Children as Co-Researchers: The Impact of Researching Their Own Learning on Attitude to and Understanding of School Science
Gompertz, Susan Beth
Date: 14 August 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Education
This thesis explores the impact on children of working as co-researchers, raising their own research questions around the topic of science education, designing and carrying out the data collection and interpreting and disseminating the results. This project is a case study in that there are clear boundaries both in terms of the ...
This thesis explores the impact on children of working as co-researchers, raising their own research questions around the topic of science education, designing and carrying out the data collection and interpreting and disseminating the results. This project is a case study in that there are clear boundaries both in terms of the timescale of initiation, interventions, co-researcher activity, write up and dissemination and also in terms of the children’s engagement in the project as distinct from their school and social life (Flyvbjerg 2011). A multi-method approach to data collection was designed to capture the experience from the viewpoint of the co-researchers, with triangulation from other actors in the immediate social setting. The use of a range of qualitative methods as primary data collection techniques is also characteristic of a case study approach. (Denzin and Lincoln 2011). The study employs grounded theory which Glaser and Strauss (Glaser and Strauss 2009) describe as ‘discovery of theory from data’ using comparative analysis as a key strategy. I was influenced by Charmaz’s perspective that ‘we construct our grounded theories through our past and present involvements and interactions with people, perspectives, and research practices.' (Charmaz 2006). The simultaneous analysis and data collection, the use of coding to develop themes from the data itself and the development of theory during analysis are hallmarks of the grounded theory approach, (Charmaz 2006). Working with children in research has undergone considerable evolution over recent years and a growing body of researchers are developing participatory models to ensure that this is conducted not only ethically but with respect for the children’s rights, interests and contribution. Smit identifies 4 types of motives for doing so; legal motives which recognise children’s rights to contribute to the decision making process; social motives which identify this as an important step towards them becoming democratic individuals; innovative motives that value their contribution to knowledge; and pedagogical motives that reflect adults’ desires to include and encourage children in this way (Smit 2013). My research suggested the importance and influence of task value (supporting Osborne 2003) and significant others (supporting Sjaastad 2012) in engaging young people in their learning. Within it the co-researcher group identified ownership, reflection, confidence and value as significant themes. The co-researchers also reported enhanced ontological understanding, reflection on their own learning, confidence in expressing and arguing for their own ideas and development of key skills which they were able to apply to other areas of learning. There were also benefits to the school through the reports the young researchers produced which offered insights into effective revision, the potential influence of science clubs, the relationship between teachers and students interests and into differences in attitude to science between year 7 and 8 and between boys and girls. During the project a Participation Model was developed to define characteristics of participation and power sharing. This added to previous models (Hart 1992; Wilcox 1994; Hanley et al. 2004) and took due notice of issues of power sharing (Bucknall 2012) and adult commitment (Shier 2001). A model of co-researcher engagement was also developed during the analysis phase which provides a clearer idea of what it means to be a co-researcher from the co-researcher viewpoint. There are also implications for policy and practice that should not be underestimated. Raising children’s aspirations to be part of a research group in this way has considerable benefits but it also has the potential for disillusionment should the outcome of their work not be recognised (McLaughlin 2006). To protect against this the school community needs to actively commit to working collaboratively with young people through conscious sharing of decision making (Bucknall 2012) and allocation of resource to protect its continuation (Kellett 2014). Shier identifies this as reaching the obligation level of commitment in which working collaboratively is the expected norm in an educational setting (Shier 2001).
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