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«Behavioral Dissonance and Contested Classroom Spaces: Teachers’ and Students’ Negotiations of Classroom Disciplinary Moments by Rebecca Neal A ...»

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Ms. Esther’s idea that Cookie stood out more suggests that he was singled out. A closer examination of the data suggests there were positive and negative aspects to students being singled out (i.e., “standing out more”). Although Cookie signified misbehavior to Ms. Esther, there were many times during the day that Ms. Esther did not highlight Cookie’s misbehavior. Specifically, Cookie would leave his area in Ms.

Esther’s classroom without permission, clearly being in violation of an explicit rule, but was not confronted by her. For example, during language arts class, Cookie left his area to throw away a crumpled sheet of paper. While standing approximately 3 feet away from the trashcan, Cookie lobs the ball of paper. This behavior is repeated several times during the day without public notice to Cookie. When Ms. Esther was asked about these

behaviors, she remarked:

–  –  –

It is in Mr. Esther’s singling out of Cookie that he has both positive (i.e., being granted additional chances when a classroom rule has been violated) and negative (i.e., being the first student to capture Ms. Esther’s attention and in turn, she then only highlights his misbehavior) classroom experiences. Cookie though only focused on the negative aspects of being singled out because those were the most impacting moments that stood out to him.

Externalized student behavior. Students considered externalized behaviors simplistically as an observable act. Teachers, on the other hand, interpreted certain externalized student behaviors signified disruption and disrespect. In fact, both teachers believed classroom disruptions were the sole results of a student’s behavior. Table 11 illustrates examples of teachers and students significations of externalized student behaviors.

Table 11 Externalized Student Behavior (Launching): Symbols and Significations

–  –  –

A notable difference is that although both teachers were discussing disruptions, Mr. Abrahm described the disruption affecting the entire class, and Ms. Esther described a scenario where no one in the class is affected except the student (reading).This difference is important because each teacher’s actions that followed would be affected, one for disrupting an entire class and another solely for individuals. Although both teachers described misbehaviors as disruptive, only Mr. Abrahm places the blame on the student as someone who intended to disrupt the class. Mr Abrahm’s blame placing foreshadows a finding that permeated multiple data points as both teachers ascribe intentionality to students, placing the blame on their shoulders. The teachers in this study believed that students chose their actions based on the same signifiers as the teachers whereas in reality, the significations differed. This differentiation also alludes to the adaptations required of students as they navigated the rhythm of each classroom. Each classroom had its own set of rules, expectations, and operations. These differences also suggest that for teachers certain externalized student behavior signified misbehavior and an interruption to teaching and learning.

Common among actors (i.e., teachers and students) was that misbehavior occurred in public and became officially visible by teachers who brought attention to certain student behaviors. In most cases, misbehavior was also adverse and affected the involved student, their classmates and teacher. Both Mr. Abrahm and Ms. Esther interpreted instructional and learning disruption as misbehavior that typically interfered with individual and communal (e.g., other students in the classroom) learning opportunities.

Mr. Abrahm had a slightly deeper apperception and noticed that he and students would often push-back against the other after he labeled their behavior problematic. This means that sometimes students disputed the meanings or intent of the behaviors that teachers chose to highlight. In fact, bringing attention to certain behaviors and not others is a way that Mr. Abrahm and Ms. Esther showed their significations of misbehavior but for students, these significations differed and therefore the students’ actions reflected their own meanings rather than the teachers’. Then, Ms. Esther and Mr. Abrahn brought meaning to the students’ pushback and considered it problematic or disrespectful. Yet, in Ms. Esther’s understanding of misbehavior, she interpreted student agency as disrespect

which typically led to personal emotional drain for her. Ms. Esther commented:

–  –  –

For Ms. Esther, disrespect embodied verbal banter which also took a mild toll on her emotionally. Over time, students’ displays of misbehavior negatively impacted her emotional state. During the course of this study, Ms. Esther exhibited subtle physiological effects of personal emotional drain such as experiencing headaches or exhaustion. She also became emotional during some interviews when discussing school

and classroom matters. For example, she shared:

–  –  –

Ms. Esther’s experiences of personal emotional drain did not seem readily visible to Mr.

Abrahm or students. Her most distressing times were displayed during interviews when at times, she requested recording to stop.





The co-construction of classroom disruptions (i.e., contested classroom spaces) should not be understood as a series of unavoidable acts happening in isolation with little regard toward the sociocultural context of the classroom (Vavrus & Cole, 2002). Instead, the co-construction of student disciplinary classroom infractions were forged out of negotiated social practices. For example, in this behavioral episode, Lil P speaks out

without being called on:

–  –  –

Mr. Abrahm shared that when he knows a student knows the answer and calls out, he interprets that as anxiousness and an eagerness to positively participate in class. Through this reasoning, Mr. Abram positions Lil P as able and subsequently brands Byron as “that

kind of kid,” in fact he uses the term “destructive disruption” as a referent for Byron:

That destructive disruption is the kind that really draws attention to

–  –  –

Student intentionality. Shown in Table 12 are Mr. Abrahm, Ms. Esther and students ideas that intentionality is an aspect of their conceptualizations of misbehavior.

Teachers believed that when students exhibited an act of misbehavior, they were purposely seeking attention and were convinced that students had a desire to disturb the entire class by interfering with teaching and learning; however, Mr. Abrahm considered personal choice as secondary dimensional aspects of students’ intentionality and thought students purposively and willfully exhibited an adverse response to his prompt or directive to disrupt his teaching. Mr. Abrahm considered himself being personally attacked by students when they made this type of choice. Through observations and interviews, it was determined that teachers believed that when students misbehaved it was to seek negative attention. Both Mr. Abrahm and Ms. Esther were convinced students had a desire to disturb the entire class by interfering with teaching and learning.

There was a clear element of intentionality in their behaviors. Ms. Esther remarks:

–  –  –

(students) not following directions. There’s something they should be doing and talking or doing whatever isn’t it, so that’s really what it boils

–  –  –

In contrast, students did not consider they were always deliberate in their behavior, acting with intent to disrupt teaching and learning; or cause an undue hardship on teacher, self, or other students. The findings of this study suggest that students’ planning were conscious and unconscious; but not necessarily with a negative intention (as described by

teachers). During interviews students shared:

Cookie: Sometimes, I just feel like being silly. That’s all. Sometimes I get

–  –  –

Teacher versus student fault. Teachers and students blamed each other for classroom misbehaviors. In most cases, students believed teachers purposively singled them out and purposively wanting them to experience some type of hardship. In a way, these students were navigating these situations in a moral space in which teachers’ actions were judged as fair or unfair (see Table 13). When being accused of misbehavior, students proclaimed their innocence and often refuted the teacher’s claim. Students’ regularly declared their innocence and pushed back against the teacher’s insinuation of misbehavior. Students considered teachers intentionally sought to purposively get them in

trouble. During interviews students share:

–  –  –

Commonly observed were students pushing back through enacting stances of denial through postural tension, physical gestures, or verbal responses. This demonstrates students’ lack of power and also sets the stage for feelings of frustration because there was no acknowledgment of self-accountability. On the other hand, their responses indexed considerable agency, though as I explained, they were generally interpreted as resistance, which consolidated the construction of misbehavior.

Table 13 Fault (Coding): Symbols and Significations

–  –  –

In contrast, teachers presumed students were culpable and blamed them. Mr.

Abrahm remarked, “Some of them just can’t help it. No matter how hard I try, support them, punish them, reward them, some of them still don’t get it. It’s like they just want to act up in class.” Similarly, Mrs. Esther shared,

–  –  –

Because participation is a major analytic concept in the analysis of schooling, it can be used to show how the process some behaviors evolved into misbehavior and others did not. It seems, therefore, that the sequential progression from externalized behavior to judgments about intentionality and conclusions of fault positioned some students as able and others on the margins (Erickson, 1979; Goodwin & Goodwin, 2004;

Mehan, 1979; McDermott, 1976; McDermott & Gospodinoff, 1979; Philips, 1972).

This also suggests Goodwin (2002), in Time in Action, discussed the process that an archeologist uses when classifying the color of a soil sample. He indicated that for the color of soil to be classified, parameters have been predetermined such as soil color, texture and consistency; thus shaping how information is coded. This process also creates constraints on how color may be perceived, and is used as a scale for separating soil properties into distinctive categories. In doing so, the nature of the soil qualities is examined according to the established parameters of the archeologist’s professional vision that is implemented through the perceptual system embedded in coding systems.

We see this same type of perceptual infrastructure in the teachers’ and students’ interpretation of student behavior. Although meaning was created through interaction, the parameters that teachers and students used to classify the distinct properties of misbehavior involved one’s individual conceptions. It is in this way that Mr. Abrahm is able to view behavior through different parameters for each of the students in his class.

This may sound like a misuse of Goodwin’s notion of coding but it is not. Adhering to Goodwin’s notion of coding and explanation of a template or set of rules applied to events, Mr. Abram had two sets of principles. A template for meaningful contributing students and a template for those students he viewed as lackluster contributors. Mr.

Abrahm interpreted Byron’s hand-raising as an “out-of-turn” gesture. He also considered him getting out of his desk during class and making sounds for “no reason at all,” as a strategy for gaining teaching attention or disrupting the class; however, when other students exhibited the same behavior, Mr. Abrahm would either ignore their behavior or it would go unnoticed. On several occasions while Byron remained quiet and still, sitting erect in his desk with pencil in hand writing, he was still blamed for making noises and exhibiting attention seeking behavior that was actually displayed by other students.

Although classroom misbehavior and disciplinary moments are situated, and teachers’ and students’ sense making to a degree are dependent upon the limitations of their own mental parameters, through interaction, predefined conceptions of misbehavior can change. Interactions are a powerful influence on conceptual change (Dole & Sinatra, 1998; Gregory, et al., 2014; Piaget, 1932; Pintrich, Marx, & Boyle, 1993; Sinatra, 2005).

It is through one’s ability to change their perception that hones the point of classroom misbehavior and disciplinary moments being negotiable.

Mr. Abrahm and Ms. Esther regarded culpability as an attribute of misbehavior.

Each cited the presumption of student guilt as a central feature when students violated a classroom rule. Both teachers automatically presumed students misbehaved, even when the student was adhering to classroom rules.

At times Byron was enthusiastic about learning and could be seen singing or humming quietly to himself at his desk or subtly swaying rhythmically as if he was listening to music. While in Mr. Abrahm’s classroom, quite regularly when Byron enthusiastically or slowly raised his hand in class, or calmly spoke, his behavior was

considered a class disruption. Mr. Abraham shared:

–  –  –

In contrast of how Mr. Abram constructed misbehavior with Byron, interactions with Lil

P were distinctly different. Mr. Abram described Lil P this way:

–  –  –



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