RE: [xmca] LCA: 3rd space - Kris Gutirrez et al

From: Blanton, William E (
Date: Wed Jul 06 2005 - 19:18:06 PDT

Thanks for this post, Phill. I will run the paper down. What Kris and colleagues is very similar to what we of the 5th D Distributed Literacy Consortium refer to as basic literacy activity. We will be glad to share our ideas about basic literacy instruction with the list. I have always thoght that Ken's notion of whole language was very rich. However, its political excursions have created problems, such as a set of first principles for implementing whole language instruction.


From: on behalf of Phil Chappell
Sent: Wed 7/6/2005 10:14 PM
Subject: [xmca] LCA: 3rd space - Kris Gutirrez et al

Here's a snippet from the following paper that provides a bit of background the concept of third space/radical middle a la Kris Gutirrez and colleagues.


Putting language back into language arts: When the radical middle meets the third space Kris Gutierrez, Patricia Baquedano-Lopez, Myrna Gwen Turner. Language Arts. Urbana: Sep 1997.Vol.74, Iss. 5; pg. 368, 11 pgs


Like all cultural practices, schooling practices also evolve and change in synchrony with the imminent changes experienced at given sociohistorical moments, across academic disciplines, institutions, and communities. Consequently, as we noted above, even our most dear beliefs and practices are transformed in their enactment in classroom activitysometimes despite our resistance. In fact, increasingly, many classrooms are more effective than ever before (Edelsky, 1990; 1991; Rose, 1995). While we have observed such effective practice, especially in the best examples of what can be conceived of as what is labeled whole language, we believe that language and literacy learning, even in the best classrooms, can be improved (Gutierrez, 1992; 1993).

We have observed learning environments informed by sociocultural understandings of language and literacy learning. In these settings, there is a shift in foci from teaching to learning, from individuals to collectives, from classrooms to communities, and from habitual to reflexive practice. These teachers are more theory-informed and socioculturally aware (Freedman, 1994; Gutierrez & Stone, 1997; Rose, 1995). Teachers who understand how children learn and use language in the development of literacies, derive their knowledge from a variety of sources and experiences. They may be part of formally organized teaching communities such as writing and literature projects, whole language groups, or locally-organized reading groups. Other teachers may acquire knowledge through their individual praxis or practice and their own examined understandings of classroom life. Yet others may read volumes of books and journals to extend their own knowledge (Rose, 1995). A characteristic common to these teachers is their continued search for better practice and for deeper understandings of the relationships between language, culture, and learning. These teachers move away from the extremes, the idiosyncratic, and/or the singular model, towards a more radical and thoughtful middle. We have observed that these teachers employ a more dynamic and situated view of language and literacy learning.

A more robust view of the role of language and literacy learning in the classroom calls for a decisive move away from the oppositional discourses set up by the pedagogical debates mentioned above to a more dynamic center, or what Pearson (1996) and Pearson and Johnson (1978) have called the "radical middle" and a move toward what we have called the "third space" (Gutierrez, Rymes, & Larson, 1995). While we recognize that these two concepts are grounded in different, yet compatible theoretical orientations, we use the notion of the radical middle as a first step in constructing the third space. As we have discussed elsewhere, the third space in learning environments refers to a place where two scripts or two normative patterns of interaction intersect, creating the potential for authentic interaction and learning to occur. This is a new sociocultural terrain in which a space for shifts in what counts as knowledge and knowledge representation is created (Gutierrez, Rymes, & Larson, 1995). To achieve the third space a new pedagogical orientation must be developed. We use the notion of the "radical middle" to illustrate this orientation.

The "radical middle" we propose is not a compromising, liberal, and comfortable middle or a "balanced" curriculum, but rather a new theoretical and pedagogical space in which learning takes precedence over teaching; instruction is consciously local, contingent, situated, and strategic; and our current knowledge about language learning and language users informs the literacy curriculum. We believe that teaching in the radical middle will be an important first step in both conceptualizing and constructing new learning communities.

Our intention here is both to problematize current debates on language arts practice, and to challenge practitioners to move towards a more constructive view of learning spaces. To assist teachers in reconceptualizing classroom literacy practices, we offer the following discussion of several key features for teaching in the radical middle and, ultimately, in the third space: language; the social organization of learning; and, curriculum and pedagogy. These components, however, are not discrete; rather, they are interrelated and interdependent.


In this new instructional space, language is consciously at the center of learning. As such, language is more than a set of rules for communication. It forms an "identity kit" and signals membership in particular groups (Gee, 1990). These identity kits include our linguistic codes and registers (e.g., dialects, oral and written texts, narratives) that serve as resources to accomplish a variety of literacy tasks and facilitate participation within and across various communities (Dyson, 1997). Thus, instruction in the radical middle may be more productive if it utilizes the linguistic resources and conventions of both the individual student and the repertoires of the larger community

The Social Organization of Learning

Instruction in the radical middle has a high potential for restructuring the organization and experiences of learning for all children, and may be particularly productive for urban classrooms with heterogeneous student populations. Language arts teachers in such contexts recognize classrooms as dynamic, interactional spaces and recognize the relationship between what students can learn and the literacy and discourse practices of the classroom. We have noted that these teachers attend to several important features of the instructional environment to enhance literacy (and biliteracy) learning. First, they pay attention to the ways knowledge is organized and distributed in classroom literacy practices so that it is accessible to all members of the learning community. To accomplish this, the normative practice of these classrooms includes the strategic use of more than one instructional script and varied discourse practices; for example, both explicit instruction and small group work may be utilized depending on the needs of the students and the instructional goal. Most often explicit instruction is in the form of mini-lessons, and small group work, in which knowledge is both constructed by and distributed among the participants. Learning, then, is facilitated by both guided participation and strategic instruction (Gutierrez & Stone, 1997; Rogoff, 1990; Rogoff, Radziszewska, & Masiello, 1995; Stone, 1996).

Clearly, how learning is organized is part of any pedagogical and curricular approach. We make a distinction in the discussion that follows to help illustrate the point that what is taught in language arts activities and how it is taught are related to what is learned.

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