Xiao, Jiamei (2008) Children’s experience of the rituals of schooling: a case study. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This research is concerned with children’s experience of the repeated procedures and
activities in schooling, for example, registration, dismissal, assembly, discipline and
sanctions. Built on a critical review of previous studies on school ritual, the current
investigation deals with two sets of issues: ritual in the context of schooling, and
children’s experiences of the rituals of schooling. Without being initially constrained
by any theoretical framework or any particular conceptualisations of ‘ritual’, the
research emphasises the exploration of real-life phenomena, and attempts in this way
to achieve better understanding of children’s experience of the ritual aspects of school
A case study is carried out with a Year Four class in an English primary
school. Detailed classroom observations and extensive group interviews with children
are employed for the inquiry. Children’s experience of routines, collective activities
and classroom management are depicted through the researcher’s observation and by
their own accounts through interviews. Focusing on registration, dismissal, assembly,
class organization and grouping, discipline, the teacher’s instructions, children’s
attention-seeking, and children’s distractions and disruptions, the current research
provides an in-depth examination of the normal life of the classroom, putting
children’s everyday schooling experience under the microscope in order to identify
and analyse its authentic significance.
The inquiry falls into three stages in its exploration of children’s experience of
the everyday realities of life. Firstly, normal teacher-child interactions and children’s
responses to their trivial everyday experiences and the fleeting moments that are
usually ignored or taken for granted by adults are examined through detailed
observation and critical reflection by the researcher. Secondly, the children’s accounts
and descriptions in their interviews gradually present their own versions of the
‘normal day’, thus revealing the way they themselves understand schooling, the
teacher’s role and relationships among themselves, as well as the specific aspects of
school life in question. The final step in the researcher’s interpretation identifies three
different but co-existing responses on the part of the children to the rituals of
schooling: acceptance, resistance and reflectiveness. The research arrives at an
understanding of children as autonomous or potentially autonomous agents against a
backdrop of the taken-for-granted ‘structuring’ power of the rituals of schooling


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