A Small Rural School as a Place of Social Learning

Hyry-Beihammer, Eeva K.; Hascher, Tina (12 September 2013). A Small Rural School as a Place of Social Learning (Unpublished). In: European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) - "Creativity and Innovation in Educational Research". Istanbul, Turkey. 10.09.-13.09.2013.

This study focuses on the social learning in small schools in Austria and Finland. A small school is understood here as a primary school (grades 1–6 in Finland; grades 1–4 in Austrian Volksschule) with fewer than fifty pupils and located in a rural area. Typically there are two or three teachers teaching different grades in the same class; this is called multi-grade or multi-age teaching. So-called place-based education has been a specific feature of small rural school pedagogy; the place and its particular characteristics have been incorporated into the curriculum of the school (Cameron, 2008).The concept of place is understood in this research as a concrete and experienced environment intertwining with our identity (Relph, 1976). A school is not just a building, a mere physical space, but is intertwined with our experiences of growing. A school is also a social place built in terms of social relationships (Massey, 1995) and learning is a social process: children learn in collaboration with their teachers, peers, and with the support their families (Zins et al. 2007). Student-centred learning and teaching processes, flexible teaching, a family-like and secure atmosphere, and ease of innovative change have been mentioned as advantages of multi-grade teaching (Kalaoja & Pietarinen, 2009; Raggl, 2012). On the other hand, bigger schools have been justified by social and didactic aspects. Children may have more social contacts and friendships in a bigger school and they may develop their social skills better in bigger groups. Teaching and learning possibilities may be more diversified than in a small rural school (see Kalaoja & Pietarinen, 2009). However, more study about multi-grade teaching is needed.

This study asks how pedagogy in small schools and in its multi-grade classes promotes children’s social learning. By answering this, the study aims to add our understanding, which advantages and challenges does pedagogy in small schools have for education from the point of view of social learning.


As empirical data has been used narrative teacher interviews (n=14), pupils’ writings (n=66), group interviews of pupils (n=8), and ethnographic teaching observations that have been collected in two small Finnish primary schools (Grades 1 to 6, children aged between seven to twelve) during 2010–2012 and three small Austrian primary schools (Grades 1–4, children aged between six to nine, called Volksschule) during 2013. The basic ethical principle of the study is to protect the participants. Their real names are not published, and the schools are called by code-names. Parents have been informed the research and asked for their consent for the children to take part in this research. The data is analysed by using content analysis and narrative analysis (Riessman 2008). The analysis is deepened by Vygotsky’s (2002) socio-cultural learning theory, Bruner’s (1996) ideas of narrative learning and a collaborative culture of school, and by refreshing Koskenniemi’s (1988) ideas of social education that he saw as the basic element of school education.

Expected Outcomes

According to preliminary research results, the heterogeneous groups in multi-grade classes and outside class-rooms and a relatively small total of students and school-staff in small schools constitute a specific learning society, in which pupils co-operate—even ‘naturally’—and develop socially as well. The children’s narratives denote physical and social places in which children can be active together and co-operation between children is emphasised (see Hyry-Beihammer & Autti, in press). We expect that co-operation also play a role in well-being in small schools (see Hascher and Baillod, 2004). The study discusses further how different teaching practices used in multi-grade classes support children to take more their own responsibility in the studies but also to seek and provide help that may foster their social learning (cf. Zins et al., 2007). Based on the final results the study will discuss situations in which the smallness of the school may restrict social learning of its pupils.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Education > School and Teaching Research

UniBE Contributor:

Hascher, Tina


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 370 Education




Selina Teuscher

Date Deposited:

28 Jul 2017 15:26

Last Modified:

28 Jul 2017 15:26



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