditional in their focus on skills. Students also pointed to their teacher’s focus on “morals, not to be rude, to say Yes Ma’am, no Ma’am,” an indication that conventional, hierarchical student-teacher relationships were in effect. Still, while Ms. Moss’s classroom was not focused explicitly on issues of social justice, her use of small group instruction contained elements of transformative practice that gave students important roles and experience in shaping the emerging classroom community. As a group of them said in an interview, “We’re different from everybody else. We’re our own little world; we made up our own nationality. We’re our own person in there; we’re who we are. I’m not afraid to be me” (student focus group #3). In this case, the model of generative processes provided an important framework for gauging the extent to which transformative practices could result from the community-formation process and for pinpointing opportunities to move toward more a more critically oriented practice.

Inclusive Transformative Practice

A further analysis of the value of linking sociocultural and critical theoretical approaches to understanding learning in classrooms attends to issues that have historically been given less prominence in both sociocultural and critical theoretical research and practice. Recent calls for transformative classroom practice advocate that all students should be offered substantive opportunities to shape the nature of their participation and of the classroom community, but also that the cultural and linguistic practices available in multicultural classrooms must be used as important, legitimate resources for teaching and learning (see González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005; Gutierrez, 2001; Lee, 2000). The model of generative processes proposed here can also be used to examine practice in multicultural classrooms based on the nature of contributions welcomed, which students are invited to contribute, who is given autonomy, and the kinds of responsibilities given to which students. As Krank and Steiner (2000) write:

    Students embedded in academic cultures for which they are unable to find personal referents are typically

    socially and intellectually inert. The time to adjust the culture to fit the learner has arrived. To do otherwise

    is an overt decision to marginalize the social and intellectual bounty offered by divergent perspectives.

    Educational institutions must treat all learners as valued others no matter their socioeconomic, cognitive,

    cultural, ethnic, racial, gender, or age-based mismatch to the norms of the dominant culture (p. xii).


Transformation in schools and classrooms in the U.S. and elsewhere should involve critique and reform of oppressive, monocultural practices that exclude and under-serve particular groups of students. Conventional pedagogies are largely reproductive of structures and activities that privilege middle class norms for interaction, English above all other languages, and European American-centered curriculum (Gay, 2000; García, 1999; Hollins, 1996). Transformative classroom practice in multicultural settings must then pay particular attention to the ways in which students’ cultural and linguistic resources are treated as substantive, creditable features not only of students, but also of the classroom community. While critical pedagogy involves teachers’ differential approaches to oppressed versus privileged students in terms of curriculum, attention to social processes involved in the inclusion of substantive, valuable learning resources students bring to multicultural/multilingual classrooms adds to our understanding of how aims of social justice can be achieved. The three generative processes can be important markers in gauging the extent to which students’ cultural and linguistic knowledge and skills are valued in classroom communities. The model thus provides an important analytical tool for gauging how and whether classroom practices foster inclusive transformative activity. Following is the application of the generative model to two studies (Lee, 2001; Wenger & Ernst-Slavit, 1999) to illustrate how assessing degrees of autonomy, responsibility, and contribution is important in gauging how reproductive or transformative multicultural classroom communities may be.

Varied discourse and interaction patterns

Autonomy. Freedom from dependence on or control by another entity affords students opportunity to engage in classroom communities in ways that may include culturally, linguistically grounded knowledge and skills, as well as patterns of communication and interaction. Rather than being constrained to dominant or predominant norms for participation, autonomy in transformative practice allows students (and teachers) to bring to bear their unique, sociocultural ways of knowing, learning, performing, and being. Lee (2001) provides an important example of how autonomy functions in an inclusive transformative classroom with her use of signifying in African American Vernacular English as a tool for learning literary analysis, and her scaffolding instruction over time to give more and more authority to students to pose questions. The personal freedom afforded students as they were invited to use familiar communication modes to engage in learning honored both the power inherent in this style of discourse [e.g., “use of metaphor and ... satire, irony, and shifts in point of view” (Lee, 2001, p. 100)] and students’ exploration of literature. She scaffolded instruction, offering “temporary support [that focused] on strategies, norms for reasoning, and generally more expertlike ways of solving a kind of problem” (p. 110,) and then faded that support to give students opportunity to engage in similar activity on their own. African American Vernacular English was used throughout, so that students were not only able to gain increasing self-governance and personal freedom in literary analysis, they were also able to bring to bear a familiar discourse style that affords unique resources for learning.

Responsibility. In demographically diverse classrooms, being accountable to and for something would extend authority in and obligation to the community to include knowledge, skills, and patterns of communication and interaction whose development is embedded in cultural and linguistic practices. Such aspects of individual participation complement autonomy in that, beyond being able to choose how to interact and contribute, students and teachers from all backgrounds would be expected to add their particular expertise and perspectives as resources for community practice and learning. This type of responsibility supports transformative practice because it identifies often-dismissed or denigrated cultural and linguistic resources as valuable and necessary. Returning to Lee (2001), students and the teacher had constructed a community of practice built on the expectation that students’ use of African American Vernacular English and other cultural resources was valuable and important to learning rigorous academic content and processes:

    …the class was asked to hypothesize about what particular books October Brown might be reading to her

    class…Shanee says she thinks October Brown brings the poem “Invictus.” The teacher invites Shanee to

    bring a copy of “Invictus” to share with the class … Shanee … renders a moving reading of the poem and

    the teacher brings in a copy of “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson and reads that poem in the

    rhetorical manner of a Black preacher from the pulpit (p. 117).

Students and the teacher had responsibility to contribute to the intellectual community in ways that drew on their ways of knowing and communicating, as well as on experiences they brought to the learning tasks that were central to the class. They had authority to add their points of view and obligation to add their interpretations. That responsibility to contribute social, cultural, and linguistic resources supported the transformative practices in this classroom that focused on substantive and culturally specific learning activities.

Contribution. Incorporation of students’ contributions of cultural and linguistic resources is the most obvious means by which transformative practice can be inclusive. Communication and interaction patterns that may be characteristic of cultural groups [e.g., signifying in African American groups (cf., Lee, 2000, 2001), talk-story in Hawaiian groups (cf., Au, 1981)] can be welcomed and integrated into classroom discourse and activities, enlarging the types of, for example, dialogue, student-student and student-teacher interaction, pacing, and turn-taking involved in making meaning and shaping practice. In addition, culturally grounded knowledge and skills can also be drawn upon to expand and diversify the resources available for students and teachers as they grapple with content, getting along, and negotiating their places in the classroom community.

Multilingual classrooms

Wenger and Ernst-Slavit (1999) examine discourse in classrooms as a way to understand how preservice Spanish teachers’ “different ‘ways with words’” influenced their development of “interactional styles, ... the consequences of those practices on teacher and student participation, ... and how ... interactional styles were assessed differently by university supervisors and mentor teachers” (p. 45). The teachers’ practices are examined here using the model of generative classroom practices to illustrate how autonomy, responsibility, and contribution can foster transformative classroom practices that are inclusive particularly of students whose cultures and languages have traditionally been ignored or oppressed.

Heidi and Simón, two student teachers who were the focus of Wenger and Ernst-Slavit’s study, introduced themselves to their students in very different ways. Both were teaching kindergarten in a school that had 30% of its students “speaking languages other than English, with anywhere from two to ten different languages represented in a given classroom” (p. 47). An excerpt from Helen’s class illustrates how reproductive practice that involved limited autonomy, responsibility, and contribution constrained students’ use of their languages, backgrounds, and experiences:

reproduced by permission of the publisher(University of Houston)

Students’ contributions to this exchange were wholly reproductive of conventional teacher-centered practice. The cultural and linguistic resources students had were absent from the exchange, with the language in use being predominantly English and the interaction pattern following the traditional initiation-response-evaluation form. Heidi’s curriculum held sway rather than students’ participation in co-constructing the lesson. Sally’s attempt to add her knowledge of Spanish was diverted, supposedly delayed until later in the class when her expertise would fit with Heidi’s pre-determined scope and sequence. Thus, students weren’t allowed to interject their knowledge, to contribute their cultural or linguistic resources to the beginning construction of this classroom community. Responsibility for students was limited to listening and responding in concert to Heidi’s prompts. Their responsibility to the community was to follow, to receive, rather than to lead or to give. Autonomy was completely absent, as students had no opportunity to determine the pace, content, or direction of their learning or participation. Thus, their contributions were limited following Heidi’s lead in learning Spanish vocabulary related to families, with even that vocabulary disconnected from students’ own lives.

An excerpt from Simón’s introduction to his class provides a contrasting example that highlights transformative practice in multilingual settings. Here, students had many more opportunities to contribute in ways that incorporated their own language and experience. They were offered autonomy in that the turn-taking was not so much controlled by Simón in service of his curriculum, but was more dynamic, as all contributors had some control of the direction of the discussion. Finally, students were responsible for adding their knowledge and experience to the introduction, in either Spanish or English, as they chose:

reproduced by permission of the publisher(University of Houston)

Most salient in this excerpt is the opportunity to contribute linguistic resources. Nora’s proficiency in Spanish is drawn upon to help Steve understand when Simón was asking his name, rather than having the teacher as the sole source of expertise. Simón followed her lead in speaking in Spanish when he asked, “Donde está México?” instead of “Where is Mexico?” Background experience was also a resource, as evidenced by Rob having lived in Mexico being incorporated into locating that country on the map. As Wenger and Ernst-Slavit note, “from the moment Simón introduced himself using both English and Spanish, his students were invited to respond in varied ways” (p. 50). Thus, students’ contributions to the classroom discussion served to shape practice that drew on and valued the diverse resources available to both students and the teacher.

The interaction pattern in this exchange did not follow the traditional I-R-E sequence seen in Heidi’s introduction. Rather, more fluidity is evident, with students and Simón initiating dialogue, and Simón allowing side talk to occur (Alan’s singing, Marc pointing out that Washington is north of Mexico). Thus, responsibility for students included helping each other (in Nora’s aiding Steve), bringing to bear their knowledge and experience (Rob’s prior experience and Nora’s bilingualism), and attending to the teacher’s and their peers’ contributions (locating Mexico on the map). That students could use the varied linguistic resources they had and that they could shape the discussion signals that they were afforded fairly considerable autonomy in determining the nature of their participation in the discussion. The classroom practices that were emerging from the generative processes in evidence in this excerpt are transformative in that they afford students opportunities to be active agents in the construction of knowledge and norms, rather than reproducing traditional structures and activities that exclude the varied contributions, backgrounds, and resources that exist in multicultural classrooms. Further, Simón’s use of Spanish and his naming himself an immigrant may be evidence of a critical educator’s move to seek solidarity with students whose native language and background are often denigrated. Thus, the model serves here to “describe the process by which we acquire a greater degree of insight and agency” (Mezirow, 1999, p. xiv) in ways that are inclusive of diverse cultures and languages.


The following quote captures the aims of transformative classroom practice and poses challenges for educators committed to liberatory and culturally relevant pedagogy, and support for schools’ roles and potential for contributing to substantive social change:   

    Within Freire’s system of pedagogy, an individual’s ontological vocation is to be a subject who acts upon,

    and transforms, the world in order to become more fully human. This praxis, reflection and action, moves

    the individual toward ever new possibilities of a fuller and richer life through initial subjective reflection

    and the resulting rational and objective action. Critical pedagogy leaves no possibility of a neutral

    educational process. (Krank & Steiner, p. xi)

The model of generative processes is presented here in the spirit of understanding and explicating the fundamental underpinnings of such practice in classroom communities. This model helps bridge the binary often created by sociocultural and situated learning theories’ focus on the learning/teaching process and critical, culturally focused theories’ emphasis on the political aims of education. The model illuminates the nature of classroom communities as a function of the material, dynamic opportunities available for reproduction and/or transformation of practice. In doing so, I respond to a caution posed by Comber (2001), in which she states that the generativity of teachers’ accounts of critical literacy practices “is reduced when teachers work in ‘suboptimal’ or very different situations from those in the original study” (p. 275). By examining fundamental underpinnings of critical pedagogy as possibilities for transformation of a conventional classroom, the work here aims to help educators in a variety of settings identify places where they can be “freer than we feel” (Foucault, 1988, p. 10). For example, in Ms. Moss’ class, the opportunities to shape practice and determine the content and conduct of learning involved in students’ increasing autonomy, contribution, and responsibility served as potential transformative spaces because students’ lived experiences and interests provided the resources on which groups drew to accomplish their task. Sahni (2001) stresses the importance of using “students’ concerns and interests to build a critical curriculum, to make spaces where social justice issues can be raised” (p. 277-78). While such issues were not addressed nor invited by Ms. Moss, examining the ways in which students’ interests and experiences were the immediate sources of lived curriculum and the fodder for their learning as participation in classroom practice gives us a window into common practices that can be modified to move conventional practice to more radical activity.

Similar to Sahni’s (2001) work in which she highlighted the importance of children’s point of view and stressed the power of providing students with the “symbolic and social tools with which to construct stories where their role is a more powerful one,” (p. 32), my work makes clear the power of examining students’ increasing autonomy, independence, and opportunities to contribute as a way to pinpoint conventional practices that function as potential sites for transformation. Sahni notes that, students “are not miniature adults and the social structure, although it impinges on their lives, imposing limits and constraints, is still too distant to matter. More than helping them to acquire the ability to think and act critically about the realities of their lives, I found it more useful to help them compose creative and imaginative stories” (p. 32). Such productive potential found in giving young children space to develop into critical actors who can create as well as critique is also in evidence in the generative processes operating in Ms. Moss’ students’ work in groups. While not unveiling or examining macro-level or school-level structural constraints, the generative interactions in the groups did allow them to participate in transformative interactions, giving them the social skills to shape practice, play a part in determining the conduct of their learning, and to insert their concerns, interests, and lived experiences into the developing curriculum.

Rather than reducing transformative practice to a series of technical steps, the model provides a tool for understanding the emergence of transformative practice through students’ active engagement in learning whose conduct and content that they have a hand in determining. Sociocultural and situated learning theorists’ sometime lack of taking a political stance has reduced the impact they may have in modern classrooms. The relative youth of this field may account for some of the inattention to the aims of education. Critical theorists’ relative inattention to the processes by which transformation of conventional practice occurs has limited both the audience and the impact possible. Fears that delineating generative processes may depoliticize pedagogy, or lead to, as Freire cautioned, “bureaucratization of minds,” may account for some of that omission. However, the goals of both fields -- positive, socially tranformative, generative learning and teaching -- are ill served by remaining within the binary of process versus politics. Coupling purpose and process holds much greater promise for transformative practice to be more than an outlier in education.

Also highlighted here is the necessity of attending to both content and conduct, or curriculum and process, in inclusive transformative practice. In Ms. Moss’s class, truly transformative practice was impossible, given the curriculum and instructional materials she relied on. Multicultural texts were largely absent, so while small group work afforded important opportunities for students to influence the conduct of their learning, the content was presented as apolitical and determined from outside students’ lives. In the exchange from Simón’s class, both the content and the conduct were co-determined with his students, including attention to both the learning of Spanish and the use of bilingualism to support it. Substantive autonomy, responsibility, and contribution, along with curriculum built partly from the varying social and academic resources inherent in multilingual, multicultural classrooms, are shown here to be important underpinnings of inclusive transformative classrooms.

Next steps

My focus has been on elements of classroom interaction, but exploring the utility of the model in explicating connections between such interactions and curriculum will be critical: “…source material does matter: It provides a universe of possible characters, relations, and actions. If children do not have available or cannot use in the official world text materials that explicitly foreground significant dimensions of their experience (e.g., race, class, gender), then they may be left to their own unexamined assumptions” (Dyson, 2000, p. 144). Questions including what texts and by whom; what topics of inquiry; what types of classroom examples and problems; and who decides should be asked in conjunction with examining the generative qualities of classroom communities. Bakhtin’s question of “who is talking” (Wertsch, 1991, p. 72) also poses an important challenge to this model to attend to relations among activity, culture, language and curriculum. In addition, studying the model’s use in settings that are more clearly already transformative should be pursued to determine its efficacy in capturing the dynamism of such activity. However, I believe the power of the model is more in its use as a lens for examining conventional practice for possibilities of transformation.

In conventional classrooms and in this era of accountability to standardized curricula and testing, questions such as those above point to where control lies in the everyday, material aspects of classroom life, and may invite teachers to assess their practice for the possibilities to resist standardization and external control. Even with heavy-handed pressure exerted through reliance on test scores to judge student learning, because everyday interactions are dynamic and the source of lived curriculum, classrooms like Ms. Moss’ involve opportunities for students to explore, for example, their interests and concerns in relation to school curricula and learning, using the varied resources they develop as members of cultural groups. Teachers who examine their practice with an eye to the possibilities inherent in generative processes may begin to see concrete ways to support their students’ developing sociopolitical awareness and dispositions to act in service of social justice. It is also possible that, through the generative processes of taking responsibility, exercising autonomy, and making contributions to classroom curriculum and practice, students will begin to push for more opportunities to direct the content and conduct of learning.

Issues of cultural and linguistic diversity can be examined more deeply in considering how the generative processes are operating as well. This would involve close looks at what cultural and linguistic resources are invited as contributions to learning, who gets responsibility and for what, and the ways in which students are given space to draw on the varied cultural practices and experiences available in classrooms. Using the model as an analytical tool can guide researchers’ and teachers’ analysis of everyday interactions in conventional practice, along with attention to lesson content, to discern inclusive transformative possibilities more clearly. Students’ engagement in such classroom activities may provide support for their development of cultural competence in their communities’ practices, promote healthy cultural identity, and cultivate sociopolitical awareness that could all foster dispositions to act. Students may then push for teachers to enact culturally relevant or culturally responsive pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1997, Gay, 2000) that has social action with particular attention to issues of culture and language as a core element.

There are certainly tensions that arise in wedding sociocultural theory and critical pedagogy, given the differences in the traditions. For example, much of sociocultural theory examines individuals’ engagement in cultural activities, while critical pedagogy emphasizes collective experiences of groups. Sociocultural theorists are sometimes silent on hard questions about the political implications of practice (e.g., oppression, privilege), while critical pedagogues sometimes avoid hard questions about how oppression and privilege emerge through practice. Sociocultural theory tends to be used to examine inclusive practice in ways that embrace all students or that draw on unique cultural, linguistic resources to facilitate learning. Critical pedagogy directs teachers to align themselves with students of oppressed groups; to engage privileged students in exploring the sources of privilege and the experiences of oppressed groups; and to foster oppressed students’ building on their and their communities’ ways of knowing. Finally, critical pedagogy’s focus on identifying and working against oppression poses difficult challenges when groups’ goals are the preservation of their practices (e.g., indigenous groups) rather than transformation. Sociocultural theory faces difficulty in its focus on community and apprenticeship because of conservative, assimilationist implications. Certainly, answering those questions is beyond the scope of this paper, however, the work reported here does further efforts to address the challenges and benefits of bridging these traditions.

End Notes

1 See Ares (1998) for an in-depth presentation of the study from which this model emerged.

2 The study was conducted in a working-class middle school outside New Orleans, Louisiana. Twenty-three students were in the class, ten boys and thirteen girls, ranging in age from 11 to 13 yeas. Two of the boys were African American; the rest of the students were European American. This sixth-grade English and reading class met for a one hundred-minute block. The teacher, Ms. Moss, a European American woman in her mid-thirties, had been teaching at this middle school for three of her eight-year career.

Observation, interview, and artifact data were gathered over the second, fourth, seventh, and eighteenth weeks of classes after the Winter Break in December. A formal interview with Ms. Moss was conducted during each of those weeks. Observations were recorded in a field notebook for the first week; classroom activities were videotaped the other three weeks. Field notes about informal conversations were also written. Interviews were semi-structured so that I could follow-up and elaborate on Ms. Moss’s responses and on previously collected data and observations. The questions addressed a range of issues, including her teaching philosophy, her goals for student learning, and the ways in which she structured the classroom and classroom interactions.

Sixteen students participated in two focus group interviews, each involving four students. The remaining seven students did not return consent letters from their parents or guardians, so they were unavailable. These interviews were also semi-structured. At the end of the initial interviews, I asked students to bring to the next session something they had done in class that they could use to represent what went on in their classroom (they brought creative writing projects, class notebooks, and arts-based English activities). Questions about those artifacts centered on reasons for choosing them and how they reflected their classroom experiences.


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