• Group Dynamics

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    I have always been fascinated by social dynamics and how they affect groups in personal and professional contexts. A teacher must be constantly aware of group dynamics while teaching. The teacher is not, however, merely exporting language information-grammatical structures, vocabulary, etc-but also acts in a role model capacity. This translates into how the teacher presents materials and engages the class. While researching for this essay, I stumbled across an article titled, Teacher Identity as Pedagogy: Towards a Field-Internal Conceptualisation in Bilingual and Second Language Education. The article explores using the teacher’s personal identity as a ‘field-internal’ teaching tool, as a way to teach students a language, but also excite collaborative skills in students that encourage active agency in the world around them.

    The approach is based on a few foundational ideas. First is the notion of the ‘teacher as script,’ one who plays a part and is constantly ‘re-scripting’ based on the context and the dynamics of teacher-studentidentity negotiations. The philosophy states that the teacher has the power to decide what aspects of her personal identity have pedagogical value. Determining this requires a great deal of ‘matching,’ which equates to becoming acquainted with students’ interest and cultural experience, and adapting one’s presence (or character) and lessons accordingly.

    Playing characters in front of the class, and catering to their preferences may seem like merely a way to cut down on disciplinary problems-which it is-but it becomes increasingly consequential when we recognize that the style and format a teacher chooses have momentous future effects. It literally has the power to shape a student’s future:

    “An image of the society that students will graduate into and the kinds of contributions they can make to that society is imbedded implicitly in the interactions between educators and students,” proposes one book on the subject, and adds that “Choices in methodologies… or the structure of bilingual programmes… highlight particular identity options for students, which in turn have lifelong social consequences.”

    A teacher must also choose between coercive and collaborative exercises. The former seeks to maintain inherent power structures and discourages deviation from dominant societal norms. The latter, on the other hand, promotes individual expression, freedom of thought, challenges students’ prejudices (through the teacher-as-role model and representative of ‘white western culture), and seeks to engage students to engage themselves. This is not just rote memorization for limited use.

    At times, the teacher may have limited ability to encourage students who are willing to analyze and change the world around them-vocational schools inherently attempt to replicate the status quo. In addition, systems of standardized testing place restrictions on teachers and students. These tests tend to marginalize minorities through emphasis / content. The paper refers to the Marxian concept of objectification: it is ubiquitous for institutions and society to gauge the quality / value of learning by its potential economic viability.

    Field-internal teaching is “process-oriented” or “context imbedded.” It changes moment to moment every class based on stimuli and response, identity negotiation, and teacher’s goals. This does not exclude lesson plans, but would require a great deal more work on the teacher’s part to create and cater lesson plans and have a wealth of varied activities available. Furthermore, in field-internal teaching, the activities and lessons would be interactive to a radical degree.

    Example:

    Students working in small groups are arguing. Juan says that women don’t make for good politicians; Suzie says they do. After dealing with this argument, rearranging and separating the two if necessary, the teacher could pull up an article about Rwanda’s current (woman) President and the brilliant ways she’s been reconciling the Hutus and the victims (I have an entire searchable database of news articles from the past few years). I’d then print off enough copies for at least every 1 in 2 students and have a discussion afterwards.

    OR, more immediately:

    Bring up a number of women in office in the United States, at least touching on the idea of gender and politics.

    The teacher is constantly re-writing him/herself based on changing dynamics. By being constantly aware of her presented identity, the teacher can sometimes broaden students’ horizons by defying / challenging set stereotypes and ‘image texts.’ This can be as simple as one student stating that women don’t handle the finances, and the teacher nonchalantly mentioning that. “When I was growing up, my mom took care of the finances in our family.” A series of these can lead to gradual broadening of perspective and breaking down of students’ cognitive dissonance.

    There is no formal way to utilize the field-internal technique because it is so variable and constantly changes. A teacher can gain a good rapport with their students by knowing about the culture, showing interest in the students, being open and warm-hearted, but still firm and in control. Each society is different, and a teacher should develop adaptive capabilities.

    A method for this teaching style has yet to be ‘developed’ but the research focuses on the ways teacher-student interactions shape student self-perception and others-perception and what future social consequences these present. A teacher should keep these in mind when preparing their lessons. I’ve recently found that many schools in Mexico are vocational in nature and am preparing lesson plans that can (hopefully) challenge students’ prejudices while also challenging them academically.

    (I’ve attached an excerpt from the article I read, because it’s great! It’s an anecdote about a case of teacher-student relations in China.)

    Morgan, B. (2004b). Teacher identity as pedagogy: Towards a field-internal

    conceptualization in bilingual and second language education. International

    Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,7, 172–188.

    Cummins, J. (2001) Negotiating Identities: Education f or Empowerment in a Di verse Society

    (2nd edn). Ontario, CA: California Association of Bilingual Education.

    Steven Coatsworth


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