MA Educational Enquiry Unit
How can I live my personal theory of education in the classroom to promote self reflection as a learner?
Joy Mounter November 2006
Through this account of my enquiry I want to explore my educational theories, how they influence my teaching and how I can share this and inspire the children in my class to be self reflective learners. Perhaps in that statement I should include myself, as the 'Tuesday Discussion Group' at Bath University has really enabled me take an emotional and reflective 'step back' and examine my educational theories and the influences in my life that have helped form them. I agree with Morse (1992) that
'...theories are not fact. They are not the truth. They are tools. They are merely abstractions, conjectures, and organisations of reality, and as such, are malleable, changeable, and modifiable'.
It is these changeable theories that will come under close scrutiny through this research and the impact and influence they have on the learners in my class. Whitehead, (2005) agrees with this:
'....each practitioner researcher clarifies, in the course of their emergence, in the practice of educational enquiry, the embodied ontological values to which they hold themselves accountable in their professional practice.'
I hope as Whitehead (2005) states that the 'journey' of this research will give me the clarity of thought to articulate the theories that are important to me at this moment and place in time. The processes they lead to and the practice this influences in my classroom, as well as the message this portrays to the children and parents, of teachers and the system into which they entrust the 'education' of their children.
Hutchinson (1998) writes about the: '...empowering nature of research which takes the form of action research. ......valuable role in effecting school change'.
I am also interested through this process to find out if I agree with Hutchinson or not and the effect my action research findings will have on the wider community of my school.
My concern initially was the difficulty of collecting data to demonstrate change, but through the action research model I will tape and video discussions of the children and myself and look at evidence from their writing reflecting on themselves as learners. There are critics of action research methodology but Rose & Grosvenor (2001) suggest:
'that action research is the antithesis of a scientific approach, gathers strength from its focus upon specific situations and events, and its ability to examine the atypical and unrepresentative occurrences which are present in an individual situation.'
It is this process I hope will gather a picture from the small occurrences in my class, whether a comment, a piece of work or a photograph bringing them together to form a whole picture of our development as learners and the relationship with my living values.
I am interested in the work of Bassey, (1991) who states 'It is creating education by challenging and developing one's own personal theories of education – by asking 'how do I improve my practice? And 'how do I help you improve your learning?' This supports and verifies the validity of my research question.
My reflections and initial forming of my educational values began with my youngest daughter who is now 18, and clarifies where my journey of reflection started. Abi was born with problems in both ears and until she was 4 ½ had very little hearing. She had taught herself to lip read and after an operation, speech therapy began. Sounds around her terrified her and it was a slow process. My eldest daughter had learned to talk like all other children by listening to speech around them. Abi had none of these experiences to draw upon and so the process of teaching her to talk was very different. We played lots of games, making the process very engaging and fun to maintain her concentration. The first seed of thought about wanted to teach and the teacher I wanted to be were planted. The time that I spent with Abi inspired me, fascinated me and began my journey.
At university I was shocked but fascinated at the way I was 'taught' to teach. The literacy hour was coming in at the time I started my first post and I remember being given a laminated clock from the strategy folder showing the necessary timings. I was monitored to make sure I was sticking to it exactly. At the end of each half term I was expected to calculate the percentage of time for each subject and hand this in to SMT, my life felt regimented, my dreams stifled! It felt very restrictive as if we were caught in the past and afraid to say there were problems and try and change them. Bassey describes this as:
'A second way of creating education is the historic way. It entails repeating what has been done before: basing today's action on the way it was done last week or last year. Again I guess that most of us work this way quite often, arguing that there is no time to do otherwise.'
I was teaching year one children and my classroom could have been for Year Six; there was no provision for play. But as an NQT I had no influence to change what we were being presented by government and if I am honest I am not sure how I wanted it to change. I just felt there should be so much more. We had an OFSTED inspection during the year and we came out with a glowing report, so I had even less opportunity to influence any change. Piaget said: 'intelligence is knowing what to do when you don't know', I had ideas but needed experience and the opportunities to experiment.
Changing schools, different experiences of management and curriculum was exciting, but still not what I had dreamt of. Being SENCO and then Deputy Head has given me access to changing school policy and trying to enthuse those around me. I am fortunate now to be part of a team that is excited by change and willing to listen to ideas and debate them. If proven, then to introduce them and later review with an open mind.
For me the journey of change and hope really began with the arrival of 'Excellence and Enjoyment'. For the first time I felt we had the opportunity to take the curriculum and review it with flexibility and enthusiasm. I remember reading the introduction by Charles Clarke twice, just to make sure I had understood the meaning correctly. 'There will be different ways. Children learn better when they are excited and engaged .......different schools go about this in different ways. There will be sparks that make learning vivid and real for different children.'
It was the door opening, full of opportunities for all of us to interpret and react to in our own way. If we had the vision and the courage! For the first time I felt a stirring of old memories, of the teacher in my naivety I wanted to be, before I was taught 'better'! This began my first cycle reflecting on my values and how these could be interpreted into actions in my classroom. Cohen & Manion, (1994) and Rose & Grosvenor, (2001), highlight the benefits of 'educational' research in examining and reflecting on the processes and organisational details which are my starting point.
'Educational research can be concerned with improving our understanding of processes, practices and organisations associated with teaching and learning without requiring a rush to judgement, without needing to provide an answer.' (Rose and Grosvenor, 2001)
The process of reflection has identified small areas we are all unhappy with and provided small steps to take, before finding our way further. Many issues had rumbled around the staffroom but this gave the incentive and opportunity to tackle them. The main points identified are in appendix 1.
We had already begun developing RE, guided fantasies and Circle Time, building the attitudes, values and skills of the whole child. It was quite daunting as to where to begin, but the growing awareness of Tom Robson – developing science skills, Wallace – TASC Wheel and Claxton - 4 R's of learning all came at the right time.
Reviewing the curriculum & assessment as well as attending trainings and visiting other schools became my focus and linked to my own CPD. My belief and enthusiasm that we could really achieve a manageable, exciting curriculum with more involved learners kept the midnight oil burning! Just.....
I feel, the more I introduce into the classroom, the more I want to challenge and change my ideas and thinking. The Swiss philosopher, Henri Amiel who lived in the 1800's wrote:
'It is by teaching that we teach ourselves'
I found this quote a while ago and wrote it in my diary; occasionally I catch a glance of it. I haven't kept it for any particular reason other than it strikes a cord in me and seems to link my thoughts together at the core. I have found that new ideas I introduce are exciting and begin a new unseen path. It often leads in a direction I hadn't anticipated, generating new challenges and chaotic notes. The Curriculum Map is an example, but it had a huge impact leading us to change the timetable, we are learning to be flexible and 'challenge our own thinking'.
Taking Flight Project
We wanted to build on the relationship we already have with the other schools in the valley and take our curriculum forward. 8 local schools worked together for a special 'Thinking skills' week. With support from Marie Huxtable we had training in sessions together on the 'TASC wheel' and 'Thinking Skills' over several months, culminating in a week of activities based upon the theme 'Taking flight'. We worked in phase groups from all the schools and made our plans together. Many trips were planned for all the children in one year group across all the schools. For example all the year 6 teachers chose space travel as there theme. A trip was planned to @ Bristol, year 4 studied birds and all the schools visited Chew Valley Lake together. Many exciting topics and activities were planned with the children using the TASC wheel. My class communicated with others through our class assembly to all the parents, but we also took part in the Chew Valley Enterprise Fair. This was an exhibition sponsored and supported by local businesses; we had a stand here to promote our work through the 'Taking Flight' topic and the TASC wheel we used. This was such a success that we decided to introduce Thinking Skills weeks throughout the year based on different curriculum areas. We have also found the changes to the Curriculum Map and timetables, lend themselves much more to using the TASC wheel with the children to plan and deliver topics. But what I have found is the more I learn and research, the more questions it suggests than it answers. The questions demonstrate my developing thinking and learning and are part of my reflective learning journey.
I am excited about learning, how can I convey that to the children?
My classroom should be an exciting learning environment where children are confident, believe in themselves and have the confidence to take risks, they should be excited about their learning. We talk about the children being independent learners, being able to talk about their own learning, but only within a confined way. We talk about individual lessons or a series of lessons under a topic, but do we focus on the subject skills, content or actual learning skills?
One of the questions that has been the key to starting a new pathway in my thinking is this: If we talk about learning and developing this skill, is it one skill?
This led to reading the work of Claxton (2002) and Wallace (2006) whilst exploring with the children who is a good learner? What does being a good learner look like? What does it mean?
If we are going to practise this skill(s) shouldn't there be some clear progression for the children to see, hear and understand. How do we define learning, can we explain it to ourselves, let alone help the children to understand and have the vocabulary to talk about their learning? I have taken these questions from my journal, they all inter link and form the stepping stones forward.
By reading anything that I could find I explored perceptions of learning. The more I read, the more I question myself and my beliefs. Are the values we have, set, or do they develop and change as we learn and grow? Or are they affected by the time and beliefs we live and work in, in which case how do we know if they are truly our beliefs or the influence of current trends or society?
'Perhaps learning is a journey we undertake our whole lives, by realising the quality of the experiences on the journey and not the results, we learn more about ourselves and our values grow and change'.
This seems very true. I seem to find it easier to ask myself questions than answer them. Especially trying to answer them in a simple sentence, being concise and with no body language or side explanations is so difficult when talking about something you feel so passionate about. But as Belle Wallace says just the process of the journey and especially having to order my thoughts for the discussions we have and this piece of writing are still influencing and clarifying my values for myself. Kemmis and McTaggart (1982) state action research is a way of 'trying out ideas and practice as a means of improvement and as a means of increasing knowledge.
Reviewing my class is sometimes difficult because we learn together and we don't always realise the full extent of the changes when you are deeply involved in them. This was made apparent when I recently had a lesson monitored by the Head teacher and Science Subject Leader. They were shocked by the children's ability to reflect and describe how far their learning had moved forward. Griffiths & Davies (1995) discussed and accepted that the encouragement of pupils to take some responsibility for their own learning can have major benefits.
They could identify the areas and skills they needed to focus on, were totally self motivated and had begun to evaluate each other. The children have access at all times to Post-It Note speech bubbles and record 'good learning' and the skills used by other children. They also help themselves to the digital camera to photograph examples of children using different learning skills. This has moved our learning to the next level from me doing the evaluations to the children having the confidence to evaluate each other in a safe and constructive learning environment.
We have begun to develop the vocabulary for the children to be able to talk about their learning and the understanding that we are not trying to reach a goal, but the self -awareness and confidence to enjoy and challenge themselves. I have looked for a way to gain qualitative and quantative data about the children's ability to think about themselves as learners and wondered initially if this was possible. Again this links back to my earlier research. I set the children a reflective task with only a general title 'I am, I can, I learn', I told the children they could write & present it in any form they wished. The only stimulus was classical music to aid reflection and calm. I wondered initially if I might receive a list of learning muscles the children felt they were good at, but none of them did. Below are two examples of the children's thoughts of themselves as learners. I was moved so much reading these and felt privileged by the insight and the glimpse into their thinking, especially as these children are just seven years old.
Boy aged 7
Girl aged 7
I have also used an on-line questionnaire for children based on 'Building Learning Power' that assesses their view of themselves as learners. It enables each child to have a summary against the 4 R's and a class summary for the teacher. The children have scored very highly and what is of more interest is the accuracy with my assessments, and honesty of the reflections of themselves against the criteria. What also surprised me and we have since discussed is the quickness and confidence with which the children answered the 20 questions. No adult help was present and the children read the question through and immediately chose an answer, they were confident which response to select. Child X, summed up the views of the children:
'I didn't have to think and decide I just knew which one I was. We think about learning a lot and I know what I am like now.'
(Child X, age 7, 3. 2006)
I want children to be enthusiastic learners, surprised by what they can achieve and have the language and self confidence to challenge their own thinking and learning. We have begun that journey as a class together.
This picture for me holds so much emotion and joy. It describes the journey to emotional learning and celebration in my classroom. The moment when two children shared their joy of learning and success at solving a problem with each other spontaneously.
For me this is the assignment, 'the whole world in a grain of sand', a single moment.
Learning independently, "We did it!" Child Q.
The critical part will come when the children go into another class or school and ensuring the good practice and innovation in learning is continuous. This perhaps will be my greatest challenge, to use this assignment as a platform to clarify my beliefs and values, my ability to coherently organise my thoughts and explain in an inspiring way to excite and take others with me. To lead perhaps initially, but the awareness that we don't know exactly where the path will lead us or who will inspire us, but the openness to recognise it and explore it when it comes....
'I have learnt to never underestimate my skills of craft and learning, because nothing is impossible to a child with imagination.'
(Learning evaluation by R. aged 10)
I read this and felt very touched and tearful. I wanted to show everyone how far we have travelled as learners, how exciting the journey is and the self- realisation that comes with it. The process of this action research has been an enlightening and thought provoking process for myself, the learners in my class and staff in my school. Bassey (1991) wrote:
'In the past there has been too much slavish repetition in education following the historic model; today there is too much blind playing of hunches. For tomorrow we need more recognition of the power of research in creating worthwhile education'.
The cycles of action research have been a reflection of how I have reacted emotionally to different situations, people and influences and the impact this has had on my educational values. Whitehead and McNiff (2006) describe a living educational theory, this has become much clearer and exciting as the cycles of reflection have clarified and broadened my understanding of the theories and influences on myself. I am an enthusiastic 'reflectionist' of education, learning and myself.
Perhaps this is one of the most thought provoking findings from this research so far.....a hint of the best practice for self development to continue the cycle of action research, to look forward with enthusiasm as the development of my living educational theory has clearly got direct implications in my classroom and my perceptions of the world around me.
In a quiet way a most innocuous discussion in the classroom has had the most profound impact on me of this whole process. I was talking about the Tuesday group research and essay I am writing with a group of children in my class. Their response was immediate and surprised:
'How can you write about learning without us?' 6.2006, child C
'We'll do it together!' 6. 2006, child A
This began an exciting journey of planning and exploration together of ourselves and the way we learn in our classroom. I am interested to see if we can develop as action researchers as Bognor explored and discussed through his work in Croatia that we viewed through a video clip at the Tuesday meeting. The ethos of the classroom has changed, the roles being more fluid between the children and myself. The class had written poems to go in their learning logs about their thoughts and feelings of themselves. C who had been shocked that I could write about learning without him began to lead the discussion with what we should do with them. Ideas bounced back and forth and I quietly sat back and let the children control the discussion. Turn taking continued, child C pulled ideas together and assumed the lead role. The other children agreed they wanted to perform the poem before the school together, although at this point they had 30 versions. C heard an idea from one member of the class about pulling the poems together into one performable version. Child D looked to me and suggested we wrote it up on the board and I found myself in the role of scribe for the class. Child C gathered the ideas and suggested the format and style. With a lot of shuffling and help from all the class they arranged themselves and decided to have a practice. Yes child C had led the group but ideas from everyone were considered by the whole and the most popular ones to everyone incorporated. It was interesting that they decided, and I am not sure who came up with the idea, but to make it 'fair' a line from everyone's poem was included. It was a strange experience to have the lead role for learning taken by the children. I sat as an observer listening to the flow and body language and felt so proud. We have been on a tremendous journey together from me being the teacher and delivering the learning to them to a class of children confident to work independently and switch roles comfortably. The session lasted for forty minutes without any support through prompts or questions. More importantly although child C had become the coach in the session all of the children were focused, involved and listened to.
We talked about how the session had felt and linked this back to our research on learning. The class felt we had learned a lot about ourselves and our 'places' as they called them, changed sometimes. Child D2 said we swapped around. Meaning that sometimes I was the teacher and sometimes not. We opened this up further and recorded some of the roles. Child K and others agreed that initially they thought I as the teacher would tell them the things they needed to learn and they would practice them and then know them. I knew everything.
But the list on the board of our roles now as learners was very interesting and different:
We are the teachers (children)
Mrs Mounter as the teacher
Mrs Mounter as the learner
Us as the learners (children)
We learn together, sometimes none of us know
'I like learning together best, it feels nice like I am important' Child A.
This gave us a platform to look at the best way to learn, at different times and different parts of the curriculum. I was so excited as I sat and watched hardly daring to breathe initially, feeling so proud of them. At that moment the journey we have travelled together was so clear and far, I wanted to tell everyone. This has helped me to use the criteria that this will be judged against to bring clarity to the structure and content of this assignment and the desire to share it with others to make a contribution to thinking and learning in education. Something I hadn't understood before.
Bassey, (1991) discusses how if we want change as educators that it should be written down and open to discussion by a wider audience, describing three levels of communication. The personal, the informal interactive and the formal dissemination. It is through the process of this action research that I have needed to move between the levels. Initially at the beginning of this process I needed time to explore myself and my values and the process of change before I could articulate my thoughts to others. The action research cycles have given me the clarity to express my changing values and their impact in my classroom.
' I suggest that it is proper and valuable for everyone who is arguing for change in education, be they researcher , teacher, administrator or politician, from time to time to write down the platform of their beliefs about children, teachers and education.'
I am able to through this process, but shouldn't equally the children have a voice?
Shouldn't there be an expectation that to have a clear picture all need to understand the process of reflection through action research and have a platform to share ideas and be listened to!
'Every human being has the potential to manifest the finest mosaic of attributes in a dazzling complexity of difference and diversity. Yet so often, this human mosaic is dull and tarnished – only a hint of the incipient splendour remains. And yet, sometimes, we are inspired by the light radiated from an individual.'
For me the Tuesday group's interests and passions that come through in discussions have been the 'inspirational light' that has recharged my thirst for self knowledge and clarity of values. Sometimes it does feel like a fight. A fight against indifference and complacency with the order of things or stepping into the unknown and taking a risk! Sometimes following an idea and finding it leads to new ideas that you hadn't even thought of. But it is so easy in a busy life to be blinkered and to push forwards and not to stop and think about the learning journey. Our Tuesday group acts as a validation group that questions the draft we submit using the four criteria of social validity of Jurgen Habermas. This is done in a way that will improve the comprehensibility, the evidence base used to justify claims to know, the clarity of expression of the values that distinguish the accounts as 'educational' and the action plans that are designed to enable us to live our values as fully as possible.
Sharing, reviewing and celebrating our learning journeys.
Bassey M. (1991) Creating education Through Research. British Educational Research Journal; Vol 18, No1, 3-16
BenShea N. (2002) Great Quotes To Inspire Great Teachers; London: Sage Publications Ltd. Henry Amiel.
Claxton G. (2002) Building Learning Power: Helping Young People Become Better Learners; London: TLO
Cohen, L. & Manion, L. (1994) Research Methods in Education (4th edition); London: Routledge.
DFES (2003) Excellence and Enjoyment; DFES Publication Centre: London. Charles Clarke
Griffiths & Davies (1995) In Fairness to Children: Working for Social Justice in the Primary School; London: David Fulton
Grosvenor I. & Rose R. (2001) Doing Research in Special Education. Ideas into Practice; London: David Fulton
Habermas J. (2002) The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory; Oxford: Polity
Hutchinson, B. (1998) Learning Action Research and Managing Educational Change - Improvement in Careers Education: A Case Study of Managerialism in Action? Educational Management and Administration, Vol. 26, pp. 373-379
Kemmis S. & McTaggart R. (1982) The action research planner; Victoria, Australia: Deakin University Press
Morse J. (1992) The Power of Induction (editorial). Qualitative Health Research Vol 2, issue 1; p3-6
Wallace B. (2004) Thinking Skills and Problem Solving: An Inclusive Approach; London: David Fulton
Whitehead J. & McNiff J. (2006) Action Research Living Theory; London: Sage
Whitehead, J. (2005) Living inclusional values in educational standards of practice and judgement. Keynote for the Act, Reflect, Revise III Conference, Brantford Ontario, 11th November 2005. Retrieved on 14th March 2006 from http://www.jackwhitehead.com/monday/arrkey05dr1.htm