Practitioner Research and Professional Development in Education
Campbell, A., McNamara, O. and Gilroy, P. (2004) London, Paul Chapman
I came across this book at the Conference for the American
Educational Research Association in San Diego April 2004. Having attended
an excellent seminar by Anne Campbell and Olwen McNamara at the University
of Bath in 2003 and being well aware of the authors' well earned reputation
in relation to supporting Teacher Education in Britain, I knew I was sure
to be in for a good read! Although I feel that this is a text more suited
to teachers studying for a Master's Degree in Methods of Educational Enquiry
than for those considering undertaking a small classroom based research
project ab initio, I do thoroughly recommend that you read this.
The opening section about research paradigms is informative and useful,
but I believe that rather than trying to situate your research methodology
within a particular paradigm your main concern should be to identify the
most suitable methodology for the nature of your investigation. If this
means you need to engage with paradigms fair enough but these can be fraught
with territorial tensions and action research is still held in suspicion
by bastions of traditional 'scientific' research as you will find!
I do like this summary at the end of the first chapter and
rather wonder why it does not come at the beginning:
'... our book is intended to provide the understanding and
tools which will help you to improve your reflective practice by allowing
you to see how you might ... critically reflect on your ... reflections.
In so doing you will ... be behaving as a teacher researcher.' Page 11
The format of the book is helpful, with a concise over view
of each chapter under each chapter heading and Chapter 2 provides an insightful
perspective on the theory and practice of professional development for
teachers with subheadings usefully phrased a questions which include:
Why has professional development become e a major focus
of government policy?
What constitutes professional development? (I am not sure why this isn't
What roles do autonomy and self-determination play?
This book is designed to be of use to schoolteachers as
well as those who support teachers' development . It is a theoretical
summary of teacher research as well as being a guide book with practical
tips for active teacher researchers. I have no doubt it will be very useful
for university tutors and research mentors. By the end of Chapter 2, I
am beginning to understand that the authors are advocating a strong role
for higher education in teacher research activity:
'if we are to retain and sustain teachers in the profession
in the future then providing them with a voice and empowering them through
active participation in research which allows them to investigate and
shape the knowledge base of their teaching may be a key factor in defining
their professionalism and underwriting their commitment to education.'
Why such apparent hesitancy here? What is this qualification
'may be a key factor'?
Chapter 3 and I suddenly become much more attracted by this
text! I very much like the opening quotation from Maclure about identity
being something that people 'use to justify, explain and make sense of
themselves in relation to other people and to the contexts in which they
I sense a valuing of teachers undertaking research in the
way this chapter is constructed, it is theoretical but essentially practical
too with 'exercises to undertake in writing, thinking and talking.' (page
29)However, I am somewhat astounded that the pioneering work by jack Whitehead
in relation to enabling teacher research growing from an understanding
of the values that underpin their practice is not even mentioned in this
Chapter 4 is based on a discussion held by the authors of
the book as they attempted to discover a topic they could research. This
makes fascinating reading for me - but then I have been a lecturer in
higher education for ten years. I think if I were a school teacher I wouldn't
find this particularly helpful in enabling me to understand how to define
and refine high quality research question in a short time. As a research
mentor, I find that this is the most difficult challenge for busy schoolteacher
researchers with whom I work and they say research mentoring is essential.
Without this they tend to identify a Ph.D. size question and need close
assistance to narrow this down to something of immediate relevance in
school. I do, however, endorse the observation on page 63 that mentoring
is a key thing to a lot of the models of CPD that are around at the moment.'
and the next comment could have drawn out a distinction between communal
researching and research mentoring.
In my opinion, Chapter 5 is likely to be of use to all those
considering undertaking a literature review - be it schoolteachers or
those assisting them. This is timely reminder about how to undertake a
good quality review and how to represent it in a textual account of one's
enquiry ... but I am astounded to see that the use of multimedia in teacher
research (and there is no mention of using scanning devices - pens and
larger equipment - as aids to speeding up the process of collecting sections
of text as a basis for review - without such time saving devices I would
be very hard pressed! In fact the use of multi media is a loud omission
in this book and 'video' is too scant a mention ...
Chapter 6 is once again an excellent starting point for
anyone undertaking a master's level unit about research techniques - and
the simple format of tables and bullet points provides a quick route into
identifying some of the main questions to ask in about the relationship
of theory and practice. I particularly like sections entitled Learning
Aid: writing a biography or telling a teacher story(P. 92) and Learning
Aid: fictionalising data (P. 93) I would find these very useful indeed
in my wok as a research mentor - and wish I had been able to use them
with early BPRS winners!
Some of the Learning Aid sections seems to be more about how to undertake
research where others are a concise guide to doing research activity.
The introductory sections to the Learning Aids are informative to some
extent but also can be constraining - I have the feeling the authors have
pre-determined which kinds of research methodology are likely to be useful
to practitioner researchers and I very much want to see new and more original
possibilities for researching practice engaged with as schoolteachers
undertake their own systematic and validated classroom based enquiries.
Chapter 7 and Chapter 3 seem to have a different and more
accessible style from the others, somehow. perhaps they have been written
by the same author? Chapter 7 is a rich vein of useful and practical know-how
waiting to be mined! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and felt immediately
'at home' with the style and content. I strongly recommend this book on
the basis of these two chapters, even if nothing else appeals to practitioner
readers. The references to literature about teacher enquiry and the URLS
of websites including CARN and BERA as well as government agencies appeal
I am very much impressed by the straightforward guidance offered for starting
a critical friendship - and understanding how to sustain it. The illustrations
are well chosen and careful written to be relevant o teacher researcher
s and to those who are supporting them - there is a wide range of case
study drawn across primary schools and special schools but why not secondary
and subject teaching? I would have thought this would be useful for a
book obviously designed to attract a wide readership across phases - and
in my experience in working with Wiltshire LEA as we offer funding for
small scale enquiries, most of the research IS currently undertaken by
secondary school teachers rather than primary - though I very much hope
that this situation will soon adjust to amore unilateral cross section.
I wonder too if there wouldn't have been a case for including research
undertaken by LEA advisors - the research project into addressing underachievement
in Torfaen LEA in conjunction with the University of Bath which will shortly
be represented on this website would make a useful inclusion to demonstrate
possibilities for partnerships in research.
My favourite section in this book is undoubtedly the one
entitled "Mentors as support for Research' - perhaps not surprisingly!
Just listen to this:
Campbell and Kane identify a strong relationship between
mentoring and teachers' professional development in the areas of improved
observational skills; developing new ideas and practices; and evaluating
and appraising practice' (page 123) What a wonderful endorsement!
At last there is a mention of Jean McNiff and Jack Whitehead's
work in supporting action research - in the 'Further Reading' section.
What a shame this website doesn't appear to have attracted the authors'
attention as a potential resource to support and promote practitioner
Chapters 8 and 9 provide useful overviews into employing
qualitative and quantitative research approaches to investigation and
they could usefully act as an introduction to more detailed and thoroughgoing
handbooks such as the old favourite of researchers, written by Cohen and
Manion. I personally found Chapter 10 devoted to Writing Up, Reporting
and Publishing Your Research useful but a fraction disappointing too ...
I wanted to see an opportunity grasped for promoting multimedia forms
of representation of knowledge created by practitioners - I wanted a celebration!
Instead I found a very thorough if concise overview of really quite traditional
approaches to research techniques that I have engaged with before. The
'Writing for publication' section should explain the refereeing process
and offer some case studies relating to 'prestige journals' As a researcher,
I am aware of a pecking order but also that good quality research is often
overlooked when it doesn't appear in them.
I would urge practitioner researchers to look for the 'house style' that
strongly appeals to them - and try to persuade LEAs to support teacher
researchers by promoting local journals of education like Wiltshire's,
linked to more local research funding. Writing for publication IS challenging
and all the more so with the advent of the Research Assessment Exercise
- which needs to be mentioned. I am quite critical of Chapter 10 because
I feel it does not go far enough in promoting websites as form of publishing
- and where is the mention of on-line journals - these would provide an
excellent focus for teachers' research. I would also suggest that writing
to Talk2learn on the NCSL site and for Becta on the ICTRN site could be
included in the suggestions for 'reporting your research, not to mention
explaining that teachers' research needs first and foremost to be shared
with colleagues in one's own workplace - perhaps by way of a school based
consortium research website? Tips for how to write for on-line publication
in a book published in 2004 would make a fresh and welcome addition to
other research handbooks.
I find there is a cross over in focus between Chapters 10
and 11 relating to publishing and disseminating practitioners' research.
The recommendation to evaluate your research thoroughly does not quite
cover the need to validate your research at regular intervals. Asking
"Am I doing what I set out to do in a thorough and systematic way?"
is different from asking "How do I see the value of my research evidence?"
and there should be a clearer distinction in this book about how data
is synthesised into evidence to support claims to be improving practice.
I recommend a process of systematic validation AND evaluation over the
course of a research project always allowing for a sudden creative insight
to allow the research to take a new turn or to move away from a predetermined
path should this become less productive in pursuing an enquiry. The wonderful
(if sometimes annoying!) feature of action research is that you CANNOT
and should not determine every step you will take but can and should engage
in critical creativity at every opportunity to maximise your chance of
addressing your research question fully.
Sections are cross referenced for example on page 192, we
find a reference to Chapter 5 about undertaking a literature review -
but I would like to see closer cross referencing to particular pages if
(and where) it is necessary to repeat advice about undertaking practitioner
Overall, this book is useful and I would recommend it but
not as a core text for engaging in teacher research. I think it tries
to cover too much ground though I thoroughly endorse the value of some
chapters - as I have indicated in my critique in this Review of the Month.
Somehow the concluding remarks don't quite hot the mark for me -I want
to feel inspired to undertake and support practitioner research. I want
to feel that these authors are also practitioner researchers who are inviting
me to join them in co-enquiry to improve professional practice in schools.
Instead I am left with the words ' rather than to ossify
into a kind of unthinking, unreflective behaviour which, over time, will
lose whatever force it once had' (page 198) yes - I am glad I read this
book! yes - I do know I will use it and recommend it.