Differential participation in whole-class discussions and the construction of marginalised identities

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    Previous researchers have observed differences in the quantity of teacher-pupil interactions experienced by pupils from different social backgrounds. However, there has been little attempt to explore the qualitative nature of such differences and their impact on pupil learning. In this paper I report on an ethnographic study undertaken in a Year 5 primary classroom in the UK focusing on pupil participation in whole-class discussions. I present a typology for identifying productive and non-productive interactions in order to explore the relationship between participation and pupil access to classroom learning processes. The qualitative analysis of audio and video data shows that some children engage in productive exchanges with teachers more often than others, and that this variation may be linked to an implicit set of social norms embedded in the classroom's micro-culture. The reasons behind such differences primarily relate to teacher expectations of ability and the cultural capital that pupils bring into the classroom, which both impact upon the communicative behaviour of teachers and pupils. Drawing on Lave and Wenger's theory of learning as participation in practice, I argue that patterns of unequal participation in whole-class discussions may lead to the construction of different types of pupil identities within the classroom. Pupils who are consistently involved in productive interactions come to see themselves as full participants or learners, whilst those involved in non-productive interactions find themselves marginalised from the practice of classroom learning. I conclude that, in order to tackle issues surrounding educational disadvantage, there is a need to address the systems and processes that reproduce wider social inequalities within the classroom micro-climate.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)34-54
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Educational Enquiry
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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