Case Study: Farnborough Sixth Form College
What was the research question and how was it chosen?
“What attributes and qualities make a good teacher?”
The teacher who led the project chose the research question. She felt it would have broad appeal to learners and be genuinely useful to improving teaching practice. The college already had an established programme of action research and a commitment to student voice. Asking students to carry out their own research was therefore a logical next step within the college’s enquiry-based ethos.
Who were the researchers?
A group of Year 12 and 13 students – Sidrah Ahmed, Nick Cade, Natalie Chappell, Yvonne Chueng, Rachel Clark, Sophie George, Rachel Gough, Amy Grandvoinet and Sade Underwood – who were interested in teaching as a career carried out the project. Becky Barnes, a teacher at the College, supported the group. She recruited the students by placing an advertisement for volunteers in the college newsletter.
How did the group communicate?
The students met once a week throughout the year to share experiences, discuss opinions on teaching, collate information and write progress reports. The students led most of the sessions, while the adult facilitator directed and attended some of them. The group also used the college VLE to share documents and discuss findings and issues (via discussion forums).
What methods did the young researchers use?
The facilitator identified student observation as an appropriate method to investigate the research question. Each young person carried out two to three lesson observations across the year. In total, they observed ten teachers’ lessons. Students carried out pre observation interviews with the teacher they were observing, to establish what the lesson would be about, and what the teacher was interested in receiving feedback on. They then carried out a post observation interview to formally deliver their findings using the lesson observation reports which were usually used by teachers.
How were the young researchers supported?
The facilitator supported the group by:
organising lesson observation and interview training
organising the logistics
recruiting teachers to participate in the project.
What challenges did the young researchers experience, and how were these overcome?
|Co-ordinating deadlines and activities for the whole group||Students setting short term goals from session to session to move forward in project steadily|
|Learning to give feedback, especially negative feedback, to teachers in an appropriate way||Providing observation and feedback training|
|Working on their own was “daunting” for some students||Pairing up students to observe and give feedback|
|Students found interviewing teachers “quite nerve wracking”||Training and practice, for example the facilitator staged mock interviews which made them feel more confident|
|Writing report objectively, backed up by evidence||Writing an interim short report to develop their skills|
What challenges did the adult facilitator face?
Facilitating rather than leading the group.
Finding time to manage the logistics of what was quite a large project, lasting a year.
Keeping students engaged.
Selling the benefits of student observers to teachers.
Embarking on an ‘open ended’ enquiry.
What were the research outputs?
What impact did the research have?
The observed teachers were very positive about the impact that the observation has had on their teaching. The young researchers were fairly sceptical about whether their role as student observers was contributing to the development of their teachers’ practice. However, some felt that student-teacher relationships had improved, and they now had a clearer grasp of what makes a teacher good.
How did the project benefit the young researchers?
Improved their university applications
Taught them new skills
Improved their knowledge about teaching.
How did the project benefit the adult facilitator?
Helped her to engage with student in a different way: as equals
Developed her skills in research, reflection and helicopter management
Raised her profile within the college.
Top tips for adults supporting young researchers
Choose an interesting topic, with broad appeal, to get lots to people interested in your project
Have a critical fried to bounce ideas off
Focus on what the young researchers want – facilitate their learning, rather than leading the project
Develop a clear delivery model with a variety of flexible communication tools for a large group research project
Be flexible in your approach to time - you need to consider student and teacher commitments
Students need help most at the beginning and end of a project, so be aware that there will be more demands on you at those times.