The children are asked to hand in their books and to put them on the teacher’s desk. “I see that nine out of seventeen remembered. Not bad”, says the teacher. While struggling to get his book out John says, “I also remembered but I can’t get it out of my bag.” He finally succeeds and goes to the front of the class and places his book on the desk. “Oh good, ten out of seventeen”, the teacher says, “seven missing.” “If we are seventeen?” says Harry. “Well we are seventeen.” answers the teacher.

In the spring of 2002 I joined these seventeen primary school children, their class teacher and the classroom assistant to conduct an ethnographic field study.

During my first meeting with this teacher I tried to explain my study to her. This explanation, and her understanding of it, was the basis for her explanation to the children. On my first day at school I was shown to my desk and my chair, and it was pointed out that my chair had a flowery sticker with my name on it. The children had been told that I wanted to understand what it was like to be at school and I would therefore do everything that they did.

This was the beginning of my relationship with the children in the class. During my time with them they included me in many of their activities, they instructed me, they laughed at me and they were patient with me. To reciprocate I tried to be attentive to signs indicating that my presence was intrusive and to make sure I did not invade the children’s privacy.

This study is about these children’s participation in their own schooling. Set in an ordinary mainstream school class, the study centres on the children’s position in school relative to the adults there, and the restrictions and possibilities for action available to the children in this school setting.


School is one of the primary locations where children spend their childhoods but, as P. W. Jackson (1968:3) points out, “school attendance of children is such a common experience in our society that those of us who watch them go hardly pause to consider what happens to them when they get there”. According to B. Mayall, when children enter school they enter an environment which is a “closed, complete system, where goals and practices cohere, and where the activities of the teachers (during the school day) are limited to a focus on the teaching and training of the children” (Mayall 1994:125).

The goals and practices that Mayall refers to are part of the communicative patterns created as learning became institutionalised. These communicative patterns are, as R. Säljö (2000:41-7) says, based on suppositions of the nature of learning, suppositions that become an integrated part of the schools’ activities, equipment, buildings and work methods. At the same time school is a social world where staff have their place of work, students meet friends, and routines and traditions of everyday interaction is created (Bergqvist 1990:3).

This may, in part, explain that although specific communicative patterns based on suppositions of the nature of learning have emerged, and although focus is on the teaching and training of children, as I will show in this thesis, this has not created a “closed, complete system, where goals and practices cohere” (Mayall 1994:125). Instead new communicative patterns are continually introduced into school and co-exist with the ones already in place.

In the following section some communicative patterns and suppositions of learning found in the Swedish school will be presented.