An exploration of Key Stage 3 girls' peer group friendships outside the class-room and their influence within the class-room

Roberts, Sally Louise (2012). An exploration of Key Stage 3 girls' peer group friendships outside the class-room and their influence within the class-room. EdD thesis The Open University.



Whilst there is some literature in the UK and internationally surrounding both peer groups and their activities during break-times and more generally group-work within the class-room, there is no research, as yet, that focuses specifically on the influence that peer groups' activity during break-times has on pedagogy. This is an under-explored and under-theorised area which suggests that there is little understanding in education of how social relationships outside the class-room influence learning within the class-room. Moreover, much of the available literature focusing on teaching and learning seems to have been underpinned by traditional models of learning.

This research seeks to highlight the importance of friendships and its direct relationship with learning through the exploration and application of the socio-cultural theory (in particular through the work of Vygotsky and his zone of proximal development, Lave and Wenger's (1998) Communities of Practice literature and Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological approach). Here, learning is reconceptualised by moving the focus away from the individual in isolation and the personal, towards a focus on the social and active participation.

This qualitative research Main Study was carried out within the autumn term in a secondary school in Wales. Taking part in the research were a total of forty-four female pupils (all within Key Stage 3) and eight teachers. The pupils participated in focus groups (which were all tape-recorded) and one friendship group from each year volunteered for participant observation which took place over two full days per group. The teachers were all interviewed individually using semi-structured interviews.

The data from the field was all transcribed and analysed using the socio-cultural framework. A narrative was also written to help to provide a more holistic view of the data and to help situate the experience of friendships within the whole school day. One main over-riding theme emerged from the transcription, that of 'the secret world of friendship'. The theme revealed how much of peer group activity during break-times was opaque to many teachers and how pupils played out their powerlessness within the class-room in the face of oppression (due to the way that the education system is presently structured). Many secret notes were passed around and personal objects used as acts of resistance.

The data showed that negotiating identities (by curtailing the tension between the personal and the social) and generally managing social relationships were a key element in a school pupil's life and important in their overall identity, but this area still remains predominantly secret to, or ignored by, many teachers. The socio-cultural approach highlights many of the tensions that are embedded within the present structure of the education system as it stands. By adopting this approach, or gaining an awareness of its key premises, the personal and the social become reunited and peer groups can become a positive and productive part of learning.

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