Becoming a smart student: The construction and contestation of smartness in a Danish primary school: PhD Dissertation

Research output: ThesisPhDResearchpeer-review

Abstract

English abstract
When teachers and students interact in everyday academic activities, some students are ascribed social roles as “smart”, which lead other students to contest these roles. Such struggles around what it means to be smart and which students come to be viewed as smart are a pertinent problem for students, teachers and educational scholars, because they create social inequities in schools. This study explores how smart student roles evolve over the course of fourth -, fifth -, and sixth form classes in a Danish primary school. Theoretically, the study draws from the frameworks of “social identification” and “participation framework”. Methodologically, the study is based on three years of linguistic ethnographic fieldwork in a public primary school in Copenhagen and with students and their families. This study documents - in broad ethnographic scope and interactional detail - how smart student roles evolve into favoured roles, and become contested by other students. While focusing on “smartness”, this study also describes how a student come to inhabit disapproved identities, such as “disruptive” and “passive” student, relative to a classmate come to been seen by the teachers as the “smartest” student in class. Such linking of students’ social identities evolves vis-à-vis institutional conceptions of smartness. This study has implications for education and research. It shows how being labelled a smart student can have unintended, negative consequences. Students socially identified as smart and favoured by the teacher are at risk of being ostracized by peers, of encountering greater pressure for classroom performance and of suffering reduced learning opportunities. The study inspires teachers to create wiggle room for their students by becoming aware of the conventional definitions of the smart student in their classrooms and schools, and how the enactment and contestation of the smart student role may either encourage or constrain possibilities for student participation. This study points out that educational scholarship can gain a better understanding of children’s educational socialization through future explorations of children’s academic trajectories in and out of school, and on how those trajectories often become linked to the trajectories of siblings, vis-à-vis institutional conceptions of smartness.

Dansk resumé
I skolens daglige undervisning tilskrives nogle børn sociale roller som ”dygtige elever”, mens andre børn udfordrer disse rolledannelser. Definitionskampe om hvad det indebærer at blive en dygtig elev og hvilke elever, der opnår status som dygtige, er et problem for elever, lærere og uddannelsesforskere, fordi disse kampe skaber social ulighed i skolen. Dette studie undersøger, hvordan roller som dygtige elever etableres og ændrer sig i løbet af folkeskolens fjerde, femte og sjette klassetrin. Studiet er forankret i sprogantropologisk teori om deltagelse og social identifikation. Metodisk trækker projektet på tre års sprogligt etnografisk feltarbejde på mellemtrinnet i en københavnsk folkeskole. Studiet dokumenterer, hvordan rollen som dygtig elev kan blive selvforstærkende og udvikle sig til rollen som lærerens favorit. Det viser desuden, hvordan en elev kan gå fra at blive opfattet som en dygtig elev til at blive opfattet som en stille eller forstyrrende elev. Det sker som en konsekvens af, at en anden elev gradvist overtager rollen som klassens dygtigste elev. Sådanne relationer mellem to eller flere elevers rolledannelser udvikler sig i samspil med institutionelle forståelser af, hvad det vil sige at være en dygtig elev. Dette studie har implikationer for uddannelse og forskning. Studiet viser, hvordan det at opnå rollen som dygtig elev kan få utilsigtede negative konsekvenser. Elever, der tilskrives roller som dygtige, risikerer at blive socialt sårbare i elevgruppen. De kan desuden blive pålagt et uhensigtsmæssigt ansvar for at hjælpe læreren med at drive undervisningen fremad og få deres læringsmuligheder reduceret. Dette studie inspirerer lærere til at skabe bedre deltagelsesmuligheder for deres elever ved at blive bevidste om, hvordan definitionskampene om hvad det indebærer at blive set som en dygtig elev, udspiller sig på deres skole. En sådan bevidsthed kan klargøre, hvordan disse definitionskampe understøtter eller begrænser elevernes deltagelsesmuligheder. Studiet peger på behovet for fremtidig forskning i, hvordan børns elevroller udvikler sig på tværs af skole og hjem i samspil med søskendes roller og institutionelle forståelser af, hvad det vil sige at være en dygtig elev. En sådan forskning kan skabe værdifuld indsigt i børns skolefaglige socialisering.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Copenhagen
Award date10 May 2017
Place of PublicationKøbenhavn
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

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