A Case Study: Understanding Fifth-Grade Students' Experiences with Conflict Transformation
SubjectConflict management--Students--Education (Elementary); School children; Conflict transformation--Students--Education (Elementary)
Problem: This study explored the experience of fifth-grade students with conflict transformation. A large body of quantitative research supports the premise that direct instruction in non-violent conflict intervention decreases aggression in elementary schools (Johnson, D., Johnson, R., Dudley, & Acikgoz, 2001) and improves peer relationships (Joshi, 2008). However, there is a dearth of qualitative research literature exploring elementary student experiences with interventions based on conflict transformation. Procedure: The research question guiding this study was “What are the experiences of fifth-grade students as they learn about conflict transformation?” A holistic single case study (Creswell, 2012) was conducted to understand student experiences with a team-taught, 12-lesson, peace education unit based on conflict transformation. The unit was developed collaboratively with the classroom teacher, grounded in the conflict transformation conceptual framework (Lederach, 2003), and integrated with the classroom curriculum. Each of the unit lessons was 60 minutes in length, and designed to build knowledge and skills related to one of the three inquiries within the conflict transformation framework. Participants included twenty 10 and 11-year-old students and one classroom teacher in a rural, Midwest elementary school. Data collection included two transcribed student focus groups and two teacher interviews. Observational field notes were collected. Data from observations included student art, journal entries, and role-play. Triangulation of data included the focus groups, interviews, participant observation field notes, observation field notes, and student work samples. Data analysis included a codification process (Corbin & Strauss, 2007) to elicit themes and commonalities from the data. Findings: Outcomes of this study included overall positive student reception to conflict transformation concepts and skills during classroom activities. Nevertheless, students experienced anxiety about applying them to daily life. Each set of responses to the lessons illuminated student experiences with one or more of the three inquiries of the conflict transformation framework. Four themes emerged from the data. The first theme, strengthening literacy and relationship skills, revealed that the conflict transformation strategies bolstered these skills. The second theme, increase of student understanding of conflict, demonstrated positive changes in student perceptions of themselves, their classmates, and the classroom culture as a result of the lessons. The third theme, that students were ambivalent about adult arbitration, suggested students appreciated teacher intervention because they felt secure in knowing the outcome would be enforced and fair. However, they felt disempowered by not having the opportunity to solve problems themselves. The final theme indicated that students felt vulnerable when resolving conflict. Students felt insecure about possible negative reception from others when they attempted to use their new conflict intervention skills. Implications: Educators need to ensure students feel secure and simultaneously encourage independence as students solve problems. This study impacts the existing literature by exploring how a particular conflict intervention framework, not previously applied to the elementary school context, impacted a classroom. An implication for researchers is to recognize the importance of the qualitative approach in discovering these findings, and to seek student voice and input whenever possible on issues that directly affect them.