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Creating Epistemological Pathways to a Critical Citizenry: Examination of a Fifth-Grade Discussion of Freedom

by James S. Damico & Cheryl L. Rosaen - 2009

Background/Context: Research has demonstrated that moving from traditional teacher-directed, monologic practices to dialogic discussions remains a daunting challenge. The reasons for this staying power are multiple: Teachers often stick with familiar canonical texts; districts often mandate the literature teachers must use; standardized tests emphasize discrete skills, strategies, and bits of knowledge rather than open-ended interpretations and responses; and many new teachers either continue to be trained with a monologic framework or have had few experiences with classroom discussions in their own education.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Although literature curricula and instructional goals get increasingly framed reductively in the form of mandated curricula and basal readers, and student achievement is measured through batteries of tests, findings from this study show how dialogic literature discussions and the forging of epistemological pathways can help us see children and teachers as intimately involved in the exploration and coconstruction of knowledge and ways of knowing fundamental to developing an informed, critical citizenry. The research question is, How do a group of fifth-grade students and their teacher cocreate and navigate an epistemological pathway during a whole-class literature discussion? Subquestions are, (1) What ideas are introduced, explored, and examined during the discussion? (2) What practices do students engage in during the discussion? (3) What practices does the teacher engage in during the discussion?

Setting: The study took place in a multiracial fifth-grade classroom in an urban elementary school.

Research Design: This is a qualitative case study of how the examination of a key idea—freedom—unfolds during one literature-based discussion.

Data Collection and Analysis: The primary data sources for this study were a videotape and transcript of one class discussion. The ideas that were explored in the discussion and the questions asked by the students and teacher were identified. Then the specific practices of the teacher and the students as the discussion ensued were noted, which led to analytic categories associated with the content of the discussion (the nature of knowledge) and the practices (nature of knowing) that the participants engaged in.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study demonstrates how an epistemological pathway metaphor offers a way to understand the complex and fluid web of meaning that students and their teacher coconstruct and the navigation practices that the participants enacted as they engaged in a dialogic discussion that explored students’ questions and probed the meaning of the concept of freedom. Conclusions point to the importance of creating classroom spaces for dialogue, and investigating what ideas get explored and the practices that teachers and students engage in. This leads to implications for preparing teachers to facilitate dialogic discussions.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 5, 2009, p. 1163-1194
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15240, Date Accessed: 11/29/2020 7:53:57 PM

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About the Author
  • James S. Damico
    Indiana University
    E-mail Author
    JAMES DAMICO is assistant professor in language education, Indiana University, Bloomington. His interests include inquiry-based teaching and learning, reader response theories and practices, culturally responsive pedagogies, and working with digital texts and technologies. Some of his recent publications are articles in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy , the National Reading Conference Yearbook, and Children’s Literature in Education, along with several book chapters in edited collections.
  • Cheryl L. Rosaen
    Michigan State University
    CHERYL ROSAEN is associate professor of teacher education at Michigan State University and a faculty team leader in a 5-year teacher preparation program. She teaches courses in literacy methods and teacher education, and she conducts research on learning to teach literacy, and the role that technology can play in supporting teacher learning. Recent works include a coauthored book, Coming to Critical Engagement: An Autoethnographic Exploration (2006), and publications in the Handbook of Research on Teacher Education: Enduring Issues in Changing Contexts and the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education.
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