In this blog post I discuss how I see Lave and Wenger's (1991) conceptualization of situated learning and "legitimate peripheral participation"(LPP) applying to my graduate school enculturation. The notion of LPP, as it has been described applying to graduate school, is that graduate students engage in tasks that take them from the periphery of the field through contact with old timers towards more fully participating in their community of practice.
One of the participatory practices I feel is important to engage in as a graduate student is conducting research. I have been fortunate to have a TA-ship where research is part of the IEP's mission, which makes attaining IRB permission a more stream-lined process. This past semester I began an action research project related to vocabulary learning strategies based around my own classroom. Throughout the project I have had to make choices about different data collection techniques and how to fit my research goals with the semester schedule of the class. The process of transcribing data from interviews and computing numerical data from questionnaires has also made me feel more confident in my ability to conduct research. The guidance and mentoring of Applied Linguistics faculty from NAU has been instrumental in guiding me through this process. Overall, the process has helped to demystify the research process and also help me get accustomed to the messy nature of research. I view action research as a step towards more fully developing as a researcher of Applied Linguistics.
Another advantage of taking on action research projects is that I think they help you feel more confident in making different pedagogical decisions. Exploring issues for improving various aspects of your class ensures that what you are doing as a teacher is informed by current research and your own classroom context. In reading and reviewing the different approaches I have students take in developing their vocabulary knowledge, I have felt more confidence in guiding my students to explore different techniques for self-directed vocabulary learning.
Presenting at conferences is the second participatory practice that I feel has helped me develop the ability to 'talk the talk' of the field. I remember when I gave a practice talk involving the use of correlation statistics and writing assessment in preparation of an upcoming state conference. I was describing the statistic using terms related to significance rather than strength of correlation. A minor mistake, but one that could certainly undermine my own credibility while presenting at a conference about my research. I have come to see these practice conferences as instrumental in preparing me for the larger state and national conferences. This process I feel is exemplar of the type of increasing participatory roles that Lave and Wenger (1991) speak of in their conception of 'legitimate peripheral participation. ' Looking back, I realize that my professors facilitated this type of participation by assigning conference type presentations as course requirements.
I feel the apprentice type of model that Lave and Wenger describe is an appropriate view of graduate school enculturation. I think that keeping this type of framework in mind can help graduate students consider the choices they take in activities they engage in while attending graduate school. Additionally, it can also inform the choices that faculty members make during the mentoring of graduate students.