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Listening to boys in kindergarten talking about school

A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree

Doctor of Philosophy


University of Wollongong


Roslyn Coleborne

M.Ed.(UC), M.A.(Macq),

Grad Dip Ed Studies(UNE),Grad Dip Educ.(CSU),

Grad Dip Spec Ed.(UC),Grad Cert Prof. Studies(UC), T.Cert.

Faculty of Education

Figure not included. Please see print copy.

Monet – Nympheas et branches de saules – Musee Marmottan, Paris. – Editions BRAUN 1991- France.

Thesis Certification

I, Roslyn Coleborne, declare this thesis, submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the award of

Doctor of Philosophy, in the Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, is wholly my own work

unless otherwise referenced or acknowledged. This document has not been submitted for qualifications at

another institution.

Roslyn Coleborne




I acknowledge with gratitude

• Dr Jillian Trezise, my supervisor and Associate Professor Pauline Harris, co-supervisor, for

providing wise quiet guidance, enthusiastic encouragement and critical questions at crucial


• Professor Jan Wright and Dr Valerie Harwood for providing early important direction

• Dr Anne Campbell, for encouraging me in my initial thoughts about this study

• James, my husband, and Matthew and Peter my sons, the most special males in my life for

enduring support, encouragement and the crucial underpinning of a belief that I could do it

• Iris, my mother (dec. 1980) who fought bureaucracy valiantly to bring education to children in

the bush and who believed fervently education was the key to a good life

• Fourteen young boys in particular, and hundreds of others over many years, for confirming that

everyone is unique.


The perspectives of boys on their experience in school during kindergarten have not been explored in
any significant way. Still missing in the literature is critical interpretive research on young, male
children’s early schooling experiences and the implications for the academic outcomes of these students.
There is evidence that some boys do not perform well in secondary school (West, 1999; Coulter, 2003;
Martin, 2003) and this is predictable as early as the first year of formal schooling (Barrett, 1989;
Alexander et el., 1993; Rimm-Kaufmann & Pianta 2000). This study adds to the literature by seeking
the views of boys in kindergarten classes about what schooling means to them.

A goal of this study is to understand the complex world of the lived experience of being a boy in
kindergarten, from the point of view of boys who live it (Schwandt, 1998) so a qualitative, interpretive
approach to the subject matter is used. Uncommon in other studies of young children, the hermeneutic
phenomenological perspective of the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (2004) and a process of analysis
proposed by Max van Manen (1990) provide the framework, using a mixed methodology derived from
diverse sources. Data is generated primarily by conducting individual semi-structured interviews with
fourteen boys in kindergarten classes in three schools in New South Wales. This data is interspersed with
excerpts from the researcher’s retrospective reflective journal covering more than forty years of teaching.
In keeping with the philosophical stance of Gadamer, these statements help to illuminate the personal
position and bias of the researcher. Field notes that evaluate the processes and the techniques used to
collect information from young children, supplement the primary data.

Interpretation of the transcripts generated by conversations with the participants shows school routines
and rules figure prominently in the boys’ views of school life, and play and friends, are important
features of the school day. The boys say learning is work, and it is generally conducted using a pencil
and paper. This study contributes to research on what school means to young boys and what factors
engage or alienate young male students in school. It demonstrates links between these views and current
education policy and classroom practice.

The study provides insights into the effectiveness of various research techniques used with young
children. Three scaffolding techniques were used to support the interview process, including the boys
drawing a picture of school life and talking about their drawing, looking at pictures of typical school
activities and commenting on those, and playing a game of ‘schools’ with the researcher using the
construction toy, Lego. The study found that talking to the boys in an engaged and supportive way
generated more useful data than any of the other strategies or scaffolds used. The study adds evidence to
the growing body of literature that suggests children are competent in providing information about issues
that are relevant to them. Future research, using a hermeneutical phenomenological approach, could
include girls in Kindergarten, in order to compare and contrast their experiences with their male
counterparts, and contribute to unravelling further what makes school engaging for some students, and
alienating for others.



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