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Students’ Reasoning about Learning and Well-being in School: On the epistemic privilege of Swedish early adolescent students
Luleå University of Technology, Department of Arts, Communication and Education, Education, Language, and Teaching.
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The recent emphasis on performance in standardized testing of Swedish students is visible in reports from both national and international agencies. According to the reports, there has been a steep decline in the internationally measured performance of Swedish students in school since the 1990s. In fact, the performance of Swedish students in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has declined more dramatically than any other OECD country in the last decade. This has influenced a national debate about factors promoting knowledge acquisition. Alongside the drop in performance, young Swedish people’s mental problems have increased since the 1990s. The impact of one’s well-being on performance has been widely acknowledged in previous research, and two explicit targets in both current andprevious Swedish national curriculum for the compulsory school are learning and well-being. Meanwhile, the importance of encouraging early adolescents’ (10–14 years) participation in improving their own standards is acknowledged in several recent reports from influential non-governmental organizations such as the WHO and UNICEF. However, advancing students’ development requires a keen understanding of their current situation, something impeded by the fact that data on early adolescents is relatively scarce. Furthermore, a large amount of previous research has been focused on risk factors related to illness in children, rather than factors promoting well-being. The aim of this thesis is to explore early adolescent students’ reasoning about learning and well-being in school. A qualitative design with open-ended writing tasksand interview questions was constructed in order to facilitate the incorporation of students’ reasoning about learning and well-being into the research, in accordance with the study’s salutogenic point of departure and the specific standpoint epistemology that I propose and use in the thesis.The empirical data includes (1) written reflections by 200 students in grades 5–9 from 11 classes in four different schools (rural and urban), which were part of the Swedish compulsory school system and which were located in two municipalities in the northern part of Sweden, and (2) interviews with 24 students, from 12 to 15 years old, from two municipally run schools, which were also part of the compulsory school program in northern Sweden. Four sub-studies were conducted and presented in four journal articles. The data in sub-studies I, II, and IV consisted of the written reflections described above, while the data in sub-study III consisted of the interviews described above. The first sub-study concerned early adolescent students’ previous positive experiences and indicated that the students found aspects both within and beyond the classroom relevant for having a good time in school. In more detail, the students’ positive experiences concerned (i) interaction with teachers, (ii) freedom of choice regarding work and workmates, (iii) the atmosphere for discussions, (iv) school subjects and success, (v) learning processes in outings, (vi) friends, and (vii) primary (basic) needs. The results show a perceived complex relation between learning and well-being in school, which may well be studied further in future research. The second sub-study investigated students’ preferred states of affairs. The students emphasized a variety of views of what kind of structures, content, actions and attitudesmay have a positive impact on the learning environment in school. The variousreflections provided by the students were understood as falling under four themes: (i) influencing educational settings; (ii) striving for reciprocity; (iii) managing time struggles; and (iv) satisfying well-being needs. Besides providing perceived opportunities for change in school concurring with previous research, the results also point towards great variety and certain inconsistencies in the students’ perceptions about factors promoting learning.In the third sub-study, the interview data was analyzed using a distinction between decision methods and criteria of rightness, which has rarely been used in empirical research. Six forms of variety in the students’ moral reasoning were found, denoted as follows: (i) interpersonal variety in decision method dimension, (ii) intrapersonal variety in decision method dimension, (iii) interpersonal variety in criterion of rightness dimension, (iv) intrapersonal variety in criterion of rightness dimension, (v) interpersonal variety between the two dimensions, and (vi) intrapersonal variety between the two dimensions. The use of the distinction between decision methods and criteria of rightness enabled a nuanced understanding of varieties in students’moral reasoning, and may be useful in large-scale studies, for example, to explore the rate of occurrence of each respective form of variety. Future research could also examine the potential context dependence of the different forms of varieties. In the fourth sub-study, five perceived bidirectional crossovers of subjective wellbeing (i.e., perceived two-way transmissions between happiness and other aspects within the school domain) were noted in the students’ written reflections. These were: (i) happiness and learning, (ii) happiness and school engagement, (iii) happiness and appreciation of subjects or lesson content, (iv) happiness and others’ happiness, and (v) happiness and prosocial behavior. Besides providing novel hypotheses aboutbidirectional crossovers of subjective well-being, this sub-study supplied a systematic framework for interpreting qualitative outputs and provided conceptual as well as analytical direction for future research about happiness in education. I provide a definition of the formal expression “bidirectional crossovers” of subjective well-being, which may provide analytic categories for future research, while the more informal expression “circles of happiness” could be used in education, allowing teachers and students to conceptualize everyday events in the classroom. In the final parts of this thesis, students’ reasoning about the conditions for and effects of learning and well-being in school in all the four sub-studies are compared with previous empirical research through the use of established and novel definitions and theory. The comparison shows considerable correspondence between the students’ reasoning and previous research, providing evidence to the effect thatSwedish early adolescent students’ reasoning is trustworthy regarding the conditions for and effects of learning and well-being in school. There are also novel researchgenerating hypotheses formulated directly based on the students’ reasoning. The trustworthiness and novelty of the students’ reasoning about the conditions and effects of learning and well-being in school provides evidence for an epistemic privilege for the students participating in this study. This constitutes a starting point for futureresearch in which the claims about epistemic privilege in the standpoint epistemology proposed here can be further tested for Swedish early adolescent students in general.KEYWORDS: education, epistemic privilege, happiness, learning, moral reasoning, standpoint epistemology, well-being

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Luleå tekniska universitet, 2016.
Doctoral thesis / Luleå University of Technology 1 jan 1997 → …, ISSN 1402-1544
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-26072Local ID: c7d51e7f-2b31-4828-b822-7f1959ef83c3ISBN: 978-91-7583-551-8ISBN: 978-91-7583-552-5 (PDF)OAI: diva2:999231
Godkänd; 2016; 20160226 (ylva); Nedanstående person kommer att disputera för avläggande av filosofie doktorsexamen, Namn: Ylva Backman Ämne: Pedagogik / Education Avhandling: Students´ Reasoning about Learning and Well-Being in School On the Epistemic Privilege of Swedish Early Adolescent Students Opponent: Professor Karin Sporre Institutionen Tillämpad utbildningsvetenskap Umeå universitet Ordförande: Professor Eva Alerby Institutionen för konst, kommunikation och lärande Luleå tekniska universitet Tid: Fredag den 22 april 2016, kl. 10.00 Plats: D770, Luleå tekniska universitetAvailable from: 2016-09-30 Created: 2016-09-30Bibliographically approved

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