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Responding to the discourse memberships expressed by TAs in the initial interview became a major consideration in designing intervention materials and the accompanying program of professional learning for the Reading SMART project. While it was important to empower TAs by building their knowledge of the reading process and effective instructional strategies, it was also essential to avoid the ‘colonising’ effect (Stoecker, 2013) that would reinforce perceptions of themselves as passive recipients of instructions rather than active contributors to knowledge construction.
As a result, engagement and partnership development consisted of a series of professional learning days in the initial stages of the project that focused on enhancing TAs’ knowledge and skills in relation to reading instruction. These days were conducted on the university campus and included opportunities for TAs to discuss their work with each other and share ideas for the successful implementation of the intervention. These strategies began to raise TAs’ awareness of resources and approaches that were effective for working with struggling older readers, but they failed to address the behaviours TAs adopted to protect disadvantaged students from learning challenges. A partnership that involved university staff working side by side with TAs in school sites to model strategies in action and provide feedback on TAs’ interactions with students created the context for knowledge sharing with the potential for real empowerment and consciousness raising of TAs’ self-efficacy.
While these strategies did not provide a magic solution to TAs’ perceptions of their roles, they created insight into facilitating engaged research approaches that aim for transformational community outcomes. In this instance, participants’ conceptions of community existed within multiple, conflicting discourses shaped by the contexts in which they lived and worked. Many of these discourses carried power implications that reduced both individual and group autonomy. Moreover, passivity was not a ‘symptom’ of group membership but was shaped and reinforced by social interactions between TAs and other community groups that constrained their possibilities for empowerment and action. In conclusion, it has become apparent from this analysis that engagement strategies for empowering passive groups are just as dependent on the decisions made about them as those made by them.
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