Hopkins, D. (2002) A Teacher's Guide to Classroom Research,
Maidenhood, Open University Press
'This is a best selling practical guide for teachers who
wish to undertake research in their classrooms and schools with a view
to improving their practice. Classroom research, as described in his book,
will enable teachers to enhance their own or colleagues' teaching to test
the assumptions of educational theory in practice and to implement and
evaluate whole school developments.' (cover review to third edition, reprinted
That's quite a claim ... so how does this book match up? Very well, I
think. I enjoyed reading it and learnt a great deal about the context
as well as the practice of teacher research in the process. the style
is easy to access, which is particularly important for busy practitioners.
It is informed and stimulating as a text.
I like the range of perspectives offered by each chapter:
'A Teacher's Guide to Classroom Research' (a well written
overview that is concise and links usefully to further reading in this
area - I would recommend it for situating teacher research, perhaps in
a piece of writing towards accreditation);
'Classroom Research in Action' (a particular favorite phrase
of mine in this piece of work is near the beginning of this chapter -
on page 7. Often the phrase classroom research brings to mind images of
white-coated (or grey suited!) educational researchers undertaking research
in a sample of schools or classrooms and using as subject the teachers
and students who live out their educational lives within them Often this
image is correct. This book, however, is about another kind of research
in which teachers look critically at their own classrooms primarily for
the purpose of improving their teaching and the quality of education in
their schools' I immediately feel that teacher research is something accessible
and manageable as part of my responsibility as an educator. I read with
interest the varied case studies reported in this early section of the
book. Teacher research is demanding - yes - but it can/does make a real
'Why Classroom Research by Teachers?' The extract from Stenhouse
(1984) is well chosen: 'Good teachers are necessarily autonomous in professional
judgement. They do not need to be told what to do. They are not professionally
the dependents of researchers ...This does not mean that they do not welcome
access to ideas created by other people at other places or at other times.
Nor do they reject advice, consultancy or support' Here, at last,and I
read so many books about so-called 'good' classroom practice I see the
teaching profession in all its professionalism. I applaud Hopkins for
reminding us about Stenhouse's insights. Although the references used
to contextualise and rationalise teacher research are somewhat dated they
are nonetheless fitting and well suited to answer the question posed in
the chapter title.
'Action research and classroom research by teachers' Chapter 4 and we
are nearing the hub of this practical guide for teacher researchers -
this chapter focuses on the 'how to' as well as the 'how about?' I found
the section on critical theory particularly interesting but I was puzzled.
Where is any mention of jack Whitehead's model of action research which
focuses on self-study and has provided the scaffold for so many teachers'
classroom-based enquiries? Surely Hopkins is aware of it. Is it some professional
reticence that impedes a critical engagement with Jack's work? One of
the aspects of critique among writers that I find frustrating is the use
of exclusion. If Hopkins is reviewing the field in this third edition
- surely there should be more than a passing mention to Jean McNiff's
work as well - and I note that neither Whitehead nor McNiff appear in
the index ... Nonetheless this is a very informative chapter and the focus
on Ebbutt's (1985) work is timely.
'Developing a Focus' Now I feel really 'at home' in this
book - I sometimes have a problem with starting with 'I have a problem'
(McNiff and Whitehead, 2002) When I revisited Japan after a initial visit
with jack Whitehead I found that starting research from 'I have a problem'
was too threatening for many of our friends. It was much better to start
as Kemmis and McTaggart (1981) suggest with 'What is happening now/ In
what sense is this problematic? What can I do about it?' (cited in Hopkins,
p. 55) I like the way that enquiry by a individual teacher is explicitly
linked to priorities in the school's development plan, or to the school's
aims, targets or mission statement.' (page 56). I feel more at ease with
and more convinced by the notion of incongruence than of 'living contradiction'
which Whitehead has pioneered because as I interpret Popper's statement
that underpins jack's assertion it does not refer not to sociological
interactions. The section on 'incongruence' linked to identifying a focus
for research is wholly convincing in my opinion - I think that identifying
a 'living contradiction' is less so.
Sections on asking closed or open questions, formulating
hypotheses, and evaluating curriculum (a well chosen case study) as is
the section on theory and theorising - but again - where is Jack Whitehead's
work reviewed - ah - it's almost there - there is a phrase in the further
reading section' Jean McNiff's Action Research Principles and Practice'
- I can only surmise that this 3rd edition of Hopkins' work was published
before the new, improved edition of Jean's book.
Principles of Classroom observation, methods of Classroom
observation, Data gathering, Analysing and Reporting Classroom research
data, yes - this is indeed what it purports to be - a practical guide
for teachers intending to undertake classroom based and school based research.
But it is more than that ... it states and contextualises teacher research
in an expertly informed way. This is a clarion call to teachers as researchers
to re-professionalise a sometimes dispirited profession. It calls on schools
to be research led as well as research informed institutions who take
ownership of the professional development of their teachers as researchers.
It does have areas that would benefit from updating and expanding and
some may find the later chapters heavier going but as a well written and
comprehensive guide to teachers as researchers and the socio-political
climate of teacher research - I recommend this informative book.