Category Archives: Educational Research

Kids, blogs and literacy

Carrington, V. (2005) ‘I’m Dylan and I’m not going to say my last name’: some thoughts on childhood, text and new technologies

This article is about children’s response to new technologies, specifically the media response to children and technology and the children’s own views.  What can children’s blogs tell us about the way we percieve childhood in a “post-traditional” world?

Carrington shows that childhood is a process of creating a self-narrative via reflexivity; that is, individualisation in recent years has led to people creating their own narratives independent of traditional roles.  She values Literacy skills but argues that the approach to literacy in schools must change because students now have access to information unmediated by adults either through schooling or books, and that their online literate interactions span all physical settings they find themselves in.

The research was undertaken using google to find articles on children and the internet, and also blogs by children.  Two articles were chosen based upon their place at the top of the google search, two blogs were also chosen on the same basis.  Carrington uses text analysis to look at all of the material and makes judgements which show the different attitude to technology held by newspapers and by children themselves.

Carrington is writing about an area which has had relatively little previous research but manages to reference many of her assumptions to sociological and educational research.  A few assumptions are unreferenced and she seems to rely upon British and American research.

The evidence produced was a qualitative analysis and evaluation of the different approaches to technology and children.  In particular, she found that newspapers are likely to be hysterical and vastly overplay the dangers associated with children’s online lives while the children themselves are less concerned and take basic privacy precautions such as withholding their names or pictures.

Carrington drew the conclusion that children’s online activities are part of their ongoing “self-narrative” that should be taken strongly into account when policy is decided.

My Thoughts

Of course I agree.  Personal experience indicates that when literacy is treated as the study of artefact text – that which is set-in-stone, the answers are correct or incorrect with no real grey area, writing is a process of only reacting to other people’s work, information is controlled or withheld – this often disengages children.  They begin to see the process of acquiring literacy skills as an endless dreary slog through moralistic, flowery text that is promoted, like vegetables, as good for you but very boring.  This is so wrong I don’t know where to begin!

Most institutions are now using software like Blackboard and Moodle to bring learning to their students.  In the future, literacy will and should be geared more towards the use of this and future technology to help students treat text as an opportunity to express their own opinions, gaining feedback in a much more efficient way than the days when you’d wait several weeks for feedback on written work – technology allows us as teachers to feed back on work as soon as we have marked it rather than waiting for the next lesson (and then probably forgetting to pile it all into the cart because we have that much else to cart around!)

So using technology has the potential to engage students, improve feedback, let us give them more and more effective homework, and let us carry much less paper around.

Win/win really.

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22nd Sept – I Promised

Gao, F. and Shum, M. (2010) Investigating the role of bilingual teaching assistants in Hong Kong: an
exploratory study

My thoughts… Well, first of all this study is a qualitative account of the roles of two bilingual teaching assistants in a school in Hong Kong. The justification of this study was interesting to read, particularly as I work as a teaching assistant in a couple of different kinds of ESOL framework courses. I am not bilingual, but I do have a solid understanding of English and speak Japanese to a high intermediate level (admittedly a bit rusty at the moment) so I’m familiar with the kinds of challenges language learners face in a total immersion environment. Thus I have a slightly different take on the needs of the language learner.

One of the environments I work in is a standard ESOL class made up of students from all over the world, if I had to put an average class makeup on this I would guess 60% Afghani, 20% Pakistani and 20% everyone else. Sometimes my role is to explain British cultural norms in a culturally, religiously, linguistically simple, sensitive way. I do not feel that I need to speak the learners’ own language to do this. By the time we hit subjects of sufficient complexity to need to explain cultural positions, the learners have a strong enough vocabulary to understand this in English. Idioms can be explained in a linguistically simplistic manner and taught as set phrases, without necessarily going into the grammatical structures or historical derivation of the phrase in question.

I’m also skeptical of the claim that bilingual teaching assistants are required to control learners’ use of their first languages in the classroom. Even if we can assume that the learners all speak the same first language, which is unlikely given the composition of the school investigated, one of the first words they will have learned in an immersion environment of the target language is the equivalent of “shhh”. Another of the ESOL environments I work in is a community class of Pre-Entry ESOL learners, all of whom’s first language is Punjabi. I do not speak a word of Punjabi, and yet I manage rather well to keep the chatter under control.

One aspect of that classroom I cannot manage, and neither can the teacher who also speaks no Punjabi, is complex messages that need to be passed on and understood fully by the learners on occasion. This situation is mitigated by two factors. The first is the mixed level of listening and speaking ability within the group, there are a couple who are very able in this respect and can act as interpreters. The second is the school’s … I forget her job title… she arranges classes for parents and keeps them up to date with their children’s progress. Anyway, she is a Punjabi speaker so, when available, can give necessary messages.

Another issue is that it is not mentioned whether the teaching assistant had the same first language as the students. The study mentioned the demographics of Hong Kong as a whole and of the school but did not talk about the demographics of the individual classrooms.

It strikes me that the study didn’t talk to learners at all, surely the most important perceptions to note are the students’ own perceptions? They are, after all, the ones the bilingual teaching assistants are supposed to be helping.

Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010) Learning in the home and at school: how working class children ‘succeed against the odds British Educational Research Journal; Jun2010, Vol. 36 Issue 3, p463-482

I read this study a few days ago while randomly looking through the journal for interesting studies. Just for the sake of practice, I’m going to use the questions in the study guide to look at this paper.

So, the article looks at the differences between children who succeed despite their odds of success being low in light of traditional measures, such as ethnicity, household income and social class. You may have noticed that the educational enquiry reader makes a big fuss about these factors as having been the basis of most research over the past couple of decades.

The point of this study was to find why some children seem to succeed in education despite apparently having the whole world against them, we know they do, of course, but it is unknown how a good HLE helps the child. The author is clearly in favour of educational equality. He values students as individuals and also their parents as potential informal tutors.

The study used an existing database (EPPE) to choose participants who had a low socio-economic status, a high or moderate HLE and high achievement. Some of those identified were selected for interview, as well as a control group of low SES/low HLE. This is a small scale qualitative study focussing on the qualities successful parents and children believe are important to academic achievement.

This study uses previous research heavily, indeed it is built upon the results of a large scale, quantitative longitudinal survey so can be taken as an attempt to clarify this survey’s results. Another positive is that the researchers used worldwide rather than local data in some instances.

The research produced evidence which elaborated on the quantitative results of the EPPE. It used the successful children and their families to explain why some children do well despite socio-economic factors and to evaluate perceptions of attitudes and interventions and their effectiveness both objectively and subjectively.

I think the study did effectively answer the “how” question and, at least in terms of perceptions, the “why”. The effect this will have on my own theories and practice is that I will pay more attention to the aspects of my work which aim to raise parental involvement in their children’s educations and will frame my advice in terms of effort rather than ability a little bit more emphatically.

The scope of the research was limited due to the low number of participants and their location in Britain only. It was, however, a well conducted study with useful application in that it shows the strengths of educational policy at the time of writing as well as informing practice.

Tomorrow, I will be mostly trying to work out who this Stenhouse fellow is.

Comments and criticisms always welcome.

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