Interviews with children attending remedial class 17th EECERA Annual Conference, Prague, August 29 - September 1, 2007 Exploring Vygotsky's ideas: Crossing borders. Anna-Lena Ljusberg Ph. D. student, Child and Youth Science. Department of Human Development, Learning and Special Education
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Interviews with children attending remedial class17th EECERA Annual Conference,Prague, August 29 - September 1, 2007Exploring Vygotsky's ideas: Crossing borders
Ph. D. student, Child and Youth Science.
Department of Human Development, Learning and Special Education
Stockholm Institute of Education, P.O. Box 34103, SE-100 26 Sweden
But, in Sweden, as in other countries, an increasing number of segregating solutions can be seen and the number of remedial classes is obviously increasing (Brodin & Lindstrand, 2004; Lindstrand, 1998).
In the school year of 1998/99 there were 112 remedial classes in Stockholm while seven years later, in the school year of 2005/06 there were 180.
Approximately 20 percent of the children entered remedial classes due to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Few evaluations of remedial classes in Sweden have been conducted, and to date no study has been done in which young pupils describe what it means for them to be in a remedial class.
This presentation is based on the interviews about what it means to attend remedial classes, i.e. to be segregated from the regular class and placed in a special school setting.
Focus still seems to be on ‘defective students’ and not on ‘inefficient organizations’(Haug, 1998; Hjörne, 2004).
The problem in the teaching situation seems thus to be expressed as an individual (read pupil) rather than a contextual problem.
The solution can be to move the pupil to another class (which is common in Stockholm) or that the pupil starts from the beginning in a remedial class.
It is reasonable to assume that some schools have more difficulties in handling psychosocial than physical problems, and to solve these difficulties the school often searches for organizational solutions rather than pedagogical ones (Hjörne, 2004).
The Swedish special education knowledge and traditions are based on segregation and on the concept of compensational special education as a way to reach social justice (Haug, 1998).
This was a perspective created as a criticism of the established research, together with changes in society, and the growing movement of children’s rights.
The established research was based on child psychology and dominated by experimental, science-oriented research methods.
In traditional psychological testing and diagnostics the shortcomings are focused upon.
Generally, the shortcomings are ascribed to the child, not the child in context.
It happens that pupils are stigmatized as disturbing without any investigation. The staff members at school say that the reason is that they have neither time nor possibilities for meeting pupils in such a way, that the cause can be analyzed; instead they often take the pupil out of the class.
This is a disadvantage for the pupil but perhaps a benefit for the school because the school does not have to draw attention to itself (Skidmore, 2004).
The perspective one takes when one labels children in this way, lifting them out of ordinary education, can thus be called an individual perspective.
Among the arguments for starting remedial classes have up to now been that it would mean greater security for the segregated children and that it would be better for their self-confidence if they do not have to be taught together with children who perform better (Ahlström, 1986; Brodin & Lindstrand, 2004).
There are also voices raised about children taking space from other children and hindering them from optimal achievement (Deschened, Cuban & Tyack, 2001).
From a sociological/critical perspective the opposite is claimed – that compensations can be both stigmatizing and unrealistic.
Other risks are that both teachers’ expectations of pupils and the pupils’ own levels of ambition are reduced (Stangvik, 1979).
Other disadvantages are limited possibilities to find a classmate for individual pupils and fewer opportunities for social interaction with children from ordinary classes.
It is necessary to point out that literature surveys on inclusion show that there are no or extremely few arguments support-ing exclusion (Haug, 1998; Skidmore, 2004).
The pupil who attends remedial classes has very often met failures both in and outside the classroom (Lindstrand, 1998; Ljusberg & Brodin, in press).
In the short term a diagnose can mean that one gets comfort and help, but in a compensational way.
When a child gets diagnosed it is not only an individual, isolated act. It is simultaneously, even if one does not want it to be, a social categorization of the child that will influence the child’s social surrounding and especially the child’s own opinion of her/himself and her/his possibilities (Hundeide, 2006).
Many pupils and parents experience relief after a diagnosis (Hjörne, 2004) but are afraid of the stigma it may bring in the future.
Often when a pupil is diagnosed the school will obtain extra money to support the child. Brodin and Lindstrand (2004) claim that due to this situation there is a risk of over-diagnosis.
There is reason to criticize this endeavor towards conformity that diagnosing of children may mean, and emphasize the fact that differences are not only negative but can also be a resource (Nilholm, 2003).
From this perspective we understand the world and being in the world through different discourses (Säljö, 2000).
With discourse is meant normative contexts, coherent systems of meaning, in which we create, enclose and exclude meaning. We acquire knowledge about the world, our selves and our position in the world through appropriating different discourses.
All components – the human being, the social practice and the tools – belong together and are equally necessary if one wants to understand people’s acts, since they determine each other(Wertsch, 1991, 1998; Säljö, 2005).
This has consequences in understanding children’s developmental conditions, and how they live/construct their lives.
Knowledge is never neutral but is a part of normative contexts, a discursive practice (Säljö, 2001).
Every child is raised within a culture mediated in an often unreflected act, a hidden upbringing (Hundeide, 2006).
What decides which norms rule depends on historical, cultural, and social factors.
We construct our knowledge in interaction with each other, and this normatively coloured knowledge becomes embodied knowledge/silent knowledge.
How one view the situation at school results in different consequences for the individual, and it also concerns power.
In the interaction with important others in daily routines (e.g. Corsaro, 1997) the child constructs its knowledge about the world and its existence therein, which includes its self-concept. Our self-concept is built in the same way as our other theories about the world (Ljusberg & Brodin, in press).
We are part of several contexts and vary our identities to a certain degree.
A pupil can for example gain one identity as an unsuccessful pupil and at the same time have another identity as a successful football player.
Starting school is to take part in and describe a new social practice and this/those discourse(s) that are enforced there.
Here as in all other contexts it is important to understand the social code, to use valid strategies, to crack the code – what we usually call the hidden curriculum.
This also includes interaction in the classroom in the right manner – to wait, listen, concentrate, solve problems, ask and answer questions in a right way on the right occasion, etc.
How we interpret and describe what we encounter depends on situated interactions imbedded in socioculturally-based discursive practice – and historically in the form of what we have appropriated from earlier contexts.
All of us are apprentices/teachers in an ongoing individual and social process where the tools, such as language, context and social interaction play the leading part (Vygotsky, 1934/2001).
Our self-concept is built in the same way and social process where the tools, such as language, context and social interaction play the leading part (Vygotsky, 1934/2001).
as our other theories about the world (Ljusberg & Brodin, in press).
Others such as parents, teachers and friends can contribute to giving the child a base in order to be able to build a positive theory about her-/himself – a theory describing what efforts are needed for success, as well as for failure (Hundeide, 2006).
Through interpreting and understanding pupils’ different ways to describe the situation one can comment on the discursive practices in which it is constructed. Through interpreting the pupils’ comments one can say something about the context from which they have appropriated their knowledge about the world and their own existence in it.
Reasons presented in earlier studies of why pupils attend remedial class differ. Research shows that focus is on the individual in such a way that the problems are situated within the individual, and not in the individual in context (Hjörne, 2004).
The triggering factor was often due to a difficult situation in the classroom of the ordinary class, both from a social point of view and from an educational perspective. The schools seek organizational solutions instead of pedagogical ones.
The reason for placing pupils in remedial classes is not only the fact that the pupils need extra support. They can also be placed in remedial classes because the teacher does not like them and/or because they are regarded as difficult to handle in an ordinary class or because of a demand for protection of the other children in the class (Deschenes et al., 2001).
Both children and adults in this study confirm those assumptions. The answers and earlier research confirm that gathering children in a class and calling it a remedial class has as a consequence the stigmatizing point of view that the individual is identified as one who cannot be in an ordinary class (Hundeide, 2006).
It is interesting that the children’s answers correspond so well to what is shown in earlier studies – that the difficulties are seen as originating within the individual and not in the child in context. All the children interviewed stated that the reason why they were in remedial class originated in themselves.
In four cases the placement in remedial class according to the children was an adult decision – three of the children refer to their mothers – but they also state that the reason for the placement depended on them. Some of the pupils said that they cannot listen as others do or have difficulties with speech, but most of them said that they had been disorderly, restless, and had concentration problems. At some point this had had consequences on their schoolwork.
A backlash is evident and it appears that the individual and her/his shortcomings are stressed instead of focusing on the situation/context, and this is supported by the interviews with the children. The compensatory perspective can also be seen in the children’s comments on the future. Many pupils hope and believe that they will enter ordinary classes sometime in the future; they see it as a goal.
However, some of the pupils do not even mention this as an opportunity, which might be a result of the signals they receive from parents and teachers. It is reasonable to believe that they understand that the difficulties may not be solved in school and therefore they want to be realistic.
The pupils mean that a good teacher should be kind, fair, good at listening, and helpful. They appreciate high teacher density and few pupils as it makes it easy to get help. However, some pupils feel that they are interrupted.
The classroom climate is difficult and the pupils stress that the environment is turbulent and disturbing. They also complained that the adults did not listen to them.
One of the most important findings in the study is that the pupils lose their friends and miss them; they feel lonely.