Can CoRE’s National Entitlement Recommendations work in Primary RE? A Primary RE practitioner-research project
October 2021 research of the month features Dr Emma Salter.
October 2021 research of the month features Dr Emma Salter.
In this presentation I speak about a research project funded by Culham St Garbriel’s that I conducted with my colleague Prof Lyn Tett at the University of Huddersfield, School of Education. The project ran between September 2019 and September 2021. It’s title is, Can CoRE’s National Entitlement Recommendations work in Primary RE? A Primary RE practitioner-research project. This presentation focusses only on the second – practitioner-research – part of the project. In this project ‘practitioner-research’ refers to teachers conducting intentional, structured research on their own practice. Structured research means research with pre-determined aims or questions, a research design for systematic and ethical data collection, and robust data analysis and interpretation to produce credible research findings that are relevant to professional practice.
To investigate practitioner-research the project aims were:
This presentation reports on the final aim.
The research sample was nine Primary school teachers all experienced in planning and delivering RE. The project adopted a community of practice (Wenger 1998) approach for its methodology in the following ways:
Shared domain of interest: participating teachers shared their expertise and experience of Primary RE.
Becoming a community: participating teachers built mutually supportive relationships with each other through their shared interactions with the group.
Shared practice: participating teachers supported each other in improving their skills and confidence as practitioner-researchers through shared discussion and problem-solving.
To establish the community of practice the teachers and academics met regularly at the University; two full days in September, three half days in October, then half a day monthly until March after which lockdown forced our meetings on-line. Our monthly meetings involved a range of research-focussed activities that including structured training in research skills and on-going support from the academics for the teachers to plan and carry out their own practitioner-research projects. Active researchers in education were also invited to our meetings to discuss their research with the teachers. This was helpful in generating ideas for the teachers for their own research planning. The teachers also attended Strictly RE in January 2020. The shared experience of attending Strictly RE helped cement the community of practice. Discussing their research ideas with Strictly RE delegates – colleagues they hadn’t previously met – and having them affirmed boosted teachers’ motivation and confidence in their research projects.
Six practitioner-researcher projects emerged from the overall project because some of the teachers worked in pairs. This presentation does not discuss these projects individually. look out for project reports that will be posted on RE:ONLINE soon.
Six practitioner-research projects
The project used multiple methods to collect qualitative data from the participating teachers across the duration of the project. Gathering data over time, while the teachers were planning and carrying out their own research, means the data shows how their experiences and opinions changed over time; rather than a snapshot of one moment in time. The methods of data collection are listed below:
Base-line short answer questionnaire at the project start to record teachers’ experience and confidence as researchers.
Reflective journals in which teachers reflected on their developing experiences as practitioner-researchers. Teachers made individual monthly journal entries between October 2019 and June 2020.
4 focus-group discussions (October 2019, February 2020, May 2020, December 2020) during which teachers reflected together on their experiences of engaging in teacher-research and its impact on their wider professional practice; as well as other matters relating to RE in professional practice.
Semi-structured interviews (October 2020) during which they reflected on any enduring impact on their professional development of attending Strictly RE in January 2020, as well as further reflections on engaging in teacher-research.
Closing short answer questionnaire at the end of the project to record teachers’ transitions since the project start and their overall project evaluation.
Closing long, qualitative questionnaire to record teachers’ reflections on the impact of their individual research projects on their own professional development and on RE more widely.
The findings presented here are condensed from the qualitative data collected. For the purposes of this presentation findings are presented as ten points to support teachers in practitioner-research.
From this list of ten findings to support teachers in practitioner-research I’ve condensed a summary criteria of five key points. I hope that collectively these points create a feasible and manageable approach to practitioner-research for teachers. Though our project focussed on practitioner-research, I think these points are applicable to other types of project work too.
Agency: teachers are empowered to be their own decision-makers and to embark on projects that they deem meaningful.
Purpose: teachers’ belief in the purpose of a project and knowing there’s an audience interested in its outcomes makes a project worth doing.
Access: teachers’ need access to the knowledge and support required to complete a project.
Community: collaborative social learning, shared problem-solving, idea-sharing, task-sharing and accountability to a group or team sustains engagement and is more likely to lead to project completion.
Affirmation: validation of professional knowledge from peers builds self-confidence and courage to take on and complete new endeavours.
References and selected further sources are listed below. In particular I recommend Prof Vivienne Baumfield’s research on Teachers’ engagement with research. BERA’s report on close-to-practice research widens the scope of practitioner-research. The research portal on RE:ONLINE has lots of examples of practitioner-research that are well worth following up. For more information on communities of practice, Wenger and Trayner’s website is a good starting place. If you’re inspired to engage in practitioner-research, Culham St Gabriel’s post-graduate and leaderships schemes are worth looking into.
This presentation has introduced some key findings from our research project. If you want to find out more, or pick up a conversation with me about practitioner-research, do get in touch with me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baumfield, V. (2021) Teachers’ engagement with research oral report https://www.reonline.org.uk/research/research-of-the-month/teachers-engagement-with-research/
Baumfield, V. (2021) Teachers’ engagement with research written report
BERA (2018) Report on Close-to-Practice Research. https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/bera-statement-on-close-to-practice-research
RE X Change Festival (2020) https://www.reonline.org.uk/research/in-conversation/ For conversations related to practitioner research
Salter, E & Lyn Tett (2021) Strictly teacher-researchers? The influence of a professional RE conference on primary RE teachers’ agency and self-identities as teacher-researchers. British Journal of Religious Education, 43:3, 253-264. DOI: 10.1080/01416200.2021.1878456
Salter, E & Lyn Tett (2021) Sustaining teacher engagement in practitioner research. Journal of Education for Teaching. DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2021.1959267
Culham St Gabriel Masters and Doctoral students https://www.reonline.org.uk/research/research-bulletin/
Culham St Gabriel Leadership Programme https://www.reonline.org.uk/leadership/leadership-programme/
Previous research of the month
Catch up on them all here