Mentoring as Crucial Part of Action Research
by Catherine Meacher,
The John Bentley School, Calne, Wiltshire
Background, January 2002
During the course of this term, I will be working with a Year 8 class
as part of the action research that I am carrying out as part of my Best
Practice Research Scholarship. Students will be encouraged to reflect
on his/her own work and in so doing become independent learners. This
self-reflection will take the form of video-audio recordings, multi-media
presentations and even web site contributions. In addition, students will
be encouraged to keep diaries and take photos to form part of their portfolio.
I have been fortunate enough to be granted a research scholarship from
the DFES in order to carry out my own research. This scholarship is the
government's way of encouraging teachers to carry out enquiries so as
to continue to improve their teaching and their learning.
My particular focus is
'How can I assist my students in Year 8 to improve how they use Powerpoint
as part of their learning in Modern Foreign Languages?
Throughout this enquiry, I will be working closely with my mentor, Sarah
Fletcher from the University of Bath. Time spent together will take place
at both the University and my school, The John Bentley School (JBS), a
Language College in Calne.
Mentoring at work with action research
The mentoring process really began in May 2001 when Sarah invited me
to participate in BPRS action research. Sarah encouraged me by both providing
examples of other action research conducted by teachers and reassuring
me that an action research enquiry would form an integral part of my daily
classroom practice. Sarah insisted that all teachers can carry out research.
What separates action research from everyday teaching and learning is
that work is shared, systematised and validated.
In the autumn, Sarah and I met to start working together and to explore
what it is to engage in action research. We brainstormed possible strategies.
Sarah encouraged me to reflect critically on my own practice, share any
concerns that I had and assisted me to establish a focus for my research.
Our last meeting together was earlier in January at JBS. We had hoped
to involve another BPRS researcher but he was unfortunately unable to
join us. As a follow up to our last meeting, I had researched the topic
of action research and had prepared some ideas for our meeting which we
Considering the wording of the title to be of relatively little importance
at this stage, Sarah began by suggesting that I needed to make the title
more precise and specific. In addition, she advised that I should broaden
the perspective and narrow the focus of my enquiry.
In order to broaden the context of my enquiry and considering what I
wanted my main focus to be, Sarah proposed that I think more about my
research by asking myself the following questions:
- What is in it for me?
- What really matters to me most and why?
- What do I want the students to learn?
- What do I hope to learn?
- What could you/the students do with?
- followed by the broader implications for the whole school and
- How and who will that be shared with?
- How will your enquiry impact upon the whole school and wider community?
- How will you share your work with your colleagues/whole staff/community?
Sarah described how thinking more about I would lead me to have more
ownership of my research. We looked at the concerns that I had highlighted
and only one began with the word 'I'. Sarah encouraged me to assume that
this was the concern that meant the most to me. The concern was this:
I am not happy with the use that we/the students make of our state-of-the-art
PC suite and software.
Sarah explained that having established my main concern, my particular
reasons for this would be easier to identify.
At the same time, I needed to take my enquiry down to narrower foci.
Why was I choosing to work with Powerpoint and Year 8 and what would
be the implications for every subject in my school?
In my BPRS bid, I had already stated that I wanted to focus on Year 8
but Sarah led me to question this decision. She did so by asking the question:
What area of ICT/MFL do I most want to influence and why?
I responded with Key Stage 3 and the levels that we submit at the
end of Year 9.
I was then provoked into considering which particular year group would
benefit the most from this enquiry. I immediately eliminated Year 9, considering
it too late to be effective here.
I didn't consider Year 7 either as I am happy with our Year 7 language
software provision. The Vektor beginners'software 'Essentials'is aimed
at this level.
I came back to Year 8 who currently use the same software in MFL lessons
as the Year 7s. With progression in mind, I considered it time that the
Year 8s were challenged and introduced to a new ICT skill.
Sarah quizzed me as to which ICT skill I would be new for Year 8 and
I mentioned Powerpoint and Spreadsheets. Having mentioned Powerpoint first,
Sarah led me to assume that I was more interested in this skill and itĂs
potential in the classroom.
When Sarah questioned me as to what I hoped to gain from working with
Powerpoint, I admitted my lack of competence in this skill. I commented
on how excited I was at the prospect of aiming to improve my ICT and in
particular that of Powerpoint alongside that of my students.
Sarah asked me what the benefits of using Powerpoint could be for both
the Year 8 students and me. I talked about Powerpoint being the way forward.
In my opinion, it will replace both the white and blackboard and will
be used in our classrooms for presentations and lessons by both teachers.
It is also highly likely that students will be asked to do presentations
via Powerpoint both at school and in the workplace
Sarah got me to consider what the final outcome of this project could
be. She suggested one possible scenario. The students and I could
give a presentation to staff. The aim of this would be to celebrate:
- Where the students had come from?
- What had they learnt?
- What could they now do?
- as well as
- What had I learnt?
Throughout the entire session, Sarah put ideas to me but was careful
not to give me definite solutions. She used vocabulary such as 'What if?,
How..? You might ...,What is sometimes really nice is ÷, What I can see
you doing is ...and in fact even quizzed me as to whether I felt that
she was giving me solutions or not!
We also considered my professional values and whether I was being the
teacher I wanted to be. Am I denying myself my professional values and
if so, why? This was a question that I would have to keep revisiting throughout
After having established a plan of action for my enquiry, Sarah suggested
that we talk through what both and I and the students would be doing at
each stage. As she had on many occasions before, Sarah asked 'Shall we
talk about..? and encouraged me to systematise the processes that all
participants would be involved in.
Sarah enabled me to clarify in my mind the two processes that would be
running parallel: that of my Year 8 research participants and myself.
She made me feel confident both of the path that my research would follow
and my ability to carry out action research.
It was particularly useful to be given examples of other action researchers
and the challenges they faced, especially regarding the question of the
fulfillment of professional values.
Conclusion : The impact of mentoring on action research
The impact of mentoring on action research cannot be underestimated.
The guidance and support that I have received has led me to believe in
my future research and removed any fears or preconceptions that I may
have had. Sarah has smoothed the way; helped me to give my work direction
and filled me with the confidence to carry out action research.
I have learnt that action research is not about creating more work for
the classroom practitioner but systematising and validating something
that is being done already. If anything, action research has the crucial
role in schools of ensuring that colleagues share their good practice
and assist each other in constantly improving teaching and learning.
Since our meeting on 9th January, Sarah has provided me with the opportunity
to speak about my BPRS and mentoring with action research on two occasions.
The role of the mentor goes beyond that of a guider and supporter but
a provider of opportunities, similar to that of a parent in a parent-child
The first public airing of my work was at an Educational Enquiry session
on mentoring at JBS, the second at the Teacher Network Group held at the
University of Bath. Both occasions have provided me with a forum where
I can present my plans and my findings and in so doing, share my work
with others and validate my research. Equally, the more I talk to others
about my plans, the more they become concrete and real.
As my action research mentor, Sarah has been and continues to be a wonderful
source of enthusiasm and energy. She is incredibly positive and full of
praise. One of her comments was 'Wonderful, you are doing so well.
It is all so intensive! This kind of feedback is vital if an action researcher
is to succeed. Everybody needs to feel good about themselves and be told
so. Sarah's willingness to be involved in the work of others is a real
source of inspiration. It might involve me ...is a phrase that stuck in
my mind. What was most flattering by the end of our mentor session, was
that Sarah suggested that I might be able to mentor action researchers
in the future. This role would no doubt assist in improving my own classroom
practice as well as my own mentoring.
The John Bentley School