mini ethnography

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mini ethnography

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  • 2009

    Authority And Its Impact On The Performance Of The Students In Writing Classroom Qi Ding

    [MINI ETHNOGRAPHY]

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

    1

    Authority And Its Impact On The Performance

    Of The Students In Writing Classroom

    I am a graduate student in Ball State University.

    In one course I take Eng 605 Foundations for

    Teaching Writing, I am required to do a

    mini-ethnographic research, studying cultures in a

    writing classroom by observing classes. Since I just

    did a research on teachers authority, I desire to apply

    it in my mini-ethnography. What I am concerned about

    is how a writing teacher manifests his authority and

    its impact on the performance of the students in the

    writing classroom.

    What I observe is the Eng 103 composition class

    of Dr. Holbrook, who has been teaching writing for

    more than 40 years, but he prefers to be called Bill,

    even by his students. His class is from 11:00 am to

    12:15 am each Tuesday and Thursday in RM 106 RB

    Building. The classroom where he teaches is not a

    computer classroom so all the students registered in

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    this class bring their own laptops.

    Bill presents less authority in his class through his

    attire, his attempt to keep close to his students, the

    salutation his students call him and his interaction

    with his students.

    Each time I observe the class, Bill wears the same

    style clothes: shirts but without a tie, jeans, sneakers,

    sometimes a cap, and carries a school satchel for his

    laptop and teaching materials. These are not formal

    dresses that will pose much authority of a professor.

    The students have no formal books but each of them

    has a black folder, a packet of all the teaching

    materials compiled by Bill himself with a page number

    on each sheet. Therefore, I speculate though Bill

    shows less authority through his attire, his experience

    more than forty years in teaching, and his profession

    showed in the self-compiled textbook are ways

    presenting his authority implicitly.

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    The first time I attend his class, I notice that the

    seats arrangement in the classroom is a bit strange.

    There are three rows of desks and seats along each

    side except the last row against the wall. Therefore,

    all the students either sit face to face or sit facing

    the wall. This may be a factor that I think will affect

    Bills authority, since the location of teachers in this

    classroom is not right in front of the students, then

    the students feel less power of the instructor. As for

    the students, they can sit wherever they like, but it

    seems most of them will sit in fixed seats.

    Bill does not seem to like the position behind the

    teachers desk, which is located at the left corner of

    the classroom and not far away from the students but

    Bill will not stay there except when he needs to control

    his computer. Most of the time, I see him give

    instructions either in front of the students back and

    forth or walk in different rows among them. When the

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    students have questions, he prefers to approach or sit

    beside the one who has questions. If there is no seat

    beside the student, he will kneel down, trying to keep

    eye contact with the student. Obviously, he is prone to

    be a member among the students.

    In his class, all the students call him Bill directly.

    And the interaction between the students and Bill

    features Bills authority. Before the class, they greet

    each other, Morning, Bill. Bill, I have a question.

    Bill, I need you. That is the language the students

    use when they have questions. It makes me feel they

    are more familiar and equal friends than the teacher

    and the students.

    The students make jokes of him in class, which

    surprises me. Bill asks, Listen to me. If you have the

    time, would you listen to me? One of the boys answers,

    smiling, I have no time. Once, Bill jokes to the class,

    Am I all in charge of the class? One student answers,

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    No, somewhat. These interactions that the teacher

    and the students make fun of each other

    bidirectionally leave me an impression that this is a

    mutual respect classroom, where the students are

    granted power to express themselves freely.

    Bill asks for permission when organizing groups. In

    peer editing class, he tries to divide the students into

    groups. He asks, Can I get and together? Would

    you guys sit next to each other? He leans against the

    wall when he assigns the group members and after

    they move, he says Thank you to them. When a

    student answers No, he doesnt mind and just

    rearranges it. There is no command. And the student

    will answer no, so it seems there is really not much

    authority in the classroom.

    The languages he uses when he gives advice and

    instructions are different. Here is a dialogue when he

    is offering help to a student.

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    S, Do you like me to?

    Bill, No, I will hope.

    S, My third question is

    Bill, What I might do is

    Thats a dialogue in his class. From the language he

    uses I will hope What I might do, the equality to

    the student can be seen here. It seems to me that he

    just offers an option. Though he is the instructor,

    there is no need for his students to follow him. Thats

    why I find when giving advice he even gives up his

    authority since he is not forcing or depositing his idea

    to the student as an authoritarian but to consultsort

    of equal communication.

    When he reminds the students who miss the class

    to hand in their assignments, Bill presents it on the

    screen If you miss Thursdays class, send all material

    for WP3 to Bill in attachment or copy paste. Here Bill

    uses to Bill so that it makes me feel he is an equal

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    counterpart to the students.

    When some students ask for a direct answer for

    their classroom tasks, Bill just encourages them to

    find it out on their own. There is one group asking what

    if they cannot find detailed information in what they

    are required to read in Bills handouts. Bill answers,

    You are clever enough, try to find. He joins in the

    group and when the students find out what to do, he

    gives them a thumbs up. He does assign challenging

    tasks and will not give students answers directly, but

    encourage them to discover by themselves.

    However, I find Bill uses different languages in

    giving instructions, which shows more authority. When

    giving instructions, he uses imperative sentences.

    Should be on your second essay. Control time spent

    on the essay. Need to give your classmates ideas on

    how to make the essay expanded. Should post survey

    result. Sometimes it contradicts when I see him sit on

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    a table, swinging his feet, which I think is a signal that

    the teacher wants to pose less formality and less

    authority, but meanwhile gives instruction with

    imperative sentences, which is more similar to building

    up authority by giving commands.

    Comparing the languages he uses, I find a rule

    that when he gives instructions on the tasks the

    students need to do, he uses imperative sentences to

    give commands, while if it is advice on students

    writings, he expresses in an equal, collaborative way.

    Baffled in the change of his languages, I am wondering

    whether this shift is a coincidence or a purposeful

    behavior. In a later interview with him, I try to seek

    an answer. As he states in the interview himself he

    wants his classroom to be relaxed but professional.

    Students are always absent-minded, caring about their

    own business like text message in their cellphones in

    classroom, so the instructor has the responsibility to

  • AUTHORITY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF THE STUDENTS IN WRITING CLASSROOM

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    convey his requirements clearly so that the students

    can bear them in mind. I think that is why he uses two

    different languages. If the requirements are not

    expressed in an authoritative way, they may be easily

    ignored by the students.

    He would prefer to share his private life with the

    students, which I do not think an authoritative

    instructor will do. In his class, he often takes himself

    or his own family life as examples. When we talked

    about that point, he explained that was because he

    was not a teaching robot and he was delighted that his

    life experience could offer the students some

    guidance. He mentions himse