Professor Judith Green of the Gevirtz School's Department of Education likes to quote philosopher Richard Rorty, who said, “You can’t say the new in the language of the old.” In her four decade career Green has consistently created a new language to describe factors that support and/or constrain student learning in classrooms. For this work she has received the AERA Division G (Social Context of Education) Lifetime Achievement Award and was appointed editor of the Review of Research in Education (Volumes 30, 32 and 34). “Learning from each other is key,” she states. “Most of what I learn isn’t from books; it’s from the interaction with people…about a book or what I want to put in a book.”
Given her interest in innovative approaches to education, it’s little surprise that Green has been a prime proponent of the Thematic School approach. We did not want to do “traditional distance learning, but something more engaging, with a more participatory level,” she relates. Partners at UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, The Ohio State University, and Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil took part in a eight-day, two-hour a day interactive symposium featuring anthropologist Michael Agar in October and January 2005-2006. “We developed new ways of communicating in virtual space,” Green says, “that involved making it more fluid, interactive, and responsive. New areas of study came out of the process, new places to think. We built a network of people who have written together, researched together.”
“I know I can’t do my work alone – it’s too complex, there are too many layers,” she explains of her process. “It’s multi-method and cross-disciplinary.” The approach, developed in collaboration with Carol N, Dixon and members of the Santa Barbara Classroom Discourse Group, is called Interactional Ethnography, “This approach lets us look for the roots and routes of learning and enables us to trace how learning develops over time.”
One moment Green eagerly awaits is ISCAR 2008, the International Society for Cultural and Activity Research Conference, at UC San Diego September 8-13. Titled “Ecologies of Diversities: The developmental and historical interarticulation of human mediational forms,” the conference will include over 1000 scholars from 44 countries. This is the first time the triennial event will take place in the United States, and Green, as part of the steering committee (along with fellow Gevirtz School professor Richard Durán) helped make sure the conference would be hosted by UCSD in collaboration with UCSB, UCLA and USD. It’s an event where you’ll not only “be able to hear scholars argue about Vygotsky vs Marx, Vygotsky vs Piaget,” but also “hear simultaneous translations of keynote lectures and view webcasts of 25 sessions.”
The conference reinforces Green’s lifelong interest in epistemology. “How do you come to know something?” Green queries. “And then how do we use that knowledge to create the possibility of 21st century students?” Her research shows that this approach involves the “study of reasoning in the world and how to generate text in new ways—e,g., to examine what’s the work of scientists, not just read science. This is not the E.D. Hirsch approach to cultural literacy, where you can go to a cocktail party and spout Spinoza.” Rather, it is grounded, dynamic and discipline-based inquiry and teaching.