04 SES 11 C, Decision-Making, Cooperation And Other Paradoxes Of Promoting Inclusion
The scope of this action research is to study a number of educational interventions aiming at enabling the participation of children with disabilities in the decision-making process regarding the selection, organization and implementation of activities at kindergarten. Its ultimate purpose is to formulate an inclusive framework where children’s voices are supported and listened to, which thus encourages their active involvement in the formulation of the educational process. This action research aligns with the increased research interest in children’s active listening and their participation in the decision-making process about issues that concern them (Einarsdottir et al., 2009· Sommer et al., 2013) which is directly connected to the framework of new sociology of childhood where children, are considered to be the most competent persons to speak about their experiences and perspectives (Mayall, 2002).
The main research questions of this action research are the following:
1. How is participation of children in the selection of an activity subject achieved?
1a What educational practices enhance children’s participation in the selection of an activity subject?
2 Does active participation in the selection of a subject affect the children’s participation in the planning of the activity?
2a What educational practices enhance children’s participation in the organization of an activity?
3. Does their participation in the decision-making during the selection of the subject and the organization of the activity affect their participation in the implementation of the activity?
3a What educational practices increase the participation of children in the implementation of the activity?
This research is connected to the principles of inclusive education where participation constitutes a central issue affecting the quality of education provided to all children (Nilholm, 2006) focusing on the formulation of a school community in which everybody participates and where children with disabilities deserve their place within the group of students (Asbjørnslett et al., 2015). The sense of participation, closely connected to the “voice” of children, refers to the expression of children’s perspective (Wyness, 2013) and is specified as the children’s right to make decisions affecting themselves and others and to act upon them (Lansdown, 2014). In education, it includes the active involvement of children in the learning process, by expressing their perspective on the way they experience education (Booth et al., 1997).
Educational planning of research draws its theoretical framework from constructivist pedagogy, according to which knowledge is not discovered but constructed by the person itself based on its experiences (Fosnot 1996). In particular, it focuses on the theory of socio-cultural learning of Vygotsky stressing the importance of social interaction as means of learning, since the learning process is activated when children interact with persons of their entourage and cooperate with peers creating the children’s zone of proximal development. Respectively, educational interventions have been planned based on the principles of learner-centered education according to which students are the main carriers of learning whereas teachers act as intermediators or directors of knowledge (Fosnot 1996· McCombs &Whisler 1997). Specifically, didactic approaches were applied focusing on active participation of children in all stages of learning process, such as student-directed learning, self-regulated learning, interest based learning, differentiated teaching and cooperative learning.
The study methodology adopts the features of qualitative approach of action research, being a systematic and cooperative collection of data, based on which teachers’ practices are subject to reflection in view of improving the conditions in which educational practice is implemented (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2014). Additionally, students were given the possibility to participate as co-researchers in the educational process through the limitation of the risks arising from authority relations generated in class as the researcher was also the teacher of the class (Berthelsen & Brownlee, 2005). The data collection followed the triangulation method, which allows the researcher to investigate her topic from three different perspectives (Kalmbach Phillips & Carr, 2014). Beside the perspective of the teacher researcher, evidence was ensured from the perspective of critical friend and children in combination with the use of three different means of data collection: observation, interview and works of participants, in view of drawing all data that would contribute to deep investigation of the research topic through multiple perspectives (Creswell, 2013). Research tools of observation have been teachers’ diaries in combination with systematic use of observation protocols and recording of interventions to include the voice of children. In addition, the researcher teacher has made good use of the semi-structured interview with the teacher critical friend during the final assessment of the research. Various creations by children were produced in every intervention cycle, which have served as a significant source of evidence in the study of the research topic. Analysis of findings took place through thematic analysis of content, since it is considered to be a flexible method of written evidence analysis (Cavanagh, 1997). The research subjects were (4) children with disabilities, members of a school group of nineteen (19) children, belonging to a nursery school class, the teacher of which was the researcher teacher. The research procedure lasted four months. The development of the action research was based on a four-phased cyclical spiral procedure: planning, action, observation and reflection, based on the model of Κemmis & McTaggart (2005) the main characteristic of which being the overlapping of spiral phases. Three intervention cycles were implemented: in the first intervention cycle children chose the subject of the activity, in the second children planned and organized the activities choosing the type of action, the material, the place and the time of implementation, whereas in the third intervention cycle they implemented their activities.
From the analysis of findings it is ascertained that personal interests of children have been an internal motive for their active participation in the selection and organization of activities, whereas joint formulation of the educational procedure resulted in their active involvement during the didactic practice, since joint management and organization of knowledge together with the teacher enhances the participation of students in the learning procedure (Tomlinson, 2000). Additionally, it is concluded that joint active investigation through cooperation and development of interpersonal relations resulted in a mutual feeling of satisfaction provided by the achievement, which in turn is catalytic to their overall participation in the educational procedure. According to Vygotsky (1986), the construction of knowledge is a participatory process where children learn through interaction with both the natural and the social environment whereas through social interactions children seek acknowledgement and acceptance by their peers, so as to have their identity strengthened within the school framework (Malaguzzi, 1993). At the same time, it is acknowledged that the role of the teacher is primordial in the formulation of an inclusive framework of active listening and support of the children’s voice, adopting the consideration of children as “social actors” (Mayall, 2000), where children had the possibility to express their perspective by enhancing their participation in the educational framework, since children developed a feeling of “being listened to” and of their world being comprehended by adults (Pramling Samuelson & Sheridan in Emilson & Folkesson, 2006). Finally, the use of suitable didactic methods and strategies focusing on the active participation of students in the framework of a child-centered dimension of learning in view of creating a differentiated learning environment that responds to children’s needs has enhanced their role as co-formulators of the educational process.
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