CERES 2013

Title: ‘I get to be who I want to be’: Choices in primary to secondary school transition

Author: Dimitrina Kaneva, University of Manchester

Children with English as an additional language (EAL) accumulate and bring to schools a variety of experiences and attitudes to learning. Having made one transition into the English educational system, a second significant transition from primary to secondary education makes their experiences more complex. Not only children are introduced to a substantially different environment but they are differently positioned, raising important questions about their identities as students and young people. Secondary schools are considered more anonymous in the array of subjects and individual teachers, and the fewer opportunities for children to get known in comparison to primary schools. However, the major emerging finding in this paper is that children demonstrate remarkable resourcefulness in shifting their identities in a new school context.

Making active choices about identity and self-projections in social contexts, children become more or less visible on the secondary school map. This paper draws upon data generated in the transition of a group of students with EAL from one primary into several secondary schools. Three cases are explored to illustrate strategies to transition adopted by children. The stories exemplify variety of abilities, interests and coping strategies in terms of shifting dispositions in changing environments. They are analysed using the thinking tools of Bourdieu, specifically the field and habitus concepts. Although the children transferred to the same secondary school, they made different choices of who they would be in the new school. Such choices seem to be related to a perceived anonymity in the multitude of corridors, lessons and teachers faced on the one hand, or a welcoming non-threatening environment and stable pupil-teacher relationship on the other hand. The stories raise questions about visibility and invisibility in the classroom, active engagement and students’ perspectives on transition. The paper concludes with implications for teacher practice development in terms of understanding the views of students.

Keywords: EAL, primary-secondary transition, identity, student perspectives


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