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Nicole Thoonen

Student number: s3162704

TCHE 2408
Approaches to Educational Research and Inquiry
Assessment Task 2: Research Proposal
Programme: MC219 Master of Teaching Practice (Primary)
Title: "Girls line up here. Boys line up there." How the use of gendered language is
affecting student participation and gender identities within Upper Primary School.
Project outline:
This research project will focus on the use of gendered language and gender
stereotypes within upper primary schools. It will contribute to the growing research
into the impact educational institutions have on the emerging identities, and in
particular, the gender identities of children and young people. Using the methodology
discourse analysis and the theoretical lens from Butler that gender is performative
(Gray, Berry, Cooper, Crowhurst, Dellar, Jordan, McLagen, Patrick, Soulis and
William, 2016), this research will look at how gendered language and the stereotyping
of students into gender roles by their teachers, influences their emerging identities and
ultimately affects how they participate within the classroom and on the sporting field.
With the policy shift away from teachers focusing purely on academic achievement to
focusing on educating the whole' child, in regards to their social, emotional and
physical wellbeing, it is vital that teachers understand the weight that their choice of
words has on their students. For students who do not meet the stereotypes of gender or
told they are not good at something because of their gender, these labels and
expectations can have a profound influence on their mental and social well-being.
Literature Review:
Gender norms and stereotypes are established well before children begin formal
education. From the moment they are born they are categorised into a particular
gender because of their sex' and as children develop they are encouraged to conform
to gender norms of what is considered masculine or feminine (Woolley, 2010).
Children are told that they are either a boy or a girl. There is no in-between, and they
have no choice of which one they are. Children are also told that their gender will
dictate their ability to perform certain tasks such as academically or sport, in a certain

Nicole Thoonen
Student number: s3162704
way (Paechter and Clark, 2007; Tan, Calabrese Barton, Kang, and ONeill, 2013;
Renold, 2007). For many who do not feel they fit into one gender, or who identify
more with the gender they were not assigned at birth and do not feel they can freely
express this, it can have a profound effect on their social and mental development
(Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2016).
To address the emerging issues around the development of identity and in particular
gender identity, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2016), has
implement topics around identity into the Health and Physical Education Curriculum.
The VDET (2016) have also implemented programs in secondary schools that address
issues of gender identity, sexual identity, gender stereotypes and LGBTIQ topics, but
teachers are hesitant to acknowledge these matters in their primary school classrooms.
Research has shown that gender identity is not merely formed in secondary school but
in fact begins emerging earlier and is shaped in primary school (Paechter, 2007;
Renold, 2007; Tan et al., 2013). Students are developing awareness of their own
gender identity much younger and those who do not feel they align with the gender
they have been categorised have been vocalising this earlier than in previous years
(Woolley, 2010). This illustrates a vital need to understand how gendered language is
affecting primary school students.
Although VCAA (2016) has acknowledged the growing need to attend to the issues
surrounding student health and wellbeing in primary schools, it is still not addressing
gender identity until high school and in some cases not addressing gendered language
at all (VCAA, 2016). Shannon and Smith (2015) highlight the controversy that still
surrounds including LGBTIQ topics in the Student Health and Wellbeing Curriculum.
The authors discuss how many teachers feel they have inadequate knowledge and are
nervous in tackling such issues within a secondary school setting (Shannon and
Smith, 2015). This research only suggests more so that primary school teachers, who
have never had to deal with these topics before, would feel apprehensive about
approaching this. Helmer (2016) highlights the value of fighting gender stereotypes
and gender identity and improve the student bodies health and wellbeing overall
through education. However, without first educating the teachers on their practices,
this seems redundant. If teachers are not comfortable with the content and are not

Nicole Thoonen
Student number: s3162704
aware of the way they contribute to the culture of the school with the use of gendered
language, changing these practices will be difficult. Research shows that in order to
combat issues surrounding gender identity later in life, gender stereotypes and
gendered language need to be addressed in primary school while gender identities are
still forming (Paechter and Clark, 2007; Renold, 2001).
Teachers being at the forefront of changing the way gender is spoken about within the
school is paramount. Research has shown that the use of gender stereotypes and
gendered language within the classroom can affect the academic performance of
students (Renold, 2001; Tan et al., 2013; Wilkins, 2012). Renold (2001) found that
within a classroom, the academic performance in upper primary school boys was
affected by the notion that performing well was associated with femininity and to
maintain the idea of masculinity, their grades suffered. The research of Wilkins (2012)
extends this idea of masculinity versus femininity within the classroom with the
article "The spectre of neoliberalism: pedagogy, gender and the construction of learner
identities" highlighting the stereotype of competitiveness being linked to masculinity.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gender stereotypes and the effect it
has on students within the classroom. For those students who are beginning to
question their gender identity, these stereotypes and often the bullying that results in
the lack of conforming to gender norms, can have lasting mental health concerns and
as a result, the student's academic performance often declines (VDET, 2016).
Therefore, there is tremendous weight placed on the use of language in the classroom,
as these can propel gender stereotypes or dispel them.
However, it is not just the language used within the classroom that can influence
gender identity. Where Renold (2001) and Wilkins (2012) discuss how gender identity
can be shaped within the classroom, Paechter and Clark (2007) illustrate how gender
identity can be shaped by the use of space outside of the classroom. In their research
Paechter and Clark (2007) found that female students were often excluded from
participating fully in sporting activities outside of the classroom in the upper years of
primary school. Paechter and Clark (2007) found that male students who were
considered good at sport were given priority over the sporting areas, reinforcing the
stereotype of masculinity being associated with sport. The female students felt they

Nicole Thoonen
Student number: s3162704
were seen to be less feminine if they wanted to participate in sporting activities and as
a result, the majority chose to stop once they reached upper primary school (Paechter
and Clark, 2007). Paechter and Clark (2007) also found that those male students who
did not like sport or perhaps were not considered to be as good as the other male
students felt, they were less masculine as a result of the connection between
masculinity and sport. This research highlights the complexity of gender identity
within the primary school environment, both within the classroom and outside.
This research will be similar to Renold (2001), Tan et al., (2012) and Wilkins (2012)
in that it will explore the use of gendered language and stereotypes within the
classroom. This research will also explore issues highlighted by Shannon and Smith
(2015) regarding teacher inadequacies and apprehension in addressing gender identity
in the classroom. Additionally, this research project will, similarly to Paechter and
Clark (2007) explore the participation of students in physical education and sporting
activities outside of the classroom. This research will add to current literature in the
field by examining further, the use of gendered language by primary school teachers
and the influences this has on student participation within the classroom and during
physical education and sport.
Theoretical context:
As this research seeks to understand how gendered language is used within the
primary school classroom, Butler's theory of gender is performative will be adopted
(Gray et al., 2016). Butler's theory argues that behaviours related to gender not be
determined by a person's gender but instead, they are socially constructed (Gray et al.,
2016). Butler's theory reinforces the notion that children can possess both masculine
and feminine qualities and that their behaviours are performed to conform with what
society deems to be normal' (Gray et al., 2016). This theory mirrors the Antifoundationalist's ontological approach that there is no real world' that is made of
observable facts (Gray et al., 2016). Anti-foundationalists believe that the social
world is one that is constantly changing depending on the context, and therefore, they
seek to examine how these social norms are constructed (Gray et al., 2016). The
epistemology this research will adopt is Constructivism (Gray et al., 2016). Although
interpretivism aligns with the notion that there is no real world', while

Nicole Thoonen
Student number: s3162704
Constructivism believes there is, this research aligns with constructivism (Gray et al.,
2016). The Constructivist approach as it maintains that our understanding of the world
is constructed through the use of language which is reflective of Anti-foundationalist
(Gray et al., 2016). This epistemology approach mirrors Butler's theory that gender is
performative, as it is socially constructed through reinforced gender norms. Therefore,
using an Anti-foundationalist ontological position and a Constructivist epistemology,
this research will look at the way the gendered language teachers' use to construct an
environment where students who do not meet these constructed norms are considered
to be 'other' using Butler's theory that gender is performative (Gray et al., 2016).
Research questions:
What level of confidence and understanding do upper primary school teachers (both
classroom teachers and physical education teachers) have in addressing issues
regarding gender identity and gender stereotypes within their classrooms and the
sporting field or court? What, if anything is hindering this?
How do upper primary school students respond to the use of gendered language and
stereotypes during their classes? Do they question its usage or lack of usage? If so,
Does the use of gendered language, stereotypes and gender classification (separating
girls and boys) within the upper primary school classroom affect how students engage
with learning and teaching material, classroom discussions, physical education and/or
playground activity?
Methodology and methods:
To examine the use of gendered language and gender stereotypes within the primary
school, discourse analysis methodology framework will be used (Gray et al., 2016).
Discourse analysis looks at the how thoughts are expressed through different types of
language and social norms that are constructed and seeks to understand why (Gray et
al., 2016). This is an appropriate methodology framework for this research project as
discourse analysis is focused on the use of language and constructed social norms

Nicole Thoonen
Student number: s3162704
affect students within the primary school classroom setting and the playground and
sporting areas.
To investigate the research questions, two qualitative research methods will be
adopted. Using a qualitative method research approach, as opposed to a quantitative
methods approach will allow for me closely interact and observe the participants
within the research (Gray et al., 2016). Being able to interact closely with the
participants in this research is important in order to ensure their experiences are heard
and valued (Gray et al., 2016).
Firstly, this research project will use the qualitative method of interviews to interview
primary school teachers on their use and understanding of gendered language and
stereotypes within their own classrooms. The interviews will also include physical
education and coaches of primary school students. These interviews will be prepared
with set questions that reflect the overall research questions, however the interview
will allow for instances when the participants choose to discuss things of interest that
may have arisen (Gray et al., 2016). The interviews will also be conducted multiple
times throughout the research project.
Secondly, this research project will use focus groups, which requires a group of
teachers from different schools to ensure they do not know each other, where they will
be asked to discuss their use of gendered language and gender stereotypes within their
classrooms and school (Gray et al., 2016). The focus groups will also include physical
education teachers and coaches. Similar to the interview method, the focus group
method will include a series of questions related to the research questions but will
allow for participants to explore issues and topics that come to mind with the
questions being more broad than in the interview method. This allows for the
researcher to play the role of discussion facilitator, rather than as a formal interviewer
(Gray et al., 2016). This also allows for a variety of experiences and opinions to be
voiced. The focus groups will also discuss issues surrounding school policies and
department policies and curriculum regarding gender identity.

Nicole Thoonen
Student number: s3162704
This research project is designed to explore how and why upper primary school
teachers are using gendered language and stereotypes during their classes and how
this is contributing to the level of participation by their students within these classes.

Nicole Thoonen
Student number: s3162704
Gray, E., Berry, A., Cooper, G., Crowhurst, M., Dellar, K., Jordan, K., McLagen, A.,
Patrick, R., Soulis, S., & William, M. (2016). Teacher as learner: Educational
research online. Retrieved from [Accessed 25 May 16]
Helmer, K (2016). Gay and lesbian literature disrupting the heteronormative space of
the high school English classroom, Sex Education, Vol.16(1), p.35-48
Paechter, C & Clark, S (2007). Learning gender in primary school playgrounds:
findings from the Tomboy Identities Study. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, Vol.15(3),
Renold, E. (2001) Learning the 'Hard' Way: Boys, hegemonic masculinity and the
negotiation of learner identities in the primary school. British Journal of Sociology of
Education, Vol.22(3), p.369-385
Shannon, B & Smith, S. (2015) A lot more to learn than where babies come from:
controversy, language and agenda setting in the framing of school-based sexuality
education curricula in Australia, Sex Education, Vol.15(6), p.641-654
Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., Kang, H., and ONeill, T. (2013). Desiring a career in
STEM- related fields: How middle school girls articulate and negotiate identities-inpractice in science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 50.10: 1143-1179.
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2016). Health and Physical
Education Retrieved from [Accessed 25
May 16]
Victorian Department of Education and Training (2016). Gender Identity [ONLINE]
Retreieved from
px [Accessed 25 May 16]
Wilkins, A. (2012). The spectre of neoliberalism: pedagogy, gender and the
construction of learner identities. Critical Studies in Education. 53.2: 197-210.
Woolley, R. (2010). Tackling controversial issues in the primary school. New York: