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[Xmca-l] Re: Article on Positioning Theory

I'll have to think about some more about your ideas. My immediate thought when I read "essentialize the student, as well as view them as having a deficit," was, no. More inline with my thinking is that it may be more that my assertions essentialize humans working together more generally (in the plural) rather than one student or any one person. It is a deficit of group dynamics rather than of an individual.

It might be worth turning our attention to another student in the article, Will. Will's participation in the group was unchallenged despite his level of engagement. In early drafts of the paper, I talked about his productive privileging - also using productive in a dystopic sense. This didn't make it into the paper - which is an altogether different discussion about attempts to theorize; however, Will also illustrates a different type of deficit that is privilege by the group. It isn't Will or Mitchell that is a deficit. The deficit exists inherently in any collaborative endeavor.

I should make clear that I started out as collaborative learning enthusiast. Indeed, my view is that much of individual's success in life is situated in their ability to work with others. That being said, my research illustrates that the learning that is intended and the learning that actually materializes is often quite different. So approaching collaborative learning form this lense is now different for me. Collaborative learning has pretty much been seen from pretty rosy glasses. It's been the slayer of teacher directed learning. My research suggests a more critical perspective is warranted.


Donna Kotsopoulos, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Faculty of Education & Faculty of Science, Department of Mathematics
Wilfrid Laurier University
75 University Avenue West, BA313K
Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3C5
(519) 884-0710 x 3953

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>>> On 3/27/2014 at 2:30 PM, in message <E23E629A42F087498471D39762DF7EB2DCA4221EC2@ESTES.ucdenver.pvt>, "White, Phillip" <Phillip.White@ucdenver.edu> wrote:

greetings, again Donna  -

i do agree with Huw here, that the difficulties you've uncovered in your ethnography reflects what i was initially attempting to get across to you in my first posting.

which is why i'm uncertain in accepting your conclusion that "for some students, like Mitchell, working collaboratively may not be in their best interests."  you have asserted that the classroom teacher is exemplary, yet there is no evidence to support this description within your ethnography.  as a clinical teacher coach and classroom teacher for more than forty years, i'd be prone to wonder, based on the described behavior of the three girls, exactly what conditions for learning (Cambourne) were actually in place.

i have found the ethnography highly thought provoking and strongly connected with your deep sympathy for students who are marginalized ...  at the same time, positioning is an endemic tension not only in classrooms but throughout all of society's points of collaboration - certainly the inherent political and social injustices of position was first brought to my attention reading the works of Gloria Steinem, for example.

what i fear is that by following your suggestion that for students who experience difficulties in collaboration, by understanding the activity itself of collaboration as not in their best interests, is to both essentialize the student, as well as view them as having a deficit.


Phillip White, PhD
Urban Community Teacher Education Program
Site Coordinator
Montview Elementary, Aurora, CO
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Huw Lloyd [huw.softdesigns@gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:33 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Article on Positioning Theory

Dear Donna,

The impressions I thought about were:

1. The difficult task of establishing a collaboration so that everyone is
committed voluntarily and that allows for re-appraisal of the commitments.
That is, to establish a task in which "positions" are not a big deal.

2. Problematic aspects of the activity: the priming of a competitive schema
in the positioning questionaire and the operational nature of much of the
work.  It seems to me that the collaborative conjuction of the various
operations (cutting shapes etc) is in the ongoing planning and directives,
but that the emphasis is on the making.

3. The relations of "posiitioning" to inferential perspectives (Brandom)
and methods to show its "genesis".

So this seems, to me, to be all about the difficulty children have with
planning and thinking about their tasks: how they need to be doing them in
order to help them think about the planning but also the potential
amplification of the problem if they are doing it in a "scrum".

I think what you are reporting serves to elucidate the complexity (for the
children) in this task and how the difficulties in coming up against this
complexity may obscure the intended mathematical content (i.e. reduce the
salience of the mathematical concepts).

Perhaps, one basic activity theoretic contribution would be to seek to
calibrate the complexity of the collaboration to the point whereby the
mathematical concepts themselves become the issues that dominate the

Thank you for presenting the paper!