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Learning as Participation: Exploring Relationships within an Emergent Paradigm
This paper is taken from a study which arose in response to curricular changes in Scotland in the form of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). CfE brought citizenship and skills-based learning to the fore of Scottish education, a trend which mirrors curricular development throughout Europe and beyond. This curricular development has provided the context for exploring the notion of children's participation in their learning and how this can be increased by employing pedagogical approaches based on emergence and knowledge creation (Biesta, 2004). This study stemmed from a process of epistemological exploration of the nature of learning in school. Drawing upon the insights offered by critical, sociocultural, and complexity theory, it takes into account the impact of societal, historical, political and cultural factors on children's experiences. Critical theory offers a lens through which to de-construct some of the practices which exclude and marginalise children in the classroom, often without question; social justice and an ethical concern for children are therefore driving agendas of this study. Sociocultural theory is used to explore how children learn and co-construct knowledge, allowing for a deeper understanding of how the learning process takes place and how it can be supported within the classroom, appreciating the social, cultural and historical factors which influence children's being (Davis, 2004). Finally, complexity theory is pivotal in articulating a role of an emergent curriculum through which knowledge can be understood as incomplete and ever evolving. These three theoretical positions offer a broad theoretical framework for this study, coming together in bringing forth a process of learning that is rooted into power equality and a vision of dynamic, meaningful learning.
Changing roles and relationships within the classroom then become significant in proposing an alternative pedagogical approach. Employing an approach based on participation heightens the complex functions of language and how language is used to create knowledge as opposed to being used as a tool to transmit known facts. In this view, children's voices, thinking and ideas inform the curriculum in prolonged episodes of learning, where knowledge is co-constructed as a result of dialogue, action and lived experiences.
This construct of learning also introduces another phenomenon which is often neglected within the classroom, difference. Participative approaches allow for the multiple and dynamic voices of children (and adults) to come together and be explored. Difference, as a critical aspect of our existences and being, is celebrated and valued as intrinsic ethical aspect of the emergent learning process.
The questions being explored are concerned with: the knowledge (and other competencies) that can be created using participative approaches, the role of assessment as an integral part of this process, the changing role of the teacher and the perceptions of the children involved.