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Action research began in the UK in the 1970's as a form of self evaluation and an open ended enquiry. As discussed by infed.org, Kurt Lewin a Prussian theorist who devised the term 'action research' described how planning led to problem solving and described action research as focussing on a specific situation and looking to understand it in order to make changes that influence correct practice.
To increase the knowledge of the topic being researched and to gain a better understanding of practice, it is important to use the process of 'triangulation', which involves using the data gathered from various action research methods and comparing the results. (Roberts-Holmes 2005:40)
Therefore action research is used to initiate change and is a collaborative process open to alternative perspectives and views. It is used by practitioners to review and analyse practice, identify areas for change, implement new ideas and reflect on the changes made. When using observations, questionnaires and interviews the researcher must remain ethical. Children's identities and personal data must be protected throughout and consent must be obtained. Both the Children's Act of 1989 and the 2004 Children's Bill described how children have the right to be heard and their views respected. (Roberts-Holmes 2005:53)The 1970's and 1980's have seen a change to a more child centred approach. The United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child described in article 12 that children have 'rights to form and express views on all matters that affect them' therefore when conducting observations which concern children their input is important and must be included. (Alderson 2008)
It is necessary to understand the theories behind child development which with a view to completing action research. Theories underpin practitioners' knowledge of child development and learning. It is important for practitioners to be reflective and have a flexible approach to planning for individual children's interests and ways to extend learning. The Early Years Foundation Stage guidelines highlight 'play' as being an important way in which children learn (Jarvis 2010: 211), this research follows theoretical approaches to learning, such as the 2003 Effective Provision of Preschool Education research project, (EPPE) which as described by the Institute of Education identified the aspects of pre-school provision which had a positive impact on children's attainment, progress and development. The EPPE research used observations of children's behaviour and how Early Years education impacted on society, which provided guidance for good practice.
Piaget's view that children are active learners and Bruner and Vygotsky's theory that adults should 'scaffold' children's learning, help in the understanding that through action research methods and knowledge of theory practitioners can reflect on practice and the enabling environment.
The death of Victoria Climbie in 2003 led to an enquiry which produced Every Child Matters, which required practitioners to work with other professionals to support the outcomes of staying safe; enjoying and achieving; being healthy; making a positive contribution and achieve economic well being by helping children to develop the skills needed. Through observations practitioners plan and implement activities that will enable each child to reach their full potential. With reference to an Ofsted publication, evidence gathered from practitioners' observations, is used to measure the quality of childcare settings in relation to Every Child Matters.
Observations are completed to look at behaviour, children's current interests and can be used to extend learning. Various methods include photographs; learning stories; time sampling; and tick lists. The Early Years Foundation Stage highlighted how it was important for practitioners to observe children's interests using the 'look, listen and note' statements in the children's learning diaries over a period of time. These observations should be assessed and analysed then used them to plan for opportunities and experiences that could extend learning and future development. Although very important, observations can be time consuming and could prove biased if only one perspective is used. Another difficulty with observations could be the opportunity to complete them and a practitioners' ability to carry out the observation that is relevant to the intended research. It is important to remain unprejudiced in documenting the observation, noting the behaviours seen as there could be a misconception or error in understanding. It is therefore important to be subjective and have an understanding that the behaviour seen could be due to the observers' presence or their interpretations. Moyles (2007:189) described how the observer should remain empathetic to the child and value their input.
Both Froebel and Montessori agree that observations are useful to understand children's abilities. Reggio used photographs and written observations to document the children's learning, through the 100 languages, which planned and provided an appropriate environment suitable for the children's abilities, through first hand experiences that were observed and critically analysed. It is understood that children explore their feelings and communicate through various ways. Therefore observing their interests provides practitioners with information to extend learning. Piaget's theory of cognitive development where he suggested children learnt through stages, described how he believed interaction with adults and peers, seen through his observations, was a key factor in their development. In the 1930's Susan Isaacs, who pioneered observations, described how she was interested in understanding children's interests, which she agreed should be shared with parents and staff to support and extend learning (Whitehead 2006:134)
Interviews are used to collect facts about opinions attitudes and perspectives. They can be structured or unstructured and are intended to be flexible. They are used to raise issues through a conversation whereby questions are asked regarding the intended research enquiry and can probe the interviewee for answers. However, people may understand the questions asked in a different way to that intended, which according to education Plymouth this may prove difficult to analyse. It is more difficult for the interviewee to remain autonomous; however, it is important to maintain confidentiality. When completing questions for an interview, it is important to have questions that will not produce constricted answers. It is an important ethical issue to remain unbiased and non judgemental. People may be self conscious and answer in a way that they think you want to hear. They are also time consuming and require great commitment by all participants. (MacLeod-Brudenell 2004)Throughout the interview process participants may decide not to answer certain questions, or may choose to request they no longer participate. However, their wishes should be considered and the interviewer should remain professional. It should be understood that interviewing is a technique that requires in depth knowledge of the subject matter being discussed in order to make the interview successful.
Questionnaires are completed to collect information regarding people's opinions. Questions should be open ended and meaningful to the intended research topic. They are used to compare similarities and differences in responses and should be organised and straightforward. They could contain tick boxes or multiple choice questions. However, when evaluating questionnaires they could prove inaccurate or invalid unless they are truthfully responded to and all intended questions answered. It is important to understand how to create a questionnaire that will provide evidence that can be analysed to show differences and similarities that is not restricted. People could feel reserved to answer specific questions that they may not feel comfortable with. When using questionnaires for children it is important that they understand exactly what is being asked of them ( Aubrey 2005: 32)It is therefore important to ask for consent and inform those required to complete the questionnaires that it will remain confidential and that data will be stored safely. Notification of why the questionnaires will be used should also be explained. It is the researchers' responsibility to be honest and respectful, give appropriate feedback and store data confidentially. Reports should be accurate and remain critical. According to the British Educational Research Association (BERA), action research participants have the right to be kept safe from harm and have principles to protect the good of society. It is therefore important that moral standards are upheld throughout.
In conclusion three methods of action research have been evaluated within this essay, the arguments for and against each method with regard to ethical issues have been discussed. For action research to be useful it requires commitment from parents staff and children to enable it to be effective in making informed and valuable contributions to practice. Through action research it is the practitioners' responsibilities to remain ethical, honest, give critical and accurate feedback and report any problems encountered. It also has regard for theories of children's learning and development. When analysing the findings through triangulation is important to remain objective, reflective and subjective. McNiff (2001:49) described how action research was a spiral of observing, planning, reflecting and acting on evidence gathered and had a purpose to improve understanding of practice and ways to make it better. Therefore the potentials of action research are to analyse and reflect on practice.
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