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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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I found that classroom disciplinary moments varied in construction (e.g., exchanges, episodes, events) and happened for two main reasons. First, classroom disciplinary moments could occur as a result of behavioral dissonance (i.e., teachers and students are involved in the same situation, but developed differing perspectives with regard to what actually took place). Second classroom disciplinary moments occurred because teachers and students perceive each other’s actions to be different than the behavior expected for a certain setting. Next, I discuss the formations of classroom disciplinary moments in detail, beginning with an exchange.

Classrooms Disciplinary Moments: Exchanges, Episodes, and Events Exchange. An exchange was always limited to one echolation (or response). The boundary of an exchange was defined by a student’s beginning behavior that was followed by a teacher’s response. These small exchanges occurred throughout the day and varied in repetition. Case in point, during language arts with Ms. Esther, Cookie reaches his arms straight up in the air over his head, claps his hands once, and blurts out “one, two, three.” In turn, Ms. Esther turned her head and grimaced while she peered at Cookie. The relay of behaviors stopped at a single exchange consisting of Cookie’s verbalization and Ms. Esther’s smirk. In this instance, the exchange involved a verbalization and simultaneous gesture by Cookie coupled with Ms. Esther’s gesture.

Happening in tandem and linked to Cookie’s initial behavior, Ms. Esther grimaced. When asked about her grimace, Ms. Esther commented: “That's probably the look of, you know, we're finished with that moment. So let's not go there. It’s my what-the-hell look. I give it often. Cookie indicated, “Well, I think she didn’t actually look at me, but like she just turned her head and then she turned back. But then she was just watching. Her watching made me stop.” This exchange between Cookie and Ms. Esther demonstrates misalignment among conceptions. Cookie interpreted Ms. Esther’s look at the possibility for his behavior to be highlighted and “officially labeled as misbehavior” is what made him stop. This moment is also characterized as an exchange because there was only one echolation with no teacher sanction.

In another incident, Jonathan talked out loud without permission during social studies class with Ms. Esther (see Figure 9).4 Here is the exchange that unfolded.

Although this example is what a conversation analysis would call an adjacency pair (Gee & Handford, 2012; Schegloff & Sacks, 1973), I did not use conversational analysis (Duranti, Alessandro, & Goodwin, 1992; Goodwin & Heritage, 1990; Heritage & Atkinson, 1984). I focused on teachers’ and students’ meaning making processes during instances of classroom disciplinary moments. Although conversation analysis seeks to describe underlying social organization and places emphasis on people’s orientation to the institutional substratum of procedures, interactional rules and conventions (Goodwin & Heritage, 1990), the lens that I used to understand misbehavior privileged symbolic interaction and sociocultural theory. This distinction is important because although some behavioral exchanges may be structured the same as an adjacency pair, conversational analysis is not recommended for research on people’s opinions or making sense of larger social interaction embedded within multiple levels of an organization (Peräkylä, Ruusuvuori, & Vehviläinen, 2005; Ruusuvuori, 2012; Ruusuvuori, 2014).

This second behavior also represents an echolation Figure 9. Jonathan and Ms. Esther exchange.

Illustrated in these two examples is the variability that can exist between teachers and students during the co-construction of behavioral exchanges. In the first example, Ms. Esther responded non-verbally to Cookie. However in Jonathan’s case, Ms. Esther looked at him and told him to stop talking. Although the exchanges were constructed differently, the behavioral echolations discontinued after a single exchange. How come?

Do we know why? In addition, this cessation thwarted the escalation of the exchange progressing into an event. Next, I discuss the formation of a classroom disciplinary episode.

Episode. As seen in Figure 10, Byron spoke out of turn in Mr. Abrahm’s class.

During the stimulated recall interview, Mr. Abrahm described Byron’s talking out as a class disruption and his swaying back and forth while seated in his desk, as attention seeking. On the contrary, Byron indicated, “I was working, doing my job.” Mr. Abrahm elected to overlook Byron’s attention seeking attempt and efforts to disrupt the class.

Instead of issuing a sanction, Mr. Abrahm corrected Byron, cueing him to raise his hand and wait to be called on.

Figure 10. Byron and Mr.

Abrahm episode.

In this example, there were seven behavioral echolations between Mr. Abrahm and Byron. Identified as an episode, Mr. Abrahm did not sanction Byron for his rule infraction, but instead, interpreted the misbehavior as a teachable moment, seizing the opportunity to remind Byron of classroom (i.e., teacher) expectations. Negotiated by Mr.

Abrahm and Byron was Mr. Abrahm’s choice to instruct behavior and Byron’s choice to follow Mr. Abrahm’s redirection.

Unfortunately, there is not anything extraordinary that indicates why Mr. Abrahm interacted with Byron positively. The point of bring this episode to light, it the rare occasion that Mr. Abrahm did not sanction Byron. This example illustrates the power of our mediated interactions in that Mr. Abrahm interpreted Byron’s hand raising and calling out to signify a readiness to learn.

Another illustration of an episode is between Lil P and Ms. Esther. During a social studies class, Ms. Esther talks to the students about the internet. She highlights the changes in forms of communication over the decades. The excerpt is detailed in Figure

11. Although Lil P breaks a classroom rule by talking when not called on by the teacher, Ms. Esther confronts him twice. Each time, she asks if he is done talking out loud. During

a follow up inquiry with Ms. Esther about her choice, she indicated:

–  –  –

Next I discuss the formation of an event during a classroom disciplinary moment.

Figure 11. Lil P and Ms.

Esther episode.

Event. An event was typically characterized by linked episodes between a teacher and student. The subsequent echolations are all connected to one specific student behavior that is considered the launching of the event. The boundary of an event was a specific student behavior that ended with a teacher issuing a sanction to the student;

however, the construction of an event did not have to follow a predefined sequence. In some cases, an event only consisted of one exchange or echolation. That is, a student behavior and a teacher response that was a sanction.

For example, Lil P is immediately reprimanded after Mr. Abrahm suspects he is disturbing the class by making indistinct and barely audible sounds. With desks arranged in five straight rows, Mr. Abrahm circulated the room. He slowly walked up and down each row with his hands joined behind his back. Hearing a noise, Mr. Abrahm stopped near Lil P’s desk. Facing Lil P, Mr. Abrahm looked to the right, in Lil P’s direction, then directly at him. While Mr. Abrahm looked, Lil P also turned his head in that same direction, then calmly looked straight ahead. Lil P brought his right hand to his mouth and began to bite his thumb fingernail. Moving away from Lil P, Mr. Abrahm begins walking slowly toward the classroom door, still with his hands locked behind his back.

Keeping his left arm behind his back, Mr. Abrahm reaches with his right hand and turns the doorknob, opening the door. Standing in the doorway, Mr. Abrahm peers into the other classroom. With his head still turned away and without saying a word, Mr. Abrahm raises his left arm and cups his hand. Bending each finger, he gestures “come here.” Remaining silent, Mr. Abrahm, looks at Lil P, again raises his left hand, snaps his fingers three times, and then points at Lil P. Hearing the snaps, Lil P looks up. He brings his left hand inward toward his chest and mouths, “me?” Mr. Abrahm again gestures with his hand “come here.” Rising from his desk, Lil P stands. He swings his arms gently back and forth as he walks toward Mr. Abrahm. Very coolly and matter of fact, Mr. Abrahm says to Lil P, “I will be talking to you and your father after school.” After telling Lil P his work assignment, Lil P sits down in the other classroom. Mr. Abrahm closes the classroom door. Class resumes and Lil P’s desk now sits empty.

Although only Lil P was sanctioned, Cookie was also involved. He was sitting diagonally from Lil P, one row to the right, and two desks forward. On video, both students can be seen and heard making “ch” sounds; however, during class, Cookie’s involvement was undetected by Mr. Abrahm.

During this classroom disciplinary formation, the initial behavior involved two students, Lil P and Cookie making “noises.” Mr. Abrahm’s meaning making process during this event, led him to exclusively focus on Lil P. At the time of detection, Mr.

Abrahm perceived Lil P was the only student involved. Mr. Abrahm arrived at this decision by narrowing the source of the sound as he approached Lil P. In this instance, there was one exchange: Lil P made a sound (behavior) and Mr. Abrahm ejects Lil P from the classroom (sanction). Mr. Abrahm summoning Lil P is the echo. Lil P being removed from the classroom is the sanction that also determined the boundary of this interaction as an event. With that said, Mr. Abrahm’s and Lil P’s interactions only entailed one exchange being comprised of a single echolation.

When Cookie and Lil P were asked what was going on in class while Mr. Abrahm walked up and down the rows of desks, both students said they were making faint sound effects (and not noise). What for? This speaks to the different meaning making processes derived through our interactions with one another that is situated within the domain of interactional influence. In this instance, during the meaning making process, both boys’ perceptions, decisions, and behaviors were identical. Cookie and Lil P thought they were making sound effects. Mr. Abrahm’s viewpoint differed and he interpreted the faint sound he heard as noise. Given that Mr. Abrahm, as a classroom teacher has more power than Lil P, only Mr. Abrahm’s opinion counted as fact.

The distinguishing factor of an event is that it begins with some type of observable student behavior that ended with a student being sanctioned by a teacher. The sanction itself served as the determinant of the episode becoming an event. In addition, multiple behavioral events may occur in a discipline moment if more than one student misbehavior is being highlighted. Table 18 illustrates the evolution of two behavioral events occurring simultaneously involving Byron and Jonathan. In this example, breakfast had just ended and students were assembling themselves in a line outside Ms.

Esther’s classroom door as they prepared to enter. Standing and watching nearby was Mr.


Prior to this disciplinary moment, Ms. Esther had a series of behavioral exchanges with the class as a whole [lines 1-4]. She has two whole class exchanges before her individual exchange with Byron. During this exchange, Byron is immediately sanctioned [line 8]. Within a few seconds, Jonathan passes Ms. Esther and jokes with friends that he too wanted to be removed from class. Over hearing this, Ms. Esther immediately reprimands Jonathan [line 13]. Additional exchanges between them ensue. These ensuing exchanges are also examples of behavioral echolations (a chain of reactions (or echo’s) between teacher and student) [lines 14-20]. The displeasing behavior reverberated between Ms. Esther and Jonathan, until Jonathan walked away; allowing the echolations to cease.

Table 18 Byron and Jonathan Event with Ms. Esther

–  –  –

In the first behavioral event [lines 6-9], Ms. Esther sanctioned Byron for talking after she instructed students to remain quiet. Several students were talking and playing in line, as they passed Ms. Esther to enter the classroom; however, among them, Byron was the only student reprimanded. His punishment was removal from the classroom for the morning. Within a few seconds of Byron’s reprimand, the second behavioral event follows [lines 10-13]. Jonathan joked that he too wanted to be removed from the classroom. Taking him seriously, Ms. Esther also removed Jonathan from the classroom for the morning.

As a way to gain further understanding into these interchanges, all parties were separately interviewed. When speaking to Byron about this behavioral event, he


–  –  –

Byron and many of his classmates were not following Ms. Esther’s directions. Captured in Ms. Esther’s narrative, is her admission, that Byron was being removed from class for talking in line in addition to his past transgressions. Rather than seeking clarity from Byron, Ms. Esther exerted her control and authority, forcing Byron’s separation from his peers and limiting his exposure to the curriculum. Although somewhat troubling, both Byron and Ms. Esther were in agreement with their joint co-construction of misbehavior.

Byron felt like his punishment was justified, explaining, and that he got caught doing something that he was asked not to do. He also mentioned that he, “had a feeling he was gonna get in trouble” and said that out loud to a friend, seconds before Ms. Esther said, “Come here!”

In an interview with Jonathan about his involvement, he indicated:

–  –  –

One consequence is that a student’s removal from class results in a denial of access to peers and the curriculum. Despite the loss of direct classroom instruction, in this instance, Byron, Jonathan, and Ms. Esther felt the students’ removal from class was justified. The students shared they were talking after being asked to remain silent and therefore deserved to be sent out of class.

Nevertheless, this co-construction of misbehavior among Ms. Esther, Byron, and Jonathan is troubling. Concerning is that Byron and Jonathan both indicated they were not serious in wanting to be removed from class. Ms. Esther also recognized their humor;

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