Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Preparing for my ResearchMeet presentation

Right, so I'm off sick today (a terrible run of insomnia has gripped me over the past few weeks - I can usually last a few days without decent sleep, but once I get to about three or four days running I really need to stop and re-charge), so I've decided, after a brief cat-nap, to try and produce some planning for the presentation I have to give tomorrow at a ResearchMeet (if you've ever heard of a TeachMeet, it's kind of like that, but on a more research-based level). What follows here is a summary of some of the ideas I plan to discuss tomorrow. However, given that I only have five minutes to present, it's likely to be a condensed version of the rambling you find here. I find it helpful, when planning, to have a written dialogue of my ideas because I can more easily reduce a long stretch of text.

Right, so my topic is: Using Students as Researchers (SARs) to Help Conduct a Masters Thesis Study

First of all, I think I should identify my discomfort with the word 'Using' in the title above; I don't want to phrase my inclusion of students in the research project in this way because it suggests that I will be 'using' the students for my own gain. In a way, because I will hopefully obtain a Masters of Education as a result of my thesis, this cannot be avoided. I don't want the students to think that they are 'objects' to be studied; instead, I will work to ensure that they feel like active participants. Cook-Sather et al (2014) state that as long as teachers are 'willing to truly share - not give up, but share - power and responsibility' and 'if they stay in open and honest dialogue with students about the processes as well as the outcomes, then [the students] are not likely to think you are experimenting on them'. As such, I won't be 'Using' the students to help me conduct my research; instead, I will be 'inviting' students to join me in a joint-research partnership.

So why include students in the research process? Well, Cook-Sather et al. (2014) state that 'students have invaluable insight into curricular structures, assessment methods' and 'learning goals'. Ruddduck and Flutter (2004) state that 'pupils of all ages can show a remarkable capacity to discuss their learning in a considered way'. Similarly, they state that by giving students 'the opportunity to participate in a learning-focused dialogue [we] may help to improve [their] attitudes towards teachers and schools' (Rudduck & Flutter, 2004). By using SARs to access the thoughts of other students, my hope is to elicit better, more honest responses to how students perceive and make use of the written feedback they receive. I believe 100% in the positive contributions that students can make to the research process, not only as 'informants' but also as the researchers themselves.

In their own research, Cook-Sather et al. (2014) found that students found collaborative work with faculty 'made them realise that "it is up to the entire community to make learning spaces function, so that means students have just as much responsibility as"' teachers. In this regard, using SARs should help improve the metacognitive understanding of the students involved, helping them to better understand their own learning as well as the learning of those around them. Rudduck and Flutter (2004) similarly state that by 'giving young learners the opportunity to think and talk about aspects of teaching and learning' we can 'have a direct impact on [their] metacognitive development and on their understanding of how they learn'.

Lorna M. Earl (2013), in her text on Assessment as Learning (AaL), also suggests that teachers should emphasise the role of the student in creating and assessing their own learning, and that they should 'personally monitor what they are learning and use the feedback from this monitoring to make adjustments, adaptations and even major changes'. By engaging SARs in the research process, I hope to include their perspective in the ongoing dialogue surrounding 'effective' feedback.  My (very ambitious) hope is that students who take part in the project with me will become better students - ones who are better able to reflect on their own use of feedback.

In fact, Cook-Sather et al. (2014) state that 'When criteria for grading and other forms of summative assessment are negotiated, student learning and engagement deepen. Understanding grading and feedback criteria helps students meet expectations more effectively and comprehend more fully where (and why) they did not adequately demonstrate their learning'. While they are speaking about the results of a particular study, I like to think that this can be generalised to the students who will participate in my project; by allowing students to see the literature behind what makes 'effective feedback' and then comparing this to the responses they receive from the interviews, the hope is that they will develop a better understanding of how powerful feedback can be, and how they can better use it to their own advantage.

In terms of 'Why Pupil Premium students?' my aims are, again, quite ambitious. I hope that, by including PP students in the research process I will instil in them a) better learning skills, b) better research skills and c) a desire to continue their education post-16 and beyond. Studies have shown that students who are PP are less likely less likely to achieve well in school (Ofsted, 2012). They are also less likely to attend University (Ofsted, 2012). It is these gaps that I hope to help close by including PP students; including them in a University study will hopefully give them a (positive) experience of what higher education is all about, as well as to improve their metacognitive skills on a more immediate level.

To meet this end, I will train the students on basic research skills, such as how to conduct research-based interviews, how to collect and analyse data, as well as to perhaps (this bit I am not 100% sure on yet) write their own report of their findings. All of these tasks will provide them with a range of skills that they might not learn on their own. Hopefully, the students involved will build on their own academic skills, change their own attitudes towards feedback and learning, and improve their own sense of self-efficacy (Cook-Sather et al, 2014). As Cook-Sather et al. (2014) state, it's these types of skills that are 'considered to be of strategic importance' to universities; by having PP students work with these skills now, they may be inspired to take what they've learnt further, and have university level aspirations for themselves.

By including students in the research process, and specifically having them work with issues around feedback, my hope is that my team of student researchers will better understand, and perhaps be critical of, the feedback they receive, thus making better use of it (or, perhaps, even challenging moments when the feedback isn't enough to push them forward). Similarly, by providing the interview students with notebooks to record their thoughts of feedback throughout a given week, they may be inspired to actually take note of, and think about, issues around feedback that they hadn't thought of before. All of this leads to students who are more aware of how they learn, which the research suggests is a good step towards improving progress.

To summarise, drawing on Rudduck and Flutter (2004), my answer to 'why include students as researchers' is the following:

-to better develop students understanding and awareness of how feedback works within the school
- to help the students see feedback (and their subsequent learning) as a serious matter
- to promote the development of higher order thinking skills (metacognition)
- to raise the self-confidence, self esteem and academic aspirations of my student researchers
- to develop students 'technical language' for talking about feedback and learning

References

Cook-Sather, Alison; Bovil, Catherine and Felton, Peter (2014). Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. Jossey-Bass

Earl, Lorna M. (2013) Assessment as Learning: Using Using Classroom Assessment to Maximise Student Learning. 

Ofsted (2012). 'Unseen children: access on achievement 20 years on: Evidence report'. Available online at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/unseen-children-access-and-achievement-20-years 

Rudduck, Jean and Flutter, Julia. (2004) Consulting Pupils: What's in it for schools? RoutledgeFalmer