As part of an ongoing project in a seminar exploring literacy instruction, I am a participant/observer in another graduate seminar, ethnographically collecting notes and observations that revolve around the kinds of literacy practices at work in a learning environment.
Using a “Discourse of Writing Model” model proposed by Roz Ivanic (“Discourses of Writing and Learning to Write”, Language and Education, 2004) we as participant observers are selecting a lens from a multi-layered view of language (223). These layers ripple out from a text-focused center, to cognitive processes, through event/dialogic observations, and into sociocultural and political contexts.
I’m interested in every layer, of course, but have decided to focus primarily at the event/dialogic level, inspired in part by Shirley Brice Heath’s work.
What is the purpose for language use in this (and presumably other) graduate seminars. In this seminar, the purpose of language seems primarily to be to present information and to foster inquiry. This is accomplished through both spoken language and through textual language (questions posed by students before class, printed, and distributed). Language seems to be used, as well, to form social bonds; i.e., as a kind of underlife that operates underneath the primary discourse the seminar is constructed around. Language is also mediated through digital screens and through film.
The observable social interactions might be described in two ways: as those between teacher and student and those between students. The teacher poses questions to the group as a whole, and most responses are volleyed back directly to the teacher. In some instances, after a question is posed, students will interact directly with each other, and in fact this kind of interaction is persistently encouraged by the teacher.
Other particulars worth noting: textual language is interpreted and presented by students every class, with some disagreement surfacing in terms of meaning. Alternative readings are somewhat common, and meaning of textual language is negotiated orally. Language is implied, as well, in visual imagery. Objects of study include visual images, and language is inferred from those images, again with differing readings as to meaning and intention of the images author/composer.