Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
College of Education and Human Services
Teacher Education and Teacher Development
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, school buildings across the United States shut their doors and transitioned students and teachers to remote learning, most often utilizing internet-based technology to provide either asynchronous or synchronous lessons. I was a high school English Language Arts teacher in Stone Valley School District in Northeastern New Jersey when the unprecedented school closures moved my classes online for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
As a teacher researcher who specialized in New Literacy Studies, I was particularly sensitive to how students and I used technology to continue lessons after the school building shut its doors. At first, students and I interfaced using the multimedia components of the BigBlueButton platform, an interface which my school district had mandated that teachers use to host synchronous classroom lessons. Soon enough, however, I noticed that students were more frequently turning off their cameras and microphones, sitting in unseen silence on the other end of their school-issued laptops; however, as the cameras and microphones were turned off, the Public Chat box came to life as students began to write messages as their means of participating in class.
Without school buildings, classrooms, whiteboards, classroom desks, passing time, or athletics, “school” nevertheless continued on. I came to the realization that the pandemic had yielded a unique circumstance—a critical instance—during which a teacher researcher could explore the fundamental components of what made “school” (i.e., the institution of school) into what it was. Furthermore, since school now comprised, nearly entirely, dialogue between myself and my students, I started to conceive of school as something “languaged into being” by individuals who were interacting in roles along certain ways with words. I began to save the Public Chat transcripts, email messages, and notes pages that emerged from 47 synchronous sessions for three Grade 10 English Language Arts classes from March to June 2020.
Using discourse analysis to unpack the ways in which language was used in the Public Chat, I found that students and I had indeed made discursive moves that languaged school into being. Students, for example, wrote in ways that positioned themselves to appear to me as “good” students, those who show to the teacher compliance, achievement, and perceived intelligence. Both students and I also seemed to write under the assumption of routinized habits and routines according to what we believed an English Language Arts class to be. Even when students used non-standard or untraditional discursive moves (e.g., emoji), they did so in ways that anchored them to the curriculum. And in the case of a student who used an expletive in class, it was other students who admonished him and circumscribed his behavior.
Although language was how school appeared to be conjured into being through the dialectic among students and me—as might be expected from a social constructivist epistemology—there were also deeper structures at play that, perhaps, manifested the linguistic moves. The limitations and design of BigBlueButton interface, for example, reproduced traditional classroom learning styles rather than harnessing the full extent of the internet’s capabilities. Buoyed by counternarratives in the media about failing schools and ‘learning loss’ during the pandemic, an adherence to schedules, deadlines, and curricula strongly continued to reify school grades as important markers of success for my students. Furthermore, what I have called social routines—ways in which individuals habitually interact with tools and technology (broadly encompassing both new and old forms of technology)—manifested certain ways of engaging in roles, such as teacher and student.
With the initial lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic now in the past, fully online classes for public high school students have become an anomaly of a particular critical instance in history in retrospect. Still, the ways that students and their teacher interacted during these lessons as seen in the discursive moves that people use to language school into being, sheds light on the deeper structures and social routines of schooling that operate on a daily basis. Such insights may help future researchers, whether they examine in person or online schools, to identify social routines, mappable through discourse analysis, that individuals perform as ways of taking part in the educational system. This may be of particular interest for demographics in which these discursive moves and social routines do not appear, for it suggests that there are particular ways of using language that perpetuate the institution of school. Individuals who are predisposed to these habits and routines may be better able to succeed in schools, for they can not only anticipate what is to come in classes, but they also work synergistically with teachers to literally bring a certain kind of education into existence.
Toncic, Jason Christopher, "Languaging School into Being : A Discourse Analysis of Online ELA Classes Within the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic" (2022). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 845.