"If the teacher smiles a lot, or the kids do, you know it's good in there" : a study of students transitioning into fifth grade
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The present study was an exploration of students’ experiences as they transitioned from one classroom to another, specifically from the fourth to the fifth grade within the same school. Data were collected over four months, beginning in August of 2006 and continuing through November, in an urban, highly diverse school in a southwestern public school district. Data included interviews with students, parents, and teachers: focus meetings with students; classroom observations; and students’ journaling and art. Additionally, two questionnaires (August and November) were administered which included questions about experiences in fourth grade and fifth grade as well as about students’ perceptions of school. Although this study focused on twelve students from three fourth grade classrooms moving into three fifth grade classrooms, other students who opted to attend focus meetings were also included in data gathering in order to gather important participatory and contextual information for interpreting the experience of the focal participants. Two research methods were utilized in this study: qualitative and quantitative, specifically grounded theory techniques and chi-square tests of variance. Results indicated that transition for children was complex and multi-faceted. It was a taxing and self-defining process that changed the way children felt about school and teachers as well as how they authored themselves within their classroom worlds. The students assiduously negotiated the new classroom, dynamically facilitating their own transition to become successful members in a classroom context. They constructed and reconstructed themselves in response to the contextual demands and expectations they encountered. As the focal students developed strategies that facilitated their transition, they called on both prior knowledge and novel learning in ways conscious and unconscious. The children talked about their experiences in ways that troubled the notion that elementary students might be too young to understand the world around them. Data led to both a theoretical model of transition according to children as well as deeper understandings of students’ perspectives on the nature of transition.