The Danger of a Single Story: Classroom Talk in Grade 6

Submitted by: Catarina Schmidt
Abstract: The Danger of a Single Story: Classroom Talk in Grade 6

Drawing on one Grade 6 classroom during 24 social science lessons over one year, I focus in this paper on classroom talk. The aim is to identify repertoires of classroom talk, and the discourses they form with regards to students’ diverse identities and critical approaches. The study was carried out in a linguistically rich classroom: at least one quarter of the students have another language background than Swedish. When relating students’ particular differences to subject specific content, it addresses one of the most crucial questions of ethics and democracy in society, namely how students in the same classroom can respect and learn from each other while having different backgrounds, values, beliefs and dreams. The universal concern is that citizens have obligations to each other, including a respect for legitimate differences (Benhabib, 2004). At the same time, Appiah (2007) argues that some values must be considered universal, which in my interpretation are such as those outlined by the Convention on the Children’s Rights. Research on critical literacies stresses the need for negotiation, repositioning and re-design of subject content (Janks, 2010).
The used methods were video recordings, and to some extent group interviews. In this paper, I focus on two curriculum tasks from this classroom: World Religions and Commericals, i.e. 6 lessons in total. The lessons occurred in different phases of the classroom teaching and learning, identified as the initial, the intermediate and the final phase. Drawing on Alexander (2008), I investigate what characterizes the repertoires of classroom talk during these lessons and discuss consequences and possibilities for students’ own learning talk with regard to diversity and participation, and in relation to critical approaches (Janks, 2010).
The analysis reveals that it is when students ask authentic questions or respond to their teachers’ or peers’ reflections, that critical approaches appear in relation to content, the surrounding world and themselves. Drawing on the results, I argue that these critical approaches can be deepened in relation to ethical issues, source criticism and redesign, and regardless of whether textual resources are online or offline. Since Swedish national curriculum standards have contributed towards a greater focus on knowledge outcomes, I am concerned that processes of meaning making and criticality might be downplayed. The result reveals an uncertainty of dealing with diversity, and highlights the need for critical perspectives to be integrated with subject content in responsive and explorative ways and where student’s diverse identities are taken into account.

Keywords: diversity; classroom talk; identities; critical approaches.

Alexander, R. (2008). Essays on pedagogy. London: Routledge.
Appiah, A. K. (2007). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers. London: Penguin Books.
Benhabib, S. (2004). The claims of culture: Equity and diversity in the global era. New York: Princetown University Press.
Doyle, W. (1992). Curriculum and pedagogy. In P. W. Jacksson (Ed.), Handbook of research on curriculum (p. 486-516). New York, NY: Macmillan.
Janks, H. (2010). Literacy and power. London: Routledge.