Within the frame of the research project ARK&APP (2013–2015) two quantitative surveys and 12 qualitative case studies are conducted. The present case study is the third of three case studies in social science (history, geography and social science), and the ninth of 12 case studies in total. Three research questions have guided the study:
- How are educational resources used in teaching practices?
- How do educational resources foster engagement and learning among students?
- What role do various educational resources play in interactions between students and their teacher?
The study here presented was conducted in spring 2015 in a Norwegian primary school. Our researchers observed a group of 23 5.-graders and their teacher, in all social science lessons (geography) for four consecutive weeks. The topic of the learning period was “Østlandet” (the name of the Eastern part of Norway), with an emphasis on understanding maps and learning facts about the 8 counties that constitute this part of the country. The learning period consisted of different learning activities in which whole-class teaching and group work was the most prominent. In this case whole-class teaching predominantly consisted of work with geographic terms, using teacher-made learning resources, while the production of PowerPoint-presentations, station teaching and rehearsing facts about Østlandet in pairs formed the group work activities. During the learning period the pupils also worked individually with drawing and colouring maps and reading texts about the 8 counties.
Our analyses of classroom interactions indicate that in this case the teacher’s self-made educational resources – hand-outs with images, maps and writing – provided structure across the observed lessons. These multimodal texts, which were a string of Xeroxed handouts, included sentences written by the teacher aimed specifically at minority children.
These multimodal educational resources assume a central role in the interaction between teacher and pupils. The various modalities such as graphic representations (maps), writing and images, give the teacher an opportunity to use social interaction to explain and elaborate on concepts presented. In whole-class teaching, these educational resources also contribute to the pupils’ meaning making beyond learning subject specific knowledge, as they become resources for language development in general. Our analyses show that the teacher’s self-made resources contribute to the cumulative process of bridging the gap between the pupils’ out-of-school experiences and subject specific knowledge. However, faced with a limited amount of time and a content heavy curriculum, it becomes a challenge to make room for pupil contributions.
Although the multimodal texts are important in the facilitation of whole-class interactions, maps as visual forms of representation still present a challenge to many of the pupils. One possible reason is that the maps presented in the various educational resources which the pupils used (text book, atlas, wall map) are built on diverging semiotic sign systems. Reading, understanding and colouring maps created commitment, but at the same time this proved demanding work. Above all the pupils found it challenging to stay in control of what colours should go where on the maps they worked with. Data from pupil interviews indicate that the pupils found working with maps pleasurable, but difficult.
As the pupils produce their multimodal texts, the PowerPoint presentations, we observe that their previous experiences with the tourist attractions are expressed while searching for a suitable image for the slide. Unlike the written text presented on their slides, the function of images is purely decorative. However, the images are given a different function when the pupils practice for their oral presentations. Here, the pictures and illustrations regain their intrinsic value as a starting point for the actual presentations of the multimodal texts.
If we consider an increase in performance from the pretest to the posttest as expressing the pupil learning, we can observe a clear link between the tasks where the pupils improved the most, and time spent on teaching definitions and names of cities and counties. The learning outcome required of pupils is closely tied to the methods which were employed in working with factual tasks. Consequently, in this case study, there is a direct correspondence between methods and educational resources utilized in teaching, and the way learning-outcome is tested in the posttest. This relationship explains the large increase in performance of most pupils from the pretest to the posttest.