This thesis focuses on the investigation within a primary school of an emergent classroom community of practice that is in accord with a sociocultural approach to promoting learning and development through the processes of collective argumentation. One outcome of the thesis is the development of an emergent community model of understanding classroom learning. The design of this model involved a synthesis of methodological approaches to researching classroom learning that share a compatibility with Vygotskian assumptions that relate to the role of semiotically-mediated social interaction in promoting development.
It is within this 'emergent community' framework for understanding learning that a qualitative study into a Year 7 classroom's ways of coming to know, do, and value mathematics was conducted over the course of one school year. The study was concerned with providing insights into (1) how communal practices emerge and are sustained within a classroom, (2) how students construct and display certain identity positions within a collaborative learning environment, (3) how the social processes of the classroom interact at the small group level to motivate and guide students to 'speak' and 'act' as members of a collaborative learning community, and (4) how students, at the whole-class level, employ communal practices and social interactional forms to challenge and extend their ways of knowing, doing, and valuing mathematics. The study was also concerned with exploring the relationships between the communal practices, processes, and products of an emerging classroom community of practice and those practices, processes, and products promoted with various high school classrooms.
Through employing detailed analyses of video/audio-taped transcripts, teacher/student journal entries, students' responses to pre- and post-participation questionnaires, and records of students' self-selected seating arrangements within the classroom, the findings of the study provide support to Vygotsky's (1981) contention that the form of interpsychological functioning has a determining influence on the resulting form of intrapsychological functioning and index the centrality of communicative processes in the emergence of a classroom community of practice. In particular, the study found (a) that the emergence of a classroom community of practice is marked by an irreducible tension between the teacher, the tools that are employed to facilitate the emergence of community, and the context in which the emergence is situated, (b) that students participate differently in the social processes of a classroom community and construct identities that are marked by changing relationships between participants, (c) that the culture of the classroom motivates and guides students' moves toward or away from more mature ways of participating in the community, (d) that the whole-class discourse genre of an emerging classroom community is co-constructed by the teacher and students over time as they challenge each other to extend the quality of learning and teaching that takes place in the classroom, and (e) that participation in an emerging classroom community of practice provides worthwhile long-term learning benefits for students in terms both of their personal needs and in terms of the goals of national curriculum documents.
These findings are presented and discussed in a manner that demonstrates how sociocultural theory may function to inform and describe the emergence of a classroom community of practice. The implications of these findings are presented in terms that have the potential to provide the educational community with a set of pedagogical and research tools that may facilitate the establishment and investigation of classroom learning environments that actively involve students in meeting personal needs and civic expectations.