Silence and Resistance as Experiences and Presentations of Pupil Agency in Finnish Elementary School English Lessons

Kristiina Skinnari

pupil agency, silence, resistance, affordances, ecological perspective


This paper explores the multitude of ways in which Finnish fifth and sixth grade elementary school pupils experience and present their agency in English lessons, with a special focus on pupils' silence and resistance. Pupil agency is often seen as observable action that is oriented towards institutionally accepted goals and norms. In communicative and constructivist understandings of foreign language learning, learner agency is related to the idea of learning by participating. Participation in the classroom is not only individually but also socially constrained. This article is based on a larger, ecologically oriented ethnographic study on fifth and sixth graders' language learner identities in English language learning conducted over one-and-a-half school years in a Finnish elementary school. The data were gathered by questionnaires, classroom observations, pupil interviews, group talks, authentic documents, and a self-portrait drawing task.In this paper, I will mainly make use of the pupils' self-portraits as English learners and their answers to a semi-open questionnaire. Silent and resistant pupils are often seen as problematic and non-agentive in the language classroom. My study shows that the pupils' experiences and presentations of agency may be contradictory and the expressions of agency cannot always be interpreted in a straightforward manner. I claim that remaining silent and showing resistance in the classroom can be manifestations of complex pupil agency, and they need to be further studied to understand how to promote everybody's participation and positive agency in learning English at school.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies