The early years in Irish multigrade classes: trajectories of practice and identity

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O'Driscoll, Sharon
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University College Cork
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This study investigates how the experiences of Junior Infants are shaped in multigrade classes. Multigrade classes are composed of two or more grades within the same classroom with one teacher having responsibility for the instruction of all grades in this classroom within a time-tabled period (Little, 2001, Mason and Doepner, 1998). The overall aim of the research is to problematize the issues of early childhood pedagogy in multigrade classes in the context of children negotiating identities, positioning and power relations. A Case Study approach was employed to explore the perspectives of the teachers, children and their parents in eight multigrade schools. Concurrent with this, a nation-wide Questionnaire Survey was also conducted which gave a broader context to the case study findings. Findings from the research study suggest that institutional context is vitally important and finding the space to implement pedagogic practices is a highly complex matter for teachers. While a majority of teachers reported the benefits for younger children being in mixed-age settings alongside older children, only a minority of case study school teachers demonstrated how it is possible to promote classroom climates which were provided multiple opportunities for younger children to engage fully in classrooms. The findings reveal constraints on pedagogical practice which included: time pressures within the job, an increase in diversity in pupil population, meeting special needs, large class sizes, high pupil/teacher ratios, and planning/organisation of tasks which intensified the complexities of addressing the needs of children who differ significantly in age, cognitive, social and emotional levels. An emergent and recurrent theme of this study is the representation of Junior Infants as apprentices in their ‘communities of practice’ who contributed in peripheral ways to the practices of their groups (Lave and Wenger, 1991, Wenger, 1998). Through a continuous process of negotiation of meaning, these pupils learned the knowledge and skills within their communities of practice that empowered some to participate more fully than others. The children in their ‘figured worlds’ (Holland, Lachiotte, Skinner and Caine 1998) occupy identities which are influenced by established arrangements of resources and practices within that community as well as by their own agentive actions. Finally, the findings of the study also demonstrate how the dimension of power is central to the exercise of social relations and pedagogical practices in multigrade classes.
Multigrade classes , Early childhood practices , Community of practice , Pupil identity , Power and positioning
O'Driscoll, S. 2015. The early years in Irish multigrade classes: trajectories of practice and identity. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.