Children’s engagement in different classroom activities

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Selcuk Universitesi]On: 20 December 2014, At: 08:25Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    European Journal of Special NeedsEducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rejs20

    Childrens engagement in differentclassroom activitiesMargareta Sandstrm Kjellin a & Mats Granlund aa Mlardalen University , SwedenPublished online: 17 Feb 2007.

    To cite this article: Margareta Sandstrm Kjellin & Mats Granlund (2006) Childrens engagement indifferent classroom activities, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 21:3, 285-300, DOI:10.1080/08856250600810724

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  • European Journal of Special Needs EducationVol. 21, No. 3, August 2006, pp. 285300

    ISSN 08856257 (print)/ISSN 1469591X (online)/06/03028516 2006 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/08856250600810724

    Childrens engagement in different classroom activitiesMargareta Sandstrm Kjellin* and Mats GranlundMlardalen University, SwedenTaylor and Francis LtdREJS_A_181014.sgm10.1080/08856250600810724European Journal of Special Needs Education0885-6257 (print)/1469-591X (online)Original Article2006Taylor & Francis213000000August 2006MargaretaSandstrm Kjellinmargareta.sandstrom.kjellin@mdh.se

    A multiple case study is reported aiming at identifying the degree of taking part and of being en-gaged in classroom activities for children with and without reading and writing difficulties/dyslexia.The aim was also to investigate the accordance between effective literacy teaching and childrensexpressed interest and observed taking part and engagement in different kinds of activities. Thestudy is exploratory and the generalizability of the results limited. Three observations each weremade of five children with reading and writing difficulties/dyslexia and five comparison children; theobservations concerned accessibility, taking part in and engagement with two types of classroom ac-tivities, namely basic skills training and practice of higher-level language skills as a means of thinkingat a higher level. The results are presented in relation to quality criteria for teachers effective literacyteaching. Results found that the instruction was concerned more with the practice of basic skills inreading and writing than practice of the language as a means of thinking at a higher level for allchildren, and the children with reading and writing difficulties were less engaged in reading andwriting skills training than the comparison children, but took part equally well in activities focusedon practice of the language at a higher level. Most of the teachers had lower expectations regardingthose children with reading and writing difficulties than children without reading and writingdifficulties. The results are discussed in relation to the goals in the subject Swedish.

    Keywords: Effective literacy teaching; Engagement in instruction/taking part in instruction; Reading and writing difficulties/dyslexia

    Introduction

    The aim of this exploratory study was to examine engagement in classroom activitiesfor children with and without reading and writing difficulties/dyslexia, and also torelate teachers descriptions and performance of instruction to criteria of effectiveliteracy teaching. Many children in Swedish classrooms, in particular, those withreading and writing difficulties, have difficulty too in reaching the schools curriculum

    *Corresponding author. Department of Education, Mlardalen University, PO Box 883, SE-72123 Vsters, Sweden. Email: margareta.sandstrom.kjellin@mdh.se

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  • 286 M. Sandstrm Kjellin and M. Granlund

    goals. In Sweden there are two types of goals defined in the National Curriculum(Lpo 94): goals to attain (base targets), and goals to aim for (high-level targets)(Skolverket, 1996). In Swedish language the goals to attain focus on the masteringof basic skills in reading and writing, whereas the goals to aim for concern masteringthe use of the language at a higher level, e.g. reflecting upon a text.

    In the Swedish National Curriculum the foundation for the goals to aim for is aset of democratic values outlined in the curriculum. These goals are intended to bethe base for all work in Swedish schools and denote the main goal for the school,namely to educate democratic citizens. However, the syllabus goals have not beenprecisely defined for different subjects, resulting in teachers often working onlytowards the goals to attain, as these are relatively concrete and measurable (Zackari& Modigh, 2000). All children are supposed to reach the goals to attain, and thisconstitutes a problem. A child with reading and writing difficulties may have a betterchance of reaching the schools goals to aim for than the goals to attain, since thegoals to aim for do not require personal reading ability.

    In Swedish language the goals to attain for Year 5 emphasize basic skills, such asbeing able to read with fluency, both aloud and to themselves to be able to applythe most common rules of the written language and the most common rules ofspelling (Skolverket, 2001, p. 85). Other abilities are also stated in the goals toattain, such as being able to understand events and meaning in books and non-fiction written for children and young persons (Skolverket, 2001, p. 85), but thefocus of these goals is on basic skills.

    The goals to aim for are not specified for school years; the emphasis is on masteringthe use of the language on a higher level, both for reading and writing as well as reason-ing. These goals are outlined as:

    to develop their imagination and desire to create using language, both individually and inco-operation with others develop their ability in a dialogue with others to express feel-ings and thoughts, arising from texts with a variety of purposes acquire an insight intotheir learning, and reflect over their own development, and learn both on their own andtogether with others to use their experiences, thinking and language skills to form andmaintain their knowledge. (Skolverket, 2001, p. 82)

    In this study taking part and engagement in teaching aiming for the two goals is exam-ined for children with reading and writing difficulties and comparison children in thesame classrooms. A teaching method focusing on teaching for the goals to attainfrequently means that the teacher primarily supports the children in the training offundamental reading and writing skills and, in the worst scenario, the child works onhis/her own trying to master reading and writing. A teaching method primarilyfocused on teaching for the goals to aim for, on the other hand, probably allows thechild to take part in a dialogue with both fellow classmates and teacher. This may leadto the child acquiring a wider knowledge base, in spite of reading and writing difficul-ties. However, this may not necessarily stimulate fundamental reading and writingskills.

    The Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket, 1998) has discoveredthat teachers lack general knowledge of the reading and writing process when it comes

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  • Classroom activities and engagement 287

    to the teaching of school subjects. Therefore it is important to study both teachersand childrens awareness of this process, and also if there is a relation between thisawareness in the teachers and in the children.

    Theoretical background

    Academic achievement and classroom climate

    Sandstrm Kjellin (forthcoming) has shown that children with reading and writingdifficulties are not always supported by the environment in their reading and writingdevelopment when it comes to dialogical interplay during the lessons in Swedish. Herstudy showed that some children who were very poor readers were not sufficientlysupported by the environment (either at home or at school), and inversely, that somechildren who were very skilled readers were strongly supported by the environment(both at home and at school). In other words, a strong evidence of the Matthew effect(Stanovich, 1986) was apparent. It appeared as if the teachers were not aware of thequalitative difference in language stimulation between instruction aimed at masteringfundamental skills in reading and writing and instruction aimed at developing thechildrens use of the language at a higher level.

    In most cases, the methods or pedagogical programmes that have been applied asa measure of preventing reading and writing difficulties have not been thoroughly andcritically evaluated using scientifically acceptable methods (Hien & Lundberg,1999). Furthermore, they are mainly evaluated in relation to reading and writingskills rather than use of the language at a higher level. Myrberg (1997), in a review ofthe reading and writing literature in this research field, reports that teacher skill,method of work and classroom climate have a strong impact on the childs achieve-ment. In Sandstrm Kjellin (2002), Swedish teachers work methods in the firstgrades were analysed in relation to the schools goals to attain and the goals to aimfor. Teaching in Swedish took place in different areas: one focused on teachingword decoding and one focused on teaching the fundamental meaning of a text; theseare examples of teaching towards the goals to attain. A third area, however, focusedon teaching where the childs experience of the world was taken into account in rela-tion to a text; this is an example of teaching towards the goals to aim for. It was indi-cated that teacher skill and working method influenced the result in terms ofachieving the goals to aim for. Classroom climate has been explored especially byDysthe (1996, 2003), who found that a classroom where all voices can be heardtheteachers as well as the childrensis most beneficial to the childs linguistic develop-ment. Several important US classroom-based studies showed that in order to achievesuccessful reading and writing development for all children the childchild andteacherchild interaction is crucial (e.g. Guthrie & Alao, 1997). Guthrie and Wigfield(2000) studied engagement and motivation in reading and concluded that engage-ment is strongly related to reading achievement. In a series of studies of engagementin school activities regarding children needing special support in Sweden, Granlundand associates (Eriksson & Granlund, 2004; Almquist & Granlund, 2005) reported

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  • 288 M. Sandstrm Kjellin and M. Granlund

    that childrens engagement in school is predicted by the childrens self-ratedautonomy and control perceptions. In a longitudinal study of students engagementand school achievement, Skinner et al. (1998) reported that students control percep-tions and engagement is related to how teachers attribute student achievement.Teachers who attribute achievement to effort had students who succeeded to a largerextent than teachers who attributed achievement to student ability.

    Teacher skill and working method can be related both to the schools goals toattain and the goals to aim for (Sandstrm Kjellin, 2005). Teaching methodspromoting both types of goals often result in a dialogical classroom climate. Theteacher allows children with reading and writing difficulties to take part in thisprocess, without taking into account whether or not the child can live up to theschools goals to attain. High teacher expectations of childrens academic achieve-ment have proved to be important for the childrens chances to perform well. Thiswas initially shown by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968), and it has by many otherresearchers. Realizing the importance of high teacher expectation is considered to becharacteristic of teachers professionalism (Hall & Harding, 2003).

    Reading and writing difficulties/dyslexia in Sweden

    Based on the phonological paradigm, Hien and Lundberg (1999) defined dyslexiaas: a continuous disorder in the decoding of the written language, caused by a weak-ness in the phonological system (p. 21). In Swedish schools only few children arediagnosed as having dyslexia. Instead the concept reading and writing difficulties isused; the teacher/remedial teacher conducts an analysis of the childs decoding andspelling ability; the causes of the childrens difficulties are less frequently analysed.The analysis may be based on e.g. the Reading chains test (Jacobson, 2001). In thetests stanine points are given, and the norms for the stanine points awarded aredifferent for the two sexes, based on statistical differences between the sexes whenperforming the tests. The three tests (sign chains, word chains and sentencechains) are useful when screening to identify children who might be experiencingreading and writing difficulties. A pattern of performing significantly better on signchains than on word chains is seen as a typical indicator of dyslexia (Jacobson, 2001).Some children with identified difficulties are referred to the schools speech therapist,who may diagnose a child as having dyslexia according to the ICD-10. Physicians orpsychologists may also diagnose dyslexia; after diagnosis, an action plan includingmeasures to help the child should be developed and implemented. Support shouldpreferably be given in clas...

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