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Communities learning together

September 23rd, 2009

Our school is participating in the Families’ and Communities’ Engagement in education research project. In this blog I describe the “lever” we are using to generate opportunities for community engagement.  Our school’s research has been around investigating further what our student researchers meant when they said “ learning happens if you feel confident”.  Our intention has been to work with three different student groups in the school to firstly define confidence, to identify ways it is already built in school and to investigate how it might be developed further. The students will then report their findings back to their parents and others in the wider learning community. The purpose of this forum is to create a focus for discussion about the learning capabilities parents would like their daughters to develop –in particular around confidence and resilience. We are hoping parents will have ideas about the strategies they use to help develop confidence and how we might work together to build and maintain confidence. We are also hoping that by discussing a specific capability that the parents ( in earlier research)  have also identified as being important we will be able to more readily engage them in discussions around the changing needs of learners of the 21st century.

In our Wellington discussion workshop Jane Gilbert spoke of the importance of collective decision making given that the ‘knowledge experts’ may no longer exist. The intention of our ‘confidence forum’ is a first step in modelling communities learning together.  

During this research project we have also read widely around concepts of confidence, why it is important and how it might be demonstrated both in and outside the classroom. Of course the best information has come from the students themselves. 

 We also decided to use three different research methods to collect the information. With the Year 13 students we presented them with the Year 9 findings from the year before and asked them to develop a series of survey questions that could be given to two tutor groups (approximately 45 students). They trialled their first survey on their own tutor class. This highlighted the need to ask less questions and to eliminate redundant questions. At this point we asked Josie and Rachel (NZCER researchers) to advise us. The second survey was then given out. During the analysis sessions that followed they quickly realised that their survey still needed further refining. The initial data from these surveys was not as reflective/deep as we had expected from Year 13 students but it did indicate clear trends, some of them unexpected. The discussions about the data with the research group was much more useful.

With the Year 10 group (student researchers of 2008) we interviewed them as a group using similar questions that the Year 13 group had designed. The information gathered from this was more as we had expected – deeper and more reflective – probably because there was opportunity to ask further questions. There was certainly some obvious similarities about the responses but also some interesting differences highlighted between the experiences of the two age groups.

The third group of Year 12 students (student researchers of 2007) we simply presented  with the summarised findings of the other two groups and asked for comment. Their responses were more far reaching, less structured and therefore probably more genuine than the other two groups because they were not constrained by giving expected answers to given questions.   

So in summary: Research Process Evaluation

  • Writing survey questions is more difficult than it seems! It is often not until you see the results that you begin to understand what questions really needed to be asked. These questions need to be constantly refined.
  • Data gathered from surveys is often interesting because it highlights possible trends and may provide some unexpected issues but only really becomes enlightening after opportunities to discuss and reflect on results is given.
  • Sometimes the unexpected data highlights a group of students whose experience is different to the majority and this could lead to the need for further research to explore what made their experiences different to others.
  • Gathering data through focused discussion and interview provides deeper analysis. 
  • The most genuine response came from presenting the group with summary findings and asking for comments, rather than responding to set questions. This seemed to be because the questions weren’t already leading the responses. There were no expected answers.
     

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