14 SES 03 A, Aspects of Place-based Education III
Parallel Paper Session
By listening and studying the stories of children in a small Finnish rural school, this paper examines how place is narrated in school education. Teachers and students are both related to place and teaching happens in time and in place. The concept of place is understood here as a concrete and experienced environment intertwining with our identity (Relph, 1976, 2008). A school is not just a building, a mere physical space, but is intertwined with our experiences of growing. Place can be seen as a condition of existence itself. Understanding the structure and the possibility of experience is inseparable from the concept of place (Malpas, 1999). A small Finnish school is typically a village primary school (grades 0–6, ages 7–12) locating in rural area and usually there are two or three teachers teaching different grades in the same class that is called multi-grade or multi-age teaching. A specific feature of small village school pedagogy has been so-called place-based education; the place and its particular characteristics have been incorporated into the curriculum of the school (cf. Cameron, 2008, p. 297). The main research question of this paper is, How is place narrated into school education? It will be explored especially from the point of students asking, How do students narrate themselves into place? The research approaches the meso-level of school pedagogy (see Fend, 2006) and aims to understand teaching as locally situated and experienced by students. The main empirical data consists of the writings of students (n=24), group interviews of students (n=4), and one week teaching observation that have been done in a small village primary school in 2010 in northern Finland, called here “the Riverside School”. The Riverside School was one of the 722 small Finnish elementary schools with 47 students in 2010—a small school is defined here as a school with less than fifty students (Reference: Statistics of Finland. Statistics of Education). The students’ experiences of places are studied from the point of view of place-based education (see, e.g., Gruenewald & Smith, 2008). The concept 'sense of place' (Relph 2008) is used to get understanding of experiences that students have of places. Matti Koskenniemi’s (1982) ideas of social education will be revitalised to consider how place is taught within its cultural and social contexts during teaching.
The study discusses also school closures. Small schools are under the threat of closing in Finland and also in many other European countries. Between years 1991–2010 the amount of small Finnish primary schools has decreased 65 %. (Reference: Statistics of Finland. Statistics of Education) Besides economic reasoning, bigger schools have been justified by social and didactic aspects. Children may have more social contacts and friendships in a bigger school and they may develop their social skills in bigger groups. Teaching and learning possibilities may be more diversified than in a small village school. (See Kalaoja & Pietarinen 2009)
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