Critical Evaluation of Practitioner Enquiry

Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of Practitioner Enquiry in supporting both general teaching, and your own personal development

“Practitioner enquiry is an area of professional learning which was highlighted in Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2011) as a way forward to support teachers to become more engaged with research to support their own learning and ultimately pupil experiences.” (GTCS)

At its heart practitioner enquiry has always been about the continuous improvement of practice for the benefit of young people. Whatever area of research is identified the hope is that teaching will become better and therefore learning enhanced. This starts with reading around the subject area and what has already been researched. This reading develops ones own subject knowledge and reading around the area can identify not only points of interest but gaps which need to be filled by new practitioner enquiry. This ‘new practitioner enquiry’ is essential for career progression and central to the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s new professional update which demands “professional learning”. This professional learning involves teachers being engaged in work which will stimulate their thinking and professional knowledge and ensure that their practice is critically informed and up-to-date. Furthermore, the GTCS website says that:

We believe that by undertaking a wide range of high-quality,
sustained professional learning experiences, teachers are more
likely to inspire pupils and provide high quality teaching and
learning experiences, enabling learners to achieve their best.

On a personal level practitioner enquiry allows teachers a necessary opportunity for self-reflection of current practices and what could be improved within this current practice. Before undertaking this Masters programme I had completed a Developing Teacher Leadership course which lead to a collaborative practitioner enquiry and ultimately, the opening of the school’s Dance Academy. As I now see the benefits of this enquiry everyday I am only encouraged further to develop my practice and the research in my area of work to benefit even more young people.

 

Identify the importance of exploring relevant literature, policy documents and texts to support your investigation area

Exploring relevant literature is the starting point for successful practitioner enquiry. By analysing literature one can identify what has already been discovered and also increase awareness of the possible limitations within a particular area. Knowledge is widened, and even if a research study is not going to be taken forward it is the responsibility of all teachers to keep abreast of educational reform and current issues; reading appropriate policy documents and texts allows this to happen.

Studying literature creates a culture of lifelong learning, something which Gerhard Fischer, the director of the Centre for Lifelong Learning & Design at the University of Colorado, considers a vital component of teaching today. He describes it as “a mindset and a habit for people to acquire” and goes on to explain that “for teachers, putting in this kind of lifelong work will help better amplify their capabilities, collaborate with colleagues, and transform in turn, the way their students navigate the world.”

Ultimately, what teacher researchers are trying to do, however, is enhance the learning experiences for young people. By continuing to transform education and being aware of the latest innovative practices and theories in their subject area they can hope not just to improve education in their own setting, and perhaps further afield, but also be powerful role models for students.

 

Identify strengths and weaknesses of data gathering methods and their use in Practitioner Enquiry

Perhaps most importantly in the context of producing a new research study is that reading around the area allows researchers not only to identify gaps in knowledge but to evaluate appropriate methods for their study.

My own literature review into some of the work already being done in my chosen research area involved two quite different studies – one using the qualitative method of research and one, quantitative data gathering methods. Interestingly, neither research came up with empirical evidence and the results showed that this could be because of the relatively small pool of data used for both. However, they did identify patterns which could be further investigated to come up with more definitive results. So which method is most valuable for gathering data?

Both qualitative and quantitative research have their merits and so deciding on the appropriate research method may be one of the greatest challenges researchers face in ensuring success. Qualitative research is individualised and often based around quite natural discussions which can lead to some surprising results. It is subjective, based on people’s experiences and deals with the how, the what and the why, therefore is most appropriate when looking for opinion based research. However, this type of research can throw up a lot of information and it can therefore be quite time-consuming to sift through what is important and what is irrelevant. It is also imperative that researchers using this type of study are aware of the subjectivity and work hard to avoid bias or ‘putting words in people’s mouths’ when interviewing.

Quantitative research avoids this subjectivity as it is based purely on statistical data leading to highly controlled studies. Quantitative research produces less evidence and gives a snapshot of any particular area studied. It does not involve the same level of researcher input as often it is based on questionnaires, surveys or likert scales. The essential component of this type of research is choosing the best sampling method to ensure whatever data is produced gives the most helpful results.

With both methods having distinct advantages and disadvantages mixed method research is becoming a more popular trend. Although many researchers argue that the methods are too far opposing to be able to align well, others argue that it is a “complimentary and enriching” method of research. In her research measuring the exercise motives of Mexican-American adults, Keele (2009), used a two phase mixed-method approach and found that with each methodology having its own inherent strengths and limitations, using both quantitative and qualitative research processes together emphasised each one’s strengths and minimised any limitations.

 

Identify ethical and professional issues in designing a small scale study

“Ethical lapses in research can significantly harm human and animal subjects, students, and the public.” (http://www.niehs.nih.gov)

Once your area of research has been pinpointed being aware of the ethical procedures of the research study you will carry out is crucial. Researchers must ensure that they avoid any disadvantage, harm, anxiety or distress to those taking part in the study. When this doesn’t happen unprecedented risks can occur such as the example of ‘Little Albert’ from a piece of research looking at classical conditioning conducted in 1919:

Little Albert was the fictitious name given to an unknown child
who was subjected to an experiment in classical conditioning by
John Watson and Rosalie Raynor at John Hopkins University in the USA,
in 1919. By today’s standards in psychology, the experiment would not
be allowed because of ethical violations, namely the lack of
informed consent from the subject or his parents and the prime principle
of “do no harm”. The experimental method contained significant
weaknesses including failure to develop adequate control conditions and
the fact that there was only one subject.
(Burgemeester 2014)

Researchers must take into consideration any situation where physical or psychological harm may occur, gain ethical approval from relevant bodies (for example, the school if you are working and conducting research in that setting) and ensure that consent is gained from participants. Consent forms should highlight that there is a freedom to withdraw from the study at any time, that participation is voluntary, confidentiality and anonymity are guaranteed and that expert advice is available should it be desired. Finally, researchers must consider carefully the data protection act and store documents accordingly.

 

Reflect on the value of enquiry in supporting professional development

Education is constantly developing and changing and because of this teachers must also continue to develop and change. One such way to do this is through Practitioner Enquiry. By carrying out small scale research teachers can develop an area of their practice which they consider will provide great benefit to their pupils, their own professional development and to the wider world of education. Without practitioner enquiry education would remain static and improvement unlikely.

In ‘Developing Teachers: The Challenge of Lifelong Learning’, Christopher Day describes how, “if teachers are to extend their knowledge about practice…and thus gain the possibility of increasing their professional effectiveness, they will need to engage…in different kinds of reflection on both their own thinking, the values which underpin this and the contexts in which they work.” (Day 1999)

The various components of Practitioner Enquiry give numerous valuable opportunities for self-reflection, and it is this reflection which allows new ideas to grow, new research to take place and teaching and learning to continuously improve.

 

Bibliography

Burgemeester, A. (2014) The Little Albert Experiment. [online] Available at: http://psychologized.org/the-little-albert-experiment/ [Accessed 21 February 2016]

Day, C. (1999) Developing Teachers: The Challenges of Lifelong Learning. London: Falmer Press

Donaldson, G. (2011) Teaching Scotland’s Future. Edinburgh: Scottish Government

Edudemic. (2015) Lifelong Learning is a Crucial Educational Mindset. [online] Available at http://www.edudemic.com/lifelong-learning-educational-mindset/ [Accessed 21 February 2016]

General Teaching Council for Scotland. (2016) Practitioner Enquiry. [online] Available at: http://www.gtcs.org.uk/professional-update/research-practitioner-enquiry/practitioner-enquiry.aspx
[Accessed 19 February 2016]

Keele, R. (2009) ‘Development of the exercise motivation questionnaire with Mexican-American adults’ in Journal of Nursing Measurement pp 188-194

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2007) What is Ethics in Research and Why is it Important? [online] Available at: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/resources/bioethics/whatis/ [Accessed 21 February 2016]

Does dance raise confidence?

In a bid to find the gaps in the research around my area and tie down what I might look at I have been mind-mapping…

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I found this blog piece online which has some interesting links to research in this area: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smart-moves/201408/do-sports-and-other-physical-activities-build-self-esteem

However, writer Richard Bailey points out that most of the research in this are looks at ‘positive sporting experiences’ and that actually some sports can lessen rather than build a person’s self-esteem.

Perhaps I am finding more new questions rather than any answers…

February 13th 2016

Today we were challenged to think more about our practitioner enquiry starting with the research methods we might use to gather data for our own study. First, however, I will need to mind-map each area of my project to find where the gaps are…

A number of interesting speakers introduced their work to us based around inclusivity. Given that the nature of my research is closing the attainment gap which in itself involves inclusion I found a lot of this very relevant to my proposed areas of study as well as being just generally informative and interesting. Both IndepenDance and musicAll talked about the lack of opportunities for people with ASN to have sustained access to the performing arts. The work that they are doing is giving people these opportunities and so through that closing the attainment gap – not in terms of physical exam statistics but certainly in achievement. Perhaps ‘closing the achievement gap’ would be a better title for this government priority…

Francis Cummings, from Sistema Scotland spoke about the music project which aims to create social change and improve social justice through classical music and the impacts have been tangible: education, life skills, emotional, social, musical, physical and in terms of people feeling more protected in their environment. All-in-all the project is ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’.

He also mentioned a study which I would like to look into further by Jenevora Williams who did a study where choristers were able to move seamlessly between the classical study in which they had been trained, musical theatre and jazz styles. I’m sure this study could be replicated in dance and produce interesting results.

The final speaker, Eona Craig, talked about widening access at the Royal Conservatoire and the barriers which prevent people from accessing further, specialist education at present and how to overcome these barriers in the future.

Finally, this afternoon we mind-mapped advantages and disadvantages of practitioner enquiry:

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