Building interactional competences in Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs: The case of early childhood educators

 Early childhood educator playing with children

Project summary

The Vocational Training project investigates teaching/learning-interactions within professional schools as well as on-site practical training, focusing on the training of early childhood educators. The project provides a better understanding of the role of interactional competences in vocational training, located at the interface between the resources elaborated within previous schooling and the future demands of the workplace. 

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The subproject’s research plan is designed to respond to four objectives: 

  1. To document the central role of interactional competences in the practice of a type of profession that strongly hinges on the management of interpersonal relations, and in which the professionals interact with people who express specific needs; 
  2. To provide a better understanding of the role interactional competence plays in the process of learning this type of profession, in the "learner’s" access to knowledge as well as in the dynamics of socialization that underlies these processes; 
  3. To show how the vocational training institutions value and legitimize specific interactional competences
  4. To uncover the logics of continuity or disruption between the different institutions and the different interactional competences involved in the vocational training program that is being studied.

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In this project, we focus on two emblematic activities of the early childhood educator’s profession, which are both taught in vocational schools and put into practice in daycare institutions for pre-school children: a) the activity called "free play" for one, b) and the activities called "structured discovery", for the other. Our empirical focus will be on how these two activities are both taught within the school setting and practically accomplished by students in the on-site training in the child care institutions. 

Methodologically, the research is based on the collection and study of four types of empirical data:

  1. First, we collect and study institutional documents bearing on the core activities studied (e.g. federal regulations on the training of childhood educators, study plans, pedagogical documentation). These written documents inform about how training institutions conceptualize those activities that are key for the training of early childhood educators, and how they envisage the interactional expertise that is required for carrying out these activities.
  2. Secondly, we audio-video record interactions taking place in a vocational school, and focus on teaching sequences dedicated to the training of structured discovery and free play activities. 
  3. Thirdly, we audio-video record naturally occurring interactions taking place in professional settings, and documenting how first-year students engage in structured discovery and free play activities with children, under the guidance of workplace supervisors. 
  4. Fourthly, we audio-video record pedagogical meetings involving students and trainers, and in which they plan and assess activities conducted during the training period.
  5. Finally, we carry out research interviews involving the students and their trainers. These interviews bear specifically on how students and trainers perceive the structured discovery and free play activities, and the way these are accomplished within professional practice.

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This project will provide detailed insights into the role of interactional competences in the practice of socio-educational trades and the related training activities. In particular, the project will reveal to what degree interactional competences – and which interactional competences – are the very target of teaching within different moments of the training curriculum of early childhood educators, and it will identify to what degree these competences also represent resources for the apprentices’ professional socialization and their access to knowledge. 

By focusing on how the relevance of these competences is locally accomplished within the practice itself, the project is expected to shed light on some aspects of the "hidden curriculum" of training institutions – of which the institutional actors themselves may not necessarily be aware, but the mastery of which may prove a decisive element conditioning the young trainee’s success in vocational training.

Finally, as regards methodology, the present project will highlight the input of interactional approaches to the field of vocational training. In particular, the project will show how a detailed study of interactional practices and of representations as they crystallize within social interactions can reveal in a particularly fruitful way the actual skills which underlie professional practice, and identify the specific training practices which are apt to enhance these skills.

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  • Filliettaz, L. (2011). Asking questions... getting answers. A sociopragmatic approach to vocational training interactions. Pragmatics and Society, 2(2), 234-259.
  • Filliettaz, L. (2011). Collective guidance at work: a resource for apprentices ? Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 63(3), 485-504.
  • Filliettaz, L. (2010). Interaction and miscommunication in the Swiss vocational education context: Researching vocational learning from a linguistic perspective. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 7(1), 27-50.
  • Filliettaz, L. (2010). Dropping out of apprenticeship programs: evidence from the Swiss vocational education system and methodological perspectives for research. International Journal of Training Research, 8(2), 141-153.
  • Filliettaz, L. (2010). Guidance as an interactional accomplishment : Practice-based learning within the Swiss VET system. In S. Billett (Ed.), Learning through practice : Models, traditions, orientations and approaches (pp. 156-179). Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Filliettaz, L.,de Saint-Georges, I. & Duc, B. (2010). Skiing, cheese fondue and Swiss watches : Analogical discourse in vocational training interactions. Vocations & Learning, 3(2), 117-140.
  • de Saint-Georges, I. & Filliettaz, L. (2008). Situated trajectories of learning in vocational training interactions. European Journal of Psychology of Education, XXIII(2), 213-233.

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Team members

Team partners