115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Critical Spatial Pedagogy: Understanding Student Resistance in the Composition Class

Robin R Ford, "Queensborough CC, CUNY"

As the lines between formal and informal compositional spaces blur, a new form of student resistance has emerged. Based on an ethnographic study of an urban classroom, critical spatial pedagogy provides a new tool in understanding marginalized students’ beliefs regarding appropriate texts and practices in the composition classroom.  


            Education theorists have often imagined students straddling a line that divides their life into two distinct spaces: in-school and out-of-school. However, the reality is that students straddle several distinct spaces, physically and digitally, each of which is experienced very differently.

            Students’ understandings of these spaces often include rigid borders with space-specific practices that police these borders. It is therefore not surprising that these students reject instructors’ attempts to interject outside texts and/or literacy practices (e.g. television shows and texting) into the formal classroom space since this disrupts long held, and often academically supported, beliefs. For the student who has spent the previous twelve years being told that “that’s not for school” by their teachers, the use of pop culture or other out-of-school texts, can be less of a welcome change and more of an undesirable intrusion.

            There is a need for a pedagogy that acknowledges that students may view compositional spaces, texts, culture and literacy practices in vastly different ways from their instructors. Critical spatial pedagogy accepts that literacy practices can provoke student empowerment or resistance depending on how the space in which they are conducted is understood.

            Compositionists have previously studied spaces of literacy as a means to understanding students’ existing writing processes, and ultimately bridging the gap between out-of-school and academic practices (Hull, Leander).  In bringing those local literacies to the classroom, however, instructors sometimes meet resistance in the form of students’ beliefs about the intersection between text, place, and purpose.  It’s essential then, to understand students’ beliefs regarding this interface, especially as it relates to academic spaces such as the composition classroom.

            Working with Bhaba and Soja’s notion of thirdspace, I expand previous literacy theories of compositional space and student resistance (Soja, Reynolds, Kirkland, Moje).  My resulting concept, critical spatial pedagogy posits a new way to understand how marginalized students’ beliefs regarding spaces of literacy impact their academic success, and provides a new tool with which to negotiate students’ resistance and their understanding of spaces within the college writing classroom.