Saturday, November 10, 2012

Commentary on "Learning participatory practices in graduate school: Some perspective-taking by a mainstream educator"

Through this post I intend to reflect on my reading of Casanave's chapter and my own related experiences as a "mainstream" graduate student. 

In this chapter Casanave relates her own experiences as a graduate student and interprets them using Lave and Wenger's (1991) notion of communities of practice and situated learning. Through this lens, her progression in graduate school is seen as moving from being a peripheral participant to a more active participant within her disciplinary community of practice.

One of the things Casanave notes is how she struggled with learning the lingo of her graduate coursework and participating through in-class conversations. She recalls feeling "like a silent, intimidated observer" (p. 18). This is a sentiment that I can relate to when I consider my own experiences in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) course I'm currently enrolled in. Like Casanave, I've often felt that I don't have enough exposure to some of the technical vocabulary to adequately contribute to class discussions and then turn to some of the similar avoidance strategies she mentions.

Another aspect of academic literacy she touches upon is how citation practices are not made explicit in graduate school. Despite the fact the citation conventions can easily be taught through style manuals, Casanve explains how she was given little guidance in why one would cite specific authors and not cite others. I would agree that an understanding how different theoretical camps are drawn up within a specific field and how one might cite certain authors in order to situate and align themselves with a chosen theoretical approach is rarely taught.

However,  I would add that one assignment often assigned to partly address this purpose is an annotated bibliography. One of the thoughts behind this assignment is that one will begin to take note of certain authors' theoretical stance and research paradigms by carefully annotating a body of research within a specific topic area. If this assignment was assigned to particular groups of students and they were to present upon their topics as part of their ongoing research process on a class topic for a paper, then an awareness might be raised on the sociopolitical aspects of citations. I feel that this was one way that I was made aware of the sociopolitical realities of citation practices by researchers within a discipline.

In the final part of her chapter, Casanave laments upon the silence and avoidance she had during graduate school to cover up her insecurity. She predicts that more open dialogue between old timers of the profession and the new comers would lead a more transparent understanding of what it takes to participate in an academic community. I wonder if some faculty might find this transparency runs counter to what they feel simply comes through multiple conversations, research, and reading, that participation in the academic community comes through hard work and struggle. I know that more transparency of the type Casanave suggests certainly might make the academic enculturation process I'm currently undergoing a less frustrating process.


Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Casanave, C. P. (2008). Learning participatory practices in graduate school: Some perspective-taking by a mainstream educator. In C. P. Casanave & X. Li (Eds.), Learning the literacy practices of graduate school: Insiders' reflections on academic enculturation (pp. 14-31). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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