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An activity theory based investigation of communication and connection between family, students, and school

Communication and connection between families, students, and school is a topic that receives wide attention in the research literature. This is justified because close alignment between home and school can have numerous benefits for students, such as providing them with support for their academic progress, motivation for learning, behaviour, and readiness for school. Although the extent and quality of research on this topic has helped improve attitudes and approaches towards initiatives that aim to enhance opportunities for communication and connection between home and school, issues continue to limit the effectiveness of many programmes. Examples of issues reported in the literature include that resource capacities impacted on the sustainability of a programme; a school organised event attracted only a small number of families; or that family members felt disempowered during their interactions with teachers. It is of concern that research aimed at addressing these issues often isolates elements of context and at times places blame on groups of stakeholders, usually either family members or teachers. Rather, family-school programmes should be researched from the perspective that they are holistic activities involving a multitude of elements that include not only family members and teachers, but also students, rules, divisions of labour, and tools of mediation. Studies must aim to take account of the diversity that exists within and between each of these elements; particularly in the experiences, cultural beliefs, and aspirations of the stakeholders involved. Fundamentally, all stakeholders want to see students gain the emotional, social, and academic skills that will inspire them towards success in later years. Family members have strengths that can contribute towards inspiring student success. Research investigating how to incorporate these strengths into school based programmes must attend to both specific detail and wider contextual factors in order to take account of diversity in the elements involved. These requirements underpin the choice of activity theory as the theoretical foundation of this thesis. Activity systems analysis is used to illuminate where tensions and alignments exist in the family-school programmes being implemented at three low socio-economic primary schools in New Zealand. Particular attention is given to the affordances and limitations of the tools chosen to mediate acts of communication and connection at each school. Analysis draws attention to the benefits of a carefully chosen tool that is aligned with a shared purpose designed to guide the thoughts and actions of stakeholders towards the understanding that the contributions they make to their family-school programme are respected and valued. One of the medium investigated for guiding the thoughts and actions of stakeholders is the culture of a school. It is discussed that a school culture embedded with certain symbolic tools can act as both a tool and a context for communication. Other tools of communication investigated include mobile phones and student portfolios. The affordances and limitations of these tools are considered where it is highlighted that mobile phones offer many possibilities for meaningful communication, while student portfolios can be the source of a multitude of concerns. These findings contribute to the implications for educational practice and theory that form the conclusion to this thesis.
Type of thesis
Pohio, K. E. (2014). An activity theory based investigation of communication and connection between family, students, and school (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8926
University of Waikato
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