Access, engagement, networks, and norms: Dimensions of social capital at work in a first grade classroom

Stephanie Wexler-Robock, Fordham University


Social capital refers to access and use of resources available through one's networks to solve problems, and the norms that reflect inclusive or exclusive access to those networks and resources. Research has found positive relationships between social capital, academic achievement, and attainment. Studies, however, have generally examined social capital through factors that occur outside the classroom; students who have social capital, acquired through their family and community relationships, seem to be more successful academically. Limited research has explored what if any factors within the classroom might impact the production, and nature of social capital, or its workings in a classroom. The purpose of this study was to explore the workings and nature of classroom social capital, including its possible relationships to engagement and cognition among 5 student participants. Using methods of qualitative data collection, mixed methods were used to analyze information resources, participants' networking, student work, and classroom discourse. Eight interdependent networking factors and 3 overarching patterns of norms were discovered. The networking factors reflected the structure, content, processes, purposes, and acceptability of participants' networking. The norms, also working interdependently, appeared to promote or inhibit among other things, engagement in networking, help seeking, access, sharing, and intertextual use of diverse, often complex sources of information. Through interaction of the 8 factors and 3 overarching norms, ongoing outcomes of networking appeared to include the creation of bridging (inclusive) and bonding (exclusive) forms of social capital, and depth of scientific conceptual understanding, in this case, about birds. Bridging social capital appeared related to willingness to engage in strong and weak tie networking, help seeking, intertextuality, and possibly to mastery goal orientation for all participants, regardless of reading level. Expository sources more so than narrative texts generated intertextually dense, social and cognitive networks, often between members with weak ties. Together the networking factors and norms shed light on the way discourse, resources, and practice might impact social capital, suggesting that forms of social capital may be produced, accumulated, and depleted by factors and norms that are open to variation and occur within the classroom.

Subject Area

Elementary education|Social structure|Cognitive therapy|Science education

Recommended Citation

Wexler-Robock, Stephanie, "Access, engagement, networks, and norms: Dimensions of social capital at work in a first grade classroom" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3210284.