Negotiating power in the ESL classroom : positioning to learn

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2012-05

Authors

Kayi Aydar, Hayriye

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Abstract

This qualitative case study drew on Positioning Theory (e.g., Davies & Harré, 1990) to explore the ways in which the negotiation of power and positioning affected language learning. Participants were nine students and their female teacher in a university-level English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Oral Skills (Listening and Speaking) class. Methods of data collection included the video- and audio-taping of classroom activities for 3.5 months, interviews with students and their teacher, field notes of classroom observations, diaries, and relevant teacher and learning artifacts. As a participant observer, I explored positioning, which refers to locating oneself and others with certain rights and obligations to allow or limit certain actions, in classroom talk and investigated its interaction with second language learning and use. After spending a certain amount of time in the field, I chose two male students as my focal participants, as their positioning and participation differed in terms of quantity and quality of their talk. Through a recursive micro-analysis of classroom interaction and qualitative analysis of other data sources, the findings indicated that the two focal participants constantly dominated classroom conversations and positioned themselves in ways beneficial to them, while other students in the same classroom experienced difficulties in negotiating symbolic power and gaining access to learning opportunities. Additionally the findings showed how interactive and reflexive positioning of learners, which were impacted by a large number of factors, including age, socio-cultural backgrounds, and beliefs, assigned students certain identities and social status over the course of the semester. If second language acquisition is fostered in the classroom by communicative interactions, teachers should attempt to minimize students’ differential access to second language learning opportunities as much as possible.

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