Term of Award

Spring 2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Department

Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

Grigory Dmitriyev

Committee Member 1

Jonathan Hilpert

Committee Member 2

Meca Williams-Johnson

Committee Member 3

John Hobe

Abstract

Kindergarten “boot camp” has become a familiar metaphor as younger and younger children are being required to demonstrate their knowledge on standardized assessments to meet the political accountability requirements placed on schools. This study critically investigated the meaning five Kindergarten teachers in an urban South Georgia public school give to the play experiences of their students and the barriers that constrain the incorporation of play in the classroom. This dissertation using critical inquiry captured the voice of the participants as they negotiate accountability demands while practicing age-appropriate pedagogy including play experiences. Data were collected through the purposeful sampling of the five Kindergarten teachers in the form of a focus group discussion and follow-up one-on-one semi-structured interviews. The transcripts of the audio-recorded interviews were analyzed one-by-one using the constant-comparative method. The data were compared to determine similarities and patterns for the purpose of grouping into coding categories generated by the consideration of the research questions. The categories were then reduced into themes that were analyzed for interrelatedness to allow for broader descriptions to address the research questions.

Based on analysis of the data, the participants gave meaning to the play experiences of their students describing it as serving two primary purposes: play for the purpose of learning academic content and play for the purpose of recreation. Data analysis revealed that teachers describe two primary barriers to incorporating play for their Kindergarten students: pressures on students and teachers created by testing and standards and a lack of teacher professional freedom. Teachers overwhelmingly described the daily pressures that they experience and recognize in their students that result from testing and prescribed content that is frequently “too much” to manage. In addition, the participants provided information about their feelings of powerlessness in the current oppressive educational climate. The findings of the current study will provide teachers, administrators, parents, and educational decision makers insight on the increasing demands and decreasing play opportunities for young students.

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