RE: What's new in classroom configurations

From: Jonathan Jackson (
Date: Thu Mar 03 2005 - 12:34:02 PST

I'm in the process of finalizing a dissertation that looks at teaching
predominately "at risk" students in a nonclassroom-based school from an
activity theory perspective. One of the findings that pervades my research
is the transformation of the object of teaching when the teacher meets the
student in locations other than the traditional classroom.

The teachers talk about how relationships with students emerge that enable a
connection not experienced in a traditional setting. They talk about the
power shift that occurs when the teacher moves from the safe confines of the
classroom into a space that they have no control. They talk about how they
negotiate with the student a meeting location such as a public library that
moves both student and teacher to a neutral learning space that allows both
parties to create a new teaching and learning experience. Finally, they talk
about how the relationships formed outside the traditional classroom move
them from focusing exclusively on the rules and regulations established by
the traditional school, and toward an object that is jointly mediated
through the new practice they create together; one that puts the learning
needs of the student ahead of the school's need for compliance to state and
federal mandates.


>From: Jay Lemke <>
>Subject: RE: What's new in classroom configurations
>Date: Wed, 02 Mar 2005 22:38:26 -0500
>Very interesting resource links posted recently about issues of designs for
>learning environments.
>I rather liked the basic ideas in the Duluth harborside plan, though
>perhaps the homebase was short-changed a bit.
>Let's consider starting from some radical re-engineering of how learning is
>done, and I don't just mean kids in groups, which is great for getting them
>to talk and have a little freedom of action on short timescales, but still
>is mostly NOT a ZPD because of its homogeneity with respect to competences
>relevant to learning goals (though valuable insofar as other sorts of
>diversity leaven the groups).
>Most basic is getting outside the walls of the school, not just of the
>classroom. Then, giving students more control of the goals of their
>learning, as well as the timing and means. Start by changing the power
>relations. Imagine that it was a learning environment for high-status,
>powerful adults, not for our last remaining legally disenfranchised social
>caste (apart from gays in the US).
>Look a bit at how citizens of this age group and generation CHOOSE to learn
>when not in school. E.g. how they share tasks of learning to become expert
>players of computer and video-games (and for other activities within their
>own culture-realm, ignored by the curriculum and most parents). By and
>large they do want to play together, which is not seen as distinct from
>learning together. The learn/play distinction is itself fundamentally
>dysfunctional, as we have known theoretically at least since LSV and Dewey.
>While there are purely online collaborative groups, there are also usually
>face to face ones. There is the same kind of total integration of practice
>and learning that Lave describes for traditional apprenticeships, and which
>makes sense in age-heterogeneous (and competence-heterogeneous) communities
>-- but not in imitations of these principles in age-homogeneous classrooms.
>Several of the sources posted recently mention the need for a variety of
>different kinds of learning environments, and likewise for different kinds
>of learning/action/play groups: peer groups, peer and mentor,
>competence-diverse, diverse in age and likelihood for forming social bonds
>with similar vs different members, etc. Longterm groups, ad hoc groups,
>across all timescales.
>A lot less emphasis on adult planning and design and control. Less adult
>pre-occupation with optimizing learning; let people figure out how they
>learn well and support that, in its many forms. Good learning arrangements
>emerge when people get together because they want to share in
>learning/playing/doing. No one has to design it all for them, and design
>really cannot effectively anticipate the variety of possible solutions
>people will come to.
>But all of this is predicated on something much more basic: motivation to
>learn/play/do. Most of the problems with school-based and curriculum-based
>education comes from the very simple fact that most students do not want to
>learn what someone wants to teach them. And they are right. There is no
>evidence, beyond the most basic elements of primary school curriculum, that
>any of what we spend hours and years teaching is actually of any use to
>most people. Most of it is simply artificially over-valued cultural
>capital, not functional cultural capital (or functional only because it is
>arbitrarily valued). The fundamental problem with education today is not
>teaching methods, resources, or learning environments. It is the CONTENT.
>Still, it is more intellectually interesting to think about the role of
>space and time, by which we usually really mean place and pace, as well as
>movements and traversals, in learning, rather than about why schools and
>their version of "education" are so dysfunctional. It is also less
>One could take, in a sense, two approaches to this. You could look at the
>chronotopes (space-time-place-pace typical dynamic patterns) of
>non-learning in failing institutions, to see how not to do it, and to watch
>the counter-chronotopes of resistance, appropriation, etc. Or you could
>look at the rarer examples of spontaneous learning/playing/doing
>communities (some of which might even occur in schools) and see what their
>chronotopic patterns are like, and how they come up against obstacles and
>barriers, and which ones they find ways around and how.
>Of course what I would LIKE to study would be such communities for which
>the barriers are removed, so that one could see just how they would evolve
>if our society were actually interested in having people learn to think and
>learn how to succeed at what they want, which it clearly, and for fairly
>obvious reasons, is not (or at least its most powerful interests are not).
>Jay Lemke
>University of Michigan
>School of Education
>610 East University
>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>Tel. 734-763-9276

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