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Speaker Series: Paul Hutchison

Examining how a low-influence member of a collaborative small group negotiates opportunities to participate


Paul Hutchison is an Associate Professor of Education at Grinnell College in Grinnell



Participation in sensemaking discourse is widely seen as important to students’ learning in
science classes.  Many science educators quite reasonably use collaborative small group
activities to create opportunities for students to engage in authentic sensemaking discourse.
But we know collaborative small groups can function inequitably.  Access to discourse in them
is co-constructed by group members and impacted by both the histories of individual members
and the cultural attitudes and expectations they bring.  As a result, some students can be
marginalized and excluded from fair access to participation.  In this study, I focus on one
student, “Jessica”, who was an infrequent participant and arguably a low-influence member of
her collaborative small group.  Because she was largely denied fair opportunity to participate in
the sensemaking discourse, Jessica is a type of student our research community needs to focus
on as we work to understand the dynamics of collaborative small groups.  Drawing on video
data of the small group, my aim in this study is to understand how Jessica negotiated her, albeit
infrequent, episodes of sustained participation in the on-task activity.  Positioning theory serves as
my primary analytic framework, and I use it to show Jessica negotiated such opportunities by
establishing positive identities for herself in off-task discourse and then leveraged those to
participate in the group’s on-task discourse.



Paul Hutchison is an Associate Professor of Education at Grinnell College in Grinnell, IA. His
prior research has primarily focused on understanding student learning by focusing on learners’
personal epistemologies using resources or manifold models of the mind. Six years ago, he got
interested in attempts to “measure” equity in collaborative small groups and has gradually
shifted his attention to that work since. The project he reports on in this talk is one that
emerged from this small group-equity focus.