Student English teachers: participatory learning and developing identities-in-practice

Hinchion, Carmel (2017) Student English teachers: participatory learning and developing identities-in-practice. English Teaching: Practice & Critique, 16 (2). pp. 238-251. ISSN 1175-8708



This paper looks at how participation in a community of learners can be a resource for learning and identity making (Wenger, 1998). The paper is an interpretation of the selected pedagogical scripts (learning journals) of three student teachers in an English Pedagogics module over a 13-week period in one university context in the south of Ireland. The paper highlights how participation is both a personal experience and a social process, and how the mind is a distributed force in meaning making and a socially mediated phenomenon. The paper draws attention to how sociocultural theory and the concept of participation can extend and support our understanding of learning.

The analysis is deductive and interpreted through an existing literature frame. In contrast to “indigenous concepts” inducted from the data the author draws on Patton’s (2002) notion of “sensitizing concepts” which have their origins in social research theory and the research literature: “Sensitizing concepts give the analyst ‘[…] a general sense of reference’ and provide ‘direction along where to look’ (Blumer,1996: 148). Using sensitizing concepts involves examining how the concept is manifested and given meaning in a particular setting or among a particular group of people” (p. 456). Connecting the theoretical sensitizing concepts of “participatory learning” and “identities-in-practice” to the data set of learning journals, three emblematic themes emerge: “Using cultural artefacts to generate teacher identities”, “Participation as learning” and “Challenges of participatory learning”.

The narrated excerpts from student English teachers’ learning journals, read in the light of sociocultural theory, highlight the process of rendering an identity in participation. Student teachers have worked towards conceptual reach, emotional awareness, experiential understanding and understanding scaffolded learning practices.
Research limitations/implications

The reading of student teachers’ written work in this paper is both particular and partial and aims to illuminate understandings of the practices and processes of participatory learning rather than make generalizable and validity claims. The student cohort is small and is not representative of larger classes.
Practical implications

Wenger (1998) writes that it is the experience of meaning that counts in our human endeavours and in this study the author focuses on student teachers’ meaning making as they develop a professional identity through participation. Dam and Blom (2006) stress that the acquisition metaphor for knowledge is not adequate in preparing student teachers and he makes the case for a balanced coexistence with the participation metaphor. In this paper, the author focuses on the practice of participation for learning.
Social implications

Hall et al. (2014) explain that sociocultural theory has significant explanatory power for understanding and supporting learning. They claim that, particularly in Western societies, learning is often seen as individual, decontextualized and focused on discrete bodies of knowledge. They welcome the sociocultural perspective which does not divorce the individual from their context and highlight how participating with others has a powerful impact cognitively and emotionally.

There has been a dearth of empirical studies focusing on the process of participation in rendering an identity. In this paper, the author has theorised and explicated the process of participation and participatory learning. Participation in the practices of teaching, enriched with reflection and inquiry (Cremin, 2009), has the potential to change the pointing rituals (Sumara, 1996) of teaching and deepen the learning. Furthermore, through such activity, desired behavioural gestalts can be embodied, and the perennial theory practice divide in initial teacher education has the potential for more integration.

View Item