Engaging with families

This week semester one at university began. I am doing a paper based around engaging with families. One reading I had to do was the BES (best evidence synthesis) on the complex nature of influences on achievement from community and families. It was a long read, but worthwhile. If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing (I just skim read most of it) it is worth looking at the summaries of influences right at the beginning (a couple of pages long) and the table 8.1: ‘Synopsis of conclusions from evidence about what major influences and their degree of impact on children’s achievement.’

The paper highlighted the challenges of separating out what factors caused what, Continue reading

Ethics

Finally, a return to ethics. Perhaps finally is the wrong word. I have just completed an assignment on ethics (actually I began this post a couple of weeks ago when I had just completed an ethics assignment).

Ethics are an extremely complex issue, although they seem relatively straight forward. Moving forward I still wonder what implications this has for teaching as inquiry – an embedded part of the NZ curriculum and as much an expectation of teacher practice as reflections and professionalism.

This inquiry into your teaching practice involves a reflective cycle, upon which you take focus and action your findings within the classroom. This could be called action research, although it may vary slightly.

If, however, we as teachers are doing research which we are sharing with our peers, do we not owe it to the students to involve them so they realise what is actually happening? Beneficence and non-malfiecience (I still struggle spelling those two) are pretty straight forward and almost go without saying. Deception – I cannot imagine this issue coming up as a deliberate part of any teacher inquiry. Yet, what are the ethical implications in terms of informed consent and anonymity/confidentiality?
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Informed consent carries with it the participant’s right to not just know what they are involved in, agree to be involved and the right to withdraw at any stage. How does that work when it is a professional obligation and, in some cases, you might be required to do an inquiry around a student? What about the power differential here? If I ask a child to do something like this, they are already in a position of being conditioned to comply* What potential consequences do they imagine if they say no? ** What are the implications for the teacher – do you go ‘tough’ and do it anyway or do you have to redirect your inquiry to focus on other students?

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.59.41 PM.pngAs far as anonymity/confidentiality is concerned, this is next to impossible in a small school community. In my school you know all the students (or just about all the students) and have taught or interacted with all of them at some point in time. Sharing results with other teachers on staff can be interrupted with … ‘is that______? I recognise that handwriting etc’. I have experienced this myself. An inquiry into behaviour featured a quote from me. My name was not attached but it was very obvious to all that I was the one who had written it. It was embarrassing
and felt unnecessary (even though the quote was apt and completely professional).

 

What about if, upon the completion of an inquiry, others from outside the school want to know about your results and have your information presented. What happens then? Is it this point that ‘research ethics’ become important when in fact they are important throughout the whole process? Or is this just creating work for work’s sake?

I read a statement which essentially said research is not research unless peer reviewed and published. If this is the case then the above debate is unnecessary. I would arg
ue that often these inquiries are research, even if they are only ‘published’ in a staff meeting, in which case if anyone has an easy answer please send it my way! I have found none amongst my readings.

 

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*I often present children with the opportunity to decide not to do a task, or for feedback about something. Often this takes considerable reassurances to get them to believe me. As they work more with me they do come to see that I mean it. Even then they will still check. A reflection on me and the system perhaps. After all, our very system is set up to teach compliance, socialisation, academic hierarchies and reinforce cultural ways of knowing.

 

**It can be very exciting when kids say ‘no – I don’t want to’ for the first time. They are beginning to experiment with choice. They feel comfortable and safe enough to step out  Sometimes that’s okay, and other times I will respond, ‘tough – it’s teacher choice,’ negotiate and alternative (or move into non-verbal cues (i.e. the teacher’s look) if they are just boundary pushing). Context!

John Hattie and the controversial meta-analysis synthesis

Mention John Hattie’s name and a variety of responses will come, ranging from disgust, dismissal and anger through to acceptance, interest and resounding praise for the man and his work. These strong reactions (and having more time) have led to me visiting his research myself.  Continue reading

Plane Ramble

And with the last day of the block course today, the time has come for me to address assignments. Don’t panic (as I’m sure you were – great empathy…perhaps a little over the top – unless you are yourself facing assignments in which case still don’t panic, but not at all over the top).

To be honest I won’t tag this with anything because it is just a ramble I am writing on the plane as I travel home. I got a tad homesick but it was good for me. I love being home. It is awesome. My house is there. My bed is there and my dog is there. Home is a bit like a giant, expensive child’s security blanket. Things just aren’t quite the same without it. 

In saying that I am rather glad I chose to do things this way. It has been great for reestablishing my confidence, and a great opportunity to meet new people. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I think I am more confident for it. I have at least one potential option for housing later this year when I head back up. Bonus. That is a bit of an aside, but the experience reaffirmed to me that a world indeed exists outside of my comfort zone, and that it is a world I can move into.

I am not the same as I was the last time I went to uni and I am glad I worked in between. The normal where I went was different to the normal where I live, yet still had many similarities (not the least of which that I was in the same country and English was still the primary language used).

As I approach my assignments I face myself questioning where I am headed with this. I had planned to do self directed study, but find myself wondering if this should not be altered, with some changed papers so I could do a thesis. I feel like I have a grasp on research, and that all the things I had considered so terrifying about original research just really aren’t as bad as I thought they were. At the same time I find myself questioning why I am actually wanting to make the change. Is it simply a matter of pride creeping in, or is it more pragmatic? Would I really want to do a second research masters to enter the PHD world as my current course seems to shut that notion down or is it better to suck it up now? One of the reasons for my original plan was that I was not intending to go further in a formal academic sense. Another was I have a broad interest in topics and didn’t want to spend too long on any one topic. 

I have no fast answers. I have prayed for guidance and think I know the direction I should go in. Further prayer and thought is required outside of the influence of that sphere.

My flight is descending now so I shall sign off…not so much because of the descent, but more because I think this post is long enough and I have run out of things to say.

Quantitative Analysis

As promised (or perhaps forewarned), today’s focus was on quantitative analysis and taken by Dr Mira Peter. She faced teaching in a. Computer suite that had high ceilings and bare walls – it reminded me of my teaching space! Regardless of the environmental challenges, I learned a great deal that I had found challenging when I read it. I won’t type up all seven pages of notes (just wanted to throw that out there), but here are the key ideas I took away. 

  • There are four common quantitative data gathering methods – observer action, interviews, questionnaires and databases. 
  • A sample (which should be representative of the wider population in order for generalisation to occur) which is not representative is called BIASED

Some aspects were a throwback to high school statistics (thank goodness I had that foundation), and other aspects were new. Key terms included

  • Variable (something that changes)
  • Statistic (collected from the data
  • Parameter (statistics when talked about in terms of the population as a whole – inferred population)

There are two main types of variables: Independent (which is manipulated by the researcher) and dependent variable (DV) which is the OBSERVED OUTCOME (data of the independent variable being manipulated. Extraneous variables are also important, consisting of those variables which may affect the outcome e.g. Age of participants, experiment, the researcher or environmental factors. Extraneous variables need to be controlled for as much as is possible.

Data

There are three kinds of data (at least – these were the three that were discussed in terms of today’s session): Nominal (yes/no type answers), ordinal (choose from one to five on a scale type answers) and continuous/scale data (think timing an athlete, measuring height etc).

We also learned how to work out a standard deviation (and then how to do it on excel), and about confidence intervals. Effect sizes were also discussed and how to work these out. And the different numbers – what they mean. 

Alright… a better sentence about that….

There’s this thing called Cohen’s standard which is used by statisticians and data analysers. If (after various calculations are made the effect size is…

  • 0.2 to 0.4 the effect size is small – real but hard to detect. 
  • 0.5 to 0.7 the effect size is medium – it can be seen and noticed
  • 0.8 or above the effect size is large and very very obvious.

If the effect size is one, in education, this means that more than one year’s growth has been achieved.
Signing off!

Pulling it together

I am really really surprised but I think this is beginning to make sense….hold fire. For those who don’t know I am studying a research methodologies paper. I have had several challenges on the way through, including finding my way around campus. But the exciting thing is I think I’m getting it…that I am beginning to see how the different elements of research pull together. I am beginning to understand how qualitative data can be interpreted without turning it all to numbers. I am beginning to make links to teacher inquiry and ways I could better do that.

I have started this too late in the day…again. But my summary from today’s learning is below

  • An instrument in research is what you use to gather the data e.g. Survey
  • I now have a list of articles useful for designing questionnaires and interviews
  • Document analysis (gathering data from secondary sources and analysing it) can be used as research. In the context of grounded theory it can be used for a research project. 
  • I might be able to do research in a formal academic setting after all!

Paradigms and Ethics

These are just learning summaries from my course. I will add more at a later date, trying to pull all the ideas together.
Two rather large, complex issues…what do I break them down into?

A paradigm stitches together a worldview (ontology) and way of knowing (epistemology). There are three main paradigms – quantitative

-mixed methods

-qualitative 

These three have variations along the ways including things like critical theory etc. There are strong arguments for each and they each inform your methodologies (although your methodologies should inform your epistemology – a bit like the chicken and the egg paradox).
Ethics

This is a much more challenging subject (now that I have created a rather imperfect box for paradigms to be framed in). Ethics in research are ultimately there to protect the participant. Although we exist in a world where those who recognise a universal right and wrong, good and bad are fewer and these concepts have been replaced by better and worse.

Somehow there are still right and wrong things to do in research, as well as good and bad and better and worse. Confusing? I think so.  I ultimately view ethics as a moral assertion, a way to protect people involved in experiments and the integrity of systematic research. Whatever descriptive words are used, ethics are a set of standards in research (and most professions) which are expected to be adhered to. 

Within sociological research, there are a few main ethical principles to abide by – 

-protection from harm

-the right to withdraw

-deception

-informed consent
The issue of power is also inherent within these. Some ethical issues seem obvious – should I permantly injure somebody to see how they react because I am curious in one particular moment in time? No (at least I hope that would be your answer).
However many of these principles become very sticky very quickly. What is defined as harm? If someone knows they have the right. To withdraw, do they feel that they actually can or do they feel pressured to remain in a given situation? If this is the case, how can this be mitigated? Someone has been given the information and has signed it, giving consent – Does this mean they are actually informed and actually consenting of their own choice, or is it a case of pressures they feel to enter into something they don’t really. Understand? Deceit sounds nasty but are there times when it is necessary or justifiable? These issues and many more come up very quickly in research. In researching a situation one is involved in such as education, how many more issues immediately arise (particularly around the issue of power). 

I will potentially blog more about this at a later date . Tomorrow brings promise of research methods and methodology so I will leave this post here until those questions are satisfied.

A return to university…full time

Last year much of my time was taken up with a combination of university studies (part time) and full time work which included the introduction of play based learning into our junior school programme, an reintroduction to the importance of communication with parents (particularly when implementing change) & acting on these communications and discussions, and the completion of tukutuku panels for our school. 

This year I have been fortunate enough to gain a scholarship enabling me to study full time and still have my job at the end of it! I embarked on these studies a few days ago in summer school. It has been a challenge. I am a long way from home and  from much of the comforting familiarity of home. On the other hand, I am in the same country, speak the same language, am doing some challenging work with some awesome people and did enough work ahead of time to keep my head above water. 

The academic work is challenging (more on the work in another post), but my biggest struggle has been finding my identity within this context. Who I am, how I respond to others, habits…all these things have become so obvious as I have been faced with moving into a world where I do not know everybody. The roles I have taken on in my day to day practice back home are magnified. While my core identity has not changed, how I interact has. Rather than being the loud, rambling one who plays the fool to put others at ease, I find myself sitting back and watching. I become frustrated because the power structures and dynamics of those I interact with are not clear to me – I cannot see a role that I need to slide into. Yet I do not think that that is expected here (and perhaps it is not back home either). 

As I continue to reflect on power structures and my existence within this society I find myself wondering why. At times I feel my faith completely marginalised by the nature of discussion and what is considered true and valid in today’s institutions. Yet this is not deliberate, nor is the course of research methodologies delving into this – Christianity came up during a colonisation discussion;  A discussion on truth and what is fact came up with ‘science is right’ as a passing comment. Nobody said anything when I positioned myself as a Pakeha, small town practising Christian in one discussion. Within this learning environment everyone is accepted, as is their right to be who they are, so it certainly not a slight on any of the others. So indeed, is this questioning not just the nature of the world that we all live in? I thought it would be over since I’ve been through it as a teenager! Aren’t we meant to outgrow that?

This discomfort and level of challenge is a great opportunity for me simply because I have to learn, I have to move well outside my comfort zone and I have to experience what it must be like (in part) to not simply live as one of the dominant groups (even though I really am a part of that group in general). If this is what it is like to be marginalised for a few moments at a time by well meaning people having an honest and hearty discussion, what must it be like to exist outside of the dominant groups – as a minority in which this is a daily occurrence?

For me this year is not just about academics, but about growth and n opportunity to face some of my greatest challenges – interacting with people in an unfamiliar context and having to question the core of my being. Some of this is a necessity, other aspects just an outcome of the nature of university which seeks to get you to see through different eyes as you learn. 

I had intended to detail this learning in this post, but it would appear that I had concepts that needed exploring. I look forward to returning in another post to detail some of this learning which has implications for teaching inquiry.

I wil leave you with two questions from class the other day…

What is truth? What is fact?

Equity & Technology

I have recently completed a couple of readings about equity. I was surprised about where they took my thinking.

Expected ‘learning’: Equity comes up when discussing physical access to technology.

Actual learning:

It is worth doing at least one of the readings for yourselves. I would start with Jenkins (2006). It is well written and practical. These are very brief summaries of my  (possibly incorrect) learning. Take on board with caution! Continue reading

The spiral of inquiry.

Last year we were given the reading: ‘The spiral of inquiry’ (Timperly, Kaser & Halbert) by our LwDT coordinator. I put it in a safe place. This worked, until I moved classrooms. It’s new ‘safe place’ is secure from me, something I’m sure everyone can agree with.

Regardless, after searching online and in my house, it finally popped up in ‘The Pond‘ (a NZ site established for educators to share resources etc). It is similar to, but different from the VLN – (virtual learning network).

This is an excellent reading, one that really clarified my understanding of the teacher as inquiry process (and one I need to keep revisiting – hence the blog). The biggest wrinkle I have had with the process is the sole emphasis on the priority learners. This is definately essential (and what my inquiries are focussed on). I can understand this better now. My biggest stumbling block initially was that this ‘inquiry thing’ seemed to put a roadblock between me doing my broader learning and readings. I have passed this, and perhaps better understand how the

I’ve been thinking a lot about the marginal middles – those that aren’t performing at their peak, but are just far enough inside the bubble to miss out on the detailed focus of these inquiries. I would love to do an investigation around this.