Pupil voice

29 March 2007

So what of my aim about personal constructs of learning?

I had an interesting meeting about some research into undertaken by Barry Mearns, ICT consultant with Leicestershire’s School Improvement Service. The stimulus for his work was the latest round of subject leader development meetings and his belief (with which I wholeheartedly concur) that pupils (or students) have much to tell us about the way in which learning and teaching is organised. The students that Barry interviewed are currently in year 10 ICT groups in a county 14-19 college and there is an opportunity here for me to build on this in my future research by talking to the same students next year. Thanks to Roy Roberts at the college for making the connection for me.

This notion of “pupil voice” is becoming increasingly visible in teacher development activities that I come across. Initially with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and now with the DfES.

Looking on the DfES’ research informed practice (TRIPS) website I see that Pupil Voice is an emerging strand in the literature also. Some findings from the papers ther are given below. The first with its comment about constructivism is interesting itself. Maybe there is something here about the climate in the particular classes? Was uncertainty not a feature students expected n the mathematics classes investigated? How generalisable is there claim, given its surprising nature.

Dorman and Adams (2004) concluded “that teachers need to ensure their classrooms are high quality teaching and learning environments. Student confidence was likely to be raised in classrooms characterised by high levels of co-operation, harmony, genuine teacher support, student cohesiveness, task orientation and equity. Teachers who dwelt on student failures rather than helping them to build progression and who created an environment characterised by competition and conflict did not improve levels of student confidence.”

They went on to say that “Two particular concepts have been found in other research to have a positive effect on student learning. The first is constructivism, in which students make sense of the world by linking new ideas to understandings they have already built up. The second is pupil dialogue, which proposes that pupils develop their understanding through discussion. There is a broadly accepted view that constructivist learning environments support academic efficacy. So the researchers were surprised that their results showed little variation in student academic efficacy that could be accounted for by the … scales specifically intended to look at constructivist classrooms.

One possible explanation, proposed by the researchers, is “that constructivism is concerned with critical thinking and higher order learning, whereas academic efficacy concerns one’s ability to perform specific academic tasks. They suggest that it is feasible that constructivism engenders a degree of uncertainty which, in a traditional school system which values certainty, could create a loss of confidence in students. “

Whitehead and Clough (2004) “set out to explore the views of students on the factors which they thought helped or hindered their learning. The 139 Year 8 pupils came from two schools in an EAZ. In this first stage report, the researchers found that students preferred learning activities which enabled them to work in friendship groups through practical work and discussion with peers. Many students disliked whole class work. They were motivated by a variety of factors, including future prospects. 80% of pupils identified poor behaviour by others as the main factor hindering their learning. The research found the majority of pupils responded positively to being consulted about their learning environment.”

McIntyre et al (2005) “found considerable agreement between pupils in their views of teaching and learning. They preferred lessons that were less teacher-led and appreciated interactive teaching that gave them ownership of their learning. They also wanted more opportunities to collaborate with their peers.”

Elsewhere, a study by Cresswell et al (2006) for the NCSL looks at the links between personalisation (or flexibility as they conclude it to be) of the 14-19 curriculum. Here they cite the importance of pupil voice and the key role played by applied qualifications, including ICT, in leveraging personalisation.

Cresswell, L et al (2006) Personalising the curriculum at 14–19, NCSL Research Associate report available online at http://www.ncsl.org.uk/media/DC1/F7/personalising-the-curriculum-14-19.pdf accessed March 2007

Dorman, J. and Adams, J., (2004) Associations between students’ perceptions of classroom environment and academic efficacy in Australian and British secondary schools in Westminster Studies in Education, Vol. 27, No. 1, April 2004

McIntyre D et al (2005), What can teachers learn from listening to their pupils? in Research Papers in Education, 20 (2) pp. 149-168

Whitehead, J. and Clough, N. (2004), Pupils, the forgotten partners in Education Action Zones in Journal of Education Policy Vol. 19, No. 2, March 2004