This study examines the teacher's role in shaping the identity construction resources available in a classroom and the ways in which individual students take up, modify, and appropriate those resources to construct themselves as scientists through interaction with their teacher and peers. Drawing on frameworks of identity construction and social positioning, I propose that the locally-negotiated classroom-level cultural model of what it means to be a "good" science student forms the arena in which students construct a sense of their own competence at, affiliation with, and interest in science.
The setting for this study was a 6th grade science class at a progressive urban elementary school whose population roughly represents the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the state of California. The teacher was an experienced science and math teacher interested in social justice and inquiry teaching. Drawing from naturalistic observations, video and artifact analysis, survey data, and repeated interviews with students and the teacher, I demonstrated what it meant to be a "good" science student in this particular cultural community by analyzing what was required, reinforced, and rewarded in this classroom. Next, I traced the influence of this particular classroom's conception of what it meant to be good at science on the trajectories of identification with science of four 6th grade girls selected to represent a variety of stances towards science, levels of classroom participation, and personal backgrounds.
Scientific scholarship in this class had two parts: values related to science as a discipline, and a more generic set of school-related values one might see in any classroom. Different meanings of and values for science were indexed in the everyday activities of the classroom: science as a language for describing the natural world, science as a set of rhetorical values, science as an adult social community, and science as a place for mess and explosions. Among school-related values, participation, cooperation, and completing work were most important. Individual students leveraged different aspects of the local cultural model of scientific scholarship to construct themselves as competent participants in the science classroom.
This study extends and complicates current analyses of classroom norms by showing that to understand identity construction, we must do more than identify a list of norms operating in a classroom—we must map the relationships between norms. This analysis demonstrates how broader discourses, in this case about schooling and science, infiltrated the classroom and influenced the meaning and operation of classroom norms and individual students' efforts to position themselves in relation to the classroom model of a good student. Finally, these findings show the value in examining recognition from three interrelated lenses: self-narratives, other-narratives, and observational accounts of positioning.