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- 1. This article was downloaded by: [University College Cork]On: 7 October 2008Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 785045793]Publisher RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKIrish Educational StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t716100713Learning in communities of practice: Rethinking teaching and learning indisadvantaged contextsPaul F. Conway aaCollege Lecturer in the Education Department, University College, CorkOnline Publication Date: 01 December 2002To cite this Article Conway, Paul F.(2002)Learning in communities of practice: Rethinking teaching and learning in disadvantagedcontexts,Irish Educational Studies,21:3,61 91To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/0332331020210308URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0332331020210308 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
2. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 200261LEARNING IN COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE:RETHINKING TEACHING AND LEARNING INDISADVANTAGED CONTEXTSPaul F. ConwayIntroductionA well-documented finding across many educational cultures is thatstudents in disadvantaged communities have less challengingpedagogical and curricular experiences than their counterparts in moreDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008advantaged contexts. This paper makes a case for the relevance ofnew ideas about cognition and learning for rethinking teaching andlearning in disadvantaged contexts in the light of efforts to promotemore active learning by students in primary and secondary education.Even though there has been an emphasis on the promotion of activestudent engagement in the learning process at primary level since theadvent of the "New Curriculum" (Ireland, 1971) and more recently, inthe last decade, at second-level, research suggests that teachingfocuses predominantly on lower order thinking (Shiel, Forde andMorgan, 1996).This paper has four sections. First, I note the persistence ofeducational disadvantage despite impressive advances in the educationsystem as a whole, and then discuss what some commentators see asthe relative dominance of technical and transmission orienteddiscourse in relation to pedagogy in Irish education. Second, I outlinesome of the findings internationally and in Ireland on the schoolexperiences of disadvantaged students and argue that theirpedagogical experiences in Ireland are characterised by an emphasison low-order thinking and a persistent assumption of the solo orindividual learner - like their more advantaged counterparts.Furthermore, there is some evidence that students labeleddisadvantaged may experience diminished curricular and pedagogicalexperiences - unlike their advantaged counterparts. In the thirdsection of the paper, I outline the assumptions underpinningbehavioural and cognitive perspectives on learning and cognition.Drawing on the work of Brown (Brown, 1994; Brown, 1997a), Rogoffet al. (1996), and Lave and Wenger (1991) and others, I compare thebehavioural and cognitive positions with the fundamental assumptionsof emergent socio-cultural perspectives on cognition and learning witha focus on the socio-cultural position as a powerful model on which tobase initiatives to address educational disadvantage. Ideas such as 3. 62Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002"situated cognition", "distributed cognition", and "communities ofpractice" may present an even more fundamental shift than thatbetween the behaviourist and cognitive views of learning. The finalsection of the paper addresses the implications of these new views oflearning and cognition for students in educationally disadvantagedsettings.The many notable and impressive achievements of the Irisheducation system over the last forty years are an important preface tothe critique of Irish educational discourse and practice in this paper.Among these notable achievements are: "the epoch making" impact ofthe Investment in Education report (Lynch, 1998), the overall increasein the capacity of the education system as well as the rise in overallDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008attainment rates (Fitzgerald, 1998), the improvement in curricularopportunities for both girls and boys, the significant increases inpublic expenditure on primary, secondary and third level education aswell as the overall increase in expenditure on education as apercentage of Exchequer expenditure (Thomhill, 1998), the vastincrease in the range of areas of study at third level, developments inboth pre- and in-service teacher education, and the provision of wellqualified graduates to foster social and economic well-being(Coolahan, 1994; Hyland, 1998). Despite these watersheddevelopments, educational disadvantage persists (Hyland, 1998;McCormack, 1998) and Irish society is becoming more rather thanless inequitable (Breen and Whelan, 1996; Lynch and Lodge, 2002).Thus, while the education system has in many respects been aneffective agent of social and economic change in Irish society it hasbeen considerably less effective in combating long standing societalinequalities. In addressing these persistent problems, I make a casefor a greater interrogation of the assumptions about learningunderpinning various pedagogical practices, aware that neitherclassroom practices nor the education system writ large are whollyresponsible for educational disadvantage. However, the educationsystem does play an important, albeit contested, role in reinforcing orchallenging long-standing patterns of social reproduction. Thepotential influence of some system features and how they contribute toeducational disadvantage and social inequality has received someattention while others have not. It is to this imbalance in attention Inow turn.Debate on pedagogy in Irish education?Various commentators have highlighted how Irish educationaldiscourse has been notable in its inattention to and resistance to 4. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 200263problematize curricular concerns regardless as to whether students areviewed as advantaged or disadvantaged. What I mean by curriculumhere, in a similar fashion to the use of curriculum in the White Paperon Education, is not only what subject matter is taught, but also howand why, and its impact on students (Gleeson, 1998). Drawing onHabermas framework for understanding knowledge-constitutiveactivities in society, Gleeson (1998) has critiqued the dominance oftechnical discourse in Irish education to the relative exclusion ofpractical or emancipatory dialogue.Similarly, Callan (1997),commenting in the context of second-level curriculum initiatives, haspointed out the technical nature of concerns with the dominance ofclass size (1998) and access to resources as issues, to the relativeDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008exclusion of more reflexive discourses examining the ideologicalbases of preferred beliefs and classroom teaching practices. Similarly,Gleeson (1998) laments the dominance of power and control issues inthe 1990s post National Education Convention (Coolahan,1994),Green (Ireland, 1992), and White paper (Ireland, 1995) debates to therelative exclusion of curricular issues. Despite the dominance of atechnical discourse, a considerable body of critiques and positionpapers on Irish education emerged in the 1990s both in anticipation ofand response to changes in the education system (e.g. (Hogan, 1995;Gleeson, 1998; McCormack, 1998) and CMRS/CORI publications(CORI, 1992; CORI, 1998). While the range of issues addressed inthis body of literature is beyond the scope of this paper, the focus wasprimarily on the system-level issues such as certification, selection,assessment (examinations mainly) rather than classroom practices.While these debates clearly recognize the education system as a sitefor the partial perpetuation or redress of inequality, they neverthelessveil pedagogical practices as a site in the brokerage ofinequality/equality. As such, the moment-to-moment transactionsbetween students, teachers and curriculum have received insufficientattention in various efforts to address educational disadvantage. Insum, conflict and debate about pedagogical and curricular concerns(i.e. what is taught, how and why it is taught and its impact) remainsmarginal in both educational research and debates on educationaldisadvantage. While there has been some debate, as noted by Gleeson(1998), about history and health and personal education, these areexceptions. Conspicuously missing from the 1990s, in contrast to thepower and control discourse, was rigorous critical engagement andreflection on the nature of whose knowledge is taught, how and why itis taught and its impact on disadvantaged students. Consequently, theclassroom in Irish education remains largely a secret garden. 5. 64Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 The OECD (OECD, 1991) review of Irish education raisedserious concern about the domin