University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 11 March 2016 Moral beings and becomings: children's moral practices in classroom peer interaction (Niemi)

Start date: Mar 11, 2016 12:00 PM

End date: Mar 11, 2016 03:00 PM

Location: Seminaarinmäki, Vanha juhlasali, S212

Kreeta Niemi. Photo: Tarja Vänskä-Kauhanen

M.A. Kreeta Niemi defends her doctoral dissertation in Education "Moral beings and becomings: children's moral practices in classroom peer interaction”. Opponent Professor Roger Säljö (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) and custos Professor Anna-Maija Poikkeus (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in English.

This study investigates children’s social and moral practices as they appear in everyday classroom peer interaction. Its focus is on the relations between children’s interaction and moral understandings in situ. Juxtaposing the most archetypal ways of addressing and investigating morality in mainstream educational psychology, this study approaches morality is as it handled and managed as part of everyday intersubjective interaction. Ethnomethodological approaches alongside with sociocultural views of thinking are employed as theoretical and analytical frameworks to delineate how children as moral agents use language and other semiotic resources to accomplish their local organization of morality. The data consisted of 26 hours of videotaped and transcribed classroom peer interaction in Finnish primary schools. Three communicative areas in which moral practices become plainly visible were chosen as basis for the analysis: 1) counting rhyme rule-making, 2) dispute threatening and 3) accusing practices. The significance of this study is fourfold, as it not only provides empirical, detailed accounts of children’s morality and participation in classroom peer group activities, but also offers unique theoretical, methodological and also practical approaches to operationalize children’s morality.

The dissertation consists of three sub-studies and an extended summary. The first sub-study examines how children exploit their understanding of morality by using a range of mean-ing-making resources in the context of a classroom counting rhyme. It shows that children are capable of knowing why some issues might be prohibited, and also of dealing with and playing with these issues. This account of children’s sophisticated employment of moral agency calls attention to raising teachers’ awareness and appreciation of  children’s capability to contribute to their own moral learning.

The second sub-study investigates children’s threats in a classroom dispute and frame shifts between pretence and real. The study contributes to understanding of different moral orders in real and pretend frames, and points out that when insults occur in the real life frame they disrupt the established moral order. The findings suggest implications for how and when teachers should intervene in children’s disputes.

The third sub-study explores children’s accusations in the classroom. It shows how children use local classroom rules and teacher authority as resources and warrants to invoke multi-layered moral orders and identities, and to hold individuals accountable through accusations about their behaviour. The study highlights an important aspect of social organization regarding the social exclusion of peers. It also proposes that the use of classroom rules and teacher authority in the absence of the teacher is a common practice.

 Overall, this study shows how the moral realm in school is multi-layered, multimodally mediated, interactively negotiated and multi-voiced, and it maintains that moral development must be understood in, and cannot be separated from, the social context and relations. Traditionally, morality in school has been seen as teacher transmitting values and rules to children, but this study suggests that, as an ‘unofficial’ counterpart, children’s peer interaction in the classroom is an important contributor to children’s moral and social competencies. Theories of children’s morality should more directly include children’s everyday interaction, the role of peers, and the voices of children and generalized others. It also encourages practitioners and researchers to acknowledge children as active agents in constructing moral realms in the school life and out-of-school activities, and to empower children’s decision making.

Keywords: children, morality, classroom interaction, peer interaction, conversation analysis, ethnomethodology

More information

Kreeta Niemi
kreeta.niemi@jyu.fi
040 732 1222