Susan Jean Mayer

Theorizing the aims and character of distinctively democratic classrooom practices based upon

the philosophy of pragmatism and contemporary understandings of learning and development


Classroom Discourse and Democracy:

Making Meanings Together

This book provides educators with a number of practical tools for studying and realizing democratic learning processes within schools, and theorizes these tools in relation to current developmental learning and democratic theory. Three basic phases of all collaborative knowledge construction processes are characterized—framing, developing, and evaluating. These are then employed to sort through the roles that students and teachers have assumed in literary discussions within six different classrooms. Linked narrative portrayals provide readers with a sense of the ways in which the varied discursive patterns identified played out in the classrooms studied.

In this early book, I also proposed grouping these various patterns into three categories: teacher-led, student-led, and co-led, which I have since come to find overly abstract. In my recent book, Practicing Pragmatism, I work with three more grounded pedagogical frameworks: translation, problem-solving, and exploratory. As I discuss there, each of these more grounded frameworks has been both methodically developed within classrooms and theorized by educational scholars.

I have, however, always emphasized that any of these varied forms of teaching-learning experience can make valuable contributions within a richly realized democratic learning community. Each possesses its own distinctive set of affordances and constraints with respect to the complex challenges involved in fostering the intellectual growth and learning of young people.

I also began, in this book, a consideration of the different dimensions of human understandings that should interest us in democratic classrooms, which I develop further in Practicing Pragmatism.


Susan Jean Mayer has managed to distill a vast and complex literature into accessible, even economical prose. ... Brilliant and clear as a bell, this book is, as Mayer describes great teaching, 'meaningful, powerful, and transparent.'

—William F. Pinar, University of British Columbia

This is an important book. It draws on both Piagetian and Vygotskian traditions and provides an original synthesis that will be of value to a wide range of readers. If ever there was a moment to enhance discussion of classroom discourse and democracy, it is now!

—Harry Daniels, Univeristy of Bath

This lucid, grounded, well-argued book ... is at once deeply informed by good classroom practice and deeply informative about good classroom practice. ... Never polemical, it is animated by a deep, even a fierce, sense of urgency, as we may all now find ourselves to be.

—Dirck Roosevelt, Brandeis University

Whether one's interest is in the broader realm of philosophy of education, in the micro world of utterance-level meaning, or at the frustrating intersection of the theoretical, empirical, and applied study of learning through discussion, this book will be of value.

—from the foreword by Catherine O'Connor, Boston University