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Rescheduled to 19 NOVEMBER

Ehnomethodology and classroom interaction

Presenter: Peter Freebody

Respondent: Michael Anderson

Time: 4:30-6:30pm, 19 November 2009 (refreshments at 4:30pm for 5:00pm start)

Venue: Room 351, Education Building (A35), The University of Sydney

Ehnomethodology and classroom interaction: Applications and challenges, by Peter Freebody

Ethnomethdology can be characterised as a branch of sociology interested in the detailed study of the ways in which individuals negotiate and make orderly sense of their communities and cultures in and from their everyday experiences. The presentation will start with an outline of the major analytic elements and, then, will proceed to expand on applications of Ethnomethodological approaches to the study of educational phenomena, including illustrations drawn from the research of the presenter and his colleagues.

The presentation will argue that an Ethnomethodological orientation serves a number of useful functions in the overall efforts of educational researchers to improve educational practice and policy. For example, it draws attention to the need to attend to the details of the pursuit of curricular goals in the sites in which those goals are enacted – classrooms and other institutional sites – to disrupt the utopian assumptions that curricula and other policy instruments (assessments, professional development programs, and so on) are acted out uniformly or in a transparent and pre-determinable relation to policy statements. Also, Ethnomethodologists take it as axiomatic that social activities, such as classroom lessons or medical consultations, are jointly, mutually, or collectively accomplished. Attention must then focus upon an examination of participation and interaction, not just on the work of the party institutionally assumed to be managing a given activity, such as the teacher or the doctor. The presentation will conclude with an outline of some challenges facing Ethnomethodologists who wish to expand the influence of their work in areas such as Education.


Ethnomethodology: from classroom interaction to policy and school reform, by Michael Anderson
This response will discuss this approach and its application to a variety of classrooms. Ethnomethodology has been used in the social sciences to explore conversation and in more recent times this approach has been used effectively to examine classroom interaction. The role of conversation analysis has clear implications for teacher preparation and is currently being used in The University of Sydney’s initial teacher education programs to support an understanding of how classroom conversations occur. This research approach examines what is actually happening in teacher and student talk in the classroom rather than designing specific solutions to emergent research problems like other methodological approaches (e.g designed based research). This response will discuss the impact of ethnomethodology on policy formation and school reform. The presentation will also focus on the potential of ethnomethodology to enhance learning in classrooms. It will also examine several challenges and issues for the application of this approach in diverse classrooms.


About presenters
Professor Peter Freebody is Professorial Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. His research and teaching interests are literacy education, educational disadvantage, classroom interaction and quantitative and qualitative research methods. He has served on numerous Australian state and national advisory groups in the area of literacy education, and is senior consultant on the national on-line curriculum initiative conducted by the Curriculum Corporation and advisor to the National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy. Peter’s current projects include: ‘Disciplinarity and classroom practice: Epistemological issues in the analysis and improvement of teaching and learning’ and ‘Transforming the technologies and modalities of learning: The case of the New Life Sciences in secondary schooling’. Peter’s authored books include: ‘Literacy education in schools: Research perspectives from the past, for the future’ (Camberwell, ACER) and ‘Qualitative Research in Education: Interaction and Practice’ (London, Sage Press).


Dr. Michael Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. His research and teaching has concentrated on developing understanding of how arts educators begin, evolve and achieve growth in their careers and how school students use technology to learn and create in arts education. Michael’s current projects include an ARC Linkage Project on youth participation in the arts, ‘Accessing the Cultural Conversation’. Michael has written several books, including Anderson, M. & Jefferson, M. (2009) ‘Teaching the screen: film education for generation next’ (Crows Nest, Allen & Unwin) and Anderson, M. (2006) ‘Solo: a guidebook for individual performers’ (Sydney, Currency Press).


Session archive


  • Session recording MP3 (85 MB)
  • Presentation slides PDF (500 K)

Some references & recommended readings

  • Freebody, P. (2003) ‘Qualitative Research in Education: Interaction and Practice’ (London, Sage Press).

Recommended websites

  • Ethno/CA News: Information on Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis URL

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