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Composing Lives in Transition, A Narrative Inquiry into the Experiences of Early School Leavers

Composing Lives in Transition, A Narrative Inquiry into the Experiences of Early School Leavers.


D. Jean Clandinin, University of Alberta, Canada
Pam Steeves, University of Alberta, Canada
Vera Caine, University of Alberta, Canada


Structured around ten narrative accounts, Composing Lives in Transition offers insight into the lives of early school leavers from culturally and socially diverse backgrounds, their experiences and motivations and how early school leaving has subsequently shaped their lives.


Working alongside youths from culturally and socially diverse backgrounds the research team came to understand that the youths’ lives were shaped by their experiences both in and out of school, and were shaped over time. Leaving school was not an event, but a process of life composing and recomposing. The research team also learned about how early school leaving shaped the youths’ lives after they left school.

By looking across the ten cases provided in the book, the authors were able to identify resonant threads that enabled them to reframe a narrative reconceptualization of the phenomenon of early school leaving. Transitions are seen as multiple and interwoven for each youth in ways that highlight the complexities of each youth’s life.


We see how composing his life as an elite athlete shaped transitions for Andrew while moving from a reserve to an urban setting, shaped transitions for Skye, another elite athlete. As Christian lived alongside his mother, he composed a life attentive to school at the same time as he attended to his mother's life. Conceptualizing leaving school as a part of life-composing, highlights how interconnected school, home, and community experiences are in each youth's life.


This book will have broad-based appeal in the narrative inquiry community and the qualitative methods community at large. Additionally School Administrators, Principals, graduate students, faculty, and professionals working in the areas of education, youth and cultural studies and social work will be interested in this book as well as educational policy and decision makers.

For further information view the table of contents

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Additional Information:

About the Editors:

D Jean Clandinin

Professor, BA, MEd, PhD (Toronto)

Image of Author. D. Jean Clandinin is Professor and Director of the Centre for Research for Teacher Education and Development at the University of Alberta. She is a former teacher, counselor, and psychologist and part of an ongoing inquiry into teacher knowledge and teachers' professional knowledge landscapes. She is past Vice President of Division B of AERA and is the 1993 winner of AERA’s Early Career Award. She is the 1999 winner of the Canadian Education Association Whitworth Award for educational research and awarded the Division B Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 from AERA. She is a 2001 winner of the Kaplan Research Achievement Award, the University of Alberta’s highest award for research and a 2004 Killam Scholar at the University of Alberta. She won the Outstanding Book Award, Narrative Research SIG, American Education Research Association in 2008 and Outstanding Book Award, Division B (Curriculum Studies), American Education Research Association 2009.

Jean is journal editor of Elsevier’s Teaching and Teacher Education and has authored/co-authored a host of publications including:

  • Places of Curriculum Making: Narrative Inquiries into Children's Lives in Motion.  D. Jean Clandinin, Janice Huber, M. Shaun Murphy, Stefinee E. Pinnegar (2011). Emerald. (Winner of the American Educational Research Association Narrative Research SIG Outstanding Book Award.)
  • Handbook of narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology. Clandinin, D. J. (Ed.) (2007). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (Translated into Korean).
  • Composing diverse identities: Narrative inquiries into the interwoven lives of children and teachers. Clandinin, D. J., J Huber, J., Huber, M., Murphy, M. S., Murray-Orr, A., Pearce, M., & Steeves, P.) (2006). London/NewYork: Routledge. (Awarded the 2008 AERA Narrative and Research Outstanding Book Award). (Translated into Korean, Japanese – Akashi Shoten Co. Ltd, Toyko, Japan).

Research Interests: Teacher education and development; curriculum theory; classroom practice; practical knowledge; narrative inquiry.

Work In Progress: A major multi-sited project exploring the ways contexts shape and are shaped by teachers' personal practical knowledge; editing a major handbook on narrative research methodologies; a reflective inquiry project with physicians-in-training and beginning physicians; a study of the intergenerational impact of family stories of school on youth; a narrative inquiry into the intersection of children's, family's, teachers' and administrators' stories of school.

Dr Vera Caine

Assistant Professor, RN PhD

Vera Caine's teaching and clinical practice focuses on Aboriginal People's Health, Northern and Community Health Nursing, as well as Public Health Nursing in Aboriginal communities. She is Co-Chair of the Health Equity Area of Excellence in the Faculty of Nursing. Much of her clinical focus has been on the social determinants of health and is particularly interested in the intersections of culture, health and education.

Interested in the relational and ethical aspects of community based and participatory research methods and methodologies, as well as arts-based practices, her research program also revolves around her interest in Narrative Research, specifically Visual Narrative Inquiry and its relationship and tensions with indigenous research methodologies and pedagogies.

Pam Steeves

Adjunct Professor, PhD

Pam Steeves is an adjunct professor in the Centre for Research for Teacher Education and Development (CRTED) at the University of Alberta. She has over twenty five years of diverse teaching experiences ranging from the primary classroom to graduate teacher education, particularly related to becoming a narrative inquirer. Pam’s research since her Phd evolved through her positions with the CRTED, as Horowitz Scholar in teacher research, as research associate and as currently adjunct professor.

Pam’s research has evolved autobiographically from relational narrative inquiries where she continues to explore narrative understandings of identity and transition with diverse children, teachers, administrators and pre-service teachers, youth who leave school early and most recently, alongside newly graduated teachers as they begin to compose their lives on new landscapes. She has authored and co-authored numerous book chapters and papers related to narrative inquiries including the book, Composing diverse identities: Narrative inquiries into the interwoven lives of teachers and children. (Routledge 2006).


Book Information

ISBN Print: 9781780529745
Publication Date: 10 April 2013
Format print: Paperback
Imprint: Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Page count: 250
Dimensions: 156 x 234
Audience: Professional and Vocational

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Composing Lives in Transition: A Narrative Inquiry into the Experiences of Early School Leavers (2013) is the only "textbook" I have read over the course of my educational journey that provides authentic, meaningful insights into the lives of students.  Rather than exploring theories, assumptions and statistics surrounding student achievement and graduation rates, Composing Lives in Transitions provides a platform for eleven students to share their personal journey through the public education system.  By giving a voice to these early school leavers, a powerful message is delivered: every student has a story to be heard, honored and respected.  Furthermore, by exploring with readers how lives are shaped by multiple narratives including geographical, familial, cultural, institutional and linguistic threads, this book beautifully captures "how important it is to recognize and attend to the youth who struggle to be recognized, to be seen." (p. 243). I feel strongly that Composing Lives in Transition has been instrumental in shaping how I view school not only as a place of learning but of a place of belonging for all youth. Alex Toews-Urban<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>


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Editors Jean, Vera and Pam introduce Composing Lives in Transition and reflect on the moving stories of youths who have left school early.

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