An action enquiry by Seb Bees
Successfully submitted for the M.Ed Module, Action Research 1, to the School of Education, University of Bath. 1995.
Throughout history an important measure of a civilized society has often been
its' ability to pass on its' knowledge, culture and values to successive generations.
Whatever the content that was being transmitted the importance of the teacher
from the earliest shamans to Socrates through to the modern comprehensive teacher
has always had a central role. Although many of the skills and qualities may
have changed through the ages a fundamental teacher quality has remained constant,
that being the desire to share something of value with others. Teaching, and
consequently education, 'is the transmission of something worthwhile to those
who become committed to it' (Peters, 1966, in Stenhouse, 1975). My own decision
to become a teacher in some way was influenced by this idea. I felt that I had
experiences, values and knowledge which were worth sharing with others. The
changes brought in by the National Curriculum, particularly the level of content
prescription and testing, were greeted by me- as by many teachers- with dismay.
I felt both demoralized by the loss of my professional autonomy and deskilled
as a trained professional. As a trained professional I always had a commitment
to a high quality of service and continued improvement in my practice. The National
Curriculum represented a situation where my commitment to professional improvement
had been denied 'without an active participation... in curriculum formation
and in curriculum research and evaluation.'(Kemmis, 1991, ed. Zuber-Skeritt)
Having regained a degree of professional autonomy through the changes brought in by the Dearing report especially in my own subject, History, I realised that I had lost much of my initial motivation for becoming a teacher. I was faced with the question how do I regain my vocation as a teacher? This question drew me to look again at the idea of educational studies ultimately to the M.Ed programme at Bath University. In considering my own educational perspective I was drawn to the ideas and philosophy of action research.
Why Action Research?
Although this section comes first in answering my question much of the reflection based on the philosophy of Action Research came after my initial inquiry. But I felt that it was important to understand these reflections as part of the answer to my original question about Jon's educational needs.
In considering my role as an autonomous professional in the classroom I felt that any professional development needed to be related to my own practice in the classroom. The improvement of my practice is paramount in my thinking so Action Research had obvious advantages.
In my initial reading I had discovered that Action research as a research method had been evolving over many years and applied to a variety of situations. It was partly based on the ideas expressed by Reg Revans in his work on 'action learning' in industry. His main premise was that 'action learning', this being problem solving, was best done by those who did the work sharing their experiences to improve practice and not an outside expert looking in. On reading this point I felt that this approach to improving practice fitted in with my own requirements and philosophy about change- this being that the individual took control of change in discussion with and supported by interested parties.
With further reading I realised that in order to transform this from a simple process to valid research it needed to be more formalised as a process. When I read about Kurt Lewin's and then Carr and Kemmis's ideas I knew I had something that could help me. It was Kurt Lewin in 1946 who formalised the idea of action research being a method by which one improved practice in a set situation witha planned action cycle of four stages: planning, acting, observing, reflecting. The idea of the action cycle was further developedby Kemmis and McTaggart (1982) with a more spiral view of an action cycle which was never completed- planning, acting, observing, reflecting then to a revised plan which moved on to another action cycle. This action cycle offered me a systematic approach to answering questions about my classroom practice. Yet this knowledge still did not satisfy totally my needs as an improving professional.
I knew for my own personal motivation that the answers to my questions I felt needed to be important enough to be shared with others. However, the questions which I stumbled on was why share the answers? Would people really care? Would my claims make sense to others or even be valid to others?
Why share my experiences?
In order to start to answer this question I reflected on what I knew about the development of Action research especially as in relation to education. It was in 1953 that Stephen Corey in his, 'Action Research to Improve School Practices' suggested how action research could be used. He saw action research as being the practitioners' studying their problems in a scientific way to improve schools and enhance democratic values in them. To me this represents an important facet of education so I found it difficult to understand reading about the decline of action research caused, as Carr and Kemmis (1982) pointed out, by the greater emphasis on a more 'technical' Research, Development and Dessemination model of curriculum development. Although I see this as a failure I could see how it could come about. The education world needed legitimacy for its findings and how better than to develop a system of experts whowould critically examine the practice of others thereby ensuring an idea of objectivity.
It was reading Lawrence Stenhouse's (1975) critique of objective-led curriculum development and research which made me see how vital
my own experiences were. It was Lawrence Stenhouse in 1975 who identified the need to reintroduce the action research approach to education research. His critique of traditional curriculum development and research provided the basis of a new concept of educational research- 'the Teacher Researcher'. The 'teacher researcher' was based in the idea of the 'extended professional' who had
The commitment to systematic questioning of one'steaching as a basis for development;The commitment and skills to study one's own teaching;The concern to question and to test theory in practice bythe use of those skills. (1975)
Stenhouse developed this idea further by postulating that teachers needed to be emancipated from the constraints of traditional teacher development dominated by the professional researchers who were 'more interested in building a theory teaching and reporting observations in a form addressed mainly to the research community, than improving the classrooms they have studied' (Stenhouse, 1975). On reading these comments I realised how important my own experiences would be to others. After all I was a professional who had a concern to improve his practice. If my practice, and others, were to improve then I needed to share my ideas. But what about the more objective methods of research? Could they serve my needs just as well?
I needed to consider my own situation. I was a classroom teacher who only had access to my own classes. I could not set up a controlled experiment on my practice even if I wanted to. An idea which I found difficult to grasp. How can one make an objective analysis of a social situation with so many variables? A situation that will never be repeated exactly the same again. I felt that the value of any objective research would be very limited. In facing this question I was drawn again to writing from action research. Kemmis and Carr (1983) defined further action research as:
Action research is form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations to improve the rationality and justice of (a) their ownsocial or educational practices (b) their understandingof these practices and (c) the situations in which thesepractices were carried out.'
This quote really said much to me. As a person I am very much a reflective personality. The idea of reflecting on my practice as a method of inquiry appealed to me enormously. It allowed me to reflect on and change my practice accordingly in a situation which was real to me- my classroom. The objective in my original question was how could I improve my own classroom situation? However, the reality of action research in education is that it goes beyond being merely a method of classroom inquiry. It also embraces a philosophical statement about education. Kemmis and Carr explained it as the true research of praxis, this being the committed, informed practice of a practitioner. It was study of praxis in a dialectical manner which enabled a practitioner to develop an understanding of practice and theory. In that case educational action research was creating a new education theory by the practitioner through the questioning of practice by theory and vice-versa.
I had difficulty with this idea of me creating educational theory. I suppose I felt I had no right to question in my own limited way the theories of those who had spent so much time and energy in creating. Yet I felt that my practice would often contradict those theories. However, in reading about the idea of a 'living educational' theory (Whitehead, 1993) I realised that I did not have to destroy theory but recreate it in the context of my own understanding and practice. Part of my problem was that I had been told by many authorities that my opinion and expertise as a teacher was invalid. The idea of placing me at the centre of my classroom again was very appealing. So I felt that using the questions suggested by Whitehead met my needs.
1) I identify a problem because some of my educational values are negated.
2) I imagine a solution to the problem.
3) I act in the direction of the solution.
4) I evaluate the solution.
5) I modify my actions/ideas in the light of my evaluations. (Whitehead, 1993)
This approach values the idea of dialogue as a method of inquiry. By engaging in a reflective dialogue the teacher, not only places 'I' at the heart of the development of a new education theory and practice, but also attempts to resolve the 'living contradiction' experienced in their classroom- something which I was attempting to resolve.
Is my research valid?
It is the development of the teacher's 'personal knowledge' through action which forms the justification for the research. When I first encountered this idea I had difficulty with this idea. In my education I had been brought up to look at evidence objectivelyconsidering all opinions apart from my own. The idea that I possess individual expertise and validity is something alien to my thinking. Yet without coming to terms with this idea anything I discovered in my classroom even I would doubt its validity.
It took me some time to get to grips with the idea of 'personal knowledge' yet as soon as I understood it I knew that I had found validity for what I was going to do. The concept of 'personal knowledge', as expressed by Michael Polanyi, is central to validation of action research. The validity starts with 'a person claiming originality and exercising his personal judgement responsibly with universal intent' (Polanyi, 1958.) Their claim to validity is based on their own understanding of the world being shared and accepted as valid. I felt that the idea of creating an account based on personal experience with the intent of sharing it with others to comment on was something I could easily understand and be committed to.
However, I still had problems as action research is about building up a reflective cycle of developing knowledge about a personal and social situation. Unlike objective driven research it is the developing narrative reflection which when interpreted builds up the new theory and practice. The idea that a story could be valid rather than a statistical analysis did cause some doubt for me. I knew that it was the authenticity of the narrative which determines the validity of that narrative.
On reading about Jurgen Habermas' theory of social communication I understood that I could have a valid piece of research. Jurgen Habermas' theory of social communication suggested that any claim to having a valid and meaningful communicative action was one where
the participants' intent was to:
* use a mode of communication which was comprehensible.
* share a truthful proposition.
* present the proposition in a way that can be trusted.
* agree about the normative context of the proposition.
I interpreted these ideas to my own account by seeing the need to present it in a way that could be understood with the intent of presenting the truth of my experiences good or bad. Through evidence. In addition I needed to present my account in way that shows its authenticity so that it can be trusted. Finally those that I share it with must agree over the context in which the account is being created both in terms of the values and practice it reflects. Assuming this does happen then a dialogue over my account would establish its claim to be a true account. Though I felt that two further criteria need to be added to make my account valid research:
* the account must demonstrate systematic rigour.
* the account must be open to public debate.
At the heart of these criteria is the problem of authenticity. Personal accounts have been criticised as not being authentic research by academics. They have been said to be far too personal and open to subjective interpretation unlike the rigorous objective-led research. In a sense I would agree with this. A question I asked myself was whether a story can really speak the truth about a situation?
As an avid reader of fiction I know what I am being offered is not true. Yet for me the best stories are those that ring true in some sense,in either the feelings they express or the situations they describe. In establishing authenticity for any story the 'writer must above all else speak the truth' (Doris Lessing, 1993). The reader will easily identify a story that lacks coherence or is untrue- the authentic account will have a ring of truth to it. I had to agree with the idea that stories 'capture the richness and indeterminancy of our experiences as teachers and the complexity of our understanding of what teaching is ' (Carter, 1993). Consequently in establishing authenticity it is the all embracing nature of a story- the plot, characterisation, and setting- that will be the most significant. If a reader is able to gain sense of truth both in the detail and values of what is being recounted it is possible to suggest that the account is authentic. The voice of the experience will ring with truth whereas a lie, however clever, will ring hollow.
When I considered the points which I have just recounted I knew that I had found a systematic and valid way of voicing and answering my concerns in the classroom. So part of my question of how to respond to Jon's needs had been answered. My next step was to actually carry out an action plan on my practice with Jon.
In responding to Jon's educational needs I would expect to develop a new theory of education based on my practice. My educative relationship with Jon will represent a dialogue which will develop both Jon and myself. In developing this dialogue I would hope to contribute in a real way to ideas about classroom practice which are applicable both for me and others. In this respect my action research will not only improve my own practice but also examine and develop ideas about education theory which could have a general relevance for teachers. I would hope the following account will illuminate these ideas about aspects of education theory which I hope will inform others in their practice.
THE ACTION CYCLE.
In this action cycle I am going to use the following questions as a basis of my inquiry:
What is my concern in my classroom?
What solution can I imagine for it?
What evidence will I collect about my actions?
How will my understanding be reflected in my future practice?
How will I make my claims public?
What is my concern about my practice?
In order to establish what concerns me in my practice at the moment I need to explain my values as a History teacher. Essentially this means detailing why I am History teacher in a comprehensive school.
My educational and personal journey has been a privileged one in many ways. I had the good fortune to go to various exclusive private schools which all allowed me to progress along the traditional route of my family to university . So becoming a comprehensive school teacher with the acceptance of the values and philosophy behind the comprehensive system could be considered as an unusual step from someone with my background.
My decision to become a teacher revolves around two basic strands that I feel are important. Firstly, that being part of society is about being involved in a community contributing to it in way that is of benefit to all its members. As Kemmis aptly points out 'education is a social and cultural activity which requires a very active form of participation by teachers and learners whose interests and interactions must be taken into account in the act of education' (1991). Comprehensive schools are communities whose stated aims are that all its members should benefit from the experience.
The second strand is connected to my passion and interest in History. I needed to be in a environment in which I could still work and enjoy my subject- History- once my formal education was over. So this has left me as a History teacher in a state school. However, I feel that in my practice as a History teacher I face a 'living contradiction' (Whitehead 1993) in my classroom. I am really motivated and interested in the study of History for its own sake. Yet the majority of students who came through my classroom doorsdo not see the subject in the same way as I do. In the days before the National Curriculum I remedied this by presenting History ina way which I thought was relevant and exciting. I used the ideas of the New History which emphasised the need for skills and process as well as cultural and social relevance. I also knew that History was valuable in challenging values which either were misconstrued or unacceptable by being able to present the development of these values historically.
However, the advent of the National Curriculum with its national heritage History has meant the real value of History educationally has been lost. The National Curriculum has restricted the content and type of History to be studied. My first area of concern was that the restricted topics might switch students off who would otherwise be engaged in the study of History. Linked to this concern was the fact that pressure of league tables has meant a greater emphasis on examination results. The examinations themselves havebeen influenced by a greater emphasis on timed knowledge based tests. All of these factors could quite easily produce a content-laden History which, especially in my GCSE class, destroy any possibility of the students being inspired by the History as I wanted them to be.
So my main concern was how was I going to reconcile my desire to present History in active and interesting way to the current political demands? It was in my Year 10 GCSE class where I felt this contradiction the most. Could I meet both the demands of an exam syllabus as well motivate my students to an interest in History?
I felt these demands had already had an effect on my practice. The pattern we had fallen into was that I would introduce a topic then students would write for the majority of the lesson. This approach satisfied my fears about the need for revision notes but I felt that I had lost the interest this class had at the beginning of the year. In particular a group of able boys who were obviously not fully engaged in the lessons. For the purpose of this investigation I focused on one boy from that group, Jon. My inquiry investigated how I tried to motivate Jon to a greater interest in History so as to achieve better understanding.
What solution can I imagine for it?
The only way I felt that I could achieve this was by engaging the students more actively in the lessons. So I devised the following plan to investigate my ideas:
* I would alter the style of one lesson from beingteacher-led to discussion based recording theconversations which both I and Jon had.
* I would interview Jon on his perceptions on my teaching and History.
* I would hope to be able to draw conclusions which would allow me to alter my practice in a suitable manner.
What evidence will I collect about my actions?
We had been studying the History of Medicine as a thematic approach to History. We were approaching the end of the topic which was focusing on the technological developments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One of the premises that historians use to justify the study of History is that past can inform the present. I thought that I could tap into this by presenting the idea of values in medicine as historical questions with such questions as what is change and progress? Is progress always good or a step forward? I hoped that this would take the lesson beyond the exam criteria to a more interesting style of History. I altered the style of presentation by setting up a group activity based on discussion of moral dilemmas (Appendix 1). During the activity I recorded the discussion of the group of four boys, including Jon, as well as recording my own conversations with students.
My initial perceptions about this group of students was confirmed. Before my arrival the first twenty minutes of the tape showed the
boys had been totally off task. In general their conversation was about football with the occasional attempt at the task. The motivation was low, the quality of thinking was poor as shown here:
CJ: Start again.
Jon: Number two?
CJ: I would make the drug available as it would cure some
Adam: So you would keep it as it is?
The discussion reverts back to an argument about someone being slapped. My purpose was to see if my interaction actually improved the quality of thinking. My intervention in the discussion enabled the discussion to move forward and raised the quality of thinking. Here Jon clearly identified the moral dilemma.
Jon: They don't want to kill the animals while they are trying to find a cure for leukaemia. They don't want to waste animal lives in a bid to save human lives.
The discussion which followed had a clear direction which resulted in a development of thinking about the issue in which Jon was able to work out his beliefs.
Jon: I don't think it is. I'd rather be saved than some stupid little pooch.
CJ: I don't.
Jon: I rather be.... if I had leukaemia, I'd rather get saved.
Adam: What so you think it's fair on the animals?
Eran: You think it's all right to do it on animals?
Adam: So you don't mind people killing your dog so as to save someone's life in Albania?
Jon: I wouldn't mind.
In the class feedback Jon used his understanding of the issue to defend effectively his position against the more emotional arguments of those against animal testing:
Jon: I would let them die.
Teach: The point is you do not want to kill the patients off unless you have to.
Emma: They're going to die anyway.
Adam: We're going to die anyway.
Teach: Hang on.
Jon: We're going to have a much longer life span than that animal, aren't we?
Adam: You don't know Jon.
Emma: Not necessarily.
Jon: Yeah, I think so.
Emma: No, you could die tomorrow.
Teach: We haven't heard this group on number three.
Jon: We gave a good argument of ourselves so we won. The girls had to back down about their protest about animals.
From the small group discussion Jon had moved on to adding his own ideas to back up his beliefs. This showed that Jon had the ability to consider issues and formulate ideas at a reasonably high level. It was my intervention which initiated this process- an educative exchange which both motivated and enhanced Jon's understanding.
However, later a few questions did arise in my mind in terms of achievement. I compared the written response from Jon who had monopolised my time to a girl who I had not talked to directly during the session . I found that Jon's quality of thinking had not been transferred to his written work despite a lot of input from myself. Whereas the girl's response indicated a high level of understanding commenting in detail on the ideas which were presented to her. She has clearly been able to understand thatscientific progress was not always beneficial.
So I was left at the end of the analysis of this tape with a feeling that I had failed because Jon ultimately did not perform to a high level, something I had expected. Even taking into account the time factor at the end of the lesson which was limited he did not write as much as I would expect.
So I was left with the question why was Jon not making that final commitment in his study of History? It was obvious from the taped conversation with him that he was able to understand and make the ideas his own. But he did not transfer these ideas into a more formal written form, a necessary skill for an exam. I concluded that I needed to investigate more of what Jon felt about his involvement in History. So I decided to continue with the planned interview with Jon to find out more about his ideas.
The interview was conducted during one of my History GCSE sessions. I removed Jon from the class so as to prevent any distractions. I have included extracts from the interview which I felt would expand on my question about why was an obviously able boy under-achieving in History?
In part of the interview I was able to confirm that what I suspected was that Jon was a student who was not reaching his full potential:
Teach: Do you know what level you are in Science.
Jon: Seven, eight at the moment.
Teach: Right, on that level you would expect to get a least a C.
Teach: What about Maths do you know what level you're in?
Teach: It would seem like you would expect to get C's in quite a few subjects?
Jon: Yeah.Teach: What do you think you might get in History?
Jon: C because I work hard. If I work hard enough in nay subject I'll get a C I reckon maybe not DT as that's my worse subject.
I had chosen Jon because I believed that he was a student who was not reaching his full potential. So when he talked about being able to get C's in other subjects (even though his perceptions may be a little out) I realised that I was right. Though being levels seven to eight in Science and Maths would not necessarily indicate the same ability in other subject areas, as Plewis (1991 qted inAvery Hill Project) pointed out bench mark tests or National Curriculum levels do not necessarily represent a uniform level of achievement. However, I compared this to my own assessment of his ability both of his written and test work. Certainly, his apparent level of ability in History was well below level 7.
Yet I was concerned by this knowledge. Jon did not show a typical profile of a under-achieving student. If one takes Summer and Warburton's analysis of under-achievement as being based on:
* the student's personality.
* the student's ability.
* the student's home background.
* the student's school.
Then Jon exhibits the personality of a student who has clear aims and objectives for his life. He wanted to study History because it was necessary for his future career as journalist as shown here:
Teach: Right, for example if I was to take History out of the time-table would it make any difference?
Jon: Yea, it will make a difference. When I had my careers talk with my tutor he said I'm going to need History as well because I want to be a journalist. History is about research as well. I need to get good marks. That means I have got a lot more chance of getting to be a journalist.
He was not, as Summer and Warbuton put it, 'more influenced by hedonic motives than competitive',(qted. in Avery Hill Project) in fact he seems to be the opposite in that he thrives on testing seeing only GCSE's as being important to his future. In my experience Jon did not exhibit the behaviour of a student whose home background was unsupportive especially with his attainment in Science and Maths. So this was not a factor in his apparent failure.
So I needed to think about the only other aspect which could be affecting him which would be the school. But I knew that the Ofsted school inspection carried out at my school during the week of April 18-22 1994 had reported that 'the quality of learning and, in particular, teaching is unusually high. Most students are motivated and disciplined'(Ofsted 1994). So it was unlikely that his achievement was related to the school environment.
The comment made in the Low Attaining Pupils Project (1991 HMSO) gave me a different definition which I found useful- 'a student fails because of his of her poor grasp of the fundamental skills and processes, or through lack of motivation, or through factors in his or her background or some combination of all three'. We discussed a test based on a GCSE paper in which he had scored 13 out of 40 (Appendix 4). Then on the retest he scored 23 which would be approaching a C grade:
Teach: You say you chose it (History) because you think you have done well in it.
Teach: Do you think you have done well at the moment.
Jon: I dunno, I don't think so. No, that test I could have done much better on the first time I did it. I did better the second time.
Teach: Yeah. I agree you could have done better on the first one. Can you think of a reason why you did better?
Jon: Probably, when we went through the first time. Is this about the second test?
Teach: No, just talk about the test in general. I mean just talk about do you think expected to do better than you did?
Jon: Yeah, I did take notes on them when we went through the first one. I took notes on things I didn't have down so that I would
get better marks.
Teach: Why do you think you improved? Because you understood the questions more or had a better idea how to answer them?
Jon: I had a better idea 'cause when I had the notes I turned them into sentences and answers.
It was apparent here that he had not understood the questions being asked of him. When we had gone through them he was able to understand more. It was a matter of language rather than understanding. Jon had to be trained to think and understand in a certain way. This is a problem so often encountered by all students who do not have natural access to the language of the educated middle class. Often ' ability and attainment tests of various kinds reflect the principle that a middle-class way of thinking or doing things is right and should be adopted' ('Born to Fail' P. Wedge and H.Prosser 1973 qted. in Avery Hill Project). Jon had failed because he did not have the initial skills to take the exam. Although I felt that training Jon to take an exam was not entirely in step with my philosophy about an educational History- a History which challenged and broadened horizons; I knew that I would be denying Jon opportunity by not allowing him to achieve the best in his examination. In this respect I felt that I had made progress in understanding the constraints of an exam class.
Another factor which emerged from the interview was that despite needing History for his future career Jon did not seem that motivated by the subject except when there was a test. It was apparent that he found that style in History a demotivating factor:
Teach: Do you remember that session when we did group work?
Jon: Yeah, when you taped it?
Teach: What did you think about that session?
Jon: I thought it was well good because we had arguments about animal testing and all that. I thought it was pretty good.
Teach: You feel it's pretty good in what way? You enjoyed it?
Jon: Pretty good actually to argue, to have debate.
Teach: How does that compare to your other History lessons?
Jon: I prefer to have a discussion than sitting down and writing or whatever for forty-five minutes.
Also the content of the syllabus was not ideally suited to his needs:
Teach: So what do you think of the History you are doing at the moment.
Jon: I don't really like medicine because we have done it before. We've done it at junior school, we've done it at my other school I went to. It wasn't that good. It's not my favourite project.
This contributed to his lack of attention in the class as he pointed out himself. So the question remains what was I to do about it? It was obvious that I could not change the syllabus though there was a ray of hope later on in the interview. We talked about the future topics none of which he had covered yet:
Teach: Right, what do you think about history in the future? you will be doing Britain in the nineteenth century then you will be doing a local study and something on South Africa. Do those appeal to you?
Jon: I don't know anything about South Africa. I will be learning new stuff.
Teach: So is it important to you to learn new stuff?
One of my initial objectives had been to increase my student's motivation by pointing out the relevance of the past to understanding of the present. As part of the interview we had a discussion about the concept of appeasement and deterrence. I wanted to show agreater relevance of History to today's society to create greater interest as shown by part of the interview with Jon.
Teach: Now before the Second World War there was something called Appeasement. Have you heard of it?
Teach: Appeasement was the idea that people like Britain allowed Hitler to do anything he liked in the hope that there would be a point when he would stop. Do you think that has anything to say about the world today? Think about Sadaam Hussein.
Jon: He thought he could get away with it because it was only a little country so he thought no-one would care. But we ended up going to war. He did it again didn't he? He was on the border threatening to invade.
Teach: And what was our response?
Jon: We got in all the jets and we got the place ready for war in case he invaded again.
Teach: Would you say that's a case of deterrence?
Jon: Yeah, if we hadn't been there he probably would have invaded and taken over. But seeing as we were there if he had invaded we would have been straight in there then we would...
Jon: Would it have been a waste of time and he would have got into trouble with the UN again.
Teach: Do you think appeasement would have worked? Allowing him to get away with it?
Jon: Probably not he would have gone on to other countries.
Teach: Do you think there are some similarities between Sadaam Hussein and Hitler?
Jon: Sadaam Hussein invaded countries, he only invaded one because we acted quickly. We just let Hitler get away with it for so long we ended up having a war with him for so long because he had so many countries.
Jon: As he had so many countries under his control. We should have stopped after the first one like we did to Sadaam Hussein. That only went on for about a month that war and not many people were killed.
This conversation arouse out of a discussion of what topics in History interested him and what he knew about them. The conversation I feel shows that we had a real educative exchange which increased Jon's understanding of the complex issue of appeasement. Yet hewas able to relate quite a complex idea to his own situation because he had an interest in it. This is an important factor in the development of motivation which would allow Jon to succeed.
How will my understanding be reflected in my future practice?
When I started on this first planned cycle I was interested in looking at how I could develop a more interesting educative exchange with my Year 10 students which both motivated them and met the demands of the exam syllabus. I feel that I have shown that there is a relationship between motivation and understanding. Jon has shown that he was not very interested in History as a subject therefore he was not achieving very much. When I tapped into Jon's greater interest in the Second World War then it was apparent that he could apply quite complex ideas. If I am to improve my practice then I need to consider in more detail how to interest the students in the subject despite the demands of an exam.
This process has brought to my attention several facts. Firstly, that I need to look at my style of presentation. As Jon pointed out, my style of talking then writing was a demotivating factor in his performance. It is also a style that seems to be the main style on offer in Science and Maths which Jon implied when he said he could not stop to chat in those subjects. By offering a different approach to my material I felt that the quality of our educative exchange was improved with the greater involvement of the students. The transcript of the lesson tape does not really capture the energy and emotion with which the students argued their positions.
The feeling expressed shows the level of engagement in the topic. I feel by adopting a more 'discovery-based teaching', as Lawrence Stenhouse has put it, I will engage my students more in the subject. This fact will obviously have a future affect on my classroom practice and hopefully the motivation of the students.
The other aspect of my practice which needs to developed is the training of the students in exam technique and analysis of exam questions. This is an activity that until recently has not been necessary in Humanities due to the fact we followed a coursework assessed GCSE exam
However, in following the progress of Jon, I have been left with a more open-ended conclusion. Although I have been able to paint a clearer picture of him as a student and his view of History as a subject I am still left in doubt that he will perform at his best in my subject in future. I feel I have not completely answered the problem of why he is under-achieving in my subject. The issue of under-achievement is a complex one involving many factors. Though in the current political climate it is an important one with an emphasis on exam results and the obvious differences between boys and girls' exam results. So rather than presenting an ending I would like present a beginning. A beginning which looks to further questions to be discovered and researched with particular reference to the achievement of boys.
How will I make my claims public?
During the process of this inquiry I know that have been able to extend my personal knowledge of my practice by dealing with an apparent contradiction in it. Although my purpose was to develop my own 'personal knowledge' of Jon's education in my classroom in order to make it valid action research I needed to open up my claims to public debate.
I have presented this report of my educative relationship with Jon to the Action Research group at Bath University over a period of a term. The context of this dialogue has been in consensual manner with agreed mode of sharing. It has been through this dialogue that it was agreed that my account was comprehensible to those in the group; it represented a truthful account of my development being internally and systematically coherent; and authentic in that it represents truthfully my educational beliefs and practice. This paper represents the final form of this dialogue.
In the discussions with the group members I have seen a clear dialogue take place which has enabled my research to move forward. Initially, I was confused about what my expectations should be. In a letter to the group I expressed the idea that 'I was unable to get a handle on what Jack was trying to get me to do.' Even my initial comment about Action Research was that 'it was something to do with rushing around with a tape recorder.' However, my involvement in the group has enabled me to develop a much clearer idea of what action research entails.
As a result of presenting various sections of the story my thinking and understanding has developed. Through my involvement with the group I realised that my research needed to be more analytical in its approach as well as more clearly based in the literature on Action Research which resulted in me redrafting the first section of this report. As a result of their questioning my method of inquiry has become systematic and directed with a clearer use of evidence. An example of this is a conversation I had with Jack Whitehead where we evaluated my research:
Jack: What were you thinking there?
Seb: I think the inquiry itself needed to be more directive. I think part of the process I have discovered was that, although I had useful conversations with
Jon, I don't know how it has really affected my practice because what I was really doing was exploring how to carry out action research. I don't think I was fundamentally exploring how to improve my practice though it was part of it.
Jack: What would you do now?
Seb: I would have wanted it to be much more reflective, not just on my part, but on Jon's part as well. It feels like when I read it I do all the running. I would have preferred to have a much better dialogue with Jon.
Jack: In what sense a better dialogue?
Seb: A dialogue centred on Jon, I don't know what! I felt the dialogues I had with Jon were mainly coming from me. I was firing out questions and he was responding. What I think I would have really preferred would have been a reflective dialogue where he was firing questions back at me, we were both firing questions at eachother; him reflecting on his own practice in the classroom and me on mine.
This conversation shows how Jack has encouraged me to speculate on possible adaptations to my research. It was interactions of this nature which enabled me to develop my understanding and to move my research forward.
Therefore having adapted my report to their validation I believe this report represents a true, authentic and valid account of how my understanding has improved and how I responded to Jon's educational needs in History.
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