Teachers abound in Yolanda’s prekindergarten class. When Joshua announces his need to create a house, Jazmin and Katie answer the call.
Joshua: I need to make a house.
Jazmin: I know how to do it. Here…let me do it for you.
Katie (interrupting): I can teach him. You do it like this (makes a house on her paper). You make a square.
Jazmin (angry) to Katie: That is not how you make a house!
Katie (defensive): Yes huh.
Jazmin: That’s a little one. I do big ones.
Katie (angry): That’s how you make a house Jazmin!
Jazmin: Joshua…look…this is how you make a house.
Jazmin (gives Joshua a blue crayon): Here..use this.
Jazmin and Katie confront each other in this exchange with Joshua. Jazmin is the “house-drawing” expert in the classroom and her classmates know this. “House-drawing” is part of her writing identity. And she is proud of her ability to successfully draw homes. Katie, who just learned how to make homes (mostly by watching Jazmin) intrudes on Jazmin’s writing territory. Homes are Jazmin’s domain and Katie is a trespasser. Eventually, Katie backs off and allows Jazmin to take charge. But this short burst of conflict reveals the power struggle that happens when young children take ownership of certain written symbols.
How do students negotiate power and identity in a writing classroom? In a classroom where peer teaching is valued and encouraged, interesting conflicts emerge. Students who create symbols that are admired by classmates relish in their classmates' desire to learn from them. But such peer teaching comes at a price. When kernels of knowledge are offered to others, and imitation becomes the standard practice of the learner, the peer-teacher becomes less defined, less identifiable. Jazmin is not the only house-maker in the class. Katie now joins her. Jazmin must battle to retain her authority and she is successful in this exchange. Joshua retains Jazmin's counsel and Katie backs off. Jazmin has held on to her power….for now.
About the Author
Brian Kissel is an Associate Professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His focus is writing instruction. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hattie and three kiddos: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet.