05 SES 03 A, Grade Repetition, Connectedness and Minority Language Students
Connectedness is a pivotal quality for democratic experiences at school (John-Akinola, Gavin, O'Higgins & Gabhainn, 2014; Zyngier, 2003). When young people are systematically excluded from experiences of connectedness with teachers, curriculum, school, or even with broader society, it is unlikely that they engage or actively participate in these settings, subsequently resulting in the reinforcement of social inequalities (Noddings, 2003; Zyngier, 2003). The latest International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS, 2016) shows that (1) schools in Flanders commit poorly to a culture of participation and engagement and subsequently (2) students score low on participation scales, especially on connectedness to school, an effect that appears to be even more significant for socially vulnerable students (Agency for Higher Education, Adult Education, Qualifications and Study Grants - AHOVOKS, 2017; Sampermans, Maurissen, Louw, Hooghe, & Claes, 2017). This is particularly alarming in metropolitan contexts, challenged by increasing globalization, migration, urbanization and cultural diversity, where the proportion of students in socially vulnerable situations can be considerable high. To provide school contexts that better foster connectedness, and thus respond to a societal imperative, it seems that in-depth understanding of students’ perspectives on connectedness is important (Weiner, 2007, p. 66). This multiple case study contributes to this need by examining Brussels students’ perceptions of connectedness: how and under what circumstances connectedness to schools, as a key feature of critical democratic experiences (John-Akinola et al., 2014), can be established and strengthened. The research questions are twofold: (1) what contributes, according to students, to connectedness to their urban school, and does it confirm the theoretical assumption of the influence of relationships and academic context on connectedness? and (2) according to students, how do feelings of connectedness contribute to democratic experiences at school? Using a photovoice method (Wang & Burris, 1997), relational and contextual aspects of connectedness, as experienced by 61 students from four schools (cases) in the Brussels metropolitan region, are mapped out, resulting in a qualitative dataset that includes five photographs and captions of each student (N= 230), audio-taped group discussions in each case (N=4), a set of influencing categories per case (N=4) and individual students’ ranking of determined categories (N=61). The data analysis consisted of two phases. At first, a within-case analysis of all qualitative data was conducted, resulting in schematic outlines of all four cases (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). Next, a cross-case analysis was carried out (Miles et al., 2014), in which the schemes were compared on similarities and differences to detect patterns (Eisenhardt, & Graebner, 2007). The results show that students' connectedness to urban schools is situated on five different dimensions and can be strengthened through the interrelated drivers: (1) quality relationships inducing a sense of respect, (2) friendships inducing a sense of togetherness, (3) achievement of goals inducing a sense of (future) success, (4) identification with school inducing a sense of pride and (5) self-regulation inducing a sense of readiness for learning. All dimensions in this study reflect feelings that students experience when positively connecting to their urban school, as a result of which connectedness is unstable over time and thus requires continuous attentiveness from all actors. Drivers provide a tangible indication of how connectedness can be improved in urban practice, while leaving room for a wide range of context specific solutions. Further, the findings show how feelings of connectedness to school are crucial but not sufficient to create democratic experiences at school. The expected quasi-automatic result of democratic experiences from feelings of connectedness, as presented in some theoretical or empirical studies (John-Akinola et al., 2014; Zyngier, 2003) should therefore be questioned.
In this study is opted for a multiple-case study design with explanatory focus (Yin, 2018), as it enables to capture participants’ experiences (Stake, 2006) and allows researchers to deepen understanding of educational phenomena and processes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). The research sample consisted of 61 secondary school students from four different schools in and around Brussels. All students were aged between 16 and 19 and were attending fifth, sixth or seventh grade in general or vocational education. Each school is considered as a case. The cases were selected through theoretical sampling, chosen for their potential to elucidate the construct of students’ connectedness to urban schools (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). The data collection for this study was conducted by means of a photovoice method (Wang & Burris, 1994;), simultaneously in each case in the last quarter of 2019. In this participatory method, students are asked to visualize with photographs when they feel connected to their school, in order to critically reflect on it and to enter into dialogue with stakeholders (Wang & Burris, 1997). Photovoice is considered an appropriate method for discussing themes that are of personal interest to students in diversity classrooms (Chio & Fandt, 2007; Greene, Burke & McKenna, 2018). Another distinctive quality of the photovoice method is that it throughout the trajectory yields a variety of data from both the individual participants (photographs, captions and ranking) and the group (group discussions, categories). The dataset, obtained by registering photovoice activities, includes five photographs and captions of each student (N= 230), audio-taped group discussions about the photographs in each case (N=4), a set of collectively (per case) determined categories that influence students’ connectedness (N=4) and students’ individual ranking of determined categories (N=61). The data analysis consisted of two phases. At first, a within-case analysis of all qualitative data was conducted (Miles et al., 2014). The data were submitted to software supported (MAXQDA) thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Castleberry & Nolen, 2018). The coding scheme was initially structured by the main sources for connectedness to school (Noddings, 2017), i.e., relationships and academic context, and was further developed by adding inductive codes. Using the technique of explanation building (Yin, 2014), the within case analysis of qualitative and quantitative data resulted in a schematic outline per case, following a fixed structure. In the second phase, a horizontal or cross-case analysis is carried out to detect patterns (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007).
In this multiple case study, students’ perspectives were examined to gain insight into how connectedness to their urban schools can be achieved, as a lever for critical democratic learning. The results show that connectedness to school from students’ perspectives is a mental state, determined by five different but simultaneously occurring dimensions: sense of respect, sense of togetherness, sense of (future) success, sense of readiness for learning and sense of pride. All dimensions in this study reflect feelings that students experience when positively connecting to their urban school. As a result, connectedness is unstable over time and thus requires continuous attentiveness from all actors, a finding that is consistent with previous research (Habib & Ward, 2019). Students might even disconnect when one or more dimensions are not addressed over time and when it lacks perspectives for improvement, a threat that Noddings (2003) previously warned about. For each dimension, students indicated a driver that positively affects the related feeling: quality relationships (inducing respect), friendships (inducing togetherness), achievement of goals (inducting success), identification with school (inducting pride) and self-regulation (inducting readiness). Drivers provide a tangible indication of how connectedness can be improved in urban practice, while leaving room for a wide range of context specific solutions. The data reveal that individual and relational drivers (1) can compensate to some extent for the lack of contextual drivers and (2) can balance conflicting demands of students. It also appears that the quality of the academic context is partly determined by relational and individual drivers. Further, the study indicates that feelings of connectedness are crucial but not sufficient to create democratic experiences, including collective participation and transformation. The expected quasi-automatic result of democratic experiences from feelings of connectedness, as presented in some theoretical or empirical studies (John-Akinola et al., 2014; Zyngier, 2003) should therefore be questioned.
Agentschap voor Hoger Onderwijs, Volwassenenonderwijs, Kwalificaties en Studietoelagen (2017). Peiling burgerzin en burgerschapseducatie in de derde graad secundair onderwijs. http://eindtermen.vlaanderen.be/peilingen/secundair-onderwijs/peilingen/files/burgerzin/Brochure_Burgerzin.pdf Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. https://doi.org/10.1191/ 1478088706qp063oa Castleberry, A., & Nolen, A. (2018). Thematic analysis of qualitative research data: Is it as easy as it sounds? Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 10(6), 807–815. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2018.03.019 Chio, V. C. M., & Fandt, P. M. (2007). Photovoice in the Diversity Classroom: Engagement, Voice, and the “Eye/I” of the Camera. Journal of Management Education, 31(4), 484–504. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562906288124 Eisenhardt, K. M., & Graebner, M. E. (2007). Theory Building From Cases: Opportunities And Challenges. Academy of Management Journal, 50(1), 25–32. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2007.24160888 Greene, S., Burke, K. J., & McKenna, M. K. (2018). A Review of Research Connecting Digital Storytelling, Photovoice, and Civic Engagement. Review of Educational Research, 88(6), 844–878. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654318794134 Habib, S., & Ward, M. R. M. (Eds.). (2019). Identities, Youth and Belonging: International Perspectives. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96113-2 John-Akinola, Y., Gavin, A., Elizabeth O’Higgins, S., & Nic Gabhainn, S. (2014). Taking part in school life: Views of children. Health Education, 114(1), 20–42. https://doi.org/10.1108/HE-02-2013-0007 Miles, M.B., Huberman, A.M., & Saldaña. J. (2014). Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook and The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers (3. ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2015.975966 Noddings, N. (2003). Happiness and Education. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Noddings, N. (2017). The Search for Meaning and Connection. Educational Studies, 53(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2016.1269492 Sampermans, D., Maurissen, L., Louw, G., Hooghe, M., & Claes, E. (2017). ICCS 2016 Rapport Vlaanderen. Een onderzoek naar burgerschapseducatie in Vlaanderen. Eindrapport november 2017. https://onderwijs.vlaanderen.be/nl/international-civic-and-citizenship-education-study-iccs#Resultaten_ICCS_2016 Stake, R. E. (2006). Multiple case study analysis. New York, New York: The Guilford Press. Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education & Behavior, 24(3), 369-387. https://doi.org/10.1177/109019819702400309 Weiner, E.J. (2007). Critical Pedagogy and the Crisis of Imagination. In P. McLaren, & J.L. Kincheloe (2008). Critical Pedagogy. Where are we now? (pp. 57-77). New York, NY: Peter Lang International Academic Publishers. Yin, R. K. (2018). Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. Zyngier, D. (2003). Connectedness – Isn’t it time that education came out from behind the classroom door and Rediscovered Social Justice. Social Alternatives, 22(3), 41-49.
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