Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Education
Wills, Robin C, Teaching primary school children in single-gendered classes, PhD thesis, University of Wollongong, 2003. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/181
This study demonstrates that when upper primary school boys and girls from low socio-economic environments are educated separately in single-gendered classrooms in a co-educational school, there is potential for them to make positive educational and social gains. Moreover, contrary to the accepted, conventional, but untheorised practice of coeducational classrooms. This study demonstrates that the single-gendered primary school class does have the potential to provide a unique learning environment. The teachers in this study encouraged confidence building and social cohesiveness as essential, foundational attributes of the learning group. When the teachers became aware of the potential for single-gendered classes to develop as internally cooperative groups, they designed a pedagogy that was highly relevant to each gender. It achieved these attributes because it was high in motivational potential and conducive of social harmony. Thus these findings provide important information for current teachers and a new direction for the pre-service education of teachers. The research literature demonstrated that the most accurate indicators of diminished literacy achievement at primary school exit points in Australia were low socio-economic status, masculinity and rurality. Furthermore, these issues were identified in many studies as being problematic, long-standing correlates, and there was little evidence in the literature of productive school initiatives specifically directed to overcoming such problems. However, the literature did provide answers explaining why single-gendered classes might be productive, suggesting that classroom teachers have the potential to influence children more significantly than might their home environments. Furthermore, some evidence was found that when children were separated according to gender, during their middle years of schooling, they could be given specific instruction that would serve to assist them later in their education. A combination of these ideas offered a way of understanding the positive interactions that were occurring as a result of the new initiative, the single gendered classroom in a coeducational school. I found two schools where single-gendered classes had been established within state-run coeducational primary schools. The research was a case study, with an initial focus on understanding the process of teaching writing in four, single-gendered classrooms in low socio-economic state primary schools. As the study progressed, my attention became increasingly drawn to the problem of understanding the very positive social and educational dynamics of the single-gendered groups, and the general literacy pedagogy that began to emerge in each of the classrooms. Those aspects of the research became the primary concerns of this study. Data were derived from my ongoing conversations, tape-recorded interviews with the teachers, field-notes of weekly classroom observations, and teachers and students completed questionnaires. The discourse of interviews was linguistically analysed and recreated to form narrative accounts of my interactions with teachers. The teachers stories not only demonstrated their satisfaction with the results of the single-gendered classes, but also revealed their mixed understandings of the reasons that might explain the success of the venture. The teachers accounts provided valuable insights that contributed to the development of a grounded theory that explains why the organisation of primary school children into single-gendered classes has the potential to create highly productive learning settings.