EDP 5603 UTSA Understanding Theories as Mentioned in Readings Essay


Describe your understanding of the theories from reading 1 and reading 2 as you understand them. What elements of any one theory seemed most relatable? 

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Contemporary Educational Psychology 37 (2012) 186–194
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Contemporary Educational Psychology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/cedpsych
‘‘Wearing a mask’’ vs. connecting identity with learning
Beverly S. Faircloth ?
School of Education, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27407, United States
a r t i c l e
i n f o
Article history:
Available online 18 January 2012
Third space
Hybrid identity
a b s t r a c t
Contemporary insights regarding identity emphasize its situated, negotiated nature (i.e., identity is
shaped by – and shapes in response – the contexts in which it is formed; Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner,
& Cain, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991) Recent work also suggests that this identity/context intersection
holds powerful implications regarding engagement in learning (Brophy, 2008). This pair of qualitative
studies drew from contemporary models connecting learning with identity (Study 1: cultural modeling,
Lee, 2007 and third-space/hybrid-identities, Gutiérrez, 2008; Study 2: Kids’ business inquiry projects,
Fairbanks, 2000) to explore the nature and impact of such connections among disaffected ninth-grade
English students at a high-needs school. Results demonstrate evidence of: (1) a signi?cant connection
between identity and learning; (2) students’ negotiation of engaged patterns of participation; (3) the
relevance of student voice to this process; and (4) the impact of connections between identity and learning on students’ participation in, and affective response to, learning.
Ó 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
The work of achieving a well-integrated identity has traditionally
been considered a critical developmental task, one that is particularly salient for adolescents and that often preoccupies their energy
and attention (Erikson, 1968). Recent socio-cultural and situated
explorations of identity (e.g., Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain,
1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Schachter, 2005; Vygotsky, 1978) have
shed important light on this process by bringing attention to the
intersection between the development of identity and the context
of that development; that is, they have highlighted the interplay
of personal, social, critical, and cultural situational factors in our
understanding of identity. In contrast to conceiving of identity as
an achieved understanding of the contours of self and as primarily
a function of individual mental processes (as some have interpreted
Erikson’s work), these theorists conceive of identity as the pattern of
practices and choices that emerge (and potentially shift) within the
interaction of person and context. Identity can be seen therefore as a
type of ongoing negotiation of participation, shaped by – and
shaping in response – the context(s) in which it occurs.
Recent theory and research have also recognized this intersection between identity and context as a potentially signi?cant aspect of student engagement and motivation. For example, Brophy
(2008) reminded us that Dewey (1910) de?ned genuine interest
in learning as actually an identi?cation of the self with a concept
or object, an identi?cation that leads to self-initiated exploration
(i.e., energized engagement) of that Concept or object. Similarly,
Bergin (1999) suggested that individuals develop schemata associ? Corresponding author. Fax: +1 336 334 4120.
E-mail address: bsfaircl@uncg.edu
0361-476X/$ – see front matter Ó 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
ated with their identity and are likely to be more engaged with
topics and experiences that resonate with that schema. Flum and
Kaplan (2006) explained that students who intentionally examine
the relevance and meaning of school content and learning with respect to their sense of who they are (or want to become) develop
an exploratory orientation toward learning that involves actively
seeking/processing information. Considering these insights, a vital
next step in understanding student engagement and motivation is
to discern both the nature and impact of such energizing connections between identity and school-based learning and how these
connections might be reliably established and sustained amidst
the daily demands of classroom life. The two complementary,
exploratory, qualitative studies reported here drew from contemporary models connecting learning with student identity (Study
1: cultural modeling, Lee, 2007 and third space/hybrid identities, Gutiérrez, 2008; Study 2: Kids’ Business inquiry projects, Fairbanks,
2000) to clarify the nature and impact of such connections among
two diverse groups of primarily struggling high school students
within the academic demands of their ninth-grade English class.
2. Emerging views of identity development
Traditional conceptions of identity development – exploring,
identifying, and integrating seemingly disparate aspects of the self
to arrive at a sense of personal continuity across time and context –
have historically been attributed initially to Erikson (1968).
Although a thorough understanding of Erikson’s work reveals his
attention to the cultural, historical, and institutional elements of
identity formation, individual mental processes have often been
given primacy in interpretations of his conception of identity
development (Penuel & Wertsch, 1995; see also Cote & Levine,
B.S. Faircloth / Contemporary Educational Psychology 37 (2012) 186–194
1988; Erikson, 1968; Schachter, 2005). One of the most well established elaborations of Erikson’s work, Marcia’s (1980) identity status model, is based on the degree to which an individual explores,
and commits to, particular identities. McAdams’s life story model
of identity (1996) asserted that individuals living in modern societies provide their lives with coherence and purpose by constructing
evolving narratives of the self (i.e. life stories). Each of these perspectives regard identity development as a process of sorting out
(achieving) a reasonably coherent, workable perspective on the
self; each is also framed, to a great degree, as a primarily individual
psychological process.
In an in?uential contribution to our understanding of development, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory (1989; Bronfenbrenner &
Morris, 1998) highlighted the relevance of the multiple, embedded
contexts in which individuals ?nd themselves (e.g., home, family,
peer groups, school, community, culture, history), each of which
may wield a potent in?uence on development. Although identity
has been conceptualized in a variety of ways (Brubaker & Cooper,
2000), growing attention to these ecological complexities may provide the most ‘‘realistic and ecologically valid view’’ (Linnenbrink &
Pintrich, 2000, p. 222). McCaslin (2004; 2009) captured the rich
interplay of personal, social, and cultural in?uences on identity
development in her model of co-regulation of emergent identity
(p. 137). She suggested an ongoing reciprocal press among these
three in?uences that together challenge, shape, and guide (i.e.,
co-regulate) identity.
Many contemporary models have emphasized this situated
nature of identity, raising complex and signi?cant issues. For example, Lave and Wenger’s (1991) framework of identity drew from
practice or activity theory to conceive of identity as an individual’s
pattern of choices or practices situated within particular contexts.
According to these theorists, a range of potential participatory
choices exists at any moment within any community; the term
identities-in-practice refers to the patterns of participation individuals choose to adopt. Use of the term identities-in-practice rather
than identities highlights the important contrast between, on the
one hand, a conception of identity as a set of choices and practices
co-constructed between an individual and a speci?c community,
and, on the other hand, an achieved, relatively uniform sense of self.
In a similar, widely cited, contemporary understanding of
identity, Dorothy Holland and her coauthors also highlighted the
reciprocal interplay between identity and context (Holland et al.,
1998). According to these theorists, the way individuals come
to understand themselves is continually negotiated and coconstructed through what is made possible or necessary amid
the daily practices, encounters, discourses, and struggles available
to them within a particular context (Fairbanks & Ariail, 2006;
Wortham, 2006). Holland and her colleagues have raised an important issue regarding context as the site of identity work when they
refer to contexts as ?gured worlds. This term refers to the fact that
contexts are not neutral places, but are ?gured or socially constructed with distinguishable, institutionally endorsed perspectives regarding expected/accepted types of characters, tasks,
values, and styles of interacting (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, &
Cain, 1998). Therefore, at any given moment, individuals have
access to a variety of practices, some of which may be imposed;
identity (i.e., identity-in-practice) can be understood as an ongoing
positioning of self re?ected in how individuals receive, resist, or revise those contextual affordances or constraints (Davies, 2000). It
may be important therefore to consider identities as negotiated,
?uid, and multiple, rather than achieved, unitary, or consistent.
3. Identities-in-practice within learning contexts
The concept of identities-in-practice characterizes learning as
participation in a community of practice, involving not just local
events of engagement but also the construction of identities in
relation to the practices within those communities (Wenger,
1999). That is, to learn in any community means to become a particular person (i.e., select a particular pattern of participation) with
respect to the possibilities enabled by that community. For example, by negotiating membership (receiving, resisting, or revising
expectations) within a classroom, students are practicing a particular identity in that context (re?ecting and/or refracting who they
are expected to be, to match who they think they are or want to be
in that particular setting). Moll (1990) reminded us that students’
lives are full of rich, historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge, skills and resources – referred to as
funds-of-knowledge – that can be drawn on for such negotiations.
McCarthey and Moje (2002) describe this process as an attempt
by students to create identities or stories that allow them to feel
like they belong in their school setting; they ‘‘just want to be part
of the story’’ (p. 232). The ability to craft such connections (i.e., develop a sense of belonging) wields a powerful, possibly essential
in?uence on engagement (Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Faircloth &
Hamm, 2005; Goodenow, 1993; Juvonen, 2006). Identity may
therefore be manifested and engagement empowered as students
craft an identity-in-practice in the classroom.
Given the nature and the value of such classroom identity work,
it is important to consider relevant dimensions of the ?gured world
of schools. Schools typically legitimize certain school practices
while divesting others of status or approval (Bartlett & Holland,
2002; Hatt, 2007; Rubin, 2007; Wortham, 2006). Critical theorists
have long urged educators to construct learning environments that
are meaningful to students (Fine, 1991; Freire, 1970; Greene,
1995). Failure to do so – which is all too common (Hargreaves,
1996; McDermott & Varenne, 1995) – silences student voices and
alienates students from educational experiences (Moll, 1990). A
gap therefore often exists between students’ preferred choices or
practices and school-based expectations; often it is this gap, rather
than students’ intelligence, skills, or abilities, that must be reconciled in order for them to succeed in school (Klos, 2006).
Thus, from an ecological, socio-cultural, situated, or ?gured
world perspective, a student’s negotiation of their identity-in-practice within the context of school (i.e., their participation, or how
they choose to receive, resist, or revise contextual cues) is powerfully positioned to either constrain or nurture their engagement in
learning. The cost is high when students have infrequent opportunities to harness what is important and powerful to them in order
to negotiate meaningful participation in learning (Fairbanks &
Ariail, 2006).
4. Supporting connections between identity and learning
Among motivation scholars, the late Brophy (2004, 2008) has
played a major role in highlighting the intersection between students’ identities and their learning experience as a particularly
powerful site for student engagement. He pointed out that according to Dewey’s (1910) notion of inquiry, it is when the public
curriculum and the students’ personal curriculum become intertwined that students ?nd engagement worthwhile (see also
Guthrie & Anderson, 1999). Similarly, Waterman (2004) reported
that goal-oriented engagement is especially high when activities
connect with an individual’s identity or core sense of being. That
is, the route to making the curriculum desirable, or most engaging,
for students can be summarized in the formula: ‘‘It is desirable to
act in accordance to one’s personal identity’’ (Nisan, 1992, p. 133).
This objective requires creating classroom cultures in which students discover who they are and negotiate connections between
who they are and what they do in school. Flum and Kaplan
(2006) suggested that teachers can support this process by
dialoguing with students about the meaning of school learning,
B.S. Faircloth / Contemporary Educational Psychology 37 (2012) 186–194
scaffolding students’ skill at relating material to self-knowledge,
and encouraging students’ sense of self as related to school content
and experiences.
Tan and Calabrese Barton (2008) illustrated how paying close
attention to students’ identities-in-practice amidst the ?gured
world of school provides insight into activities that sustained
minority girls’ active engagement in science. By carefully observing
the classroom practices of sixth grade science students, the
researchers observed students transform from an identity of ‘‘outsider’’ (low levels of engagement) to that of a ‘‘potential scientist’’
(active engagement) within one school year. Such a positive transformation appeared contingent on successes that students experienced when they authored various individually meaningful
identities as a class participant. For example, one student who
saw herself as a budding pop musician wrote (and taught to the
class) a song about course content. Another, who characterized
herself as a leader, moved from problematic to prominent student
as she shared with the class the knowledge that she gained from
voluntary Saturday ?eld trips and became actively involved in eliciting class participation in the ?eld trips. For these students, learning was about gaining a space in the classroom that matched what
they believed they had to offer. The non-commodi?ed (i.e., not traditionally valued, p. 64) funds-of-knowledge inherent in their
backgrounds were used to author new identities-in-practice that
elevated their engagement in learning.
It is this situated, negotiated understanding of identity that informed the current two studies’ exploration of students’ identity
work in relationship to their engagement. The studies drew from
three models for consciously designing connections between students’ identities and school learning: Study 1: cultural modeling
(Lee, 2007) and third space/hybrid identities (Gutiérrez, 2008)
and Study 2: Kids’ Business inquiry projects (Fairbanks, 2000).
4.1. Cultural modeling
Using a process referred to as cultural modeling, Lee (2007) has
suggested that schools must design learning experiences and environments in ways that bridge the differences between schoolbased expectations and students’ funds-of-knowledge. Cultural
strengths/resources suggested by Lee as examples that can be built
on in classroom learning include the rich metaphorical underpinnings of the culturally-valued speech genre known as signifying
or playing the dozens, or a youth’s ability to classify and identify
songs within musical genres as a way of introducing the practice
of naming and classifying in other knowledge ?elds. In a similar
comparison between the ‘‘smartness’’ that students believe characterizes them – and is required for survival – outside of school
(street-smarts) and that which is required to survive inside school
(book smarts), Hatt (2007) agreed that conscious attempts on the
part of schools to blend the ‘‘authentic’’ and ‘‘academic’’ lives of
students can allow youth to stay connected with their identities
(community, cultural, personal) while simultaneously engaging
at school.
4.2. Third space/hybrid identities
One of the most explicit applications of a connection between
identity and learning can be found in the notions of third space/hybrid identities. Gutiérrez and colleagues (Gutiérrez, 2008; Gutiérrez
& Larson, 2007) de?ned third space as a space that blends the
of?cial, traditional de?nition of experiences and expectations at
school, and the unof?cial space of facets of identity that students
hold dear (e.g., from community, culture, family, interests) but
are typically accorded less attention or respect at school. This approach allows students to develop what she refers to as hybrid
identities, which interweave personal perspectives with the values
and demands of school. In a study of urban, Latino high school students, Moje et al. (2004) found that although students had signi?cant funds-of-knowledge available to them from their lives outside
school, these funds-of-knowledge were rarely accessed in the
school settings. The researchers argued that by attending to that
which is relevant and important to the student, teachers could help
students create a hybrid identity that disrupted the negative patterns of academic motivation generated by the marginalization
students experience in traditional school settings. Indeed, research
demonstrates both increased engagement and achievement when
such third spaces are constructed in classrooms (Faircloth, 2009;
Lee, 2007).
4.3. Kids’ business inquiry projects
The idea that school learning should be connected with students’ identity is also closely aligned with current practices offering students a voice in the texts and topics of their schoolwork
(Atwell, 1998; Ivey, 1999; Rief, 1992; Worthy, 1996). Fairbanks
(2000) harnessed this notion by inviting students to investigate
what she referred to as kids’ business – i.e., topics of their own
choosing that had a speci?c connection to their lived experiences.
Students researched self-selected topics, wrote extended research
papers on their topics, and presented their results in formats of
their own choosing. Such personal signi?cance closed the gap between learning and students’ lives, providing them with real reasons to engage in schoolwork.
Drawn from a larger, multi-year study of high school students’
connection with learning, the two studies presented here harnessed these three strategies for crafting connections between students’ identities and their learning experiences in ninth-grade
English. By exploring these issues, this work stands to contribute
to our understanding of how students negotiate an engaged identity-in-practice in the classroom, providing concrete, sustainable,
and transferable avenues for connecting identity and learning.
Moreover, this work explored these issues among primarily disaffected (remedial, repeating or struggling) students in a high-needs,
low-performing school. Given the critical role of such engagement,
especially among struggling students, and the potentially preoccupying nature of identity, these studies offer important insight into
supporting engagement and therefore academic success among
this group of students.
The speci?c research questions explored in each study were:
1. What connections do adolescents report making between issues
and experiences that they ?nd important or authentic (perspectives that may inform their participatory choices, i.e., their identities-in-practice) and their experience in their ninth-grade
English class, given the opportunity to focus on or build such
2. What evidence exists that students negotiate engaged identities-in-practice in their ninth-grade English class, given the
opportunity to connect learning to issues relevant to identity
3. What impact on engagement in learning do high school students report as a result of connections to identity within classroom learning experiences?
5. Study 1
It was the goal of Study 1 to employ the parallel concepts of cultural modeling and third space/hybrid identities to explore these
three research questions within two ninth-grade English classes.
Each class met daily for 90 min for one semester. At least once a
week, students wrote about and discussed as a class their sense
of whether a connection existed between their own lives and per-
B.S. Faircloth / Contemporary Educational Psychology 37 (2012) 186–194
spectives (i.e., their funds-of-knowledge or issues relevant to their
participatory choices) and the tasks undertaken and topics studied
in their English class. Four lines of data collection were designed to
further inform our understanding of these issues as they emerged
in the classroom and to capture students’ perspectives (see below
for details): (1) student written work; (2) weekly class session
observations by the researcher; (3) qualitative surveys of student
perspectives; and (4) student interviews used to probe student
As part of these strategies, students speci?cally discussed their
suggestions for creating a stronger relationship between school
learning and identity. During their one-semester course, students
from each class section participated in these activities on at least
a weekly basis. Students also completed weekly journaling activities exploring connections between the literature they were reading and self, as well as other related written assignments (e.g., a
narrative project involving researching and reporting some aspect
of their background).
5.1. Method
5.1.3. Study procedures Survey. At the end of their one-semester course, all participants in attendance (n = 73) completed a qualitative survey
exploring their perspectives regarding the relationship between
their sense of their emerging identities (and identity practices in
the classroom) and their learning opportunities. Surveys were
completed in class, during one class session, and independently,
and were untimed. Survey items included: What activities in your
English class have allowed you to relate what you are studying to
things that matter to you?; What did you like and dislike about these
assignments?; and Describe an English assignment that you would be
willing to devote extra time and energy to and explain why. Openended questions were used in an attempt not to con?ne participant
responses to preconceived themes (see Appendix A for complete
5.1.1. Participants
Participants in Study 1 included 83 ninth-grade students in two
English classes designed primarily for remedial, restart (repeating),
and struggling students at a public high school located in a large
metropolitan area in the southeastern United States; 38% were
African American, 45% European American, 9% Latino/a, 8% other,
and 53% were female. Participants included all students who returned signed parent/guardian consent forms as well as individual
assent forms, and who were present on the days of study activities
and data collection. Attendance, and therefore participation, varied
widely; of the 83 total participants, 67 were present on the days
during which interviews were conducted and 73 were present to
complete the ?nal survey.
5.1.2. Classroom context
The school in which this study was situated was a large (2000
students each year), diverse, public high school with one of the
highest free/reduced lunch rates – and the highest dropout rate –
in its county. Despite this challenging setting, the teacher in these
classrooms – in her second (Study 1) and third (Study 2) years of
teaching – displayed high energy and ?erce devotion to her students. In the classroom, she was acutely aware of what was going
on (i.e., who was engaged, who was distracted) and consistently
legitimized students’ perspectives, choices, and sense of themselves. She often framed class examples and activities around students’ experiences and interests, as well as asking for and valuing
students’ ideas. Even with reluctant students or during class sessions that students did not appear to ?nd motivating, her comments were patient, encouraging, and supportive. Moments of
frustration were de?nitely demonstrated (especially when job demands challenged her focus on her students) as evidenced by relatively frequent, frustrated outbursts such as, ‘‘If I could just
In an effort to support her students’ connection with learning –
beginning in her ?rst year of teaching – this teacher co-designed
activities (with the researcher and one research assistant) intended
to provide students with opportunities to connect learning with issues relevant to their own identity. It was important to the research team also to design activities that were sustainable, by
virtue of being easily reproducible and congruent with the typical
requirements of high school English. Therefore, strategies were
crafted according to three criteria: (a) connecting learning with
students’ lives and perspectives; (b) blending school culture/
requirements with students’ identity/perspectives (i.e., creating a
third space); and (c) aligning activities with traditional ninth-grade
English requirements (literature, writing, journaling, and discourse) as opposed to merely trading school norms for students’
preferences. When studying The Odyssey, students discussed and
wrote about goals they held that they would be willing to devote
a lifetime to (as Odysseus had) and whether there was a relationship between their class work and these personally held goals.
When reading To Kill a Mockingbird, they addressed both the ways
that Atticus Finch resisted racism within his community and their
own personal experiences, ideas and commitments to that issue. Interviews. Participants who were present on the 2 days
(per class) during which interviews were conducted (n = 67) participated in one individual interview with the lead researcher.
Interviews explored in more depth the general issues addressed
in students’ written surveys, allowing the researcher to further
understand students’ perspectives. For example, students were often asked to explain more explicitly general student claims – e.g.,
‘‘What makes a classroom activity ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’?’’ (a frequent
student claim). Interviews took place at the end of the semester.
They were audio-taped but not transcribed, although notes were
taken. Classroom observations. Each class was observed by the lead
researcher once-per-week for the entire semester (for a total of
fourteen 90-min observations per class) and ?eld notes were compiled. Student responses to study activities, the nature of and
changes in engagement, and classroom discourse that illustrated
students’ perspectives were noted. Student work. Copies of any student work that was a direct
product of study activities (e.g., journals, narratives, and related
written assignments) were collected and analyzed as well.
5.1.4. Analysis
Because this investigation was genuinely exploratory in nature,
data analysis did not begin with a predetermined coding scheme.
Through an iterative and constantly comparative process (Glaser
& Strauss, 1967), and construction of matrices for comparing
themes and student statements across data sources and participants (Miles & Huberman, 1994), central themes emerged. Specifically, student responses (written work, surveys, interviews) were
explored by the lead researcher for patterns regarding students’
perceptions of connections made between course content/activities and facets of their identities, as well as the impact of those
connections on their engagement. Notes from classroom observations supported these analyses with evidence of classroom context,
student discourse and engagement. Matrices were constructed that
offered a pro?le, across participants and data sources, of points of
convergence as well as diverse experiences with respect to emerging themes.
B.S. Faircloth / Contemporary Educational Psychology 37 (2012) 186–194

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