Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Day Three: Filling Our Toolbox

To start, fellow participants shared some of their resources, which I will link to here, where applicable.

Roger Holdsworth's 'Student Action Teams' text
Roger Holdsworth mentioned his own website, where he has a Student Action Team resources (2003). These resources can help teachers who are looking to get into training student researchers. The next thing he referred to 'teach the teacher', which provides 7 steps by which students are taken through and supported to run an after school CPD activity for teachers around an issue that they (the students) define. Registration is free, which allows access to all 7 steps.

Alison Cook-Sather provided some extracts from her book with Bovill and Felton (2014) -  these contained information on the steps to building partnerships with students in higher education. Personally, I have already purchased and read the book (which has been discussed in previous blog posts here and here).

Kate Wall also referred us to her academia.edu website, which has access to some of her articles and works.

Susan Groundwater-Smith & Nicole Mockler text
Susan Groundwater-Smith put forth her text with Nicole Mockler, 'Learning to Listen: Listening to learn'

We then broke into groups, depending on our interests. I went and sat with a group based around Roger Holdsworth, as he was speaking about how to encourage student researchers.

Within his Student Action Team resources, he discussed how the PDF file (linked above) contained information on how to choose a team, choosing a topic, basing it on the curriculum, collecting data, etc. - the text itself contains worksheets and information that can be used by teachers and students. While the text was produced in 2003, Roger feels that it's still relevant, although he has admitted that it does need updating.

Roger suggested having a forum where students can report to each other about their research, as this builds a sense of power and ownership over their research. I think this is a good idea, and will try to make sure that if I successful pilot a student research project with my own form that we're given time to feedback and share our findings with each other, if not with other students in the school as well. It would also be nice to have the students present their findings to parents and teachers; yet another option to consider.

I've been thinking about this for the past few days now, and I think I will make use of ClassDojo with my form, in terms of using it to evaluate their engagement and participation in the research project. It seems to me that the App works mainly as a behaviour monitor, although it can also be used as a way to speak with parents directly. I think it might be interesting to use it with my form alone, as a way to keep parents updated on the progress that their children are making whilst we engage in research. I know that we use the Go 4 Schools behaviour module at my school, but I think that for the purposes of this project it would be better to have criteria that is more directly linked to research skills and their abilities to work in groups or independently on a very specific project.

Roger also discussed the use of the word 'investigator' instead of 'researcher', especially when trying to engage young students in research. He described how in the past he's set the research project out like a 'case' which needs to be 'solved'. He gave examples of researching school values, such as honesty and respect, much like solving a crime: 'Who killed honesty in our school?'. Personally, I feel like this approach isn't one that I'd like to use, because I don't want to cheapen the research process, nor do I want to try to 'dumb down' what it means to become a researcher. However, I can see it's validity when engaging younger students, or those who might struggle with more challenging research concepts.

Another thing that came up as a result of creating student-researcher cultures in a school was that sometimes certain groups or agencies, be it universities, researchers, private companies, local councils etc., have come into schools and 'commissioned' student researchers to undertake research projects based on a topic which they have identified. In some cases, schools were even able to secure funding for these research projects to take place.  For example, Roger mentioned how a local council had approached an Australian school with a request for a research project on road safety around the school. I found this an interesting concept, though it worries me slightly that the students become 'used' in research situations like this. In my mind, any true student research project should be chosen by the students themselves.

The tension between 'me' and 'we' is another idea that came up, specifically regarding who will benefit from engaging in student research or greater student voice; will individual students (me) benefit or will the school community (we)?

On a fairly similar note, Roger said that in his own work, he had to really focus on providing students with guidance on how to work effectively in a team, because often students fall into bad habits of being selfish. I think this is an excellent point, and I will definitely make use of team building exercises before we begin any research. It's also important to give the students time to reflect on and evaluate their team-work skills so that they learn from and remember what working in an effective team is like. For example, after each task, you could ask each student to reflect on the purpose of each role - that way, they engage much more deeply with the purpose behind each person's contribution.

The focus of these team-building activities should be on 'productivity' - being able to produce something together as a team; the task itself has be to carefully chosen so that all students must assume a role and work together, not simply relying on one person take charge.

The question of who structures the groups naturally led on from this; do we allow students to choose their own groups, or do we carefully structure them to better enable success (as determined by the teacher).  I don't think there is any right or wrong way to do this - it depends on how well you know your class and what you want out of the project. Roger said that if he were to run a project, he'd set time aside at the start of the year to discuss what group work is, exploring how we work well in groups. Again, this is another good idea, and one that I will be sure to work into my 'training' programme.

One thing I've really taken away from this session was that I need to start slowly, working with the students to discuss our ideas and expectations, first in terms of what it means to work well together, then looking at how we can build a respectful environment where our research can be discussed, conducted and shared in a friendly, supportive environment.