Many exciting learning developments and projects are now underway and I am ready again to share some of my thinking and reflections on the great big world of learning of which I am very privileged to be a part.
I’ve been working with many great thinkers and practioners over the past few months with a focus on action research and professional enquiry. Adopting this approach with teachers, teaching assistants and school staff is at the heart of much of my work to ensure sustainable school improvement.
Here are just a few of the benefits of working in this way:
1. The research is owned and designed from the outset by the person leading it. In this way, the researcher has genuine autonomy in how they pose their questions, collect evidence and collate findings.
2. The researcher is supported by an enquiry framework (provided by me in this case*) which gives them an understanding of the process of research but, more importantly, gives them a new way of thinking about their practice.
3. The research is never additional to what they are already doing. It gives them a methodology that enables them to delve deeper into their existing practice, revealing additional, often more pertinent questions to emerge and follow up. The start point is always a micro-enquiry, where the researcher might focus in on one part of one lesson, observing just two or three pupils. It is the fact that the researcher is able to pause and ‘notice learning’ that is important. This will inform the next steps of their enquiry. Developing practictioners who are keen-eyed ‘noticers’ of learning is an immediate benefit from the tiny beginnings of this approach.
4. The research groups are established as supportive communities within and/or between schools. The scale of these varies, but the central component of every group is a safe leanring community where individual reflections and findings are openly shared. These are sensitively but honestly challenged, checked-out and refined.
5. The outcomes of the research are never pre-determined. In this way, the authenticity of the research process is maintained and the learning is very real and ‘pure’. For those of us who like to know what’s going to happen, this can be particualrly challenging, so we call it ‘exciting’ and accept it as what learning should be.
6. In undertaking research, the individuals involved are able to re-connect with what it means to be a learner again. This, in itself is a powerful experience, developing greater emphathy with the learners with whom they work on a daily basis and reminding them of the delightful complexity of learning.
7. As an integral part of the way in which we research individual pedagogy and practice, a key ingredient has to be the inclusion of learner-voice. In this way, the educators are encouraged to lead quality learning conversations with their learners. They then become very skilled in leading, facilitating and ultimately, coaching learners to articulate their thinking about their own learning. The learners themselves benefit from the opportunity to learn about learning and find a way to talk about it.
8. Another by-product of the action research framework we use is that the practitioners must design learning opportunities for classes where they are able to stand back, be quiet and observe the learning taking place. This results in the regular design of rich learning tasks and truly learner-led activities that, by definition, rely on the learners working collaboratively with each other and letting go of dependence on their teacher. In addition, the practitioner doesn’t have the need to intervene or take over because they have their own job to do – to actively observe the learning (we have designed some handy capture sheets to support practitioners in doing this as part of the framework).
9. Action research within and between schools offers an inclusive approach to professional development. Teachers, teaching assistants, administrators, parents, carers, students…anybody who is a part of the school community, in fact, can get involved in a programme of action research to improve and build on effective practice, at whatever level of experience or competence they might be.
10. Once the group has experienced this way of working, the aspect of the process that really sticks is a new way of thinking. And that’s the bit that lasts and grows across the school to enhance a learning culture for everybody who is a part of the community.
Matthew Taylor has written about the importance of Learning about Learning in his blog http://www.matthewtaylorsblog.com/ and I happily echo his sentiments.
I fully endorse adopting action research as an integral part of (if not, simply ‘AS‘) professional development. After all, it allows us all to keep on learning with and for our learners and learning communities.
*The enquiry framework we use is a hybrid of several frameworks, but greatly influenced by the fantastic work of Pat Cochrane and Pete McGuigan at CapeUK and their Learning to Enquire resources and the Enquiry Projects undertaken as part of the Creative Partnerships Programme.