“A platform to leap off and jump off”: Contextualist pedagogy in a UK primary school

Alison Torn, Marie Potter, Caroline Tobbell

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    BackgroundEarly childhood education is reflected in two dominant models; a maturationalist model based upon a child-centred philosophy and an academic model based upon a pre-determined curriculum. This paper focuses on a third model emerging from a social pedagogy little used in the UK. This contextualist model is based upon a progressive ideology, where knowledge is co-constructed within a community of learning, and draws on Vygotsky’s concept of obuchenie, which refers to the dialectical relationship between teaching and learning. Reporting on a qualitative study conducted in a Reggio Emilia inspired primary school, the paper examines this contextualist style of learning by exploring how different stakeholders experience the teaching/learning relationship in a non-traditional educational setting. Two key research questions focused the direction of the research: 1) How do children, parents/carers and teachers describe the child’s learning experiences during early years education (the infant phase of school)?2) What meaning can be found in children’s, parents/carers’ and teachers’ stories of the child’s learning experiences during early years education?MethodSix unstructured interviews were conducted with children across three educational year groups (Reception, Years 1 & 2) and ten semi-structured interviews were conducted with the children’s parents and teachers. Interview data was audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. FindingsAnalysis of parents’ and teachers’ interviews revealed three shared themes; liberation versus constraint, a different education and having belief. The polarised theme of liberation versus constraint highlighted the difference between schooling and learning, with learning defined by freedom and liberty, and schooling defined by constraint and rigidity. A different education reflects how parents and teachers saw the Reggio Emilia philosophy as one that was embodied in different stakeholders, being fundamentally different from traditional education. Central to this difference was how children learned, which was reflected in the subthemes communities of learning, learning as meaningful and learning for life skills. Having belief underpinned parents’ choice of the school for their child. Belief was dependent on external judgements from others and the ethos or ‘feel’ of the school, which reflected the educational philosophy being ‘the right match’ for their child. For teachers, having belief not only centred on self-belief, but was reinforced by managerial belief within the school and external belief from institutions and parents. Analysis of children’s interviews revealed two main themes; communities and learning for life skills. Within communities, were two subthemes, collaboration and communities of learning. Whilst closely linked, it was the emphasis on communities as enabling learning that differentiated between the two subthemes. Focus was placed by the children on what were classed as learning for life skills, such as reflection, resilience, perseverance, courage and conflict resolution. DiscussionFindings lend support to the co-construction of learning through communities of learning and an emergent curriculum. This involves all participants engaging in learning collaborations, thus liberating teachers and children from role constraints.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 8 Jul 2015
    EventSeventh Annual Conference for Research in Education - Controversies in Education: problems, debates, solutions - Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, United Kingdom
    Duration: 8 Jul 20159 Jul 2015

    Academic conference

    Academic conferenceSeventh Annual Conference for Research in Education - Controversies in Education: problems, debates, solutions
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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