ERG SES G 02, Secondary School Education
My contribution presents my ongoing doctoral thesis, I am currently in my second year, and is related to the R & D project titled Demoskole: Democracy, participation and inclusive education at schools. In fact, my thesis is focused on the importance of engaging with students’ voices in order to reflect on teaching practices in one secondary school. More specifically, it attempts to answer the following research question: How schools can engage with students’ voices to promote their participation and improve teaching and learning processes?
In this direction, the thesis aims to address the following objectives:
- To identify students’ participation in teaching and learning processes.
- To collect and analyse all students’ voices in order to know their opinions and points of view about the concepts of participation and learning.
- To implement new ways of work to promote higher levels of students’ participation and to improve teaching practices.
Regarding the research question and the objectives outlined above, it is important to emphasize that democratic schools are those that provide greater opportunities for all students to participate, so it is essential to include all students’ voices in the processes of decision-making. However, there are still some invisible or marginalized voices in classrooms (Messiou, 2012), so it is necessary to think about if all students have the same rights and opportunities to get involved and become protagonist of their own learning.
Nowadays we are living times of reform in front of a complex and changing society, which means that it is crucial build together new spaces of citizenship in order to advance into the process of transformation towards a greater educational attainment, and this it must be a central goal of education in school (Edelstein, 2011; Cook-Sather, 2002). Specifically, since the decade of 1990s there has been a large concern to promote educational innovation projects with the purpose of implementing participatory processes. According to Hart (1992, p.4), “A nation is democratic to the extent that its citizens are involved, particularly at the community level. The confidence and competence to be involved must be gradually acquired through practice”, so participation on equal conditions is a right for social justice and a right in democratic societies.
Nonetheless, Messiou points out that “schools engage in an active process of ‘silencing’ students through their policies and practices so as to smooth over social and economic contradictions” (2013, p.87).Thus, schools must gradually provide increasing opportunities for children to participate in teaching and learning processes.
In fact, students’ voice movement has been recognized and promoted by many theorists (Fielding, 2004; Robinson and Taylor, 2007; Rudduck and Flutter, 2004; Lodge, 2005) who have tried to create a frame of reference from which can be analysed and evaluated different initiatives that encourages students’ participation. In these new educational contexts, teachers must promote higher levels of participation for all students and guarantee that everybody have the same opportunities to become protagonist of their own learning (Fielding, 2012).
In regard to these ideas, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) provides an important change in the childhood’s conception to investigate and explore children’s rights in different educational contexts. In addition, this Convention change the status of children’s to recognize that they must be able to be listened to and must be able to participate in equal conditions than adults (Chawla, 2001; Hill et al., 2004; Sinclair, 2004).
In sum, if we want that participation in schools has been consolidated as one of the pillars of inclusive and democratic school, it is crucial to include all students’ voices in the processes of decision-making.
I will address the investigation through a Collaborative Qualitative Research (Christianakis, 2010; Cornwall and Jewkes, 1995). Specifically, the research focuses on one case study, one secondary school, and as Stake points out “case study is the study of the particularity and complexity of a single case, coming to understand its activity within important circumstances" (1995, p.6). Thus, I base my study on this methodological approach, which is a significant qualitative strategy (Meyer, 2001; Morse, 2009), to reflect on teaching and learning processes based on students’ voices, ensuring that all voices are equally heard and recognized. On the other hand, I raise a collaborative research, because the purpose is that students get involved in a dialogue with teachers, both as active agents, in order to reflect on teaching practices at school (Boavida et al., 2011). As Katz and Martin (1997, p.7) argues, “A research collaboration could be defined as the working together of researchers to achieve the common goal of producing new scientific knowledge”. Furthermore, for my research it has been really important to know the concerns, needs and opinions of students and teachers around students’ participation to improve their capacity for reflection and shared learning, based on trust, dialogue and negotiation. The research involves four class groups and four teachers from different subjects. The first stage developed an analysis about limitations and possibilities about students’ participation in each subject. On the other hand, the second step involved teachers and students to identify which aspects can be changed on teaching and learning processes to improve students’ participation and to enable students to play and active role in their own learning. This approach makes me analyse which data-collection tools may be the most suitable to collected all the voices, so I have used different tools such as: a) observations about each group and subject; b) interviews with teachers and students; and c) and three activities based on participatory strategies to collect all their voices (Messiou, 2012). In short, what I want to emphasize is the importance of giving all students a voice, in order to place them as powerful stakeholders to reflect on their own participation and on teaching and learning processes (Cook-Sather, 2006), bearing in mind all the considerations outlined above.
Even though the thesis is unfinished, and at this time I am in the process to analyse all data collected, the first findings indicate that participation is an individual option, because although there are many activities at school that offer the same opportunities to participate, not everyone are involved in the same way. What’s more, there are some students that are more active and outgoing and they participate more than others, and sometimes there are difficulties inherent to the person which influence their capacity or will to participate. However, when students work in small groups, some of them might interact and participate more than if they work with the group-class or a bigger group. Hence, schools must provide space and time to participate and recognize all students’ voices equally (Fielding, 2004). At the same time, other questions that arise are that students demand more motivating and challenging activities, based on practice, and the possibility to suggest new exercises, so they claim to have an active role in their own learning (Messiou, 2012). On the other hand, teachers argue that everyday life in the classroom does not leave time to reflect on the concepts of participation and learning, and students do not usually think about it. In conclusion, and related to this, my research has generated new reflective processes with all teachers in school, not only with those involved in my thesis, around students’ participation. In fact, they are aware that in order to achieve higher levels of participation and to improve teaching practices they need to reflect on some methodological and curricular aspects, so it is crucial to recognize all students’ voices. Therefore, this center has started to reflect on their own pedagogical practice based on students’ voices to achieve a real and genuine participatory processes (Simovska, 2007).
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