Competent Performances of Situated Identities: Adult Learners of English Accessing Engaged Participation

Jan. 01, 2010

This article was published in Teaching and Teacher Education, Vol 26 number 1,
Author: Doris S. Warriner, " Competent Performances of Situated Identities: Adult Learners of English Accessing Engaged Participation", Pages 22-30, Copyright Elsevier (January 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author examines how the lived experiences of three adult learners of English in local (school-based and workplace-based) communities of practice both support and contradict the stated policies and pedagogical practices of the adult ESL program in which they are enrolled.
Specifically, the author investigates how refugee women from three different national backgrounds might achieve legitimate peripheral participation in one context yet remain on the boundaries, and peripheral to, another.

The author relies on the view of Communities of Practice (CofP) framework and theories of engaged participation. Within this framework, useful distinctions have been made between a teaching curriculum and a learning curriculum, with the former being interrogated for ascribing limited identities to its learners and the latter valued for the ways it prioritizes learning (and its resources) from a learner's perspective.

Research context

The data come from a larger ethnographic study in which the author examined the experiences of women refugees who were enrolled in an adult ESL program located in the heart of a mid-sized city in the intermountain west.

Data sources include field notes collected while conducting extensive participant observation in school and home contexts; document collection (from local newspapers, administrators, teachers, and learners); audio-recorded interviews with the women, their teachers, and administrators; and informal conversations.


Analysis of data demonstrates that, even though the teaching curriculum of one adult ESL program itself provided limited “structuring resources” (and learning opportunities) to its learners, the learners' participation in the program helped them to recognize and value the kinds of engaged participation necessary to access membership in local workplace communities of practice.

However, findings also show that while these adult learners of English managed to learn and adopt the practices of one community of practice, they remained excluded from legitimate membership in other communities of practice.

The analysis raises questions about the limits and possibilities of a teaching curriculum that values “real world” experiences (and situated learning) in theory but does not prioritize them in practice.

Updated: Dec. 14, 2009