Select two of the methods you have explored and develop a critical justification for their use in examining practices in your setting. This justification should identify both the affordances and challenges of the methods. This is a summative posting and should follow the conventions for academic writing and referencing.
**POST in your blog a brief introduction to the aspect of practice that you have identified as the focus for your professional learning: (provide an indication of the policy context and the reason why this aspect is important – about 250 words). Provide a critical justification of the methods of enquiry you selected for enquiry which identifies the affordances and challenges of these methods for examining practices in your setting (750 words). Post this by Monday 08 October 2018.
Critical Justification of Methods
The element of practice that I have focused on is how teachers ensure pupils attend to the intended learning. This micro-practice is important because, as academics assert, “engaging sufficient attention in learning tasks is essential to achieving meaningful learning” (Sun et al, 2018, p179). This micro-practice sits within the broader practice of ensuring effective learning which, in turn, sits within effective pedagogical practices.
In relation to policy, at national level there are two key documents that drive our educational agenda at the moment and both make reference to effective teaching practices in some respect. How Good Is Our School? (2015) requires all practitioners in a school to be ‘extending and deepening their knowledge’ (Quality Indicator 1.2) and expects to see ‘creative teaching approaches’ and ‘high levels of engagement’ in classrooms (Quality Indicator 2.3). However, there is very little mention, if any, of the importance of considering effective learning and the requisite knowledge of teachers. The National Improvement Framework (2016) sets out the Scottish Government’s agenda for educational reform and asserts, amongst other things, that they (Scottish Government) will help increase teacher professionalism through, for example, a renewed Initial Teacher Training programme. However, there is no mention of what this new programme will include and, as Husbands & Pearce (2012) and Dunlosky et al (2013) assert, there are key practices that teacher should be taught about.
When considering the methods of enquiry to use, it is important to be clear about the end result (Koshy (2005), Delamont (2012), Efron and Ravid (2013)) which in turn will help determine the methods used to reach that result. To this end, the product of my enquiry is to have a better understanding of the micro-practices associated with helping pupils attend to their learning. This has two components: understanding what is meant by attending to learning and; how teachers achieve this. Clarifying this end product was essential in helping me identify the most useful methods of enquiry.
Method 1 will help me talk and listen to others about practices and, more specifically, about how teachers help pupils attend to intended learning. Interviews were an obvious selection but it quickly became apparent that interviews; cover a range of methods (individual interviews, group interviews and focus groups), should not be used in isolation from other methods of enquiry (Walford (2007) in Delamont (2012)) and are not always completely objective (Bloom (1997) in Delamont (2012), Koshy (2005)). With these warnings in mind, I embarked on determining which form of interview would best enable me to “dig for nuggets” of practitioner insights (Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) in Delamont (2012), p366). Individual interviews can be helpful in gathering data but sufficient 1:1 conversations need to take place for the data to be meaningful. In my school context, it would make sense to interview all of my class teachers to ensure I hear from everyone. The challenge with this approach, however, is the time required for so many individual discussions. The answer was to consider interviewing all teachers at once using either a group interview or focus group method (Koshy, 2005). The distinction between the two is important. A focus group, a concept originating in business marketing, is primarily designed to allow a sample of a defined group to discuss a given topic (Krueger and Casey (2000) in Delamont (2012)). In my setting, in wanting to hear from all of my class teachers, a focus group is not the right description of what need. I will not be sampling my teachers – I want to hear from them all. To this end, it is a group interview that will best serve my end result. Group interviews should allow for a more natural, responsive conversation between the interviewer and interviewees and between the interviewees (Delamont (2012), Efron and Ravid (2013)). They are also better placed for gathering data from people already part of an existing organisation or a “network of peers” (Delamont, 2012, p407). It is, however, important to consider the size of the group to optimise the resulting data so I will need to decide if I conduct a single interview with all 13 teachers or two interviews with smaller groups. However I decide to proceed, I must give careful consideration to how the interviews are conducted to gather the most helpful data (following advice of Delamont (2012), Efron and Ravid (2013)).
Method 2 will help me look at practices and address the second of my two outcomes – a better understanding of what it means to attend to learning. Of the variety of documentary evidence available that would help me achieve my aim, I was drawn to concept mapping as a method for exploring practice. Documentary evidence is useful, especially when used with other methods but, warns Koshy (2005), the selection of evidence can often be subjective. I am very aware of this warning as the information I am using to create my concept maps is being filtered through my own prior knowledge and understanding of the practice I am enquiring into. Nonetheless, concept mapping is a useful tool to support enquiry because, as Kinchin and Correia (2017) state, “the intended use of the concept map is to enable dialogue about teaching so that academics might be able to purposefully reflect on their practice”( p257). They are also ideally placed to investigate the knowledge of attention because they are designed to explore domains of knowledge as they visually illustrate the relationships between concepts, ideas, images, and words (Martindale and Collins (2007) in Huang et al (2017), Hay et al (2008)). Interestingly, the use of concept maps by teachers is held to be a useful tool for helping pupils attend to learning (Novak and Camas (2006), Hay et al (2008), Sun et al (2018)). My methods enquiry should help me better understand the focus of my enquiry!
To conclude, there are various methods of enquiry that are available to researchers but, as stated above, the selection of method should be determined by the intended outcome of the enquiry. To this end, I have selected group interviews to enable me to capture data associated with what people think about their practice and concept mapping to explore the knowledge (both practical and theoretical) associated with the practice. Both methods have limitations and carry caveats but, with an awareness of these, I am hopeful that both methods will support my ongoing enquiry into the micro-practice of helping pupils attend to intended learning.
Delamont, S. (ed) (2012) Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh, E., Nathan, M. and Willingham, D. (2013) Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1) 4–58. DOI: 10.1177/1529100612453266. [Accessed15.9.18]
Education Scotland (2015) How Good Is Our School?, Education Scotland
Efron, S.E. and Ravid, R. (2013) Action research in education: A practical guide. London: Guildford Press.
Hay, D., Kinchin, I. and Lygo-Baker, S. (2008) Making learning visible: the role of concept mapping in higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 33(3), 295-311, DOI: 10.1080/03075070802049251 [Accessed 4.10.18]
Huang, M-Y., Tu, H-Y., Wang, W-Y., Chen, J-F., Yu, Y-T. and Chou, C-C. (2017) Effects of cooperative learning and concept mapping intervention on critical thinking and basketball skills in elementary school, Thinking Skills and Creativity, 23, 207-216.
Husbands, C., and Pearce, J. (2012) What makes great pedagogy? Nine claims from research, National College for School Leadership.
Kinchin, I. M., & Correia, P. R. M. (2017) Pedagogic frailty and concept mapping, Knowledge Management & E-Learning, 9(3), 254–260.
Koshy, V. (2005) Action research for improving educational practice. 2nd ed. London: Sage.
Novak, J. D. and Cañas, A. J. (2006) The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008, available at: http://cmap.ihmc.us/docs/pdf/TheoryUnderlyingConceptMaps.pdf [Accessed 4.10.18]
Scottish Government, (2016) The National Improvement Framework, Scottish Government
Sun, J. C.-Y., Hwang, G.-J., Lin, Y.-Y., Yu, S.-J., Pan, L.-C., & Chen, A. Y.-Z. (2018) A Votable Concept Mapping Approach to Promoting Students’ Attentional Behavior: An Analysis of Sequential Behavioral Patterns and Brainwave Data, Educational Technology & Society, 21 (2), 177–191.