The research presented in this paper is based on a qualitative study using focus group interviews with teachers at two preschools.
The participating preschools were selected based on the proportion of enrolled children with immigrant backgrounds2. Specifically, we sought to have two preschool units that differed such that one unit had a relatively higher proportion of immigrant background children than the other unit. This was done in order to examine potential differences among the teachers regarding their approach to thinking about intercultural issues in the preschool. One unit was located in an urban area and had six of fourteen children with immigrant background. The second unit was based in a rural preschool, and had one of fifteen children with immigrant background. The units in both preschools served children one to three years of age.
Selection of the participating preschools was also based on the researchers’ familiarity with the schools. Both of the researchers conducted five of their seven-week teaching practicum courses at these preschools, one researcher at each preschool. As a result, each researcher had a working familiarity of the day to day operations of each preschool. The relative familiarity between the researchers and the teachers at the schools allowed for receptivity of the teachers to participate in the study.
The preschool with six of fourteen children with immigrant background will be referred to as the urban preschool and the preschool with one of fifteen children with immigrant background will be referred to as the rural preschool.
A total of six preschool teachers participated in the study. The preschools and the teachers have been given pseudonyms in order to protect their identities.
Three female preschool teachers participated from the urban preschool, Maja, Kerstin, and Lisa. Maja has worked as a preschool teacher for twelve years, only in ethnically homogenous areas before this preschool. Kerstin has been a preschool teacher for 18 years but has worked in preschools as a preschool teacher’s assistant for 35 years3. Kerstin has worked in two different preschools, which she says were multicultural. Maja and Kerstin have worked together for five years. Lisa has worked as a preschool teacher for ten years, in two different places, this is the first place with many ethnicities. Maja, Kerstin, and Lisa have worked together for seven months. Maja and Kerstin has worked for five years and Lisa for two years at the current preschool.
Three female preschool teachers participated from the rural preschool: Betty, Isabell, and Karin. Betty has worked for 16 years and she has been working in four other preschools that were all ethnically homogeneous. Isabell has also worked for 16 years and says that she has been working in one multicultural preschool and one homogeneous before she came to this preschool. Karin has been working for five years and only at the current preschool. All three teachers have worked together for three months. Karin has worked at the current preschool for five years, Betty for four and a half years and Isabell for three months.
Focus Group Interviews
Teachers from each of the two preschools participated in one focus group interview each. The reason for using focus group interviews is that the preschool teachers work in teams and therefor it seems relevant to interview them as a team. Each focus group interview lasted one hour. Each focus group interview where conducted at the current preschool in a quiet and separated room that were choosen by the preschool teachers. This was done in order for them to feel comfortable and to make it possible to conduct the focus group interviews during their working time (Ahrne & Eriksson-Zetterquist, 2015). The focus groups were semi-structured, using a general topic guide to ensure that the study topics were addressed. Furthermore, the guide was used in order to ensure comparability between data gathered from the urban and rural preschool focus groups (Dahlin-Ivanoff, 2015). The topic prompts were formulated to give opportunities for the participants to have an open discussion.
One week before the interview, copies of two children’s books were distributed to the preschool teachers. The children’s books were Den dagen and Maskerad (see section 4.4 below). Both books focus on cultural issues of ethnicity and migration. Our aim with having the teachers read and discuss these books was to elicit the teacher’s ideas and perspectives regarding developing an intercultural pedagogy in preschool.
The guiding topics for the focus group interviews where: teacher biographies, teamwork, how they, as a team, work with and think about books in preschool and also how they thought about the two books that we brought in. They were asked to think about how they would use the two books in their preschools (see appendix 2).
The researchers acted as group moderators in the interviews. Group moderators promote interaction between the participants and guide and encourage them to discussion (Dahlin-Ivanoff, 2015). Both researchers participated in the interviews and shared the moderator role. One researcher guided the interview discussion while the second researcher kept notes. At times the note-keeping researcher also stepped in to ask a supplementary question, when necessary.
Focus Group Children’s Books: Den dagen and Maskerad
The two selected children books were Den dagen (Sjögren, 2008) and Maskerad (Murray Brodin, 2009). As books that treated issues of multiculturalism and immigration, the books were chosen for their potential to elicit discussion from the teachers about their approach to intercultural education.
The story of Den dagen is about a bird family who lives in their home but one day, other birds attack them and they have to escape and leave their home. The family gets separated from the father and a family member dies. During the escape the family meets other “refugee” birds that are in the same situation of losing their homes. The family lives in insecurity of what is going to happen next and one day the family leaves for another country and they are relieved of not being afraid anymore.
In Maskerad the story takes place in ordinary situations at a preschool and the characters represent different ethnicities. The book concern things like disagreement, fights, caring and solutions between children. The books were the basis for the questions asked in the focus groups.
The focus groups were audio recorded and transcribed. Field notes based on the focus groups were written within two hours of the interviews. This was done in order to start the process of analysing the data as soon as possible, when all the impressions from the interview were still fresh. Transcriptions of the recordings were made one day after the interviews. Each researcher transcribed one of the recordings of one of the two focus group interviews. The researchers then read and reviewed one another’s transcriptions both to ensure accuracy of the transcription and as a form of preliminary analysis to identify themes.
The transcriptions were subjected to a thematic analysis, a norm critical perspective (see 2.1 above) was used to guide these analyses. In particular, our analyses focused on the ways in which the thinking and talk of the teacher’s experiences could be understood from an intersectional perspective (see 2.1 above). We looked to answer the research questions i.e. how the teacher’s describe their experiences of working with children’s books in their daily interaction with children. We also looked for occurring norms in order to meet the intersectional aim of this study.
The analysis started when we transcribed the interviews. We read and discussed the data several times during the analysis, we compared and looked for simliarites and differences between the preschools, i.e. what the preschool teacher’s expressed about using children books more concrete in their preactises. We find that they had similar ways in using and working with books and in the teacher’s expressions we could identify norms like competence in relation to childrens age, gender, (familiarity) and ethnicity. These were norms that we could see in both of the groups. We categorized our findings under two headlines: Intercultural education and Teachers discussions of gender and competence. Findings discussed under the theme of Intercultural education include observations about the teacher’s practices related to their efforts to work with cultural issues in the preschool, both generally and with respect to using the two books discussed in the focus group, this meet the research questions. Findings discussed under the theme of Teachers discussions of gender and competence concern the teacher’s ways of talking about social norms/categories, this section meet the aim of this study. All the findings, under both headlines, can be understood within the concept of intersectionality.
As a qualitative study that examined two small cases of the practices of preschool teachers, no generalized conclusions for the Swedish preschools education can be made (Bryman, 2011). The analysis of the result is of course coloured of our own experiences and there are probably many other ways to understand the result, however our focus was on ethnicity, gender and age. The preschool teachers can also have been affected of us and our intention to get certain answers.
The study presented in this paper follows the research ethics criteria outlined by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, 2002). These criteria describe four main requirements in terms of ethical principles: information, consent, confidentiality and use requirement. Verbal and written informed consent was obtained from the study participants and they were informed about the research aims. All the participants were informed of their right to withdraw their consent at any time. Every effort was made to guarantee anonymity of the participants. The thesis does not reveal any real names of participants, the field site or any other identifying characteristics. All of the data gathered was used solely for the purposes of this research study.
When applying an intersectional perspective in our analyses it revealed similarities among teacher’s from the two preschools regarding their perspectives on children’s competencies with respect to negotiating the content of the children books, as well as differences concerning the role that the books could play in the development of an intercultural education in preschool.
We organize our findings based on themes that emerged in our analyses: Intercultural education and Teachers discussions of gender and competence. Findings discussed under the theme of Intercultural education include observations about the teacher’s practices related to their efforts to work with cultural issues in the preschool, both generally and with respect to using the two books discussed in the focus group. These findings are answers to the two research questions:
How do teachers in one ethnically diversed preschool describe their experiences of working with children’s books in their daily interaction with children?
How do teachers in one ethnically homogenous preschool describes their experiences of working with children’s books in their daily interaction with children?
Findings discussed under the theme of Teachers discussions of gender and competence concern the teacher’s ways of talking about social norms/categories, wich are showed in the result; in the teachers describings of their practises. This part of the result is leaning more to the aim of this study and show the norms that become visible in the teacher’s conversation regarding children and children books. All the findings, under both headlines, can be understood within the concept of intersectionality.
The reason for selecting two preschools that differed in terms of the number of immigrant background children was to examine what differences, if any, the teachers might describe in terms of their work trying to address issues of culture and diversity in the preschool. Overall, we found that the teachers had a variety of strategies and perspectives regarding what they considered to be the proper approaches to working with cultural issues; however, there were no differences that could be definitively connected to differences in the children population.
We report here anecdotal observations regarding differences in how the teachers thought about the role that the two study books could play in contributing to an intercultural education. With respect to the book, Den dagen, we observed that the teachers in the two preschools considered the book to be useful for addressing parent’s involvement. Teachers from the rural preschool saw the book as something that could be used to counter negative descriptions about the children’s experiences that the teachers assumed the children were exposed to at home by their parents. For example, one teacher explained: “You know how it can be among adults, they talk so much, like” we do not want them here” and then we have to explain for the children, because they only have their parents view on the subject”.4 Teachers from the urban preschool saw the book in a more positive light, describing it as a tool that could be used to help the parents of immigrant background children discuss their childrens feelings, one teacher said: “I think it is important to have the parent on board. That they are aware that we talk about these things”.5
With regard to Maskerad, the teachers from the urban preschool expressed the belief that the book would be uncommon to have at a school that had little to no immigrant background children. They reasoned that it would be “strange” for children in such a school to see “all the ethnicities” in the book, but that in a preschool where children with immigrant background were common the book would seem “natural.” One teacher said that in ethnically homogenous areas: “I think the children will react on how they look”6. The teachers from the rural preschool found the book to be a “bit silly” and one teacher said sarcastically “Now we´re going show that it is okay that boys can be princesses. It felt a bit stilted”7 She continued in the same tone; « oh, now we are going to do a book that is not all Swedish, now the characters should be named Mariama and Yosef.”8
Turning now to the broader issue of the teacher’s ideas about intercultural education, in the remainder of this section we treat the issue through the lens of three general themes that emerged: Intercultural education as a general problem, Intercultural education and children’s books, and Intercultural education and Maskerad and Den dagen.
Table of Contents
2.1 Intercultural Education, Intersectionality and Normcriticism
2.2 Apprehension for Engaging with Cultural Issues in Preschool & Children’s Self-Development
2.3 Children’s Books as an Influence and Impact on Identity Development
2.4 Children’s Books, Swedish Preschool, and Intercultural Education
3. Aim and Research Questions
4.1 Field Sites
4.3 Focus Group Interviews
4.4 Focus Group Children’s Books: Den dagen and Maskerad
4.6 Analysis Method
5.1 Intercultural Education
5.2 Teachers Discussions of Gender and Competence
6.1 Teacher’s Ideas about Children’s Intellectual and Emotional Competence: Limits to Teachers’ Approaches to Intercultural Education
6.2 Stereotypes, Ethnicity, and Teacher’s Apprehension Toward Addressing Cultural Issues in Preschool.
6.3 Teachers’ Efforts to Develop Intercultural Education: Positioning in Activities that did not Involve Books.
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“If I had a reason for it…” An intersectional study of preschool teacher’s intercultural education with children books.