Transformation through Integration An Activity Theoretical Analysis of School Development as Integration of Child Care Institutions and the Elementary School

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Transformation through Integration An Activity Theoretical Analysis of School Development as Integration of Child Care Institutions and the Elementary School

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This study analyzes an attempt at integration of a pre-school class, a leisuretime center and an elementary school in Sweden. The integration was organized in the form of Vertical Track which implies a successive development of groups comprising children between six and twelve years old, pre-school teachers, recreation pedagogues, and schoolteachers. The integration was prompted by state governed reforms such as the 1992 law allowing six-year olds to start compulsory school.

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  1. Blekinge Institute of Technology Doctoral Dissertation Series No 2, 2003 ISSN 1650-2159 ISBN 91-7295-023-4 Transformation through Integration An Activity Theoretical Analysis of School Development as Integration of Child Care Institutions and the Elementary School Monica Nilsson Department of Business Administration and Social Sciences Blekinge Institute of Technology Sweden
  2. BLEKINGE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY S- 371 79 Karlskrona, Sweden http://www.bth.se © 2003 Monica Nilsson Department of Business Administration and Social Sciences Publisher: Blekinge Institute of Technology Printed by Kaserntryckeriet, Karlskrona, Sweden 2003 Photo: Annika Hultén ISBN 91-7295-023-4
  3. To Scott
  4. Abstract This study analyzes an attempt at integration of a pre-school class, a leisure- time center and an elementary school in Sweden. The integration was organized in the form of Vertical Track which implies a successive development of groups comprising children between six and twelve years old, pre-school teachers, recreation pedagogues, and schoolteachers. The integration was prompted by state governed reforms such as the 1992 law allowing six-year olds to start compulsory school. The study is based on cultural-historical activity theory and was carried out as participant observation and action research. The study addresses the question of the potentials and alternative goals for change and development of the present school pedagogy and classroom practice that integration implies. Special attention has been paid to what tools might potentially mediate in processes of integration. A research and educational program, the 5thD, was jointly created between researchers and teachers and located in a Vertical Track. The capacity of this complex tool as a mediator in the multicultural Vertical Track structure was explored. It is argued that the Vertical Track as an instantiation of the integration reform represents an arena for potential expansive transformation. However, in order for integration to have an impact on the pedagogical practice in schools, teacher interactions need to be mediated by communicative and conceptual tools. It is suggested that the 5thD program is an example of such tools. Keywords: Integration, pre-school teacher, recreation pedagogue, schoolteacher, contradiction, expansive learning, mediation, and tool.
  5. Acknowledgement Phhhw – I am done J To tell you the truth – there were several times through this journey when I was prepared to give up. Two important guys came along and didn’t allow that to happen. One was Yrjö Engeström who became my advisor, and the other was Scott Baden who became my husband. Yrjö – I am for ever grateful to you for your support and I will always be impressed by the combination of your sharp intellect and warm personality. Scott - thank you for always being there and helping me through the moments of despair and resignation. Your love and never ending support helped me see this through. In 1996 I came as a visitor to the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC) at the University of California, San Diego. Since then I have returned on a regular basis. I want to thank Michael Cole and others for providing an intellectual home for me where I was permitted to learn and grow. Thanks to Peggy Bengel and Karen Fiegener for always welcoming me and helping out with whatever I needed at the time. I am grateful for economic and other support that I received through the years from Blekinge Institute of Technology. I want to particularly mention Åke Uhlin and Anders Nilsson for encouragement and support in an early stage of my doctoral studies, and Berthel Sutter for reading and commenting on the final versions. I also want to thank my colleagues and friends in the 5thD community and at North Valley School. A number of colleagues and friends scattered around the world have been there for me during this process. Thank you Mia Hemming, Edith Sánchez Svensson, Helena Karasti, and Anton Havneas, for moral, intellectual, and technical support. Thank you Ruth Baden, Carole Baden, Ola Winfridsson, and Jane Mattisson for translations of and corrections to my English. Bengt Grensjö – thanks for sharing your expertise by reading and commenting on Chapter 2. Thank you Annika Hultén for letting me use your intriguing photo. Special thanks go to my dear friend Honorine Nocon for being just that - an outstanding friend and colleague. And to my family, whose love I thrived on – thanks to all of you.
  6. Content 1 Introduction............................................................................................ 1 2 Research Frame ...................................................................................... 9 2.1 The Swedish School..................................................................................9 2.2 Swedish Child Care Institutions...........................................................19 2.3 Integration and its Potential for a Qualitatively New Practice ........34 2.4 The Setting: North Valley School .........................................................46 2.5 The Fifth Dimension Model ..................................................................50 2.6 Purpose of the Study..............................................................................56 3 Theoretical and Methodological Frame for the Study ................... 59 3.1 Cultural-Historical Activity Theory.....................................................59 3.1.1 Expansive Learning ...........................................................................65 3.1.2 Boundary-Crossing ............................................................................71 3.2 Acculturation ..........................................................................................72 3.3 Method.....................................................................................................75 3.3.1 Data ......................................................................................................89 3.3.2 Data Analysis......................................................................................92 3.3.3 Validity and Generalizing.................................................................96 4 The Development and Decline of the VT Organization ............... 101 4.1 The Planning and Initial Phase ...........................................................102 4.2 The New Activity .................................................................................109 4.3 Conflicts .................................................................................................116 4.4 The Evaluation and the Next Step......................................................120 4.5 The Final Phase .....................................................................................133 4.6 Summary ...............................................................................................142 5 VT Analysis: The Potential for Change and Development.......... 145 5.1 Contradictions.......................................................................................147 5.1.1 Contradictions in the Division of Labor........................................150 5.1.2 Instrument-Contradiction ...............................................................160 5.1.3 Rule-Contradiction...........................................................................165 5.2 New Object and Interconnectedness between Contradictions.......170 5.3 Expansive Actions and Tendencies toward Learning Activity......172 5.3.1 Cycle I ................................................................................................177 5.3.2 Cycle II...............................................................................................181 5.3.3 Cycle III..............................................................................................184 5.4 Communication ....................................................................................185
  7. 5.5 Transformation through Boundar-Crossing and Cultural Hybridization.....................................................................................................191 5.6 Summary and Conclusion...................................................................194 6 The 5thD goes (back) to School........................................................ 199 6.1 Fall Semester 1998 - Initiation and Preparation of In-School Site ..200 6.2 Spring Semester 1999 – First Semester with the VT-5thD Site .......205 6.3 Fall Semester 1999 – Institutionalization? .........................................213 6.4 Spring Semester 2000 – Sustainability? .............................................220 6.5 Summary ...............................................................................................224 7 Analysis: The 5thD – a Tool in School Development? ................. 227 7.1 The 5thD as a Tool in the School ........................................................230 7.2 The 5thD as a Bridging Artifact..........................................................233 7.3 The 5thD as Tool, Boundary Object, or Microcosm .........................236 7.4 Summary and Conclusions .................................................................244 8 New Forms of Learning..................................................................... 249 8.1 On Learning ..........................................................................................250 8.2 Inter-Dimensional Learning Contexts ...............................................258 8.2.1 The Inter-Cultural Learning Context.............................................260 8.2.2 The Inter-Generational Learning Context.....................................269 8.2.3 The Inter-Institutional Learning Context......................................273 8.3 Summary and Discussion....................................................................276 9 Summary, Conclusions and Implications...................................... 279 Epilogue....................................................................................................... 287 References.................................................................................................... 293 Appendix I: Evaluation of VT August – December 1998....................... 313 Appendix II ................................................................................................. 321
  8. Figures and tables Figures Figure 2-1 Progression in the VT Organization. ..................................................48 Figure 2-2 School Premises before the VT Organization ....................................49 Figure 2-3 School Premises during the VT Organization ...................................49 Figure 2-4 Second Floor...........................................................................................50 Figure 3-1 Activity System......................................................................................61 Figure 3-2 Idealized Network of Activity Systems .............................................66 Figure 3-3 The Cycle of Expansive Transition .....................................................70 Figure 3-4 The Methodological Cycle of Expansive Dev. Research..................87 Figure 4-1 Rules in the School ..............................................................................115 Figure 5-1 Contradiction in the Division of Labor ............................................160 Figure 5-2 Instrument-Contradiction ..................................................................164 Figure 5-3 Rule-Contradiction..............................................................................170 Figure 5-4 Expansive Action I. .............................................................................174 Figure 5-5 Expansive Action II .............................................................................175 Figure 5-6 Expansive Cycle I ................................................................................181 Figure 5-7 Expansive Cycle II...............................................................................183 Figure 5-8 Expansive Cycle III..............................................................................185 Tables Table 2-1 Swedish Child Care Institutions ...........................................................19 Table 2-2 Members of the two VTs. .......................................................................47 Table 4-1 Schedule for the VT ..............................................................................109 Table 7-1 Four Approaches to the 5thD. .............................................................247 Table 8-1 Matrix of Learning Contexts................................................................277 Table 9-1 Main Concepts and Findings from the Study. ..................................283
  9. 1 Introduction Does integration of school and child care institutions possess a potential for transformation of the pedagogy1 in school and how might the vision and goal of integration be defined? What tools would assist the teachers from the different institutions in their collaborative efforts to create a new joint activity beneficial to both younger and older students? These questions are the focus in this study. Cuban (2001) describes the history of reforming American schools. He takes as his starting point the kindergarten movement from the late nineteenth century. The kindergarten played a progressive role in school development and was an alternative to the harsh conditions that prevailed in urban schools. However, within a half-century, the kindergarten had become a fixture in public elementary schools and as such it no longer was an agent for change. As Cuban claims, it had become the problem rather than the solution. In Sweden there is a long history of attempts to enhance collaboration and integration of the compulsory school and child care institutions2 (see I. Johansson, 2000d). There have been multiple reasons, for example, to facilitate the transition from pre-school to school, but lately the more pronounced aim has been transformation of the school pedagogy and classroom practice. A proposal from the Swedish Ministry of Education states: The government has emphasized many times during 1996 that the school, the pre-school, and care of school children have to be integrated in order to improve the early significant years in the compulsory school and provide direction to lifelong learning. (Ds U 1997:10, p. 3, italics added, my translation) A step in the trend to integration, is a law that was enacted in 1992, the so called “flexible school start.” This law permitted the parents to now decide when they want their children to start school - at the age of six or seven. In the 1 I agree with Daniels’ definition of pedagogy as “forms of social practice which shape and form the cognitive, affective and moral development of individuals” (2001, p. 1). 2 Kindergarten in Sweden is a child care institution called ”pre-school class.” The Swedish child care system is described in Chapter 2. 1
  10. preliminary legislation of this law (SOU 1991:54) it was stated that the municipalities should be stimulated to develop forms for collaboration between the school, the pre-school class and, what is called, leisure-time centers. “Integrated whole school day” (samlad skoldag) is in this context, a concept meaning that the school, the pre-school class, and the leisure-time center grow together. The committee suggested that school activities be organized in mixed age groups in order to adapt to the children’s different developmental levels. It was also suggested that the activity be theme directed. According to the preliminary legislation, the major means of making the integration work, would be to create common goal documents for the involved institutions. A second means would be the encouragement of co- working between pre-school and elementary schoolteachers. The idea was that the teachers would learn from each other when working together. Municipalities creating common boards for the school and the pre-school would enhance the integration. The law on flexible school-starts resulted in diverse ways of organizing collaboration and care-giving for the six-year-olds. The most common structure, despite the intention, is that the six-year-olds are placed in a regular first grade class. In some municipalities there are age- and grade-independent groups comprised of children from six to nine years old. Often these groups are composed of teachers from the different institutions i.e., schoolteachers, pre-school teachers and recreation pedagogues. These new groups are sometimes called “Children-school” or “Vertical Tracks.”3 The term Vertical Track4 symbolizes a structure comprised of groups of children of different ages. Each year a new group of six-year-old children is added to an existing group, which would imply mixed age-groups from six year olds up to age nine or even older (see Figure 2.1 in Chapter 2). Additional steps toward the goal of integration were taken in 1996 and 1998: the authority of the child care institutions was transferred from the National Swedish Board of Health and Welfare to the Ministry of Education and the National Agency for Education, and a common curriculum for the 3Sometimes also called “Skövde-modellen.” 4 The word “track” should not be confused with how it is used in the American school system. “Track” in the American system means division of children into groups based on capacity and achievements. 2
  11. compulsory school, the pre-school class, and the leisure-time center was established. In the minutes preceding the new curriculum it is stated: Integration […] implies that different traditions of teaching and learning can meet. It is not about trying to create compromises in order to keep the different traditions and languages strictly separated […] but to develop a new outlook and a new practice. (SOU 1997:21, p. 75, italics added, my translation) In sum it can be said that the aimof the flexible school-start and the new curriculum was a cross-fertilization of the “school pedagogy” and the “child care pedagogy.”5 Conceptualizations of knowledge, learning, and the “child” as well as working methods are different in these diverse institutions. Dahlberg and Lenz Taguchi (1994) account for different constructions and conceptualizations of the child that guide the work in the school and the child care institutions, respectively. The pre-school tradition is based on a construction of the child as “nature,” which can be traced back to, for example, educators and philosophers such as Fröbel and Rousseau. The child as “culture- and knowledge-reproducer” is the guiding concept in the school. Dahlberg and Lenz Taguchi (1994) have a vision of the child as a “culture- and knowledge-creator.” This vision represents the desired outcome of cross- fertilization for which the flexible school law and the new curriculum had laid the foundation. Despite these good intentions, research and investigations have shown that collaboration and integration between child care institutions and schools is a difficult enterprise and that it often fails to succeed (see for example Calander, 1999; Flising, 1995; Fredriksson, 1993; Hansen, 1999; Haug, 1992). Moreover, rather than producing a changed practice, typically the school pedagogy dominates and influences the new integrated practices (Haug, 1992; Fredriksson, 1993; Calander, 1999; Hansen, 1999; Arnquist, 2000). When integration works satisfactorily it is due to a common view and interest from the start among involved teachers (Bergman et al., 1987; Fredriksson, 1993). Different positions and attitudes can be discerned in the discussion about future development. These positions and attitudes range from separation between child care and school rather than integration (Calander, 1999) to 5 There were of course other reasons for these reforms but those are not the subject of interest in this study. 3
  12. strategies of facilitating integration attempts (Skolverket, 2001). One recurrent theme is also that in order for integration to work out and be successful, involved teachers and pedagogues first have to be aware of their, what is alternatively defined as, traditions, codes, cultures, views, discourses, etc, regarding learning, knowledge, and children in order for a new activity to evolve (see, for example, Haug, 1992; Fredriksson, 1993; Dahlberg & Lentz Taguchi, 1994; Munkhammar, 2001). In other words, before the teachers, with their diverse traditions and cultures, will be able to collaborate and work in an integrated manner they have to be aware of their guiding concepts. The question of how and where teachers would become aware of their guiding concepts regarding learning, knowledge, and children is hardly considered in the research reffered to above. This question is of major interest in this study. As pointed out, diverse strategies to enhance and make collaboration and integration successful can be found in the discussion (see, for example, Skolverket, 2001; SOU 1997:21; I. Johansson, 2000c). As is discussed in more detail in the next chapter, I find these strategies lack a discussion about what, in concrete terms, a new integrated activity and pedagogy really is meant to and would imply.6 This could be an explanation of why integration attempts tend to fail. Moreover, I find that the debate lacks a discussion on what tools, conceptual and material, would facilitate the teachers’ encounters and creation of a new pedagogy and activity. Based on an activity theoretical approach, as this study is, I take as my point of departure that traditions, cultures, codes, views, discourses, values, attitudes, etc. are constructed and reconstructed in collective, tool-mediated, and object-oriented activities.7 This implies an approach to change as an integral part of practice, and that a changed view is a result of a transformed activity rather than a precondition. Moreover, it implies that no task can be conducted without suitable tools, material or conceptual. This starting point demands a methodological approach that puts primacy on practice, which in this context means everyday life in a school setting. 6It should be said though that in the report from The National Agency of Education (Skolverket, 2001) it is stated that research based studies of the content in the pedagogical activity need to be increased. 7 The theoretical basis for the study is discussed at length in Chapter 3. 4
  13. As an undergraduate student I conducted a study in an elementary school (Nilsson, 1998) that, in this study, I will call “North Valley.” The purpose of that study was to understand school development as an aspect of implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In the spring of 1998 the principal of North Valley decided to reorganize the pre- school class, the leisure-time center and the school into a Vertical Track (VT hereafter) organization. I asked permission and, after some discussions, was permitted to study the creation of the new organization. Returning home after a year-long visit to the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC) of Michael Cole and his colleagues at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) I also proposed the idea of starting something called a Fifth Dimension (5thD hereafter) in the new VT organization. The idea was accepted and a 5thD was created in collaboration between me and the school. The 5thD is a collaborative teaching and learning model and activity based on theories developed in the Russian/Soviet cultural-historical school and in the American school of pragmatism. This theoretical basis implies that concepts such as the zone of proximal development, peer-guidance, and tool-mediation are central (Vygotsky, 1978). Based on the idea of tool mediation, computers and telecommunication constitutes one important building block in the 5thD. This is because of their communicative features. Another feature of the 5thD is a consciousness of both play and learning as preconditions for development. The “5th” in the 5thD, followed by the three physical and the one temporal dimensions, signifies meaningful learning. My idea was in implementing a 5thD milieu in the VT in North Valley that it might facilitate the integration attempt. I thought that the 5thD would comprise something like a “third space” (Gutierrez et al., 1995), a “boundary zone”8 (Konkola, 2002), and as such become a tool for the teachers which would facilitate and help them make sense of each other’s culture and tradition. I was interested in exploring whether the 5thD would mediate the VT teachers’ actions and interactions. I had two reasons to believe this could be the case. First, North Valley was a school with a history as a pilot school for ICT projects. I had learned, though, 8 These concepts will be discussed and applied in Chapters 3, 5, and 7. 5
  14. that the ICT had not produced the outcome in terms of changed classroom activity and pedagogy that was expected and wished. Thus, there seemed to be a need in the school to connect the computer use with a pedagogical framework. Second, I thought that the pronounced theory in the 5thD - that learning and play should not be opposed but intertwined and that learning takes place in play - would bridge and assist in the teachers’ encounters. Play is considered to be the important activity in Swedish pre-schools; learning is, as we know, the important goal in schools. I thought that the 5thD might serve as a model for how play and learning can be integrated. My understanding therefore was that the 5thD would fit into the local culture, yet represent an alternative both to the original school and child care pedagogy. It would be of interest to study whether this complex tool would have any impact on the integration attempt and attempts to develop a new pedagogy. For two years I stayed in the school, working with and studying the creation, and eventually the apparent decline of the integration attempt. My focus was on the potential for change that the VT project possessed. I was an observer who also took actions. My actions were mainly directed toward the 5thD even though I also intervened in the VT process. Today, in the spring of 2003, the 5thD is still operating in the school. I will in this thesis account for the role the 5thD played in the VT and in what way it contributed to change in the school. Thus, the purpose of this thesis is to explore the potentials and alternative goals for change and development of the present school pedagogy and classroom practice that integration of the school and child care institutions implies. Special attention will be paid to what tools might potentially mediate in processes of integration. My intention is that this study will contribute to the Swedish discussion about how to turn the integration reform into a tool for school transformation. In that regard, I hope that our Swedish experiences will contribute to the international community concerned with developing good learning environments and practices for children. In addition, I think that the study should be of interest to those who are concerned with integration of, and encounters between, different cultural systems -- particularly those that aim at change and development. This regards institutions and organizations of different kinds, or other societal bodies. In chapter 2, I present a frame for the study. The chapter starts with a historical description of the development of the Swedish school and child care 6
  15. system, respectively. Thereafter I present a more thorough discussion about the research conducted on integrating child care and school. Then the field site, i.e., North Valley as well as the 5thD, is introduced and described. Finally, I discuss the aim of the study. The study is based on cultural-historical activity theory (see for example Cole & Engeström, 1993; Engeström, 1987; Leontiev, 1978a&b; Vygotsky, 1978, 2001). Activity, or activity systems (Engeström, 1987) is the unit of analysis and main focus. Activity systems are dynamic and under constant flux. Their developmental trajectories can be understood as expansive learning cycles in which systemic contradictions are the driving force. The implication is that change and development take place as a result of contradictions intrinsic to the system yet produced in relationship to neighboring activity systems. Activity system is used to conceptualize the VT organization in North Valley and its internal contradictions. In Chapter 3 cultural-historical activity theory and related concepts and models are accounted for and discussed. My basic methodological approach has been influenced by ethnography with elements of action research. This methodological combination is discussed. The outcome is a theoretical and methodological framework for the study. I have two connected stories to tell: one is about the VT organization and the other is about the 5thD, both of which are in North Valley. These two systems are interdependent, although I have chosen to describe them separately. The VT narrative describes its start-up, accomplishments and apparent decline. The narrative about the 5thD describes how it began, developed, and was embraced by the school. I have kept the narratives and the overt analysis of them separate. Consequently Chapter 4 is the narrative about the VT, which I analyze in Chapter 5; Chapter 6 is the narrative about the 5thD, which I analyze in Chapter 7. In Chapter 8 I develop a discussion about what a new object in the compulsory school might mean in concrete terms. The discussion is based on cultural-historical and socio-cultural approaches to learning and are discussed in terms of the context of discovery, the context of practical application, and the context of criticism (Engeström, 1991b). I call these contexts intra-dimensional learning contexts. Based on findings from this study as well as other studies in this field I add to the intra dimensional 7
  16. learning contexts three inter-dimensional learning contexts, which I call the intercultural learning context, the intergenerational learning context, and the interinstitutional learning context. Together these six learning contexts constitute a foundation for further discussions and explorations of what a new practice and pedagogy based on the integration reform might mean. I conclude in Chapter 9 by discussing practical, theoretical, and methodological implications resulting from the study. The main conclusion from the study is that VTs and other forms of organizing integration processes should be considered an arena where change and development take place. However, change, in this context, does not come automatically but has to be mediated by what in this study is called conceptual and communicative tools. Finally, an Epilogue is offered as a way to convey that what is told in this thesis is based on just one phase in an on-going developmental process. It demonstarates that schools, though highly institutionalized, are dynamic activity systems. Moreover, it shows that the actions taken in North Valley have had a long-term impact. 8
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