Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Day Two: Children as Researchers

Session three 
Chae-Young Kim - The Open University

Kim focused on 'What is children's research for?'. For her, it's about children as 'primary investigators' who make the key decisions and do most of the research themselves from the initial choice of the topic to the dissemination of the findings. The main issues are whether children's research is for participation or pedagogy.

She identified four different positions re: children's research:
- only for participation-related reasons
- mainly for participation but also for additional learning benefits
- Mainly for educational/learning benefits - (note: for me, I think this is why I am interested in getting students involved in educational research)
- depends on the objective of the project which adult facilitators determine

She also made links to inquiry-based learning, where there are four different categories as well: Pursuing, Authoring, Identifying and Producing research. This made me think about my own aims - I want students to identify and pursue topics that are of interest to them, produce planning and conduct research themselves and then author the results, disseminating their findings to the wider school community.

Kim quoted Hemmersley, 2000, quite frequently in the session. She quoted him as saying [on the topic of research]'Its knowledge claims are evaluated by a research community on the basis of both the body of knowledge this community takes to be valid and the evidence offered in support of them'. This was challenged by colleagues in the session, who quoted Stenhouse - 'research is systematic inquiry made public' where 'public' could be the school public, not necessarily the 'greater' public.

Moving on, discussion went to why children's research is regarded as mainly for educational benefit might be to do with the ambiguous status of children as researchers - some academics would tend to agree with this. Their role isn't as wide ranging as academic researchers, because they have a limited or partial role. The require additional support, so they can't engage in large scale research.

It all depends on different research paradigms; participatory research, etc. Whether research benefits the people that it concerns in terms of their 'empowerment' and/or social change is an important criterion.

Nind & Vinha, 2012 - a source to consider - 'Inclusive research as social science requires more than just satisfying inclusive conditions to be 'quality' research'

Melanie Nind - has a book out which might be of interest - 'What is inclusive research'

Research is about producing knowledge. Hammersley (2003): research can be informative but cannot be educative. Kim suggested that Hammersley is quite critical of research being used as educative. He suggests that research should be rigorous, but I think she was uncomfortable with his viewpoint, leaning away from his opinions.

She went on to consider that children's research might be classed as 'practical' research. According to Hammersley (2000), the immediate audience of practical research are people with a practical interest in the issue under investigation. Kim suggests then that children's research is 'practical' because it aims to produce knowledge which is of immediate practical use; children's research often produces findings that can inform practices that concern them.

Finally, she ended by looking at a study conducted in a middle-class area of a city in England. Kim wanted to test a teacher-facilitation model of children's research and training and research projects. Kim, along with another researcher (with a different perspective on children's research) held 14 sessions of social research training and 8 sessions where children worked on their projects individually and gave feedback on each other's work-in-progress. Data was collected via video data of 22 sessions, individual interview data (semi-structured) with the children, the head teacher and the teacher, as well as observation notes that were kept throughout the process.

The topics that the children studied varied greatly, from 'Do children in Key Stage 2 at my school play age appropriate video games' to 'What do children in my maths group think about the level of difficulty in their work?' to 'Do children want to go to University and why?'. These are helpful starting points for me, because I can use these ideas as suggestions for my own students in the autumn term.

All of the students in Kim's study were able to complete their research, but the quality of their research was not up to the standard of scholars or scientific research. This could be down to the quality of the training they provided, but Kim doesn't think this was the issue. Instead, it seems to me that this might be down to maturity and the skill level the students had themselves. For example, Kim said that when they were designing their research questions, they couldn't think of a full range of research questions. Similarly, when analysing their data, they addressed it quite superficially; they weren't able to go into detail like other researchers might. Kim seemed to suggest that this lack of development wasn't down to insufficient training, but instead reflected their own levels of literacy or competence. However, Kim said that children are competent enough to conduct their own research, but she seemed to suggest that disseminating their knowledge wasn't as high quality as they'd have wanted. Perhaps this suggests an area to focus on in my own project.

It will be interesting to see if working with older students will be easier or harder; Kim worked with Year 4,5 and 6 students, whereas I am planning to work with Year 7 students (hopefully progressing with them throughout their stay at the college, building their research skills as they progress through the years). I don't want their research to end after we complete the project; my hope is that they will build on their research in Year 7 into Year 8 and beyond.

Kim admitted that the students in her project all decided to use questionnaires, despite being taught about all of the other research methods. For example, interviews were discounted by the students because they would 'take too long'. This is an interesting problem!

The study that Kim conducted is of some interest to me, because I want to do something fairly similar with my new Year 7 tutor group. I am going to have to train them as researchers and will allow them to choose their own research topics as well. I was initially thinking of working on ONE research question as a class, but I think it would be more interesting (and perhaps beneficial) to have the students work either individually or in groups on topics that they determine themselves. I will definitely have a look at the resources they used to train their students as researchers, as they may be helpful to me next year.

Kim also explored the head teacher's views for allowing the children to become researchers. His views were that 'research skills are life skills fit for a knowledge-based economy, which the children were given the opportunity to acquire early'. She also said that involvement in research 'complemented his beliefs in some cognitive benefits: e.g. applying research skills in investigating an actual topic cultivates higher order thinking skills'. I would tend to agree with these views. The reasons I want to engage my own students as researchers is to build these skills.

I was also given some pause for consideration. When conducting my own project, I need to consider how my own views might influence the topics that the students choose to study. I will have to work out a way to ensure that my own views don't influence the topics that the students chose to study. I will also have to carefully consider how I deliver my teaching of research skills and how I support their projects. More reading will definitely have to be done before I make a start with the project (which I kind of knew, anyways - roll on summer!)

Ultimately, Kim suggested that 'children's research as practical research can produce locally useful and practical knowledge'. However, she says that 'given that their research is vulnerable to be seen as an educational activity...it seems important to ensure that children's research achieves its participatory purpose by engaging with its findings and actively exploring with them on how it could inform relevant current practices'.

I've just come back to this after a few minutes reflection and searching on the internet; I've managed to find a website which goes through some ways to teach students about research methods, available via the Open University at the following link: http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/childrens-research-centre/resources/teaching-sessions 

Much of what is recorded here is quoted directly from Chae-Young Kim. All efforts have been made to make this evident, but some errors might exist. Apologies for anything that has been improperly cited or quoted out of context.