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Book Review:

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 2004)

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 'difference'.

'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.

 

 

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