Practical considerations for busy teachers to investigate their own practice
Teachers habitually observe and form “theories” to explain the observed phenomena. Experience helps us make sense of what we encounter in our everyday practice. Over time, such experience forms part of the tacit knowledge of our pedagogy. Very often, we are “right” in certain respects. However, there are also times when the truth of the matter is far from how we have imagined.
Wanting to check whether or not we are “wrong” or “right”, and “in what way” we are right or wrong, drives us to look more closely and critically our daily practice.
We are thinking like a researcher; we can act as a teacher researcher.
Start some background reading to find out more about educational research, for example, the 6th edition of Research Methods in Education (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2007) is now available online: http://knowledgeportal.pakteachers.org/sites/knowledgeportal.pakteachers.org/files/resources/RESEARCH%20METHOD%20COHEN%20ok.pdf
However, you may not feel confident to write in an academic style for publication. Don’t let that concern discourage you. Smiles and Short (2006) have highlighted the value and importance of a teacher voice speaking from the classroom in their Transforming teacher voice through writing for publication.
Since the establishment of the Chartered College of Teaching (https://www.chartered.college/), it is now possible for its members to access over 2,000 magazines, journals and papers.
Even if you are not a member of the Chartered College, it is still possible – if you are lucky – to find some or limited literatures about your question, on Google Scholar or JSTOR which may have provided access to their publications via your institution’s subscription.
1. Check first of all whether or not your school has any relevant policies for conducting research that involves staff and pupils. Consult British Educational Research Association (BERA) for its latest ethical guidelines.
2. Start taking notice of what is bothering you in any aspect of your daily work, from your emotional wellbeing to the lighting in your classroom, etc.
3. What is your hunch about any possible relationship and interplay between events, environments, situations and behaviour of people. What are the probable correlations that you want to investigate further.
4. Think about the purpose of your enquiry. Do you wish to solve a problem; improve one particular situation or explore the nature of the “problem”? Identifying a suitable methodologies is key to move your investigation forward.
5. You need to start planning (designing) your research methods.
6. Ask yourself what your “natural” tendency is to “investigate a problem”. Do you prefer to use numbers (quantitative) to prove something, or you find words (qualitative) more revealing? Or indeed, you like to combine both statistical and narrative information (mixed methods).
7. Once you know what what types of data that might give you the information you need. Broadly speaking, statistical, narrative, pictorial, musical, or kinetic?
8. Now you need to identify the equipment that you use daily to help you capture and record data. Onboard features on tablet digital devices such as camera and microphone are extremely handy for busy teachers. Other popular note-taking apps are useful tools, too.
9. Start collecting data, record and categorise (codify) them in a safe place. It’s a good practice to explain your intentions and research purposes to those involved, preferably how their involvement will help with your investigation.
10. Analyse and discuss what you have found from your study. It is prudent to be tentative about any assertions based on your “findings”. Cliche may tell us that “the evidence speaks for itself”, but any evidence requires critical scrutiny to be taken seriously. Likewise, data may speak for itself, too, but all data requires interpretation. With interpretation, we bring to it our personal values, beliefs and bias.
11. Report and share your investigation with the wider education community via your own blog page or in CPDs at school.
Enjoy the sense of autonomy that the professional knowledge you have produced brings you.