25 SES 02, Children's Participation in School Governance and School Improvement
This contribution presents the results of a research project entitled “Innovation Networks for Educational and Social Inclusion. Co-laboratory of Inclusive Participation (Dir. Teresa Susinos.EDU2015-68617-C4-4-R) financed by the Spanish Ministry for Economy and Competitiveness. Its purpose is to accompany schools interested in developing processes of deliberative participation that are trying to produce changes and innovation aimed at increasing social inclusion, democratic participation and equality among their members. Thus, the actions carried out are committed to reducing social and educational exclusion. In particular, we focus on the experience carried out in the CEIP Menéndez Pelayo state school, located in an industrial area of Cantabria (Spain). Two early childhood education classes (3 and 4 year olds) and one Year 5 class in primary education participated in the experience. The work developed in this school aimed to improve the outdoor play areas where the children develop an important part of their school life.
This research is inspired by those proposals that pursue the demand for the realization of children’s rights in the educational context (UNCRC, 1989). Firstly, it demands the right of students to make their own judgments and participate in decision-making processes on aspects of their life, their education and their local community (Article 12). With regard to the objective of improving outdoor areas, our research recognizes and aims to respect the right of students to develop their own play (Article 31) and to participate in the planning and design of the spaces where this takes place, given that this determines and defines the boundaries of the activities that can be carried out. Finally, we adopt this Convention’s principle of non-discrimination to address the inclusion of all children without exception.
In addition, this research has been carried out within the critical perspective of the student voice which aims to increase the opportunities for students to take decisions on aspects that affect them (Rudduck & Flutter, 2007; Thomson, 2007). This implies guaranteeing their right to participate and influence in real and common situations, thus giving them higher levels of the agency through deliberative democratic processes in which they can take decisions for the common good. Our objective in this research is to understand how students use, experience and interpret outdoor spaces, taking into account their physical aspects and the relationships and activities that are produced in them as well as understanding what the proposals for improvement are (Children’s geographies) (Robson, et.al, 2013).
Finally, this research is based on the principles of educational inclusion, understood as the development of policies and practices that allow all students, without exception, to assert their presence, participate and benefit from their educational experiences. This implies transforming school culture as a whole (Slee, 2011), its relationships, practices, the curriculum, power relations and roles. It also means recognizing that a homogeneous student voice does not exist, rather it is provisional and multiple (Arnot & Reay, 2007) and that it responds to diverse interests, needs, knowledge, languages, capacities and family contexts(Thomson & Hall, 2015). For this to be achieved, students need to use various methods of communication, beyond oral and written language traditionally used in schools. They must also find different support strategies with the ultimate aim of enabling everyone to make contributions during deliberative dialogue (Lodge, 2005; Fielding, 2011).
The following research questions have been proposed:
- Do the consultation and deliberation strategies facilitate listening to the voice of all students?
- Does the designed cycle of participation enable the promotion of educational improvements and take into account the students’ demands?
- What are the uses, experiences and meanings that students give to outdoor spaces? What are the improvement proposals that emerge from students?
This research has been carried out within the framework of qualitative-collaborative research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Nind, 2011) in which students assume the role of co-researchers and acquire a leading role in the production and interpretation of the data(Fielding & Bragg, 2003; Susinos & Ceballos, 2015; Bucknall, 2011; Groundwater-Smith, Dockett & Bottrell, 2015). It is characterized by the use of innovative research methodologies that increase the presence, visibility and agency of students: tours and mapping (Clark, 2010); child conferencing (Clark & Moss, 2011); visual narratives (Mannay, 2017) and shadowing (McDonald, 2005). In addition, we used participant observations (Flick, 2004) and semi-structured interview (Kvale, 2011), as techniques to enable us to document and analyze the collaborative research process. The research has been structured following a “cycle of inclusive participation” organized over four phases: — Opening and share meanings. A work team is created consisting of two researchers and teachers from the school. Participation processes, the student voice movement and educational documentation are investigated during 5 sessions. — Inclusive consultation process: This aims to gather the students’ ideas and proposals on the objective of improvement through the following questions: “Where and what do we like to play in the school outdoor spaces? What do you like the most about your outdoor spaces?” To answer these questions various research techniques are developed: in early childhood education: tours documented with audio descriptions and photographs together with the technique of shadowing those students with communication difficulties. In primary education, the students take photographs of the outdoor spaces and the activities they do and, later on, construct visual narratives using these. — Process of democratic deliberation. Once all the proposals have been collected, a process of interpretation, dialogue and decision-making is initiated concluding with the elaboration of proposals for improvement. In order to do this child conferences and assemblies are developed which seek to act as spaces for dialogue, debate and deliberation where all students participate without exception. — Evaluation and dissemination. The evaluation of the experience is designed and developed collaboratively. In early childhood education, this is carried out through open questions in an assembly. In primary education, a video-booth was set up (a camera placed in an area where adults are not present). On the other hand, dissemination was produced through the research project webpage (https://inclusionlab.unican.es/ceip-menendezpelayo/), on the noticeboard located in the entrance of the school and in a meeting attended by all teachers.
a) Description of the phases focusing on the role of students as researchers and that of the teachers as facilitators. The teachers identified that their participation enabled them to understand the importance of different support: pedagogic couples, the use of audio recordings for subsequent processes of reflection, school organization at the service of educational practices or the redefinition of educational support systems (SEN teachers support the dialogue processes). Furthermore, school time defined by the urgency and accumulation of activities prevails as barriers. b) The participatory strategies implemented demonstrate their value as a way of listening to the voice of all students and form part of a deliberative democratic process. The value of the images for eliciting dialogue and the use of audio recordings of the conversations with students is recognized as an opportunity for reinterpreting them without the pressure of the immediacy characteristic of classroom activities. c) Development by the teachers of a reflective process on their role: the recognition of practices that limit student participation (questions whose answers are implicit or do not respect student response time); reflection on common strategies for promoting dialogue discovering that it does not allow access to all voices; reflection on the concept of the curriculum. d) Current activities in the outdoor spaces highlighted by students: the presence of symbolic games, until now hidden from teachers; the use of the few natural areas to dig, bury, etc. or the use of materials for their activities which are not intended for play (drains, plants, etc.). e) Improvements proposed by the students: increasing green spaces and/or multi-purpose recycled material whose use can be shared by all students at the school (wheels, trunks, tables, etc.), expanding school library opening times and the possibility of sharing the school outdoor spaces with younger children.
Arnot, M. & Reay, D. (2007). A Sociology of Pedagogic Voice: Power, inequality and pupil consultation. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(3). 311-325. Bucknall, S. (2012). Children as researchers in primary schools: Choice, voice, and participation. London: Routledge. Clark, A. (2010). Transforming children's spaces: Children's and adults' participation in designing learning environments. London: Routledge. Clark, A. & Moss, P. (2011). Listening to young children: The mosaic approach. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Fielding, M. & Bragg, S. (2003). Students as researchers. Making a difference. Cambridge: Pearson Pub. Fielding, M. (2011): La voz del alumnado y la inclusión educativa: una aproximación democrática radical para el aprendizaje intergeneracional. Revista Interuniversitaria de Formación del Profesorado, 70 (25,1). 31-61. Flick, U. (2004). Introducción a la investigación cualitativa. Madrid: Morata. Groundwater-Smith, S., Dockett, S., & Bottrell, D. (2015). Participatory research with children and young people. London: Sage. Kvale, S. (2011). Las entrevistas en investigación cualitativa. Madrid: Morata. Lodge, C. (2005). From hearing voices to engaging in dialogue: problematising student participation in school improvement. Journal of Educational Change, 6. 125-146. Mannay, D. (2017). Métodos visuales, narrativos y creativos en investigación cualitativa. Madrid: Narcea McDonald, S. (2005). Studying actions in context: a qualitative shadowing method for organizational research. Qualitative research, 5(4), 455-473. Nind, M. (2014). What is Inclusive Research?. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Robson, E., HORTON, J. Y KRAFTL P. (2013). «Children’s Geographies: Reflecting on Our First Ten Years». Children’s Geographies, 11(1), 1–6. Rudduck, J. y Flutter, J. (2007). Cómo mejorar tu centro escolar dando la voz al alumnado. Madrid: Morata. Slee, R. (2011). The irregular school: Exclusion, schooling and inclusive education. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis. Susinos, T. & Ceballos, N. (2012). Voz del alumnado y presencia participativa en la vida escolar. Apuntes para una cartografía de la voz del alumnado en la mejora educativa. Revista de educación, 359, 24-44. Thomson, P. (2007). Making it real: engaging students in active citizenship projects. En Thiessen, D & Cook-Shater, A. (2007). International handbook of student experience in elementary and secondary school. (pp 775-804).Netherlands:Springer. UNICEF (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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