Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2013, p. 24–38.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article argues that induction into research techniques as a means of exploring practical challenges can lead to knowledge production and ownership.
Its explicit aim is to introduce student teachers to a range of information sources, including a variety of research tools, with which they engage critically to gain confidence in making well-informed though flexible and cautious professional decisions.
It offers examples of the use of small-scale research projects as a valid means of ‘discovery learning’ in pre-service teacher education.
The participants were four female Postgraduate Certificate in Education students Naomi Hull, Susanne Stait, Tammy Round and Emma Eacock.
Data were collected through publication of summaries of samples of their PGCE work from the academic year 2007–2008 as an illustration of how, by seeking to integrate theory and practice to meet institutional Master’s criteria, they were able to generate practically useful new knowledge alongside greater understanding of the complex nature and challenges of academic research.
To achieve the Master’s criteria, the students used government and academic literature to define the topic, identified the potential for carrying out small-scale research, debated the concept of case study, chose and refined a set of triangulating tools, addressed the complex ethical issues arising and learnt how to analyse and present data with due caution.
They had to justify their procedures and results in the face of strong challenge from peers and tutors.
Each found herself positioned as expert in the field, even in discussions with experienced teachers, thus demonstrating the power of knowledge in terms of establishing status.
Their writing also finds them engaging critically with published research as well as government directives.
For each person the project represents the third in a series of six small-scale assignments designed to introduce pre-service teachers to the practical application of research methods as a tool for professional development and induction into the standards required for a dissertation should they wish to complete the degree.
Their work reveals an awareness of some of the criticisms of teacher research, summarised in the introduction to this article, and an attempt to meet those demands for rigour.
The participants express genuine surprise as their in-depth studies propose new ways of interpreting their classrooms and the behaviour of their pupils.
Rather than producing clear guidelines for effective practice, they have deepened their understanding of classroom interaction and challenged some of their own firmly held beliefs.
This process appears to have been empowering in terms of positioning them as expert knowers and as potential creators of new knowledge both for themselves and for colleagues.
Engagement in such small-scale projects could thus be seen as a powerful tool for professional development, whatever the warrants for generalisable truth.
Using the research format to gain greater understanding of pupils’ perspectives has led to a questioning of current beliefs and practice, which may in turn lead to longer term and more deeply seated changes in behaviour than a successful small-scale intervention study.
The authors recognise that engagement in research remains a minority activity for practising teachers.
They tread a fine line between presenting research as a route to ‘discovery learning’ and being over-demanding in the academic expectations when student teachers’ priority is classroom survival.
However, the participants' writings show that it is possible as a novice researcher to understand the potential and pitfalls of research, to generate new knowledge and to undergo deep personal learning through designing and implementing a small-scale project.
Hence, successful integration of theory and practice is dependent upon treading this tightrope, endeavouring to facilitate future teachers’ engagement with educational research.
In conclusion, this discussion adds to the positive voices in the international debate about the appropriateness of research training in pre-service education.
The authors argue that although the student teachers are working at postgraduate level, few have studied education as part of their first degree and even fewer have been introduced to the largely qualitative methods of data collection required for small-scale case study in a social science setting.
They only have one year in which to develop their practical teaching skills and meet the academic Master’s Level requirements.
Two thirds of that time must by law be spent in partner schools for ‘on-the-job’ training with experienced teacher mentors.
The challenge is to develop assignments that offer research tools as a way of understanding practical problems more deeply, thus opening up wider possibilities for change.
The authors want students to see the value of a research approach in providing emotional distance and deeper knowledge, however they may use this learning later.
They hope, nevertheless, that this article will encourage more colleagues worldwide to introduce research skills as investigative and discovery tools to support learner teachers in ‘owning’ knowledge gained through their preparation courses.