Tentatively Proposed Project

This proposal points in the general direction of where I wish to go with my Unbound Project. I am clearly 

influenced by the material I have read over the past few months. I expect that this will look completely 

different within a matter of a few weeks as I continue to read, research, and investigate. 

While the idea of a student-centered classroom prevails in teacher preparation programs, these pedagogical approaches rarely translate into actual practice when teachers enter the field. Coming out of the University of Massachusetts freshly armed with a secondary teaching credential, I was determined to implement my vision of a student-centered classroom informed by an array of perspectives and fueled by group decision making, shared power dynamics, and inspired student dialogue. I planned to carry out my mission in the urban school setting where I could rally the voices of the disenfranchised to unite as one and tear down the walls of injustice.  Unfortunately these goals did not transpire, as I found myself confronting an overwhelming workload and students who were resistant or apathetic to my efforts. The battle I was waging did not end up being against outside systems of oppression but against the students inside the walls of my own classroom. Scrambling to gain control of my classes, I desperately fell back on the very same authoritarian model of instruction that had tortured me for most of my school career. I always swore to avoid using such methods, for I can clearly recall endless days of learning nothing as my teacher yammered aimlessly at the front of the class. Over the course of the next seven years of developing my craft, I incorporated variations of my initial objectives into my classes, but I was never able to fully realize my vision of an idealized classroom. 

In a classroom ripe with activity, language is everywhere. It passes over the tongues of various speakers and into the minds of listeners where it is processed, reformulated, and then sent back out to contribute to the continuing dialogue. In the context of the writing classroom that confronts students from a variety of social, cultural, and language backgrounds, the lack of focus on student input leaves untapped a wealth of resources that can potentially enrich a student’s writing development. If writing classrooms cannot serve as social spaces in which dialogue can continue, then the learning process is going to be adversely effected. With no dialogue, there can be no language.

Situating Mary Louise Pratt’s concept of the “contact zone” within Mikhael Bakhtin’s theories on the social nature of language, I would like to present an idealized structure of an effective student-centered writing classroom. I will also explore some of the reasons that teachers fail to succeed in establishing such a democratic learning environment. Finally, I think it would be valuable to examine potential strategies teachers can use in the writing classroom to ensure that student experiences and perspectives facilitate the learning process. I do not wish to be prescriptive in my approach but simply look to areas that are ripe with potential.  



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Pratt's "Arts of the Contact Zone"


I think a major act of leadership right now, call it a radical act, is to create the places and processes so people can actually learn together, using our experiences.
-Margaret J. Wheatley