ERG SES G 13, Communities and Education
This presentation takes part in a PhD study, which aims at investigating the execution and experience of transitioning in to lower secondary school from the perspectives of the parents, the school, and the students in a Norwegian 8th grade class. The presentation’s objective is to elaborate on one of the study’s research questions: “How do the students experience the transition to lower secondary school socially, emotionally, personally and due to curriculum and work?”
The study builds on a sociocultural perspective on learning, which emphasizes the interaction between human mental processes and its surroundings (Vygotsky, 1978). From this perspective, the context is decisive for how people think and act, and all actions are situated and context bound. Through verbal interaction and participation in social and cultural activities, basic references for people’s understanding and valuing are established (Bakhtin, 1986).
Norway has a comprehensive school system with 10 years of compulsory school. The transition to lower secondary school takes part between 7th and 8th grade, when the students are 13 years old. Most of the students start at separate lower secondary schools organized from 8th to 10th grade. These students meets a new school and institution during the transition. According to Bakhtin (1986) an institution may consists of an own culture and a social language that includes cultural and institutional conditioned values and ways to perceive the world. This means that the transition to lower secondary school includes a transition to new cultural and institutional surroundings, which includes a new physical and social context, new routines and perhaps other ways of managing learning. This includes the fact that the students in Norway receive grades for the first time at the lower secondary school. At the same time, the students are going through a biological transition phase from children to adolescents. This means that the students experience several transitions at the same time. According to Kvalsund (2000), it is reason to believe that Norwegian students experience the transition to lower secondary school as complex.
International research recognize the transition to lower secondary school as a major and critical landmark in young people’s life (Smyth, 2017; Tilleczek & Ferguson, 2007). Many students may struggle during the transition period, and the transition is most demanding for students that already risks early school dropout (Tilleczek & Ferguson, 2007; Topping, 2011).
Studies show that most of the students both are looking forward to and dread attending lower secondary school (Graham & Hill, 2005; Kvalsund, 2000). The students are primarily concerned about social relationships. They see opportunities for linking new positive friendships, but at the same time, they are worried that they can lose social status and experience separation from former classmates (Kvalsund, 2000; Topping, 2011). After some time the students are more concerned about professional relationships and adapting to a different education culture than they are used to (Kvalsund, 2000). Earlier research show that teacher and parental involvement are crucial in supporting the students and making the transition a positive experience (Hanewald, 2013).
A good deal of research on the transition to lower secondary school has been done internationally the last years (Smyth, 2017), but this transition has gained little attention in Norway. Literature research show that the majority of the research done on this field consists of quantitative studies whereas qualitative studies with in depth interviews are rare. According to Tilleczek og Ferguson (2007) there also exists a gap of knowledge in understanding the meso level of classes, friends and families – where the intersections of culture and individual meet, and they suggests a complementarity of new multi-method and qualitative research as an asset to fill this gap.
The study uses a qualitative research design, with a single case study as an approach, where the phenomena is explored in real-life, in a contemporary bounded system over time (Creswell, 1998). The purpose of a case study is to describe a phenomenon, and to explore how people experience and understand this phenomenon. The purpose of this study and the presentation is to describe how the transition into one chosen lower secondary school in a Norwegian city takes part, and how the students experiences it. The sample school is organized as an 8th to 10th grade school that is representative in size, how it is organized and the districts socio-economic status. The school recruits approximately 170 students from two different primary schools in the neighborhood each year. The sample of the study consists of 17 students that started at the chosen school at 8th grade in August 2017. To ensure that students with different understandings and experiences of the transition took place in the sample, the “letter-method” was used (Berg, 1999). All the students attending 8th grade at the sample school in 2017 wrote two letters about their thoughts, experiences and concerns about starting secondary school. First in June 2017, a few weeks before the students started at the lower secondary school, and second in September, a few weeks after. The sample is based on what they wrote in these letters. The empirical material presented consists of in-depth interviews. The 17 students were interviewed first time in September/October 2017 and again in February 2018. The interviews lasted from 20 to 45 minutes, and permissions from the parents were obtained. All interviews were conducted in suited rooms in the schools during the school day. A semi structured, open-ended interview-guide was used (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2015) and the students were asked to tell about their expectations before the transition took part, and how they experienced being students at the lower secondary school socially, emotionally, personally, and due to curriculum and work so far. The interviews will be transcribed and the data will be analyzed by using the constant comparative method, a method which has its origin in Grounded Theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Through a systematic but at the same time flexible analysis, the aim of the method is to develop an interpretive understanding of the participants' perspectives and experiences.
The data collection is work in progress. The analyses of the data remains and will be done when all the data are available. A preliminary review of the currently available data material collected 5-8 weeks into the secondary school indicate that the students had more concerns about the transition before the shift from 7th to 8th grade than after. Their concerns beforehand was mainly related to social issues. Several students also dreaded the grading system, and feared increased academic demands and stricter teachers at secondary school. About 5-8 weeks after becoming students at the lower secondary school, the 17 students summarized that they had experienced the life at the school as positive so far. The main reason was that their new teachers primarily had devoted the first weeks to facilitate a good learning environment. The students liked their new teachers and appreciated that the teachers treated them as adolescents. Some students found it difficult to get used to new routines and ways of working with school tasks. The students had strikingly high expectations to their own academic results and were still excited about getting grades. Some students mentioned that they as a preparation to lower secondary school had received more tests and homework by the end of primary school, but some of them was unsure if this had been important as a preparation. Some students mentioned that getting used to new routines at the lower secondary school while still at primary school would have been more useful. The preliminary findings indicate a need to strengthen the cooperation between teachers at the primary- and the lower secondary school to make sure that students are better prepared to meet the education culture that actually takes place at the lower secondary school.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays.Austin, TX, USA: University of Texas Press Berg, G. (1999). Skolekultur : nøkkelen til skolens utvikling. Oslo: Ad notam Gyldendal. Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design : choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage. Graham, C., & Hill, M. (2005). Negotiating the transition to secondary school. nfer, 53-57. Hanewald, R. (2013). Transition between Primary and Secondary School: Why It Is Important and How It Can Be Supported. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(1). Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2015). Det kvalitative forskningsintervju (3. utg. utg.). Oslo: Gyldendal akademisk. Kvalsund, R. (2000). The transition from primary to secondary level in smaller and larger rural schools in Norway: comparing differences in context and social meaning. International Journal of Educational Research, 33(4), 401-423. doi: 10.1016/S0883-0355(00)00025-2 Smyth, E. (2017). Growing Up in Ireland. (5). Dublin: The Stationary Offive Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. M. (1998). Basics of qualitative research : techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2. utg.). Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage. Tilleczek, K., & Ferguson, B. (2007). Transitions and Pathways from Elementary to Secondary School: A Review of Selected Literature (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teachers/studentsuccess/TransitionLiterature.pdf: Community Health Systems Resource Group Topping, K. (2011). Primary–secondary transition: Differences between teachers’ and children’s perceptions. Improving Schools, 14(3), 268-285. doi: 10.1177/1365480211419587 Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society : the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
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