This paper explores multi-sited ethnography (Marcus, 2011) as a research strategy in L2 classroom research in regard to a specific project: Bridging the Gap between in and out-of-school English: Learning from good practice (hence forth BTG). Using an online survey, we aim to identify English teachers in Swedish lower secondary schools (grades 6-9) who in their teaching are committed to exploring and drawing on students’ experiences and use of English in their free-time. After establishing contact and reaching agreements with selected teachers, we plan to do in-depth classroom studies through observations, interviews with teachers and students, collected instructional materials and student work, and other possible sources. We will also collect data from students in these classes about their use of English outside of school. The classroom studies will be carried out by three or four researchers, each spending about three weeks with four teachers which means that we will get data from the classrooms of about 16 teachers (which means approximately 48 weeks of classroom studies). Such a design, where a phenomenon is elicited based on the analysis of observational and other kinds of data from several settings has been termed “multi-sited ethnography” Coleman & von Hellermann, 2011).
With this design we hope to combine many of the benefits of classic ethnography, based on rich data from the extensive study of one case, with the opportunity to explore the complex interplay between learning tasks, processes, teaching and classroom culture in various pedagogic contexts. We also intend to examine what kind of tasks that are motivating for different students, and which students get the opportunity to feel that their cognitive and cultural resources are recognized and drawn upon in class. Realizing that we can never predict how a pedagogical action or task would be interpreted and work out in a new context or from all students’ point of view (Willis & Trondman, 2000), our hope is still that we will be able to convey the results of BTG in such a way that teachers could use them, not as a manual, but as a starting point for reflecting on how such processes could develop in their classrooms, with their students.
The purpose of the current paper is to discuss how ethnography, and particularly multi-sited ethnography could be applied in our project, given the purpose and theoretical framing of the study as well as practical concerns. We will do this through a review of literature on methodology in classroom ethnography and of second language (L2) studies in the same vein as our project.
The review is not based on a systematic selection of readings, but is an effort to outline a map of the methodological and theoretical landscape where we, at this moment, see it as relevant to place and discuss our study. Another purpose of this paper is to provide it as a point of departure for critical and creative discourse with experienced ethnographers in OEC about design and methods, and thus help us work these out soundly. Willis & Trondman (2000, p. 12) argue concerning theory in ethnography that
the criterion for relevance is maximum power in relation to the data for purposes of illumination, not theoretical adequacy or sophistication for its own sake. ‘Analytic points’ can be made without recourse to a full account of the whole intellectual history of the traditions from which theory is drawn: the necessity is for sufficient, perhaps quite brief, account of the specific theoretical work that a concept or view can bring to the subject of study, its usefulness in context.
The paper is organised as follows: a presentation of the purpose and theoretical framing of the project, the literature review, an outline in more concrete detail of our planned design of the project BTG (based on our application for grants, and inspired by the accounted readings and by other empirical L2 studies in the same vein). We conclude with some ideas and questions regarding our research project.