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Maintaining the balance: teacher control and pupil disruptions in the classroom

By J. Mark Halstead and Jiamei Xiao


A class of 8-9 year-old children in England was observed for several months in order to explore their experiences of everyday schooling and especially the way they themselves understand these experiences. The research focused particularly on the way they experience and understand non-educational classroom activities like rituals and routines, classroom management and control, rewards and punishments. It highlighted the differences between the perceptions of the children and those of adults. One finding was that in the primary classroom children are under constant surveillance and control by the teacher, and that they may respond in a variety of ways. Sometimes they apparently accept the teacher’s discipline and authority, but other times they appear to subvert the teacher’s regulations and order through minor distractions, disruptions, attention-seeking and time-wasting activities. In the specific research described in this paper the focus of attention was on the informal learning that goes on in the hidden curriculum as a result of these classroom routines and subversions, especially in the domain of values and attitudes. A variety of research methods was used to gather data, including small group interviews, informal conversations and group activities as well as observation. Relevant adults were also interviewed, especially the class-teacher himself, but the main focus of the research was always on the children’s own perceptions. The findings, which are rich in their implications for teacher training, show that in the children’s subversion of the teacher’s authority there is a fine balance of power between them and the teacher. Even more importantly, they indicate that the pupils are consciously reflecting on and learning from their own behaviour and experiences and are thus taking the first steps towards becoming morally autonomous individual

Topics: L1, LB
Publisher: World Education, Science, Research and Counseling Center
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

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