25 SES 11, Participation as a Theme in Children’s Rights Research
In article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) it is stated that the child shall, in particular, be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law. What does it mean for a child to be heard when it comes to schools and pedagogical practices?
The promotion of pupils’ active participation and agency has become the mantra of twenty-first century education. Children have become important actors in the family, the society, politics and the economy. In the twentieth century, children became more vocal, more visible and more demonstrative in ways that have resonated across our contemporary world; they are considered actors, authors, authorities and agents (Walker & Logan, 2008). Their capacity to determine their and others’ lives has been recognised in research as well. For example, studies by Sargeant (2010; 2014) and Moore et al. (2008) have established children’s competence in articulating their views and opinions, as well as their ability to report on important issues in their lives.
In educational research, pupils’ agency is often related to their right to express their opinions, make suggestions and have an impact on decisions (Gresalfi et al., 2009). In the school context, agency refers to active experiencing and meaning making; the mindset here is that things are not just happening to the individual, but that the individual can make a difference in his/her own life (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998). Other perspectives of pupils’ agency in the school context are related to pupils’ responsibility in a community and pupils’ rights to be active learners instead of passive objects of teaching (Greeno, 2006). In the classroom, pupils should be responsible for sharing their knowledge in planning, implementing and evaluating their learning. They should also be responsible for stating their decisions and acting, as well as for asking for help or helping out others (Edwards & D’Arcy, 2004).
Participatory pedagogy offers one approach to supporting pupils’ agency in schools. (Niemi, Kumpulainen, Lipponen & Hilppö, 2014). One of the most important goals of participatory pedagogy is to support the elaboration of the pupils’ voice and agency (Kumpulainen & Lipponen, 2010; Kumpulainen et al., 2011). Participatory pedagogy also stresses engaging pupils in the process of evaluating and developing the pedagogical practises of the classroom (Niemi, Kumpulainen, Lipponen & Hilppö, 2014; Niemi, Kumpulainen & Lipponen, 2014).
Participatory pedagogy also emphasises the social nature of teaching and learning. It focuses on developing pupils’ skills for active, investigative, reflective and communicative learning. Learning starts from pupils’ experiences and questions. Pupils investigate and solve problems via peer-led project work, and they are given opportunities to express the outcomes of their work in multiple ways. Learning activities are often based on cross-curricular themes. Through projects, pupils learn to develop their own thinking instead of learning things by rote (Wells, 1999).
This paper is based on a pedagogical action research initiative carried out in a Finnish primary school. Twenty-four fifth-grade pupils and their teacher participated in the study. The research initiative was guided by two questions: (1) How do pupils experience their classroom practices? 2) How can pupils participate in the process of developing classroom practices through diamond ranking?
Emirbayer, M. & Mische, A. (1998) What is Agency? American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 243-259. Greeno, J. (2006) Authoritative, Accountable Positioning and Connected, General Knowing: progressive themes in understanding transfer, Journal of Learning Sciences, 15(5), 537-547. Gresalfi, M., Martin, T., Hand, V. & Greeno, J. (2009) Constructing Competence: an analysis of student participation in the activity systems of mathematics classrooms, Educational Studies in Mathematics, 70(1), 49-70. Kemmis, S. (2006) Participatory Action Research and the Public Sphere, Educational Action Research, 14(4), 459-476. Kemmis, S. & Wilkinson, M. (1998) Participatory Action Research and the Study of Practice, in B. Atweh, S. Kemmis & P. Weeks (Eds) Action Research in Practice: partnerships for social justice in education. London: Routledge. Moore, T., McArthur, M. & Noble-Carr, D. (2008) Little Voices and Big Ideas: lessons learned from children about research, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 7(2), 77-91. Niemi, R., Heikkinen, H.L.T. & Kannas, L. (2010) Listening to Polyphony in the Classroom: reporting action research through multiple voices, Educational Action Research, 18(2), 137-149. Niemi, R., Kumpulainen, K. & Lipponen, L. (2014) Pupils Documentation Enlightening Teacher’s Practical Theory and Pedagogical Actions, Educational Action Research. doi: 10.1080/09650792.2014.942334 Niemi, R., Kumpulainen, K., Lipponen, L. & Hilppö, J. (2014) Pupils’ Perspectives on the Lived Pedagogy of the Classroom, Education 3-13. doi:10.1080/03004279.2013.859716 Sargeant, J. (2010) The Altruism of Pre-Adolescent Children’s Perspectives on ‘Worry’ and ‘Happiness’ in Australia and England, Childhood, 17(3), 411-425. Sargeant, J. (2014) Adult’s Perspectives on Tweens’ Capacities: participation or protection? Children Australia, 39(1), 9-16. Smith, A., Duncan, J. & Marshall, K. (2005) Children’s Perspective on Their Learning: exploring methods, Early Child Development and Care, 175(6), 473-488. Walker, L. & Logan, A. (2008) A review of Learner Voice Initiatives Across the UK’s Education Sectors, http://www2.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/other_research_reports/Learner_Engagement.pdf Wells, G. (1999) Dialogic Inquiry: toward a sociocultural practice and theory of education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Woolner, P., Clark, J., Hall, E., Laing, K., Thomas, U. & Tiplady, L. (2010) Pictures Are Necessary but Not Sufficient: using a range of visual methods to engage users about school design, Learning Environments Research, 13(1), 1-22. Woolner, P., Clark, J., Laing, K., Thomas, U. & Tiplady, L. (2014) A School Tries to Change: how leaders and teachers understand changes to space and practices in a UK secondary school, Improving Schools, 17(2), 148-162.
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