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Amplifying the voice of pupils: using the diamond ranking method to explore integrative and collaborative learning in home economics education in Finland

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Drawing on a sociocultural approach to learning, this article highlights comprehensive school pupils’ perspectives on working style and classroom pedagogy based on the integrative approach to learning. Using the diamond ranking method, seven groups of 8th grade pupils ranked classroom practices according to their importance for succeeding in integrative and collaborative learning tasks. The study was conducted in the context of home economics education in Finland. Audio and video data were subjected to qualitative content analysis. The results indicate that working style to enhance interthinking and shared commitment to working was considered important, as were several practical elements such as computer use. Utilising knowledge from other school subjects was found to be challenging. The findings suggest that for the participating pupils, collaborative ways of working and the teacher’s pedagogical choices in providing tools and framing the task were the keys to successful working.
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Education Inquiry
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Amplifying the voice of pupils: using the diamond
ranking method to explore integrative and
collaborative learning in home economics
education in Finland
Janni Haapaniemi, Salla Venäläinen, Anne Malin & Päivi Palojoki
To cite this article: Janni Haapaniemi, Salla Venäläinen, Anne Malin & Päivi Palojoki (2021):
Amplifying the voice of pupils: using the diamond ranking method to explore integrative and
collaborative learning in home economics education in Finland, Education Inquiry, DOI:
10.1080/20004508.2021.1966888
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/20004508.2021.1966888
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Group.
Published online: 20 Aug 2021.
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Amplifying the voice of pupils: using the diamond ranking
method to explore integrative and collaborative learning in
home economics education in Finland
Janni Haapaniemi
a
, Salla Venäläinen
b
, Anne Malin
a
and Päivi Palojoki
a
a
Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland;
b
Finnish Education Evaluation
Centre, Helsinki, Finland
ABSTRACT
Drawing on a sociocultural approach to learning, this article high-
lights comprehensive school pupils’ perspectives on working style
and classroom pedagogy based on the integrative approach to
learning. Using the diamond ranking method, seven groups of 8
th
grade pupils ranked classroom practices according to their impor-
tance for succeeding in integrative and collaborative learning
tasks. The study was conducted in the context of home economics
education in Finland. Audio and video data were subjected to
qualitative content analysis. The results indicate that working
style to enhance interthinking and shared commitment to working
was considered important, as were several practical elements such
as computer use. Utilising knowledge from other school subjects
was found to be challenging. The ndings suggest that for the
participating pupils, collaborative ways of working and the tea-
cher’s pedagogical choices in providing tools and framing the task
were the keys to successful working.
ARTICLE HISTORY
KEYWORDS
Integrative approach to
learning; sociocultural
learning approach; diamond
ranking method; pupil’s
voice
Introduction
Following the demand to provide pupils 21st century skills in school education, there
has been a trend to increase interdisciplinarity or, more broadly, integrative approach to
learning. At the comprehensive school level, this means that instead of seeing the
contents of school subjects as separate and distinct, their connections are emphasised.
This integration of knowledge and skills aims to provide pupils with a synthesis of the
topic in question (Spelt, Biemans, Tobi, Luning, & Mulder, 2009).
In Finland, the emphasis on the integrative approach to learning is seen in the latest
curriculum reform (Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education (FNCC),
2014), yet the aim to integrate the contents of school subjects has been acknowledged in
the curricula since the 1970s. National research on the integrative approach to learning
has recently investigated open and flexible learning environments (Niemi, 2020),
focusing on the perspectives of teachers and headmasters (Braskén, Hemmi, &
Kurtén, 2019; Mård & Hilli, 2020). Even though the importance of listening to pupils’
voice in the educational process has been emphasised (Bragg, 2007; Lehtomäki et al.,
CONTACT Janni Haapaniemi janni.haapaniemi@helsinki.fi Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of
Helsinki,P.O. Box 8, Helsinki 00014, Finland
EDUCATION INQUIRY
https://doi.org/10.1080/20004508.2021.1966888
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
2014; Niemi, Kumpulainen, Lipponen, & Hilppö, 2015), pupils’ perspective on inte-
grative approach to learning has not been widely studied. Some recent studies in the
Finnish educational context (Eronen, Kokko, & Sormunen, 2019; Niemi & Kiilakoski,
2019; Tarnanen, Kaukonen, Kostiainen, & Toikka, 2019) demonstrate the keen interest
in this area. Internationally, there is lack of research on pupils’ perspectives on the
integrative approach to learning, despite it being emphasised as a 21st century skill in
the latest curricula in several countries (Ananiadou & Claro, 2009).
Collaborative group work is often utilised in the integrative approach to learning, as
is suggested in the Finnish curriculum (Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic
Education (FNCC), 2014). The potential of learning collaborative working skills
through the integrative approach to learning has also been highlighted in previous
studies exploring pupils’ perspectives (Eronen et al., 2019; Niemi & Kiilakoski, 2019;
Tarnanen et al., 2019). Along with the sociocultural approach to learning adopted in
this study, previous studies have emphasised the importance of interthinking when
considering classroom practices that enhance pupils’ collaborative learning (Littleton &
Mercer, 2013; Taar, 2017) together with the pedagogical choices of the teacher (Dawes,
2004; Edwards, 2009; Fernández, Wegerif, Mercer, & Rojas-Drummond, 2015;
Venäläinen, 2010).
The present study focuses on pupils’ perspectives on the integrative approach to
learning. The aim is to explore classroom practices that are beneficial for this kind of
learning and to amplify pupils’ voices. The following research question is addressed:
What classroom practices are perceived as beneficial by pupils working on an integrative
and collaborative learning task in a home economics classroom? The classroom practices
discussed are considered based on a sociocultural perspective, the ability to enhance
interthinking and teacher-led pedagogical arrangements. Because of the interest in
naturally integrative everyday practices in home economics, it is relevant to better
understand how pupils connect and synthesise knowledge from different subjects
while doing group work and solving collaborative learning tasks in the classroom
(Janhonen-Abruquah & Palojoki, 2015).
Successful group work and collaborative learning tasks in the classroom
In Finland, where this study was implemented, the current curriculum aligns with
sociocultural learning theory in emphasising pupil participation in school communities
(Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education (FNCC), 2014). In the socio-
cultural approach, learning is seen as a social process mediated by culturally framed
tools and actualised within the zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Moll, 2014; Säljö,
2004; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978). To extend the concept of Mercer (2004; 2008; see also
Fernández et al., 2015; Shokouhi & Shakouri, 2015) has contributed a temporal aspect
focusing on the dialogic between participants as a phenomenon, where learning evolves
through time and shared knowledge; this is called the intermental development
zone (IDZ).
Following the approach framing the Finnish education context, the literature reviewed
in this section discussing classroom practices beneficial for pupils in the integrative
approach to learning also uses the sociocultural approach. These classroom practices
exploit sociocultural ideas on learning – the role of social interaction to facilitate learning,
2J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
the importance of peers and teachers to develop the ZPD and the role of language as
a mediator of meaning (Vygotsky, 1962). Therefore, the section mainly concerns colla-
borative ways of working. In a school context, the important role of a teacher as an enabler
of learning justifies the inclusion of teacher-related pedagogical aspects.
In studying group work, Littleton and Mercer (2013) introduced the term interthink-
ing to describe the ability to think creatively and productively together during colla-
borative work. They argued that sociocultural learning contributes to students’
interthinking, a view supported by Taar (2017) in the context of home economics
lessons. To maximise a working group’s learning potential, it is considered important to
include all group members actively in discussions reflecting their knowledge (Littleton
& Mercer, 2013; Soller, 2001). However, Rogoff (1990) contended that a strong leader
may free other participants from responsibility and encourage them to advance their
ideas. This view found support in Taar’s (2017) study, where student talk was more
organised and dialogue was more extended if the group had a leader when working
together on a shared task.
Taar (2017) found that the experience of working together had a strong effect on
interthinking during group work. This aligns with Edwards’ (Edwards, 2005) argument
that friendship makes group members feel more secure about the upcoming task and
that familiarity with other group members’ working style is beneficial for collaboration.
This further supports the view that there is a need for training in thinking together
(Dawes, 2004), especially as students are often unable to adjust their dialogue to extend
their ZPD (Rogoff, 1990). It is important to note that although peers are not always
friends training can help them to learn how to think together. Previous studies have
also reported that a positive group atmosphere positively affects student talk (Rogoff,
1990; Taar, 2017).
In this context, relevant pedagogical issues include task content and task difficulty
(neither too easy nor too hard) and clarity of instructions, concepts and equipment use,
as the task remains meaningless without adequate background knowledge (Fernández
et al., 2015; Taar, 2017). An appropriate task allows students with different levels of
knowledge to use interthinking to share and explain their knowledge to achieve a higher
level of understanding (Edwards, 2009; Rogoff, 1990).
The learning task should guide students to use tools of various kinds. According to
the sociocultural learning approach, these include 1) material tools such as books,
written assignments and equipment; 2) psychological tools, mainly involving the use
of language; and 3) other people, such as teachers or peers. Tools mediate meaning and
in interthinking are the key to understanding (Taar, 2017; Venäläinen, 2010). The
sociocultural approach also emphasises students’ role as collaborative participants
rather than independent thinkers, requiring the teacher to support the relevant learning
methods and to understand the importance of tools, especially the role of language
(Vygotsky, 1978).
Integrative approach to learning
Recently, interdisciplinarity has gained renewed prominence as a component of 21
st
century learning and future-focused discourse in school education (Hipkins, Bolstad,
Boyd, & McDowall, 2014; Lenoir, Hasni, & Froelich, 2015), even though it is not
EDUCATION INQUIRY 3
a new phenomenon in enhancing learning and knowledge production (Beane, 1997;
Winebug & Grossman, 2000). Approaches that emphasise integrative goals refer, for
example, to an interdisciplinary curriculum (Pountney & McPhail, 2017), cross-
curricular learning (Barnes, 2015) and 21
st
century learning (Gilbert, 2005;
McPhail & Rata, 2016) as means of strengthening pupils’ ability to combine knowl-
edge and skills from several school subjects. While some approaches are more
explicitly future-oriented (Gilbert, 2005; McPhail & Rata, 2016), others trust that
an engaging and stimulating education will promote habitual lifelong learning
(Barnes, 2015). Despite the prevailing emphasis on interdisciplinarity, an opposing
view stresses the importance of baseline knowledge within each discipline as the key
strategy for education (Gericke, Hudson, Olin-Scheller, & Stolare, 2018).
In the present study, the term integrative approach to learning in comprehensive
education refers to the different ways of integrating and synthesising knowledge and
skills from different school subjects. To achieve such synthesis, an interdisciplinary
perspective is considered essential (Klein, 2002; Lenoir et al., 2015; Mansilla, 2010).
As the integrative approach to learning is understood as ‘a process, not a fixed body
of content’ (Klein, 2002, p. 9), it informs pedagogical choices, leaving room for
different implementations while affording opportunities to adjust teaching according
to pupils’ needs as the project or lesson proceeds. Problem-based learning, project
learning, inquiry-based learning and phenomenon-based learning are examples of
implementations where the integrative approach to learning may be exploited
(Haapaniemi, Venäläinen, Malin, & Palojoki, 2019; Spelt et al., 2009). From the
viewpoint of pupils, common to these implementations is that their active participa-
tion is at the centre of learning, and social interaction and collaboration between
pupils is usually encouraged.
Despite the variety of pedagogical implementations, comprehensive school pupils’
ability to integrate and synthesise knowledge is not self-evident. Existing research
identifies several potential barriers in this regard, such as insufficient linkage to
everyday problems or experiences (Brante & Brunosson, 2014; Gilbert, Bulte, &
Pilot, 2011; Marton, 2006) and teachers’ inability to support the creation of synth-
esis in the learning process (Illeris, 2018; Lattuca, Voigt, & Fath, 2004).
Materials and methods
Participatory research
This study draws on educational action research (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Hart & Bond,
1995; Kemmis, 2006) as a participatory methodology for exploring meaningful experi-
ences among people in a pedagogical relationship (Niemi, Kumpulainen, & Lipponen,
2018; Niemi, Kumpulainen, Lipponen, & Hilppö, 2015b) and new ways of investigating
classroom pedagogy (Niemi, Kumpulainen, & Lipponen, 2015a). Data collection meth-
ods support pupil agency (Gresalfi, Martin, Hand, & Greeno, 2009), which in school
contexts means encouraging pupils to be active learners (Brown & Renshaw, 2006;
Greeno, 2006) and to participate during lessons (Edwards & D’Arcy, 2004).
4J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
Diamond ranking method
Of the several available methods for exploring pupil perspectives (e.g. Brante &
Brunosson, 2014; Lehtomäki et al., 2014; Niemi & Kiilakoski, 2019), the diamond
ranking method was chosen for data collection because it can be integrated in the
classroom learning task and because it gives pupils agency. Also referred to as
‘Diamond 9ʹ, this activity originally took the form of photo-elicitation (Clark, 2012).
In classroom settings, diamond ranking is employed to explore pupils’ value positions
using pre-written options rather than pictures (Clark, 2012; Hopkins, 2010). Written
statements were also used in the present study. These were either written by the pupils
themselves or chosen from a list prepared by the researchers based on the research
literature described above regarding beneficial practices for collaborative work.
Participants working in pairs or threes choose nine options, which are then orga-
nised into a diamond shape with the most preferred option at the top and the most
disliked at the bottom, annotated by comments and explanations (Clark, 2012; Clark,
Laing, Tiplady, & Woolner, 2013; Woolner et al., 2010). Pupils rank the options during
a discussion with their working groups. Each group is required ‘to make explicit the
over-arching relationships by which they organise knowledge, thus making their under-
standings available for scrutiny and comparison’ (Clark, 2012, p. 223).
Study context and learning task
The study was conducted in Finland. The data were collected in home economics
lessons, where learning tasks typically combine theory and practice, emphasising the
ability to work collaboratively (Janhonen-Abruquah & Palojoki, 2015; Taar, 2017). The
latest Finnish curriculum (Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education
(FNCC), 2014)
1
emphasises active involvement and dialogic interaction between pupils,
teachers and the learning environment. The curriculum specifies seven transversal
competence areas that inform the aims of every subject; for example, ‘thinking and
learning to learn’ stresses the importance of the teacher’s role in guiding pupils to
reflect on their learning. In addition, school culture should promote an integrative
approach. To support the integration, comprehensive schools in Finland must provide
a minimum of one multidisciplinary learning module per year for each pupil. While the
curriculum provides loose guidelines for these modules, implementation is not regu-
lated but is instead decided at the school level.
For the purposes of data collection, the researchers designed two learning tasks for
home economics education (Janhonen-Abruquah & Palojoki, 2015). These used the
principles of sociocultural learning, thus assigning pupils the role of active learners. The
tasks were devised as collaborative group activities, affording opportunities for pupils to
integrate knowledge from several subjects. The tasks related to global well-being; the
participating teacher chose whichever of the two tasks they considered more appro-
priate. The teacher was also allowed to adapt the chosen task to meet the pupils’ needs,
but this proved unnecessary.
The chosen task was to select three Agenda 2030 goals (UN General Assembly, 2015)
and to argue how they related to ensuring the availability and sustainable management
of clean water and sanitation (Goal 6). Goal 6 had previously been discussed in home
EDUCATION INQUIRY 5
economics lessons as part of the school’s multidisciplinary learning module in the
preceding months; each subject teacher had chosen one Agenda 2030 goal and dis-
cussed it during their lessons.
Participants and data collection
The data were collected in autumn 2019 at a comprehensive school in southern Finland
attended by grade 7–9 pupils (aged 13–16). The participating teacher was found
through the social media network for home economics teachers. The participating
students (aged 14–15) were from two of the teacher’s 8
th
grade classes and were taking
optional courses in home economics. Eighth graders were selected because home
economics is usually compulsory in the seventh grade for all pupils, and during the
seventh-grade course the basic content areas of home economics are covered.
Therefore, it was reasonable to assume that the participating 8
th
graders had studied
enough home economics be able to understand its connections to other school subjects.
The method was pre-tested during a normal lesson in three 8
th
grade classes at
another school, and the instructions were clarified to eliminate ambiguities. It was then
introduced to participating pupils three weeks before data collection commenced. The
study data were gathered in two similar home economics lessons, each lasting 90 min-
utes. The structure of both lessons was similar; after participants had completed the
consent forms, the first author briefly introduced the lesson theme. Pupils were then
given the task instructions and printed information about the Agenda 2030 goals; they
were also encouraged to use other sources of information, such as websites. Both the
introduction and the written instructions reminded pupils to use their knowledge from
other subjects. The interdisciplinary learning task was then completed in small working
groups, in which pupils usually worked during home economics lessons, as recom-
mended by the teacher. As some pupils were absent and some did not wish to
participate, the number of pupils in each group varied from two to four.
After completing the learning task, the groups were asked to choose the nine most
important practices (from a pre-prepared list of options) that helped them to work on
the task; they were also encouraged to add their own options. They were then asked to
rank these options using the diamond-shaped template. The pre-prepared options and
the diamond ranking template were supplied both on a flash drive and on paper. Pupils
used their own computers for their presentations and rankings, and both were saved to
the flash drive for the researchers.
The lessons were video- and audio-recorded for data collection purposes. Each group
was given its own audio recorder, and two cameras were used to collect video data. In
total, the study produced about 8 hours (7:51:59) of audio data and about 3.5 hours
(3:33:12) of video data. The teacher was interviewed immediately after the lessons to
ensure the reliability of the data.
This study complies with the ethical principles of Helsinki University (Finnish
Advisory Board on Research Integrity, 2013). Informed consent was obtained from all
participants, including the home economics teacher, the pupils’ guardians, the pupils
themselves and the relevant official authority – in this case, the school principal. Before
the study, the researcher visited the school to tell the pupils about its purpose and how
the data would be collected. The pupils were also informed that they could opt out of
6J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
the study at any time and that this would not affect their participation in the lesson or
their grade. Participants’ anonymity was guaranteed in all phases of the study by using
code names (Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity, 2013).
Data Analysis
The data were subjected to qualitative analysis to develop a sense of the working styles
of the pupil groups and the practices pupils considered beneficial for their work. The
analysis was conducted by the first author, and the interpretations were arrived at by all
authors in cooperation.
The analysis of beneficial practices drew on three types of data: 1) relevant discus-
sions during group work and completion of the diamond ranking; 2) arguments
advanced when presenting the rankings and 3) each group’s diamond rankings. The
first and second types were used to validate the third, indicating reasons for the choices
and rankings and confirming that the pupils shared a mutual understanding of those
choices. In analysing these discussions, four of six pupil-written practices were replaced
with pre-prepared options, as the data revealed that the intention was the same even
though the pupil-written practices were more concisely written.
Qualitative content analysis was used in conjunction with a scoring system to rank
the chosen practices in terms of their relative importance (Hopkins, 2010). A practice
positioned at the top of the diamond scored 5; those positioned on the lines below
scored 4, 3, 2 and 1, respectively (see Figure 1). Practices were scored and then
aggregated to determine an overall score for each practice. There was no further
quantitative analysis, but the frequencies reinforced the qualitative understanding of
the data. Based on the principles of abductive analysis and theory-based content
analysis, the practices that had the highest scores were grouped in terms of theoretical
relationships and then re-grouped under broader themes (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison,
2018).
Finally, the video and audio data were analysed for pupil’s ability to utilise knowl-
edge from other school subjects. This involved 1) identifying relevant discussions
during group work and presentations where other subjects or their content were
Figure 1. Scoring of practices selected for diamond ranking
EDUCATION INQUIRY 7
mentioned and 2) analysing answers after each presentation regarding whether the
chosen goals had been discussed in other subject lessons.
Results
Relationship between working styles and selected practices
First, based on the literature, the qualitative analysis of the groups’ working styles
revealed differences in their ways of interthinking, such as the ways of collaboration
and argumentation, in leadership and in group atmosphere. Although each group
worked differently, all quickly began working by themselves, discussing which
Agenda 2030 goals to choose. Three of the seven groups reached the level of inter-
thinking and a collaborative way of working almost throughout the whole task. Pupils
in these groups shared and argued their ideas and questioned others’ ideas. Two of the
groups achieved this stage only partly or only occasionally. One of the groups worked
more co-operatively, dividing the work among pairs and individual participants without
further collaboration, and one of the groups distinguished itself from the others by
having almost no collaboration, as one of the pupils took a strong leadership role,
making all the decisions.
The teacher regularly asked groups whether they needed any help and reminded
them about the timeframe. The pupils did not ask the teacher for help but worked
independently. All groups made use of the information provided about Agenda 2030
goals, and most searched for further information online. After the slide shows introdu-
cing the chosen Agenda 2030 goals were finished, the groups went on discussing the
practices they would choose for their diamonds and created the diamonds. Finally, the
slide shows and the created diamonds were presented to the other pupils. All groups
succeeded in completing the learning task and diamond rankings and in giving their
presentations within the specified timeframe.
Second, the practices that groups identified as important for working on the task
were analysed. It was not surprising that the groups’ choices reflected their style of
working. Those that worked collaboratively (groups 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7) mostly chose
practices emphasising collaborative group work. Conversely, those exhibiting a more
co-operative style of working (groups 3 and 4) mainly selected practical elements
related to the lesson or to the task itself. Notably, all groups’ diamonds included
practical elements. Short descriptions of each group’s working style, practices the
working groups chose for task utility and excerpts from group discussions illustrating
the working style are presented in Table 1. The excerpts were chosen to exemplify
typical discussions indicating the style of collaboration within the working group,
although of course there was variation during the lesson.
Scoring of practices
For their diamonds, the pupils chose practices from every theory-based content area
other than practices describing the teacher helping them progress. Table 2 lists the
practices chosen by more than one group; during the analysis, content areas were
broadly assigned to two categories – practical arrangements (related to pedagogical
8J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
Table 1. Group working styles and practices selected for diamond ranking.
Group Group working style
Practices chosen for
task utility
Excerpts from group discussions
illustrating working style
1
(4
pupils)
Pupils mostly
worked collaboratively
and discussed
the arguments
around their ideas.
*Collaborative,
respectful and
active working style.
* Familiarity among
group members
* Practical elements
(15:40–17:22)
P1_1: I don’t know or I don’t
remember what sanitation means.
P2: It’s like . . . I don’t know how to
explain it.
P1_3: Explain what?
P1_2: It’s keeping the water clean –
water supply, water treatment,
sewer system, washing hands, all
that.
P1_1: So sanitation is basically
taking care of the water. Well, then
it’s connected to the goal ‘Life
beneath water’ . . .
2 (4
pupils)
Pupils worked collaboratively and
elaborated on each other’s ideas.
* Collaborative and
respectful working
style
* Practical elements
(9:21–10:45)
P2_1: ‘Good health and well-being’
– how does it relate to clean water
and sanitation?
P2_2: Sanitation is important for
health in general.
P2_3: Like cleanliness.
P2_2: And hygiene.
P2_1: So I’ll write that sanitation is
important for health in general.
P2_2,P2_3,P2_4: Yeah.
P2_2: And then we need to,
yeah . . . And good sanitation
prevents contagious diseases.
3 (4
pupils)
Pupils worked mainly in pairs, with
limited collaboration.
* Practical elements (25:30–26:22)
P3_1: Should we change to ‘Good
health and well-being’? We just
looked at what sanitation means, as
we didn’t remember.
P3_2: Yeah, we’ll leave this ‘Climate
action’ out if you found something.
P3_1: Yeah, we can do this one.
P3_3: So what was chosen?
P3_2: Something about health, but
they will do it.
4 (3
pupils)
One pupil clearly played the role of
leader, selecting goals and writing
the presentation. Others participated
only rarely in the discussion.
* Dividing the work
between
participants
* Good atmosphere
in the group
* Practical elements
(17:25–18:08)
P4_1: I don’t think P3 has said
anything while making the task. –
P4_2: I think this was a pretty
straightforward thing to do.
P4_1: And you represented our
whole group.
(Continued )
EDUCATION INQUIRY 9
Table 1. (Continued).
Group Group working style
Practices chosen for
task utility
Excerpts from group discussions
illustrating working style
5 (4
pupils)
Pupils worked collaboratively
throughout the task and elaborated
with ease on each other’s ideas. The
group was clearly content-oriented.
* Collaborative,
respectful and
working style
* Familiarity among
group members
* Practical elements
(9:51–10:45)
P5_1: Did you write ‘Good health
and well-being’ yet?
P5_2: Yeah, but now we need to
argue it.
P5_1: Well, if there are a lot of ill
people and contagious diseases . . .
P5_3: And when sanitation is poor,
with open defaecation, diseases
spread widely.
P5_1: A lot. If healthcare was better,
the number of diseases would
decrease, and they would spread
less.
P5_3: Or at least not as widely or as
fast.
P5_1: So, this is how it advances
[clear water and sanitation].
P5_3: And clean water enhances
well-being so that child mortality
ends.
P5_4: Or gets lower.
6 (2
pupils)
Pupils mostly worked collaboratively,
with one pupil more actively leading
the discussion. This group utilised
content knowledge from other
subjects.
* Collaborative,
respectful and
content-focused
working style
* Practical elements
(2:10–3:00)
P6_1: So, which goals relate to
‘Clean water and sanitation’?
P6_2: Maybe ‘Good health and well-
being’?
P6_1: Yeah, that of course. And
I would also think poverty, because
then there is no water supply
system, maybe not even dwellings,
and problems with rainwater.
P6_2: How many goals are there?
(looking through the material)
P6_1: Here they all are. Let’s first
choose the important ones and
leave out the ones that don’t fit.
P6_2: Okay.
7 (4
pupils)
Pupils worked collaboratively,
elaborated on each other’s ideas and
questioned the arguments, with
plenty of humour.
* Collaborative,
respectful, content-
focused and active
working style
* Familiarity among
group members
* Practical elements
P7_1: Let’s choose ‘Quality education’.
P7_2: Yeah, it means that . . .
P7_3: Yeah, it could be that you
know how to clean the water . . .
P7_1: And you don’t throw your
litter anywhere and don’t leave
water running from the tap . . .
P7_3: Like they can afford taps!
To anonymise pupils, the first number in the fourth column refers to the group and the second to the individual pupil
within the group.
10 J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
decisions made by the teacher regarding the task or the lesson) and working style
(concerning the practices of a group or of a pupil within a group). The chosen practices
were surprisingly evenly balanced across the content areas.
Two practices achieved an overall score of 20. The practical item ‘The technical
equipment (e.g. computer) chosen to complete the task was functional’ was chosen by
all groups (although never as their top choice). Five groups chose a practice related to
working style: ‘The group engaged in collaborative discussions related to the task’.
Notably, five groups also chose ‘The aim set, instructions and concepts used for the task
were clear’ as part of their diamond, although this garnered a much lower overall
score (14).
There were two practices that two groups placed at the top of their diamonds: ‘The
group engaged in collaborative discussions related to the task’ and ‘The materials
provided (Agenda 2030 goals) helped to progress the task’. The former emphasises
the importance of shared discussions, underlining the role of language as mediator and
tool. The latter indicates that careful consideration should be given to the materials
provided when working with a new topic or approach, as pupils see these as an
important tool. Three other working style-related practices were also awarded the top
position: ‘Group members listened to each other’s thoughts/ideas’; ‘The leader’s role
played by one pupil in deciding which topics are included in the presentation’; and
“The ability to ask for help from friends (other group members)”. The last of these is
a self-written practice. Six of the seven top practices fall into the category of working
Table 2. Practices chosen by more than one group.
Practices
Practice relating to practical
arrangements /working style
Total scores
(scores given)
The technical equipment (e.g. computer) chosen to
complete the task was functional.
Practical 20
(3, 3, 4, 4, 2, 2,
4, 2)
The group engaged in collaborative discussions related
to the task.
Working style 20
(4, 4, 2, 5, 5)
Group members listened to each other’s thoughts/ideas. Working style 17
(5, 4, 4, 4)
The materials provided (Agenda 2030 goals) helped to
progress the task.
Practical 15
(2, 5, 5, 3)
The stated aim, instructions and concepts for the given
task were clear.
Practical 14
(2, 3, 3, 4, 2)
All members of the group worked actively on the task. Working style 11
(4, 3, 4)
There was a good atmosphere in the group. Working style 10
(4, 3, 3)
It was easy to work with friends on a collaborative task. Working style 9
(3, 4, 2)
The level of the given task was reasonable – neither too
easy nor too difficult.
Practical 6
(3, 1, 2)
Enough time was allowed to complete the task. Practical 6
(1, 3, 2)
Group members argued for the ideas they advanced. Working style 6
(3, 3)
The participants played different roles within the group. Working style 5
(1, 4)
The task was motivating and inspiring. Practical 2
(1, 1)
EDUCATION INQUIRY 11
style, indicating that this is the most important predictor of task success for these
pupils.
The third part of the analysis concerned the ability to combine and synthesise
knowledge from different school subjects, as this is the aim of the integrative approach
to learning and was one of the aims of this learning task. Even when the groups
produced reasonable and mostly well-argued presentations, according to the data they
made little use of knowledge from other subjects even though instructed to do so. Only
group 6 introduced an example from another lesson while working on the learning task.
Excerpt 1: group 6 (10:33)
P6_1 In biology lessons, we covered this same topic – clean water and sanitation.
P6_2 I remember nothing of it.
P6_1 Look, when people poop on the ground or near the shore, a lot of bacteria may
end up in the river, which might be someone’s drinking water. And then they
all get sick. Write this there, for the presentation.
After making their presentation, each group was asked whether their chosen goals
had been discussed in other lessons. As illustrated by the quotes below, their answers
were hesitant.
Researcher “Have the goals you chose been discussed in other subject lessons?” (This
question was asked after each presentation.)
Group 1:
(Whole group together) “Hmm . . . I don’t remember”.
Group 2:
(Whole group together) “We had something in biology . . . ”
Researcher “Which one of the goals did you discuss in biology?”
P2_2 “Clean water and sanitation . . .
Group 3:
P3_2 “Well, in biology, we had something about water – not much though”.
Group 4:
P4_2 “No, I don’t think we had these goals in any other subject lessons”.
Group 5:
P5_3 “We had this sanitation in biology and good health and well-being in a very
weird way in PE”.
P4_2 “And it was only at girls’ PE”. [commenting from group 4]
Group 6:
12 J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
P6_2 “In biology, we covered water and sanitation”.
Group 7:
P7_1 “No, we really haven’t discussed these matters in any other lessons”.
These quotes show that the pupils had difficulty remembering whether these topics
were discussed in other lessons and that they saw them as scattered, unconnected items.
To summarise the results, the working style of each group reflected the practices
chosen for the diamond. This may be seen to indicate that the pupils were able to
realistically assess their working styles, which increases the credibility of the results.
Regarding chosen classroom practices for the diamonds, the collaborative, active and
respectful way of working and the tools for helping the pupils to work through the task
particularly stood out. The data included only a few verbal indications of combining
knowledge gained from different school subjects.
Limitations of the study
Following the principles of participatory pedagogy, pupils engaged as active participants
in the lesson and played their part responsibly by persisting with the learning and
ranking tasks (Brown & Renshaw, 2006; Edwards & D’Arcy, 2004; Gresalfi et al., 2009).
The choice of an educational action research approach seems justified, as the experi-
ences reported by pupils seem reliable, and the diamond method provided useful
information about classroom pedagogy from the perspective of the pupils (Niemi,
Kumpulainen, Lipponen, & Hilppö, 2015b; Niemi et al., 2018). The structured use of
the diamond method (i.e. based on ready-made practices) was appropriate for the time-
limited lesson; that said, it would be useful to conduct further studies that require pupils
themselves to list relevant practices, as here pupils provided only two self-written
practices. This is significant, as some further relevant practices may have emerged if
the pupils themselves were required to specify all the practices for the diamonds
(Niemi, Kumpulainen, Lipponen, & Hilppö, 2015b). This limitation was at least partly
overcome, as the video and audio data confirmed that the practices chosen by the
groups related to their working styles and the teacher interviews confirmed that pupils
worked in a way they had before.
The advantages of the diamond ranking method include ease of integration in
everyday classroom practices and non-specificity to any subject or economic situation.
However, the challenge of this method is the need for deep interpretation of the
diamonds, as choices may differ from the expected meaning (Croghan, Griffin,
Hunter, & Phoenix, 2008; Niemi et al., 2018). To address this issue, pupils presented
their diamonds both visually and orally to other pupils, and the data from the learning
task and the diamonds were combined with teacher interviews to ensure that practices
were correctly interpreted. This use of triangulation also strengthened the reliability of
the analysis, as it was performed by the first author but was agreed upon by all
authors.
The combination of the Vygotskian approach and participatory research methods
provided a fuller understanding of the pupils’ perspectives (Moll, 2014, p. 156), with the
aim being to acquire rich data rather than generalisation (Cohen et al., 2018). To that
EDUCATION INQUIRY 13
extent, the results can only be viewed as preliminary, still possessing the power of
applicability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In this study, it was important to give pupils
a voice and study their learning experience as a crucial factor for educational success
(Lehtomäki et al., 2014).
Discussion
Participatory pedagogy and the integrative approach to learning share similar episte-
mological assumptions emphasising the social nature of teaching and learning,
developing pupils’ thinking, engaging pupils in developing pedagogical practices in
the classroom, using learning activities with cross-curricular themes and drawing on
pupils’ experiences. These assumptions also inform the latest FNCC (Finnish National
Core Curriculum for Basic Education (FNCC), 2014). Niemi et al. (2018) have argued
that the Finnish curriculum supports the use of participatory pedagogy and diamond
ranking for data collection, and in this study these methods proved useful in enabling
pupils to share their perspectives on working styles and pedagogical practices associated
with collaborative and integrative learning.
The study results supported the findings of previous studies conducted with the same
age group and concerning pupils’ perspective. That is, the pupils mostly perceived their
learning to benefit from teamwork and collaboration when using the integrative
approach to learning (Eronen et al., 2019; Tarnanen et al., 2019). Here, the design of
the learning task supported a sociocultural approach to learning, encouraging discus-
sion and collaboration in almost all the groups (Vygotsky, 1978); each group had its
own style of working, which was reflected by the practices chosen for ranking. Most
groups viewed language as an important tool for collaborative and respectful working,
and practices related to interthinking were identified as the most important for task
completion. These results also align with previous research emphasising the importance
of a collaborative working style for interthinking during group learning tasks (Littleton
& Mercer, 2013; Soller, 2001; Taar, 2017). Several groups emphasised the ease of
working with friends and linked this to effectiveness, along with a good working
atmosphere. This supports the previous evidence that the experience of working
together has a positive effect on collaboration (Edwards, 2005; Taar, 2017), as does
a positive atmosphere (Rogoff, 1990).
Contrary to the previous results, our results failed to confirm that a strong group
leader would encourage the other group members to share their ideas (Rogoff, 1990;
Taar, 2017); in fact, they indicated the opposite. Regarding the working styles and
concepts of ZPD and IDZ, the findings showed that pupils see group engagement in
collaborative dialog as central to succeed in the learning task. This adds value to IDZ
and the idea of shared communicative space where a joint, goal-directed task creates
and maintains a dynamic shared understanding (Mercer, 2008). In the future, a more
extensive integrative research project would allow the possibility of studying this
temporal aspect of collaborative learning further.
In relation to practical arrangements involving teachers’ pedagogical choices, the
technical equipment (especially the computer) was a notable aspect that the pupils
saw as an important tool. This reflects the participating pupils being familiar with the
use of computers to support collaborative work and the growing use of technology
14 J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
realising the emphasis on ICT skills in Finnish curriculum reforms (Finnish National
Core Curriculum for Basic Education (FNCC), 2014). The extensive use of the given
materials underlined their importance as a starting point for the learning task and
a psychological tool for interthinking (Taar, 2017; Venäläinen, 2010). The level of
task difficulty was considered appropriate, and the aim, instructions and concepts
were seen as clear. These are the ways the teacher can support successful group
work by providing the tools for it and ensuring the pupils have sufficient knowl-
edge to create a shared communicative space where everyone can understand the aim
of the task, commit to working in collaboration and develop through interthinking
(Fernández et al., 2015; Littleton & Mercer, 2013; Rogoff, 1990; Taar, 2017).
Based on the results of this study, it seemed difficult for the pupils to be able to
synthesise knowledge from several school subjects. The analysis revealed only slight use
of other subject knowledge, and the pupils seemed unused to applying knowledge from
other contexts. These results suggest that pupils lacked a clear understanding of how the
Agenda 2030 goals related to sustainable development, even though these issues had
recently been discussed as part of the school’s multidisciplinary learning module in all
school subjects. In the present case, linking the task more closely to some everyday
problem might have helped create connections to the contents of other subjects (Brante
& Brunosson, 2014; Gilbert et al., 2011; Marton, 2006).
More support from the teacher regarding calling upon knowledge acquired in
other subjects during the working process might have been provided, thereby
adjusting the process to reflect pupils’ needs (Illeris, 2018; Lattuca et al., 2004).
This highlights the teacher’s contribution to learning to learn. Pupils cannot be
expected to manage learning tasks and synthesise knowledge from several subjects
properly unless they are first equipped with the requisite skills (Taar, 2017). This
naturally presupposes that the teacher is willing to create new ways of working to
generate opportunities to escape the subject-led working style (Eronen et al., 2019).
As this is one aim of the current compulsory curriculum in many countries,
exploring how to support teachers’ ability to enable pupils to learn the skill of
synthesising knowledge would be an important focus of future research.
This study was conducted during Finnish home economics lessons and sought to
give pupils an active role during the lessons and data collection. The prevailing
emphasis on supporting pupils’ active role in the curriculum unites Nordic and
Baltic countries, where home economics is taught in comprehensive schools (Beinert
et al., 2020; Höijer, 2013; Taar, 2017; Venäläinen, 2010). Extending the study in the
future to compare how pupils’ perspectives on the integrative approach to learning
differs in these similar but distinct education systems would be beneficial. In these
and many other countries, the integrative approach to learning is emphasised in the
curriculum, yet as we have shown here for pupils, it seems difficult to reach. To
ensure the pupils benefit from the integrative approach to learning, it is important
to understand how they perceive integration as part of their everyday classroom
practices and whether they perceive it as contributing to their learning. As a result,
integration would not be just another teacher-led project or a single learning task
among many.
EDUCATION INQUIRY 15
Conclusion
From the perspective of these pupils, successful completion of a collaborative and
integrative learning task depends crucially on whether groups’ ways of working support
interthinking and the creation of a shared communicative space. Also important are
appropriate pedagogical arrangements in terms of tools provided and task framing. In
addition, the ability to synthesise knowledge from several school subjects is complex
and requires clear and careful teacher guidance and appropriate learning tasks.
Funding
This work was supported by the Elli Suninen and Rachel Troberg Foundation.
Note
1. The FNCC 2014 was introduced gradually, as follows: grades 1–6 (ages 7–12) in 2016; 7th grade
(ages 13–14) in 2017; 8th grade (ages 14–15) in 2018; and 9th grade (ages 15–16) in 2019.
Notes on contributors
Janni Haapaniemiis a PhD student of education at the Faculty of Educational Sciences,
University of Helsinki, Finland. She received her master’s degree in home economics from the
Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki. Her current research interests are
integrative approaches to learning and the development of home economics education.
Salla Venäläinenworks as a Senior Advisor of the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre. In 2010,
she received her PhD in education from the Department of Teacher Education, University of
Helsinki, Finland. Her main research interests are the effects of the 2014 national core curricula
on school cultures and learning environments in Finland. Furthermore, she is interested in how
teachers and pupils work together to create more favourable opportunities for educational work
in schools as well as meaningful learning for pupils.
Anne Malinis a PhD University Lecturer in education at the Faculty of Educational Sciences,
University of Helsinki, Finland. Her main interests are in flexible and versatile learning environ-
ments. She is also interested in subject-didactic questions related to the teaching and learning of
Home Economics.
Professor Päivi Palojokiis the head of a research group, Food, culture and learning at the Faculty
of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland. Her research focuses on subject-didactic
questions related to the teaching and learning of Home Economics within various cultural
settings and school levels, ranging from comprehensive school to higher education. She is
especially interested in formal teaching and learning situations, such as in the classroom, but
also examines informal learning environments such as homes or NGOs.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
16 J. HAAPANIEMI ET AL.
ORCID
Janni Haapaniemi http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3137-522X
Salla Venäläinen http://orcid.org/0000-0002-6823-6648
Anne Malin http://orcid.org/0000-0001-6567-7766
Päivi Palojoki http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7323-7015
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