A sense of order: Two case studies of classroom organization

Delia Marshall Turner, University of Pennsylvania


This is a collaborative, participant observation case study of two elementary classroom teachers, designed to investigate the multiple layers of classroom organization and the ways in which the teachers made sense of that organization. A constellation of personal beliefs and values determined the way in which two teachers perceived "order" and "disorder." These teachers' perceptions influenced their understandings of their own classrooms and their decisions. The data reveal that their "sense of order" was personal and individual, although there were similarities in practice, based on similarities in values. Two units in these classrooms, "morning circle" and "work tables," represented functional structures. Each structure made demands on the teachers and provided possibilities for action. These structures were enacted using a local school vernacular of practice, and therefore outwardly resembled similar structures in other classrooms in each school. However, the teachers used the structures in ways that were distinctively different from the practice of school colleagues. Further, despite shared general beliefs about teaching, learning, and students, the two teachers understood and enacted both "morning circle" and "work tables" in individual, meaningful ways related to their understandings of the teacher's role in student learning. This difference was intentional, yet also seemed inevitable because the guiding "sense of order" reduced the number of possible actions apparent to the teachers and was therefore a powerful influence on practice. This context-based, value-influenced local construction of order has implications for evaluation, research, and reform. If evaluators rely on a conception of obvious order, they will come to incorrect conclusions about the teacher's effectiveness. Researchers likewise carry their own sense of order into the classroom and must include teacher values in analysis. Finally if teachers can transform practice while looking much like their colleagues, any attempt at reform must account for both context and meaning in its design.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Secondary education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Turner, Delia Marshall, "A sense of order: Two case studies of classroom organization" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9628017.