English Language Student-Teachers Developing Agency Through Community-Based Pedagogy Projects

January - June, 2020

Source: Profile: Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development 22 (1):109-22.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors explored how English language Student teachers (STS) develop agency when narratively inquiring into sociocultural resources of their community.
They also investigated how developing agency influenced STS’ perspectives on sociocultural resources of their community.
Consequently, they analyzed the STS’ stories of narrative inquiries conducted in a south Colombian city to understand how inquiring into their community’s local sociocultural resources elicited agency in the STS.
This study followed the main features of a narrative inquiry.
Clandinin and Connelly (2000) defined narrative research as “a way of understanding experience [involving] collaboration between researcher and participants, over time, in a place or series of places, and in social interaction with milieus” (p. 20).
When conducting this narrative study, the authors were able to establish a close relationship with participants, allowing them to engage in their lived experiences on the narrative inquiries into their community, and interact with them, collecting significant active data which facilitated a thorough and constant inquiry.
Additionally, narrative inquiry acted as a way to understand the experiences retold by the participating STS as stories and found in such stories a contribution to the analysis of the development of agency.

All participants were students of an ELT program at a public university in the south of Colombia.
The research study motivation took place during a pre-intermediate English lesson, at the beginning of August 2018, in which teacher and students were discussing the possibilities of modifying the dates and topics for an activity that was pre-established in the syllabus.
After some important contributions from the students on negotiating the syllabus activity, the author decided to invite the 28 students of the class (aged 18 to 22) to participate in the study.
They freely formed groups of four to six students but, in the end, eight students refused to participate in the study due to teamwork problems and a strike at the university.

Data Collection Instruments
The study was conducted over a four-month period in which the authors asked participants to write two journal entries individually to recall experiences of their narrative inquiries.
They proposed a guideline for each journal entry, the first one on the experiences lived when choosing topics to inquire about and defining their roles in the projects, and the second one on the experiences lived when approaching their sources for the first time.
Then, they had separated narrative focus group interviews considering the number of participants, one interview with each project group.
The authors interviewed each group twice.
Upon completing their narrative inquiries, they asked participants to give a talk about the experiences lived through the entire inquiries, particularly, how they took action on the inquired community’s necessities.
At the end of the inquiries, they asked all participating STS to write a personal narrative describing their experience before, while, and after carrying out the narrative inquiries.
They collected 10 interviews (lengths 30 to 60 minutes), 23 personal narrative journals, and five video-recorded talks of approximately 40 minutes each.

Data Analysis
As the authors followed narrative inquiry as a methodology for this study, they focused on the stories as lived and told throughout the inquiry and valued the stories in their individuality, but also they carried out an analysis of narratives to observe common features that could lead them to identify the development of EL TSTS’ agency.
The results of the analysis of narrative data revealed that participants’ significant inquiry experiences contributed to developing agency in four moments.

In this section, first the authors describe how English language STS developed agency through a four moment process consisting of
(a) interacting within inquiry groups,
(b) narratively interacting with the community,
(c) voicing the untold necessities of the community, and
(d) the moment of taking action.
Second, they focus on how the development of agency influenced reconceptualizing participants’ perspectives on the local sociocultural resources they inquired.

Interacting Within Narrative Inquiry Groups
Agency development in this study is considered to have started when the participants interacted within their narrative inquiry groups.
This interaction emerged from defining the topics to inquire, assigning roles and tasks, to discussing how to engage the inquiry.
This category describes the beginning of the process of agency development as evidenced in this study.
The stories reported by the participants unveiled another important moment lived when interacting within their narrative inquiry groups— teacher’s and peers’ acceptance of topics.
These findings show that interacting within narrative inquiry groups and experiencing the different moments of such interaction (e.g., defining the topics to inquire about, assigning roles and tasks, discussing how to engage the inquiry), was a fundamental factor that led (to) the process of agency development.
The second moment of the process conveys participants’ narrative interaction with the community as another crucial moment that facilitated the development of agency.

Interacting with the Community
Interacting with the community is understood in this study as the dialogic practice when STS inquired as to the sources in their community.
The interaction of the participants with their community allowed them to identify the conditions exhibited in it, to acknowledge how some members of the community were contributing to solving their necessities, and to reflect upon these two factors, guiding themselves towards taking further action.
It became evident that community-STS interaction was acting as a contributing factor and context that facilitated the group members’ access to knowledge and understanding of the reality that surrounds them, and sometimes ignore.
Moreover, interacting with their community led them to reflect on their role involving the necessities of their community,
When STS interacted with the community, they started to observe, from a more critical stand, its current conditions.
As supported in these findings, they observed what some people were doing to deal with the problematic prevailing in their community.
This interaction offered some STS an initial reflective stage in which they evaluated their roles as members in their community.

Voicing the Untold Necessities of the Community
This moment illustrates the STS’ necessity to voice what others simply cannot, as the result of segregation.
Inevitably, interaction with the communities led students to question the way different members of their community have been blatantly silenced due to their life conditions.

The Moment of Taking Action
This category illustrates a concluding moment in the process of agency development, as argued in this study.
The narratives of STS reported how their experiences when inquiring into the community made them contemplate the possibilities of taking action.
The data here portray how after STS have passed through the previous three moments of the agency development process assumed in this study, they look for solutions to assist the necessities found in their communities.
More importantly, they give a clear purpose to this final moment of taking action,

Reconceptualizing Perspectives on Local Sociocultural Resources
A reconceptualization of the STS’ perspectives on local sociocultural resources was evidenced as a result of the engagement in the four-moment process of agency development.
This reconceptualization comprised the identification of local beliefs STS held that were constantly rethought as they enacted these agentic processes.
In this category, the authors discuss the specific moments in which STS displayed this sort of reconceptualization and the actions which triggered it.

This research study provided the authors with valuable insights to begin to understand how STS could develop agency.
Through the interaction of the participants with their community, they could observe pertinent aspects that contributed to their building of knowledge from people outside of the classroom, to know their community necessities, and to reflect upon how they and their actions could support improvement or, at least, generate awareness.
Most importantly, and as described by some participants, this research study granted the opportunity to experience how STS know and how they can bind their abilities, and their teacher self-realization with the reality of their contexts.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco, us: Jossey-Bass. 

Updated: Jan. 30, 2021