Wakefield, 2019

Wakefield, S. (2019). A collaborative Action Research project within a data-driven culture: Improving teaching and learning through Social Constructivism in England. In F. Armstrong & D. Tsokova (Eds.), Action Research for Inclusive Education: Participation and Democracy in Teaching and Learning. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351048361-11

Introduction

Action research as a form of professional development encourages teachers to participate in cycles of planning, acting, observing and reflecting, thereby creating possibilities for change and transformation. Equally important are the transformations and professional growth experienced by the facilitator in an action research context. In recent literature, the epistemological and methodological foundations of action research have come under scrutiny. Part of this debate emerges from the experience of those who actually attempt to facilitate action research with groups of teachers. In this paper I critically examine my participation (as a university?based facilitator and researcher) in an action research group in science, technology and society (STS) education to illustrate: (a) how a second?order inquiry enhanced my understanding of the nature of action research, while (b) simultaneously allowing me to explore and develop strategies for facilitating the process.


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Action Research (AR), and Collaborative Action Research (CAR) in particular, has made a significant contribution to the development of inclusive policies and practices in education, which has been a feature of Continued Professional Development (CPD) in some schools in the UK. This chapter describes and evaluates the process of a CAR project I participated in as Head of an English department in an inner-city secondary school in England. It takes a reflective approach to critique the benefits and explore the challenges of working through a project of this kind within a tightly controlled and data-driven context. The chapter draws on a Social Constructivist theoretical framework and explores the values and practices of the inclusive pedagogies that underpinned the project and helped to facilitate and drive forward the research process. (p. 1)

However, one of the challenges we faced working alongside one another was that even though our professional roles were similar, our subjects were not. We needed to find that common denominator - an agreed focus for our enquiry - and quickly. (p. 2)

One of the side effects of the overriding concern with raising attainment, in which hard data was the prime measure of effective teaching and learning, was that opportunities for developing inclusive approaches within the curriculum were rare and this research project became an ideal opportunity to explore such approaches. (p. 3)

DuFour (2010), as cited by Juma, Lehtomäki and Naukkarinen (2017), defines CAR as the process by which teachers jointly observe their situation, plan to take informed action to ameliorate undesirable actions and then critically reflect in and on their action. In this way, they can turn their schools into professional learning communities as they improve their classroom practices with a focus on learning for all. (DuFour et al., 2010: 12) (p. 4)

Participatory Action Research has been defined by Brydon-Miller and Maguire as 'a systematic approach to personal, organisational and structural transformation . . . that places human self-determination, the development of critical consciousness and positive social change as central goals' (Brydon-Miller and Maguire, 2009: 80). (p. 5)

A key part of the project was the presentation of our findings to the rest of the teaching staff. This project required staff researchers to adopt both a scholarly and an activist role. (p. 5)

From the outset the head teacher did not explicitly express a willingness to facilitate change. He wanted us to share our findings for the purposes of learning from each other, but the extent to which whole-school policies would be adapted as a result of the research was regrettably ambiguous throughout this journey. (p. 5)

The learning theory that informed this research was Social Constructivism. One of the principles of Social Constructivism is that it 'establishes a teacher/pupil relationship built upon the idea of guidance not instruction' (Adams, 2006: 247) and the values that underpinned this project were inclusive. (p. 5)

As a teacher-researcher committed to inclusive education it was fundamental to this project that inclusive pedagogies were practiced. My definition of inclusion is simple; it is to ensure that I not only have high expectations of all learners, but ensure that I provide opportunities to access an enriching curriculum that enables all students to meet or exceed their potential. (p. 6)

Within the structure of each English and mathematics intervention session was the opportunity for students to engage critically with their own work and to make improvements which were guided by another member of the group rather than by the teacher. Black and Wiliam (1998) as cited by Florian and Beaton (2018) take formative assessment further by noting that for pupils to communicate their evolving understanding . . . Discussion, observation of activities, marking of written work, can all be used to provide the opportunities, but it is then important to look at, or listen carefully to, the talk, the writing, the actions through which pupils develop and display the state of their understanding. (Florian and Beaton, 2018: 872) (p. 7)

giving students the opportunity to communicate their ideas is one thing, but in order for progress to be real, the individual voices of each of our 11 students needed to be heard. Moreover, it was important for the teachers to emphasise that the way the students engaged with the process of their learning and the research should be articulated by the students in their own words and in their own way, and not in ways that had been imposed on them. (p. 8)

When presenting our findings to the rest of the staff, although we had copious evidence that students had made progress, the head teacher questioned why this had not yet translated into improving their actual progress grades. I felt his question to be underpinned by his narrow agenda of improving measurable performance in the form of grades. (p. 10)