Reaching student voice through the arts - insights from a transition year classroom
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The purpose of this study was to work with a group of students to explore and evaluate their previous experiences and attitudes towards the arts. The research is premised on the understanding that young people are experts in their own lives and their voices not only deserve to be heard, but acted upon. Consequently, the foundations of the research are that students and young people have the potential to act as autonomous and responsible individuals concerning decisions that affect their learning and lives. Set in an Irish, urban, DEIS, post-primary Transition Year (TY) classroom, the research took place over two years. The study is framed theoretically, methodologically and philosophically through participatory action research (PAR), arts-based educational research (ABER), and student voice. These three theoretical positionings are united in their transformative and emancipatory intent; challenging taken-for-granted assumptions. PAR was chosen as the methodological framework of the project due to its forefronting of individual and collective social action and agency. This research is the first in-depth study to explore the arts in an Irish DEIS TY context. Uniquely, it also uses the arts as tools to investigate the arts, as well as employing the arts as an alternative means of data (re)presentation. The uniqueness of the work also lies in its theoretical, methodological, and philosophical marrying of PAR, ABER, and student voice, and is the first of its kind to explore student voice within the context of a mixed-sex Irish TY classroom in an innovative and sustained way. Although the initial research questions were addressed, as is the nature of ABER, these questions evolved and many more emerged. These questions formed part of the hidden curriculum of the research and inform discussions throughout this thesis. Discussions in this thesis broadly centre around the establishment and maintenance of power struggles and variance in power relations between participants, school staff and I, and the relationship between participation and power within the research. Other discussions are concerned with; the role of the arts in supporting student voice, participants’ feelings of voicelessness, silence within the research, and difficulties with voice, difficulties and successes in relation to co-construction of the research process, and the role of social media within this study. Participants’ previous experiences and attitudes towards the arts are also discussed in detail, as well as their varying engagement with the arts in the study, their barriers towards the arts, and their attitudes towards the arts post-workshops. Communicative action and agency are discussed through the cogeneration and presentation of a performance-exhibition to school staff and this formed the means through which participants and I employed our agency and engaged in collective social action. The findings of the research are concerned with the clarification of various attitudes and ‘truths’ relating to the arts in this DEIS setting, the evolving understandings and uses of the arts throughout the research, the potential of the arts to negotiate issues of power and voicelessness within the research, and the necessity for broader conceptions of what qualifies as action and agency within educational research. The findings also highlight the capacity and potential of the arts to liberate and ‘give voice’ to a multiplicity of voices.
Post-primary transition year
Arts-based educational research