Hands-Eyes-Voices Towards an Interactional View of Embodied Learning and Educational Equity

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project works from the premise that educational settings overtly focused on
“access” and “equity” may, through particular assumptions and interactions, reproduce
inequities in subtle and unintentional ways. McAffee’s (2014) ethnographic study of an
untracked math classroom shows how racial patterns and hierarchies emerged through the
accumulation of everyday interactions, including the forms of talk enacted by the teacher.
Medin and Bang (2014) illustrate how access to STEM learning opportunities is
insufficient for bringing about substantive forms of equity if students’ indigenous ways of
knowing are disregarded within pedagogical interactions. As a learning scientist and
qualitative methodologist, I argue that this problem highlights the crucial need for
empirical analyses of educational equity as an interactional accomplishment that supports
consequential forms of learning for non-dominant youth (Gutiérrez, 2008; Nasir, et. al.,
2006). Further, while existing research on learning and equity provides detailed analysis
of pedagogical talk, less attention has been given to the embodied (multi-modal and nonverbal)
dimensions of educational interaction. Likewise, research on embodied learning
tends not to foreground questions of power and equity. Gaining a deeper understanding of
how verbal and embodied forms of pedagogical interaction either restrict or support
learning will therefore contribute to building adequately dynamic and perceptive tools for
the design and study of equitable educational environments.
To address these gaps, I seek to provide a micro-ethnographic analysis of
embodied learning through careful observation of 1) the coordination of teachers’ and
students’ hands, eyes and voices within project-based, scientific and artistic activities,
and 2) the forms of assistance that deepen students’ learning, social relationships, and sense of capability and dignity1 over time. While all learning is, in a sense, “embodied,”
my use of this term highlights both the physical, gestural and artifact-mediated
dimensions of educational activity, and the kinds of ethical and pedagogical values
embodied in moment-to-moment talk and interaction. I draw on data I collected over
three years in an equity-oriented after-school tinkering program2 to ask:
1. Which configurations of hands, eyes and voices were present? What meanings did
these configurations hold with regards to the quality of assistance (the forms and
functions of pedagogical talk, gesture, gaze, timing), as well as the outcomes and
subjective experiences of learning?
2. What is the nature of the social relationships among students and teachers? Do
learning interactions involving participants’ hands, eyes and voices reproduce or
subvert inequities along the lines of race, class and gender? What patterns or
combinations of interactions contribute to these outcomes?
These questions reflect my belief that theories of embodied learning—and the pedagogical
implications of those theories—will be significantly enhanced by paying greater attention to
the interactional dynamics of joint activity, and the consequential role of teachers’
assumptions about students’ capabilities.
Effective start/end date9/1/169/15/18


  • National Academy of Education (Letter 5/4/16)


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