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The research process began with the outline of a very general research topic. Initially, the central research objective was to focus on the "use of IWBsâ€Ÿ and „collaborative workingâ€Ÿ.
The research topic was gradually defined and narrowed down to the use of IWBs in Foundation Stage (FS) (ages three to five) school settings, incorporating the related collaborative working of a range of practitioners using IWBs in these settings.
As the research questions were developed it appeared logical to focus on one age range within educational provision, in England, and the „Foundation Stageâ€Ÿ of education (children aged three to five years) was selected. A range of settings provide education for children of this age range, however, the decision was made to work only with „school settingsâ€Ÿ to focus the research topic further. Other settings were ruled out on the basis that IWB use may be influenced by a number of additional factors in these settings, for example, the range of practitioners working in other settings varies and the attendance of children is not always compulsory.
„Collaborative workingâ€Ÿ in schools had been the focus of a body of existing literature . The decision was made to focus on the experiences of practitioners working in school settings (possibly collaboratively), judged likely to use IWBs. The research topic focuses on practitioners working in statutory organisations and is influenced by the political agenda as a result. The political context of the research is introduced later in the chapter and demonstrates that inter-professional working has been a focus in recent policy developments for these groups of practitioners. It was, therefore, logical and important to incorporate an investigation of the ways in which practitioners worked together into this research. The definition of the research topic was guided by the literature search and review of existing research literature. The research topic was narrowed down as it became clear which aspects of IWB use were most suitable for investigation.
The Early Years Foundation Stage
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) (DfES, 2000a) is a framework designed to be followed by practitioners working with children from birth to five years. This framework for practitioners was implemented fully in September 2008 and replaced the existing Birth to Three Matters (DfES, 2002) and Foundation Stage frameworks (QCA/DfES, 2000). The framework is based on the principle of a developmental continuum that children follow and has several key themes, including; a unique child, positive relationships, enabling environments, and, learning and development. The framework provides practitioners with an outline of developmental stages that children progress through and suggests how to provide learning opportunities that are „developmentally appropriateâ€Ÿ. These stages are not rigidly linked to age and are designed to acknowledge the unique strengths and needs of each child.
During the interviews the researcher attempted to discover the „meaningsâ€Ÿ inherent in the participantsâ€Ÿ experiences of the phenomenon. When the researcher was satisfied that participant and researcher had a degree of shared understanding of these meanings, they become known as „shared meaningsâ€Ÿ. In the analysis of data the researcher attempted to identify and further interpret these as „units of meaningâ€Ÿ in individual transcripts, as well as those occurring across the data set as a whole (Hycner, 1985, in Cohen et al. 2000).
During the early stages of the analysis the researcher was seeking to identify passages of data that provided insight and indicated possible „repeating ideasâ€Ÿ or patterns in relation to these specific topics in using IWBs. These „repeating ideasâ€Ÿ reflected the researcherâ€Ÿs interpretation of „units of meaningâ€Ÿ (Hycner, 1985, in, Cohen et al., 2000).
At later stages of the analysis the researcher was searching for „sharedâ€Ÿ meanings, as well as contradictions in the data set as a whole. These similarities and differences contributed to an understanding of the uniqueness of participantsâ€Ÿ experiences of using IWBs, as well as recognising more common or frequently mentioned aspects of their experiences that appeared as „repeating ideasâ€Ÿ or „units of meaningâ€Ÿ (Hycner, 1985, in Cohen et al., 2000). The researcher was seeking to develop themes and identify hierarchical relationships between thematic ideas in order to determine ways in which they might be interpreted as inter-related.
There were several stages in the recursive process of analysing the interview data. Several stages of the process were conducted more than once and revisited as new interpretations were tested and refined. During these stages the researcher was moving backwards and forwards between dual perspectives on the data, working closely with individual transcripts, moving away and looking at the data set as a whole (Cohen, 2000).
The researcher identified „unitsâ€Ÿ of meaning (Denscombe, 1998). „Unitsâ€Ÿ of meaning ranged from very unique and specific; containing just one passage of 177 data, to more abstract and general; encompassing groups of passages of data with common or related meaning(s) identified by the researcher. The researcher attempted to recognise ideas in the data that could be interpreted as recurring „units of meaningâ€Ÿ (Cohen et al., 2000). It was the researcherâ€Ÿs own interpretive activity that determined what constituted a „unit of meaningâ€Ÿ and at what theoretical level it should occur
As understanding of the data developed, the researcher was able to delete nodes that were unsubstantiated, or unrelated to research questions, producing a node system which represented the most significant repeating ideas in the data organised into groups (Grbich, 2000). This process entailed the reduction of nodes and coded data represent repeating ideas and patterns that were prevalent across the data set (Cohen et al., 2000).
The objective for condensing and refining the node system in this way was to reduce the number of nodes and increase the level of abstraction of the nodes that remained (Cohen et al., 2000). When the researcher was satisfied that the remaining nodes were suitably prevalent across the data set, abstract and relevant to the research questions, the condensing of the list was complete although the refinement of the node system continued at a far slower pace during the rest of the analysis
Developing research questions
Research questions were developed from an understanding and evaluation of existing literature in the research topics surrounding IWB use in schools.
The main research question may be expressed as follows:
1. What are the experiences and attitudes of practitioners working in Foundation Stage school settings around the use of IWBs?
Secondary research questions addressed in this research include:
2. How consistent is IWBD use across the Foundation Stage, what are practitionersâ€Ÿ thoughts about this?
3. What is guiding/governing current IWB use?
4. What are practitionersâ€Ÿ experiences of educational practitioners and speech and language therapists working together when using IWBs in Foundation Stage settings?
Design of Research Instruments
All research questions were designed to address the experiences of three groups of practitioners seen as the most frequent practitioner-users of IWBs in schools; teachers, EYPs and SLTs. Research questions were designed to address the range of ways IWBs were used and encompass the ways in which practitioners worked with each other when they were using IWBs.
One of the underlying objectives of this research was to investigate and explore how IWBs were being used in schools at the time the research was underway by asking the practitioners who had experience of using them. For example, the researcher was concerned with; how IWBs were being used and by whom, how practitioners were guided and trained in the use of IWBs, and what experiences these practitioners have had of their use. This was a suitable objective in an exploratory research project because this area had not been explored before and, hence, provided a starting point for future research. ethodology employed in the research.
Given that the process of analysing the interview data was extremely subjective, key decisions have been documented and examples will be included ,contributing to an audit trail of the overall interpretive process. The audit trail provides insight into the interpretive process so that the reader can follow the researcher's analytical journey from data collection to theory generation (Porter, 2000). For this reason the entire research process has been documented and every key decision was recorded.
When using an interview method to encourage a participant to recall and recount specific experiences, the researcher is making several assumptions. These assumptions are; one, that the participant can accurately recall relevant event(s); two, that the participant will feel comfortable sharing their true experience(s) of the phenomenon; and three, that the researcher will be able to develop an interpretation of what the participant is sharing, during the interview, and later when they analyse the recorded and transcribed dialogue. In successful interviews, participants will give an account of the experience as they recall it. It will be not be possible for the researcher to determine how accurately the account reflects what actually happened as the moment in time has passed
The researcher subtly observed and mentally and manually made notes about the non-verbal cues given by the participantâ€Ÿs body language, facial expressions, pauses and silences. Body language of participants was observed closely and an attempt was made to mirror body language and develop „body empathyâ€Ÿ, which is seen as an important skill in drawing as much detail from an interview as possible (Langdridge, 2000). For example, if the participant turned their chair towards the researcher and sat directly facing her, the researcher did the same. In contrast, if the participant turned away and leaned towards the desk, the researcher did the same. In being aware of body language, the researcher hoped to engage with participants more completely and explore their „lived experiencesâ€Ÿ in more depth.
The researcher applied insights of a phenomenological perspective to explore and gradually uncover information about the following during the interviews; the practitionersâ€Ÿ experiences of using IWBs, their explicit and implicit reasons for introducing IWBs to children, their attitudes and beliefs about the „needsâ€Ÿ of the children they used IWBs with, and their own perceptions and attitudes about IWBs.
Participants were encouraged to engage in a reflective process of recalling and revisiting professional practices and exploring their professional reasoning and decision-making. In doing this, the researcher attempted to gain access to the participants „life worldâ€Ÿ, explore the ambiguities and contradictions within their experiences of the world, and, commit to trying to be „true to the phenomenonâ€Ÿ (Hitzler and Eberle, 2004). Each participant was involved in one interview and was not approached to discuss interpretations after the analysis. Phenomenologists are critical of „member checkingâ€Ÿ due to the recognition that this process may influence the interpretations of the researcher. The researcher may change or limit natural interpretations if they are apprehensive about how their interpretations may be received. The judgements of the participants themselves may also be affected by social desirability effect and caution about who the audience of the research may be (Finlay, 2008; Nederhof, 1985).
The findings of this research highlighted a tension between beliefs held by practitioners surrounding the use of IWBs with specific children or all children. This is an area in need of investigation to enable a better understanding of both sides of this debate. It may also lead to an exploration of the outcomes of using IWBs with different ranges of children. A two-stage method would be one way of exploring this area of debate among practitioners. Recruitment of a sample similar to that involved in the research presented in this thesis would provide a suitable range of practitioners. Data would be collected from teachers, EYPs and SLTs beginning with a large scale questionnaire collecting responses about the use of IWBs with specific children or all children. By asking about participantsâ€Ÿ experiences about using IWBs in schools generally, the questionnaire could then address directly participantsâ€Ÿ opinions about the debate surrounding using IWBs with children with specific needs versus all children.
Analysis of the questionnaire data would lead to the division of participants into those that believe that IWBs should only be used with specific children with a „needâ€Ÿ for IWBs (specific children group) and those believing that IWBs could and should be used with all children (all children group). Participants whodo not clearly express either of these viewpoints could be excluded from the next stage. Participants from the „specific children groupâ€Ÿ and from the „all children groupâ€Ÿ would be recruited to take part in the second stage of the research involving semi-structured interviews.
During the interviews, participants would be questioned about their beliefs surrounding IWB use, particularly focusing on their beliefs associated with the „specific versus allâ€Ÿ approaches. This would enable the collection of rich detailed accounts of participantsâ€Ÿ experiences and beliefs in this area. Questioning would be specifically designed to explore participantsâ€Ÿ reasoning for their beliefs and their experiences of using IWBs with specific children and/or all children. Analysis of this data would lead to a deeper understanding of this group of participantsâ€Ÿ reasons for using IWBs with specific children or all children. This may provide insight into ways in which IWBs have appeared to be particularly effective, as well as possible professional differences which contribute to these points of view.