Blog post Part of series: BERA Early Career Researcher Network Symposium Series 2022
Framing research: Critical Discourse Studies and early childhood educational research
During the process of undertaking doctoral research, it is important to acknowledge the research journey and emphasise your rationale for conducting that specific research project. This relates to the theoretical approaches and concepts drawn upon and, most importantly, how these approaches and concepts shape and situate the research itself. The BERA ECR Network Symposium on 31 March 2022 provided the opportunity to present and discuss a variety of theories, concepts and reflexive practices, as highlighted by each of the presenters, with valuable input and feedback from David James and Yan Zhu.
My research explores the concept of school readiness in early childhood research in England, using a mixed methodological approach. In my presentation and discussion at the symposium, I focused on the framework that I am drawing upon to explore how concepts, such as school readiness, are articulated in early childhood education. The concept of school readiness is associated with discourses around the linearity of child development and the long-term benefits of early intervention with children. School readiness is prominently framed as how prepared children are to succeed in school (Hoskins & Smedley, 2019; Stirrup et al., 2017). Due to the individual differences among children, families and their settings, there is, however, a need to consider alternative conceptualisations of school readiness and explore a range of perspectives about starting school held by practitioners and families. This unsettles linear notions of school readiness by foregrounding the situated experiences of children and adults who are directly engaged in the transition to school.
The research process and priorities
It is important to consider epistemology, or the justification of knowledge, from the beginning of the research and how it influences the methodology and methods (Carter & Little, 2007). My own experiences, values and knowledge affect the research in terms of the process and my priorities. It is this subjectivity that contextualises and shapes the research from the start. Seeking theoretical insights that recognise the socially embedded nature of research is fundamental. Therefore, an approach within Critical Discourse Studies (CDS) was identified, which aligns with my own research priorities.
‘By engaging with the presentations of others at the symposium and considering the feedback on my own presentation, I recognised that at each stage of the research process, it is beneficial to reflect upon the relationships between different theories and methodologies.’
CDS aims to gain an understanding of social phenomena by focusing on naturally occurring language and units of analysis, which are larger than isolated words or sentences (Wodak & Meyer, 2016, p. 2). CDS is useful in addressing the research problem, to unearth the discourses that are driving policy narratives of school readiness in England. By synthesising CDS with Q Methodology, new ways of conceptualising and enacting school readiness can be identified.
CDS acknowledges the importance of recontextualisation and intertextuality; therefore, one text cannot be analysed in isolation. The analysis of my research will be applied to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Statutory Framework, while also recognising how the EYFS is interwoven with other texts that act together to produce policy enactments of school readiness. Examples of texts which have been identified are Bold beginnings, a review of the curriculum, and the reception baseline assessment policy documents.
By engaging with the presentations of others at the symposium and considering the feedback on my own presentation, I recognised that at each stage of the research process, it is beneficial to reflect upon the relationships between different theories and methodologies. As identified from the discussion, there is no single conceptual or theoretical framework which can be used to approach a research problem, rather there are numerous possible routes to addressing the same issue. Moreover, it is necessary to be transparent about my approach and reflexive about how my choices act to re/produce particular versions of school readiness.
Carter, S. M., & Little, M. (2007). Justifying knowledge, justifying method, taking action: Epistemologies, methodologies, and methods in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1316–1328.
Hoskins, K., & Smedley, S. (2019). Protecting and extending Froebelian principles in practice: Exploring the importance of learning through play. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 17(2), 73–87.
Stirrup, J., Evans, J., & Davies, B. (2017). Learning one’s place and position through play: Social class and educational opportunity in Early Years Education. International Journal of Early Years Education, 25(4), 343–360.
Wodak, R., & Meyer, M. (2016). Critical discourse studies: History, agenda, theory and methodology. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse studies. (3rd ed., pp. 1–23). Sage.