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How is a powerful Summer Institute Constructed? Curating the Technologies that Help us Make it So

How is a powerful Summer Institute Constructed? Curating the Technologies that Help us Make it So

Written by Ralph Cordova
June 26, 2012

On our first day of the ISI, we created powerful spaces that pushed all to transform. In one space, each of us curated our Artifact Boxes, displaying items that tell facets of our lives. Once curated, we engaged in a Gallery Walk, with music playing in the background, that involved perusing all the curated boxes. We were invited, post-it notes in hand, to quietly leave “Noticings” and “Wonderings” on the post-it notes for the author’s or artists of those Artifact Boxes.

After the 15 or so minutes of interacting with each other’s curations, we returned to our own Artifact Box. We collected the numerous colored post-its with the Noticings & Wonderings. We each selected the post-it that was the most compelling for us at the moment. We then took that post-it note and placed it in our Writer’s Notebook as a focused writing topic.

In another space, now, on Day 12, we’re about to bring our ISI to a close. Today, we explored in attentive ways four theoretical perspectives as lenses to examine our ISI culture. These interactional ethnographic perspectives ground the work we do together. However, rather than starting off the ISI making explicit the theories that guide our work, we surfaced those theories after the fact; meaning after we constructed our ISI community of learners. Groups formed “Learning and Teaching Circles.” Each Learning Group took on one of the four following theories, and, had a go to figure it out. They then applied their new found theoretical lens to a day of our ISI, Day 5’s Ethnography of the Day (EOD), which Meredith Murray had written as the participant ethnographer (as a side note, each Fellow took on that role and documented one of the days):

1. Patterns of practice are formulated and reformulated over time. This means ways of knowing, being and doing that are constructed in one event become potentially available as resources in future contexts (Putney, et al, 2000). This happens in and through teacher meta-discursive choices with students (a language of intertextuality and intercontextuality) (Yeager, 2003; Green, Skukauskaite, Dixon, Córdova, 2007). In other words, all experiences have pasts, a present and futures. It matters how teachers help make connections for themselves and then help students make connections. We make meaning by becoming connectors of experiences.

2. If we view learning (and opportunities for learning [Tuyay, Dixon & Jennings, 1995]) as locally constructed and situated in a particular classroom and context(s), therefore, it matters how we choose to see them as teacher-researchers. It becomes helpful to take up a theoretical/methodological perspective that enables teachers as researchers and researchers as teachers to examine: 1. Over time historical development, and, 2. Moment-to-moment interactions, to understand how they and their students discursively construct locally situated disciplinary knowledge and practice, potential academic identities, and ways of knowing, being and doing.

3. Figure 1 illlustrates cultural landscapes and their overlapping borders, within those overlaps, students’ literate practices inside the classroom enable them to interact with and learn from the multiple literacies and practices of members outside the classroom. For example, classroom members learn to become artists by unpacking what counts as visual art (Córdova, 2008), in particular plein air painting, as they paint and see their school playground in new ways. Students then interact with and learn from professional artists, drawing on interdisciplinary approaches within visiual arts, social science, and the natural sciences. As they interview and learn from these more experienced members of the disciplines, they further define, refine, and expand their mediating practices of inquiring, writing, painting, and so on by coming to understand their own practices in relationship to those of others –in this case, professional landscape painters.

4. There is a referential system that members construct to conduct the everyday events and processes of Small Group life in what Lin (1993) conceptualizes as the “language of the classroom.” This referential system guides and shapes the language of the classroom and the subsequent construction of new knowledge among group participants. One way to understand the importance of differentiating the language of the classroom from other settings is to see it as constructed over time by members through their moment-by-moment interactions. Thus the language used in any group is both constructed by members and carries the history of the events that gave rise to it (Bloome & Egan-Robertson, 1993).

Having selected Day 5, June 16, 2012 and the Ethnography of the Day as the “unit of analysis,” we dug into grappling to understand how the day was enacted and unfolded through the theoretical lenses from above. After a series of experiences where we interpreted that day’s events through the four perspectives, we then became experts in one, and, taught it to each other. We engaged in a debrief to theorize collectively what the theoretical Learning/Teaching Circles helped us surface. Patti Swank and Ralph Córdova Prezied the discussion as it unfolded in real-time. We made meanings together and individually as we sought to wrap our arms and minds around the ways in which we simultaneously construct a community, and, how the community further shapes us.

Afterward, we asked ourselves, what are the artifacts and cultural practices that make up our unfolding ISI community? Groups of 4 sifted through their collected ideas and sorted/classified them resulting in an articulated relationship. What did your group discover about how your learning culture unfolded over the life of the ISI?


Bloome, D, and Egan-Robertson, A. (1993). The social construction of intertextuality and classroom reading and writing. Reading Research Quarterly, 28, 4, 303-333.

Córdova, R. (2008). Writing and painting our lives into being: Learning to see learning in the transformative spaces between school and home. Language Arts 86(1), pp. 18-27.

Lin, L. (1993). Language of and in the classroom: constructing the patterns of social life. Linguistics and Education 5(3 & 4), 367 – 409.

Putney, L., Green, J., Dixon, C., Durán, R., & Yeager, B. (2000). Consequential progressions: Exploring collective-individual development in a bilingual classroom. In C. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tuyay, S., Jennings, L., & Dixon, C. (1995). Classroom discourse and opportunities to learn: An ethnographic study of knowledge construction in a bilingual third grade classroom. Discourse Processes 19, 75-110.

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