27 SES 07 C, Teaching Practices in Different Cultures
This paper aims to contribute to the discussion about the value of education and teaching in multi-grade classes. The main focus is on small schools in Austria and Finland that are defined as schools with fewer than fifty students. Usually a small school is a rural primary school (in an Austrian context grades 1–4, children aged between six to nine, called “Volksschule”; in a Finnish context grades 1–6; children aged between seven to twelve, called “Alakoulu”). Usually there are two or three teachers in a small school, teaching different grades in the same class; this is called multi-grade or multi-age teaching. In the school year 2012-2013 there were 2,735 (15,3%) multi-grade classes in Austria of the total 17.899 primary school classes (STATISTIK AUSTRIA). As for Finland, according to the questionnaire done in spring 2012 there were 2,510 (16,4%) multi-grade classes of the total 15,287 primary school classes (Laitila & Wilén, L. 2013).
There are two main reasons for multi-grade-teaching in both countries: (1) Multi-grade teaching is implemented in order to prevent schools from closing as it enables a stabilization of learning group sizes in rural areas in which birth rates have declined and out-migration has increased. (2) Sometimes multi-grade classes are also based on pedagogical aims to which refers the concept of “multi-age teaching” and especially a philosophical basis of it: in multi-age class students are taught according to their developmental stage (see e.g. Hoffman 2002). Decisions about students’ learning are not based on assumptions related to their age or grade but on the learning offers and the learning support they need individually.
In the discussions about maintaining or closing a small rural school, pedagogical arguments have been often neglected which has aroused our research interest to study the value of education in multi-grade classes. It has been argued that multi-grade teaching has some benefits, including pupil-centered learning and teaching processes, flexible teaching, family-like and secure atmosphere, ease of implementing innovative change, individual learning tempo, and flexible school-entry (e.g. Kalaoja & Pietarinen 2009). However, there has been a lack of research in this area in both countries.
In our paper we concentrate more deeply on teaching practices of multi-grade teaching. Our research question ‘What kinds of teaching practices are used in multi-grade classes?’ focuses on the micro-level of school pedagogy (see Fend, 2006) with the aim to clarify which learning and teaching possibilities and resources are supported or available in multi-grade classrooms. We use the empirical data that consists of narrative interviews of Austrian and Finnish primary school teachers.
To understand education in multi-grade teaching, Cornish’ (2006b) and Kalaoja’s (2006) definitions of multi-grade teaching are used as a theoretical framework. Based on the research results, we further will discuss in which way multi-grade teaching challenges teacher education. The heterogeneity of multi-grade classes confronts teaching with new tasks and we therefore expect that for beginning teachers multi-grade teaching is demanding, especially if they have no earlier practice experience with it. This is, however, quite an open question as there are only a few studies of multi-grade pedagogy in teacher education, either in Austria or in Finland. We will also try to find out, if teaching practices used in multi-grade classes are so peculiar that they should be considered explicitly in the teacher education studies and how “best practices” in multi-grade classes can be described.
Cornish, L. (2006). What is multi-grade teaching? In L. Cornish (Ed.), Reaching EFA through multi-grade teaching (pp. 9–26). Armidale, Australia: Kardoorair Press. Fend, H. (2006). Neue Theorie der Schule. Einführung in das Verstehen von Bildungssystemen. Berlin: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Elbaz-Luwisch, F. (2005). Teachers’ voices: storytelling and possibility. Greenwich (Conn.): Information Age. Gudmundsdottir, S. (2001). Narrative research in school practice. In V. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of research in teaching. (4th ed.). Washington D. C: American Educational Association, 226–240. Hahn, H. & Berthold, B. (Eds.) (2010). Altergemischung als Lernressource. Entwicklungslinien der Grundschulpädagogik Band 7. Germany: Schneider Verlag Hohengehren. Hoffman, J. (2002). Flexible grouping strategies in the multiage classroom. Theory into Practice 41(1), 47–52. Kalaoja, E. (2006). Change and innovation in multi-grade teaching in Finland. In L. Cornish (Ed.), Reaching EFA through multi-grade teaching (pp. 215-228). Armidale, Australia: Kardoorair Press, Kalaoja, E. and Pietarinen, J. (2009). Small rural schools in Finland: a pedagogically valuable part of the school network. International Journal of Educational Research, 48(2), 109–116. Laitila, T. & Wilén, L. 2013. Pieniä kouluja ja yhdysluokkia koskeva kysely. Esitelmä. Valtakunnallinen pienkouluseminaari. [The inquiry of small schools and multi-grade classes. Presentation. National Seminar of Small Schools]. Hämeenlinna 8–9.10.2013. Finland. (in Finnish). Retrieved 7.1.2014 from http://www.avi.fi/documents/10191/155882/AVIen+tekem%C3%A4%20pienkoulukysely%2C%20Laitila+ja+Wilen.pdf/b8c05547-c4b7-47e0-a38a-fd6ed1b7bd44. Parr, J. M., and Townsend, M. A. R. (2002). Environments, processes, and mechanisms in peer learning. International Journal of Educational Research 37(5), 403–423. Riessman, C. K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks: Sage. STATISTIK AUSTRIA, Schulstatistik 2012/13 (Sonderauswertung).
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