Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology

First Committee Member

Lisa D. Bendixen

Number of Pages



This is a qualitative study designed to use focus groups as a means of identifying the personal epistemologies of preschool children in an authentic learning environment. Personal epistemology is generally defined as the theory about the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing. Investigations of young children are scarce in this field, and little is known about the early onset of epistemological development. However, recent research suggests a possible connection between epistemic development and theory of mind; This study explores very young children and how their cognitive ability and interactions with peers may reveal information regarding epistemological development. The aim of this study is two-fold: (1) to investigate three- to four-year-olds' demonstration of personal epistemology, and (2) to integrate developmental levels and dimensions of knowledge into an epistemic matrix as a way to identify epistemological patterns; Focus groups are rarely utilized with children; however, they provide a platform to capture the essence of the children's knowledge in their own words. For this study the focus groups were based on the weekly classroom theme, and the whole class instruction was used as a catalyst to formulate epistemological questioning. The six child-participants were divided into two groups of three and involved in a total of eight focus groups over a four week period. Each week the children participated in a pre-instructional and a post-instructional focus group to distinguish their prior knowledge and past experiences from their understanding of new information pertaining to the theme; Constant comparative analysis was used during data collection in order to allow for follow-up questioning as a way to understand the children's epistemological thinking in more depth. Data was coded inductively and deductively using ATLAS-TI software. The twelve levels of analysis ultimately resulted in three sets of themes: individual epistemic profiles, group epistemic profiles, and overall preschooler's epistemic profiles; These themes suggest that preschoolers can and do demonstrate epistemological development and that focus groups provide a unique and abundant source of epistemological insights. This study stands to promote theoretical, methodological, and educational advancements in the field of personal epistemology and with the research of young children.


Classroom Research; Early Childhood Develop; Epistemologies; Epistemology; Exploring; Focus Groups; Personal Epistemologies; Preschool; Preschoolers

Controlled Subject

Educational psychology; Early childhood education; Developmental psychology

File Format


File Size

12554.24 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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