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«Yuri Lapshin COLLECTIVE AGENCY FORMATION THROUGH THE RENEWAL OF SCHOOL ACTIVITY A Change Laboratory Interventional Study CRADLE Center for Research ...»

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UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI

FACULTY OF BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCES

Yuri Lapshin

COLLECTIVE AGENCY FORMATION THROUGH

THE RENEWAL OF SCHOOL ACTIVITY

A Change Laboratory Interventional Study

CRADLE

Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning

Working papers 4/2013 University of Helsinki Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning – CRADLE Working papers 4/2013 Yuri Lapshin

COLLECTIVE AGENCY FORMATION THROUGH

THE RENEWAL OF SCHOOL ACTIVITY

A Change Laboratory Interventional Study Helsinki 2013 Supervisors Professor Yrjö Engeström, University of Helsinki Academy research fellow Annalisa Sannino, University of Helsinki Unigrafia, Helsinki ISBN 978-952-10-8218-4 (pbk) ISBN 978-952-10-8219-1 (pdf) ISSN-L 1798-3118 ISSN 1798-3118 University of Helsinki Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning – CRADLE Working papers 4/2013 Yuri Lapshin Collective Agency Formation through the Renewal of School Activity A Change Laboratory Interventional Study Abstract Understanding the processes of collective agentive work practices and working out approaches to develop the professional’s and citizen’s agency are nowadays topical for Europe, and under active discussion. Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and its interventionist methodology provides a fruitful framework for research on the nature and laws of collective agency formation in real, complex, object-oriented activities, including education. This research investigates collective agency development of a school team through the attempt to renew its educational activity. The research is carried out in collaboration with pedagogical team of the “School of Self-Determination” (Moscow, Russia) in the context of current national educational reform. Under the increasing pressure of the reform the school collective seeks to redefine its shared object of acivity, to identify and overcome the contradictions of its activity and to overcome inner crisis in the collective agency. For activity theory, agency is primarily related to the sharing of an object of activity by the working collective and secondarily to the capacity of the collective to transform the activity collaboratively, as well as to the capacity of the involved people to bring up the others to bear mutual sense-making. The core concept of this study is the concept of dialectical contradiction as a driving force of the development. The research project includes preliminary historical study of the school activity and agency development, ethnographic research of the current processes in the collective activity, and interventional multisession process of the Change Laboratory, led by myself with the participating of representative group of practitioners – members of the school collective. Further on, the research procedure includes post-interventional ethnographic research to observe the changes in the school activity and in the collective agency of the school team. To answer my research questions, described in the research plan, I shall analyze the collected data in order to understand the relationship between the transformation of the shared object of the collective activity of the school team and its development. In this analysis I shall use methods of discursive analysis of contradictions, interactional analysis of changes in the interpersonal relationship among teachers during the Change Laboratory process, comparative historical analysis of the evolution of the school activity and agency - in diachronic perspective of different stages and synchronic perspective with the development of the country´s social climate and state policy. The dissertation is based on four articles; each article is written to answer one of the four research questions concerning different aspects of collective agency in its relation to the development of the school´s activity system.

CONTENTS

1 INTRODUCTION

2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND ARTICLES

3 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

4 METHODOLOGY AND METHODS

4.1 Developmental Work Research Methodology

4.1.1 Vygotskian research principles in DWR

4.2 The methods of DWR

4.2.1 Historical and Ethnographical Research Analysis

4.2.2 Change Laboratory Formative Intervention method

4.2.3 Post-Change Laboratory Ethnographical Observation

5 DATA COLLECTION

5.1 The research area: “The School of Self-Determination” (Moscow, Russia)

5.2 Tasks and timetable

5.3 Preliminary research data description

5.4 Preliminary materials processing

5.5 The Change Laboratory formative intervention

6 DATA ANALYSIS METHODS

6.1 Comparative Historical Analysis

6.2 Discursive Analysis of Contradictions

6.3 Interactional Analysis

7 THE PLAN OF THE ARTICLES

REFERENCES

1 INTRODUCTION

Understanding the processes of collective agentive work practices and working out approaches to develop the professional’s and citizen’s agency are nowadays topical for Europe, where new ideas of “Enabling State Policy”, the Workfare State, the New Liberal State among others, are under active discussion (Dingeldey, I. 2005, Miettinen, 2013). These modern conceptions presume to share the responsibility between the state and active citizens as true subjects of economic and social development, and educational institutions must play a crucial role in helping people to become active and socially agentive.





Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and its interventionist methodology provides a fruitful framework for research on the nature and laws of collective agency formation in real, complex, object-oriented activities, including education (Engeström, 2005, Virkkunen, 2006; Yamazumi, 2007; Daniels, 2007). Interventional research projects conducted in collaboration with practitioners interested in transforming their activity in response to modern time requirements also offer broad opportunities to deepen and develop CHAT itself.

The Russian educational system is going through a reform aimed at improving the quality of education and including it in modern international trends. The reform includes at least three significant changes: a new State Educational Standard (including brand new personality development and meta-competence levels); the Unified National Test as a new evaluation approach, introduced in 2009 and now the only indicator for school efficiency (Minina, 2010); and new financial regulations (“the money goes to the child” principle, which leads to the tendency of schools to merge (despite all the attendant problems). In this process, schools face various problems and contradictions that underline behind them and some of the schools must go through deep crises.Unsurprisingly, that school teachers and administrators, as well as school students and their parents, often regard the reform requirements as a pressure and a danger. The real danger is that the traditional for Russian “top-down” approach to reform generates suspicion and distrust of all educational agents (teachers, school administrators, parents and children), and provokes public resistance as well as imitation in response to the new requirements. One of the external social challenges to practice is how to involve school collectives, teachers and administration into a common process of reform as genuine agents of the innovative transformation of their activity.

The research is carried out in collaboration with the pedagogical team of the “School of Self-Determination” (Moscow, Russia), which has a strong tradition of innovative pedagogy focused on constructing agentive collaboration with children in education and school life. Currently, in the context of increasing pressure of national educational reform, the school seeks to redefine its object, to identify and overcome the contradictions of its activity. This effort enjoys the support of the Change Laboratory intervention led by the author. The openness of the teachers and administration, their readiness to dedicate extra time to collaboration and their permission to us for using the materials of the intervention in research purpose made this study possible.

I study the collective agency development of teachers through the attempt to renovate the school’s activity system. In 2012 it was conducted an ethnographical study examined a current situation, a historical quest sought changes in the school activity, and the interactive multisession process of the Change Laboratory was launched for a representative group of school team members. The intervention continued until March 2013, followed by ethnographical observation of its implementation into the school practice, and planning through until the end of the 2013-14 academic year. I analyze the collected data to understand the relationship between the transformation of the shared object of collective activity of the school team and the development of its collective agency.

The core concept of this study is the concept of dialectical contradiction as a driving force of development (Ilyenkov, 1982), which is one of the central points of Cultural Historical Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research Methodology (Engeström 1987, 1996, 2001). By identifying dialectical contradictions in the object of activity and overcoming them with creating a new concept, which unifies both sides of the contradiction, the work collective not only transforms the activity system, but also develops itself as the subject of activity by sharing the new concept. This development allows the collective to solve disturbances and conflicts in work practice, change the relationships between colleagues, to raise and share common agency.

The dissertation will be based on four articles; each article will answer one of the four research questions concerning different aspects of collective agency, which will be discussed below in the theoretical section of the research plan.

2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND ARTICLES

Question 1. How are contradictions in the activity system manifested in the discourse of teachers during Change Laboratory sessions?

Article 1. Discursive manifestations of contradictions in the renewal process of the concept of school activity.

Question 2. How is the development of the agency of the school team expressed in changing the social interactions of team members in the process of forming of a new concept of school activity?

Article 2. Changes in social interactions in the school collective as a manifestation of changes in collective agency.

Question 3. How has the agency of the school team changed with the temporal change in school concept during the historical evolution of the state policy and the social climate?

Article 3. The historical evolution of the educational activity of the school and the transformations, changes and contradictions of the school team agency.

Question 4. How is the renewal developed in the Change Laboratory implemented in school practice and how does it influence agency in the long term?

Article 4. Renewal of the school activity: the implementation of new concepts into practice and the spread of new agency in the team.

3 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

The theoretical framework of this study is Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), which is based on the classical ideas of L.Vygotsky and A.Leontiev.

Vygotsky put forward the revolutionary idea of the development of higher mental functions (“neo-formations”) are mediated by cultural artifacts in social

interaction:

Any function … in the development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. First it appears between people as an inter-psychological category, and then within the child as an intra-psychological category… Internalization transforms the process itself and changes its structure and functions. Social relations or relations among people genetically underlie all higher functions and their relationships. (Vygotsky, 1981: 163) Based on Vygotsky’s ideas, Leontiev worked out the theory of object-oriented activity as a “mediated subject–object interaction”, which is a “non- additive, molar unit of life with its own structure, its own internal transformations, and its own development” (Leontiev, 1978) - a system of relations between human as the subject and material object as human’s motive, structured in goals, acts, conditions and operations.

According to Leontiev, the notion of a “subject of activity” means an individual with “true motive”, or the object of the activity. The material object

becomes the motive of the activity, when it meets with a need of the individual:

“a need is objectified by the object”. The process of “objectifying” is the establishment (by individual) of the relationship between the individual need and the internalized social meanings of the object. When the individual established such relations, the object becomes a motive and the individual becomes a subject of the activity (Leontiev, 1978).

As Kaptelinin notes, the principal limitation of this model is “one need, one motive, one object, and one activity” (Kaptelinin, 2005). For more than one actual need for the individual, “…the selection of that activity is based on a comparison of the competing motives through the hierarchy of motives. The motive with the highest rank in the hierarchy takes over, and the activity oriented towards that motive/object is carried out.” (Kaptelinin, 2005) (Figure 1) Figure 1. The individual subject chooses the activity according to his/her own hierarchy of motives (Kaptelinin, 2005).



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