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Research Matters

Alison Jackson

A colleague recently applauded the professionalism of educators, quoting in particular the ‘inquisitive minds’ they possess. The positive definitions of inquisitiveness – inclined to investigate; eager for knowledge – find approval throughout the journey of education, but the somewhat negative definitions – unduly curious and inquiring – also attract attention. If research matters then it could be argued that the inquisitive mind steps over some kind of boundary between inclination to investigate and what may be considered to be undue curiosity.

Research I undertook in 2009 (Jackson, 2009) with student teachers sought to discover, in part, whether that undue curiosity was present; an eagerness to go beyond reflection, to look more deeply into what could be seen as the bottomless pit of exploration available in their intended profession. I was looking at the perceptions of Masters level as desirable for the teaching profession and framed my questions around the notion of whether the student teachers thought theory (research) would contribute to their teaching. The answers ranged from ‘No, it’s just doing extended essays’ and a rather puzzling ‘It only applies to some things – like teaching’ to ‘I think [theory and practice] go side by side. They’re both requisites for being a good teacher in the classroom’, and a hopeful prediction, ‘It [theory] has potential. A lot of teachers know what the children can’t do but don’t really know why’. Picking up on this last observation, Knight (2015) found some interesting insights from student teachers in his research into the place of theory in learning to teach. One of his students (:156) suggested that ‘It really makes you more critical. It encourages you to dig even deeper, to stretch things just that little bit further’; going beyond reflection I would suggest. To allay fears that an overreliance on the potential power of theory could become a new prescription, I quote Knight again who concluded in a co-constructed definition from participants’ responses: ‘Rather than being a solid fact, theory is open to interpretation and is not always 100% concrete’ (:152). This recalls my own consideration of interpretive research where I discovered that, according to Smith (1993:118-119), for interpretivists ‘research knowledge is nothing more than a different form of knowledge- another voice in the conversation’. It is not, I concluded, claiming an absolute, but rather keeping the debate open, not expecting to find best practice or leading to the final answer (Jackson, 2006). Student teachers from a range of universities in the UK who have recently carried out excellent research projects of their own, and engaged critically with others’ research to do this, certainly do not seem to be expecting to reach a final answer. For example, McConville-Rae (in press) suggests that:Working through the enquiry process has allowed me to begin to develop the skills and knowledge required to become an enquiring practitioner. Professional enquiry is an exercise that I will frequently engage in throughout my teaching career to ensure that my pupils receive the meaningful learning experiences they are entitled to.’

If, as Okas, Schaaf and Krull (2014:14) believe, ‘good teaching is not an accident’, their advice, that in order ‘to fulfil the main tasks of teaching, a teacher must have a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge which together is viewed as a teacher’s knowledge and beliefs’ suggests that research matters. My ‘opinion’ in this opinion piece is that there are plenty of inquisitive minds out there engaging in teaching and teacher education, allowing us to be optimistic that going beyond reflection is well practised, and encouraging us to believe that undue curiosity is good.

References

  • Jackson, A. (2006) In search of the re-made teacher; ‘master or marionette’? Unpublished EdD thesis. Keele University.
  • Jackson, A. (2009) Perceptions of Masters level PGCE: a pilot investigation, available at: http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/Public/Education/Documents/Research/EducatorsStorehouse/PerceptionsOfMastersLevelPGCE.pdf
  • Knight, R. (2015): Postgraduate student teachers’ developing conceptions of the place of theory in learning to teach: ‘more important to me now than when I started’, Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy, DOI:1080/02607476.2015.1010874
  • McConville-Rae, D. (in press) ‘The effect of higher-order questioning on pupil understanding, as assessed using mind maps and the solo taxonomy’, The STeP Journal, 2(2), pp. 5-18. Available at: http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/stepjournal
  • Okas, A., van der Schaaf, M., and Krull, E. (2014) Novice and experienced teachers’ views on Professionalism. TRAMES, 2014, 18(68/63), 4, 327–344
  • Smith, J.K. (1993) After the Demise of Empiricism, New Jersey, Ablex.

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