Pressure, Threat, and Fear in the Classroom: Pupils' and Teachers' Perceptions of Soft Failure in an 11+ Context

PhD Thesis

Lewis, E. 2023. Pressure, Threat, and Fear in the Classroom: Pupils' and Teachers' Perceptions of Soft Failure in an 11+ Context. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Education and Communities
AuthorsLewis, E.
TypePhD Thesis

This thesis concerns both pupils’ and teachers’ perceptions and reactions to soft failure. Whilst there is widespread agreement that errors and impasses in the classroom can be pedagogically useful, pupils do not always respond positively to soft failure, potentially limiting their learning. Teachers, whilst keen to support pupils experiencing temporary academic setbacks, can unintentionally cement perceptions that errors should be avoided, leading to a co-construction between teacher and pupil of a classroom climate that is unfriendly to error making. In taking a bio ecological and interdisciplinary approach, this thesis addresses a gap in error climate studies through examining the intersection of sociocultural and psychological factors that impact perceptions of, and reactions to, soft failure. This thesis argues that pupils’ reactions to soft failure are imprinted, not only with immediate classroom proximal processes, but also from processes within the home, wider values, and ideologies. Drawing upon the case study genre and bound by the entry and exit points of a selective education system, findings from observations and interviews with Y7 and Y5 pupils suggest the facilitation of classroom peer ecologies orientated towards performance and demonstrating success. Through conceptualising gender as heteroglossic, Y7 grammar school girls were seen to enact masculine, highly competitive performances which reinforced a pressured climate where negative evaluation and soft failure was feared. However, these findings are complicated by pupils’ divergent and fluctuating responses and reactions to soft failure, situated and contextualised by teachers’ error handling, classroom organisation and school processes. Therefore, to establish when soft failure matters for pupils, this thesis explores the interplay of competing values, goals, and interactions. In doing so, the antecedents of soft failure adaptivity are identified, with the perceived threat to pupils’ dignity – which I reason must be understood in an adolescent context — argued as the fulcrum on which soft failure appraisals are made.

PublisherUniversity of East London
File Access Level
Publication dates
Online04 Apr 2023
Publication process dates
Completed28 Feb 2023
Deposited04 Apr 2023
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