Friday, 20 November 2015

A week of schoolscapes: discussions in Tallinn, Helsinki and Jyväskylä

Between 12 and 17 November, I had a great time filled with exciting discussions about schoolscapes. I gave a guest lecture in Tallinn, I led a colloquium together with my colleague Petteri Laihonen in Helsinki, and I presented a conference paper in Jyväskylä. It was very intriguing to think together about the importance of materiality in teaching and learning from various perspectives at three locations.

A view of Tallinn's Old Town

My guest lecture in Tallinn

I happily accepted Prof. Anastassia Zabrodskaja’s invitation to Tallinn University. We met in Berkeley at the Linguistic Landscape Workshop for the first time and we decided to discuss some ideas about schoolscapes from the point of view of her current international MA course, Globalization, identity and communication. For me, it was inspiring to prepare this talk because now I could re-analyze my examples from the angle of globalization. Earlier, in an article, I analyzed the integration of local and national culture in the schoolscape, so now I could expand this study. The students gave me useful feedback, and I really appreciated that they prepared a personal gift for me with their signatures and the word ‘thank you’ in their first languages.

Tallinn, medieval market square
I also enjoyed the free walking tour in Tallinn’s Old Town. When I carry out fieldwork, I work with the ‘tourist guide technique’ which practically means that students, teachers and parents guide me through their school premises and reflect on the co-explored schoolscape whilst walking. Now I could be part of a ‘real’ guided tour with a tourist guide who told nice stories about Tallinn. From an interactional point of view, this tour was quite similar to those included in my studies. The guide (a student from Tallinn University) suggested sites to visit, selected some buildings or objects for attention (and deselected others because she concentrated on Estonian national narratives and not really on signs of multiculturalism in the Old Town), and she also performed ‘the local’, using expressions such as ‘we Estonians’, ‘we Tallinn people’, and so on. People could ask questions as I can during the school walking tours. Of course, there were differences as well: there was a big group of tourists and the route was not as flexible as in the case of the tours of my fieldwork (for example, I could not really initiate an alternative route).

The Senate Square is close to the University of Helsinki 

Colloquium on schoolscape research: theory, method and practice (Helsinki)

With my colleague, Petteri Laihonen, we prepared and convened a colloquium on schoolscape research at the annual symposium of AFinLA, the Finnish Association for Applied Linguistics in Helsinki on 13 November.  There are many linguists and scholars of other fields who are interested in the material environment and visuality of education, so we found it timely to organize an event on this topic. Our colloquium was the first scientific event ever that systematically focused on the notion of schoolscape.

Our call for papers generated a great interest and we could include five very interesting papers in the final program (unfortunately, two of the seven accepted papers have been cancelled):
  1. Petteri Laihonen & Tamás Péter Szabó: Introduction: on theory and methods of Schoolscape Studies
  2. Kati Kajander, Riikka Alanen & Hannele Dufva: Two languages side by side? Language practices inside and outside the Swedish-Finnish bilingual schoolscape
  3. Sanna Pakarinen: Swedish immersion as a bilingual schoolscape
  4. Inker-Anni Linkola: Linguistic landscape reflecting language hierarchy in a Sami school
  5. Teppo Jakonen: Writing (in) the schoolscape: practices for requesting, gaining and displaying access to another student’s writing.
  6. Timo Savela: Quantitative methods and data annotation in schoolscape research

You can read the abstracts online (the linked file is an excerpt of the book of abstracts of the symposium). I really liked the diversity of approaches and the materials in the program. First came the presentation of minority and majority perspectives in education: there were two papers about Swedish medium schools in Finland and a paper on a Sámi school in Norway (in my last post I wrote about a data seminar where we worked on Sámi materials with a group of Tromsø colleagues – a nice link!). The paper on writing (in) the schoolscape showed fascinating examples of using an interactional (Conversation Analytical) approach to schoolscape studies. The last paper of the colloquium was also very useful because it suggested ideas for quantitative analysis – and we could also learn a lot about photo technology that we can use in our work. 

As the presentations showed, the notion of schoolscape is really useful when we want to learn about de facto language and educational policies, especially when there is no written policy about posting signs and using various languages on those signs (if there is such a policy, it is then interesting to compare the written principles with the ongoing practices). Of course, there are many challenges, especially concerning our decisions about the boundaries of the schoolscape, the units of analysis, and the interpretation of the data.

The colloquium attracted a lot of colleagues: in sum, roughly thirty people attended the sessions.

Community space in the new Ruusupuisto building (photo taken during a public guided tour on the occasion of opening the new building; 19 September 2015)

Schoolscape and games: my paper on a seminar of play research in Jyväskylä

On November 17, I presented a paper at the seminar ‘Sharing the Play’. I have a couple of recordings of board game lessons in my corpus so I decided to discuss some of my examples with those who are really professional in researching games and playing. I liked that the papers analyzed many social aspects of playing (you can read the presentations here and the abstracts here). I analyzed the case of a Hungarian video recorded board game lesson from the point of view of sequential organization in verbal and object-mediated interaction; that is, I analyzed examples when people speak and point to, refer to, replace or manipulate objects and artifacts whilst playing or instructing playing. With this study, I tried to show how schoolscape-in-interaction can be analyzed with Conversation Analysis. My approach to schoolscape is similar to that presented by Teppo Jakonen at our Helsinki colloquium.

The venue of the seminar was the new Ruusupuisto building of our university which houses the Faculty of Education, the Open University and the Finnish Institute for Educational Research. The building was planned in a way that facilitates team work: there are open offices, great rooms with mobile furniture and flexible elements with which spaces can be easily rearranged according to the actual needs.


12 November 2015. Co-constructing the global, the national and the local: schoolscapes in interaction. Guest lecture at Tallinn University, Estonia.

13 November 2015. Introduction: on theory and methods of schoolscape studies (with Petteri Laihonen). AFinLA Autumn Symposium, Helsinki, Finland.

17 November 2015. Board games in school: ideologies and interactional practices. Sharing the Play seminar, Jyväskylä, Finland.

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