Faculty of Education researchers awarded more than $100,000 to continue childhood studies research

Two researchers in York University’s Faculty of Education have been awarded Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grants totalling $101,580.

Lisa Farley

Professor Lisa Farley has received $60,734 to further her research for “A Multi-Site Study on Teacher Conceptualizations of Childhood: Memories, Artefacts, and Cultural Trope.” Lana Parker, a member with the Institute for Research & Digital Learning (IRDL) has received $47,846 for her investigation of “What is the Role of Literacy Education in a Post­Truth Era?”

“I extend my sincere congratulations to both Lisa and Lana for the passion and purpose they bring to their work – now, only further empowered by SSHRC,” said Faculty of Education Dean Lyndon Martin. “The thoughtfulness, rigor and creativity exhibited by their projects are further examples of the influence and impact of our research, not just within York, but on Ontario’s education system as well.”

SSHRC Insight Grants empower constructive research in the social sciences and humanities and provide funding for two- to five-year initiatives. In supporting research excellence, the objective is to cultivate a deeper understanding of people, societies and the world.

According to Farley, mainstream childhood educational theories and practices continue to focus on the child as someone to develop, measure and instruct. Working alongside her co-investigators Sandra Chang-Kredl (Concordia University), Julie C. Garlen (Carleton University) and Debbie Sonu (City University of New York), Farley is instead more interested in how memory may be linked to, and at times interrupt, pervasive cultural constructions of childhood narratives such as the child as innocent, the child as hero and the child as future – not equally granted to all children.

“Our findings will shine a light on how teachers conceptualize the children they teach, how major cultural tropes find their way into teacher memories and, in turn, how teacher memories might complicate hardened categories of development, learning and childhood,” said Farley. “Through self-reflective analyses of memory, teachers can begin to identify and challenge pervasive tropes of childhood disadvantaging children who do not sit easily inside their borders.”

Turning the lens around to ask how the teacher’s childhood impacts conceptualizations of what it means to be a child, what the child may know and who gets to have a childhood, Farley’s research advocates for more diverse representations of childhood and surfaces the cultural tropes governing recognizability of the category.

Conducting the project across four distinct teacher education sites in Montreal, New York, Savannah and Toronto, Farley’s team employs free writing and artifact analysis to prompt discussions with beginning teachers. Strategies mirror early efforts in curriculum theory, when teachers’ autobiographies emerged as key sites of study. The team’s theoretical framework is more explicitly psychoanalytic, which permits the surfacing of emotional life of memory as significant to social constructions of childhood.

Farley’s $60,734 in grant money will be used to support graduate student training in research, focus group methodologies and psycho-social analysis. The funds will further support travel for the purposes of knowledge mobilization and networking with colleagues across North America.

“We wish to send a message that advocates for the teacher as a complex person with a deep history that is full of insight, imagination, pleasure and sometimes pain, accrued through their own experiences of having been children and having gone to school,” Farley said. “Not only in Toronto, but in Montreal, New York and Savannah too, the new teachers entering into our classrooms articulate the need for a space in which to link individual experiences with the larger legacies they inherit by virtue of entering into the profession.”

Pointing to a recent and profound shift in how people access information, think about truth and formulate opinion, Parker noted critical literacies and critical digital literacies, in particular, engage with questions of how one constructs meaning using constantly shifting tools in complex, diverse settings. Living in the post-truth era shoulders implications for how people coexist, Parker said, which then further influence factors of politics, the ethics guiding people’s lives and their social commitments.

“Educators are drawing curriculum from documents that were authored before social media existed, and certainly before it became an integral part of students’ lives,” Parker said. “This work investigates how students are engaging with the world, with information and ‘facts’ specifically, in school and in their personal lives.”

Parker’s $47,856 in grant money will be used to support graduate student training, data collection via observation and qualitative interviews, and open-coded thematic analysis. Located within the interpretivist tradition of qualitative research, Parker’s investigation conducts a collective case study focusing on classrooms from two Ontario secondary schools located in the Greater Toronto Area. The study is to begin with data collection and employ a combination of in-class observations, surveys and qualitative interviews with students and teachers.

“My goal is not only to contribute to the literature on how digital literacies are integrated into the classroom, but also to the broader theoretical discussion of the relationship between education and democracy,” Parker said. “I hope the study will invite further research in the area; more specifically, I am optimistic that this research will help shine a light on opportunities for a renewed and responsive literacies curriculum and pedagogy.”

One driving objective of Parker’s research aims to enable scholarly insights into the evolving post-truth era, extending with it the potential to redefine how people consume information and make decisions, which, by consequence, has further ramifications for democracy. One of her specific research objectives is to better understand how students are engaging with information in order to become more pedagogically responsive.

“I would like to advocate for literacy education that emphasizes broad and inclusive ways of making meaning, as well as critical inquiry,” Parker said. “I aim to construct literacy education not as a set of skills tending towards mastery, but as a complex and ongoing process that leads us closer to social responsibility and justice.”

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