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Title: Enacting change in classrooms :teachers' learning, enquiry tools and the role of the university in putting learning in to practice
Authors: Hall, Elaine
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis looks at the ways in which teachers enact change in learning and teaching, how, in doing so, they draw upon internal and external resources and how they make use of tools to re-imagine the potential of each learning situation. It also looks at how this process is supported by collaborative work with university researchers, drawing upon a decade of my work as a researcher at Newcastle University and a range of different research projects across diverse sites of learning in England, from nurseries and primary and secondary schools, to Further Education colleges and community learning projects. These projects, funded by (amongst others) the Nuffield Foundation, The Learning and Skills Development Agency, the Campaign for Learning and UK government departments and agencies, were all focused on discrete questions and outcomes, with specific reports and papers as their outputs. What links them is my own experience of working as a researcher, the connections and questions that formed in my mind as I followed the funding from project to project. In this respect, the thesis is a reflection of one kind of professional learning by an academic researcher: in contrast to a single focused investigation, this work reflects the development of themes across contexts and cumulatively over time. The professional life of the researcher is centred on the evaluation of change. Initiatives in pedagogy and curriculum are introduced either by central government or in response to local circumstances and my task as a researcher has been to co-construct with the change agents (teachers and other professionals, parents and learners) a sense of three things: what was supposed to change; whether or to what extent the change has occurred and finally to understand how it happened, looking at the potential for such change to translate to other contexts. In these respects, my career has had a unity and coherence, both in terms of the process of my work and of the goal: to shed light on learning and ways to improve learners’ experiences. However, an explicit awareness of this core unity is disturbed by the realities of project work: limited funding and short timescales; the difficulty of designing projects to meet the competing agendas of practitioners and funders; the realities of university life and short term contracts for researchers which mean that projects are selected not because they support an emerging understanding of theory or practice but because they guarantee jobs for another six months. Moreover, the professional researcher is not mistress of her own fate but is reliant on a series of alliances with tenured academic staff. This can be blessing or curse – most alliances have elements of both – since the focus of a project must be negotiated, leading to increased complexity and a sense that one’s work does not fit together and the opportunities that working together bring for new ideas and perspectives, leading to a sense that increased complexity means that one’s work does fit together. The work that I present here is the fruit of these alliances: to borrow from Stenhouse, I generated this knowledge for myself but not by myself. The structure of this commentary is a necessary fiction which makes a much more coherent story than real life offered. I did not set out to know what I know now and at any given time I was only fleetingly aware of the underlying meaning of each piece of work in relation to all the others. In other words, in this commentary I am offering a narrative of discovery which is not a Quest but a reflection on a Voyage (Booker, 2004). I went without a map and was driven by the winds and the sea. This is what I learned while I was out there. The thesis will elaborate on three main themes:  How I have come to understand the development of a ‘change agent’ identity : looking at some of the affordances and constraints for innovative teachers working at the margins of their professional roles, working with parents and other professionals or exploring new perspectives on learning  How I have come to understand the scaffolding of the change process: an investigation of the use of enquiry tools (Dewey, 1938) as epistemic objects (Knorr Cetina, 2001) which both enable teachers to enact change and to gain new perspectives on their practice as the change unfolds.  How I have come to understand the role that I have played in this: a slow process of recognition, that I was an agent for creating space for teachers to engage with their questions, that I myself was part of a complex and contradictory system of university funding and objectives and that my navigation of this is important for our growing awareness of the interdependence of practitioner-university partnerships and ‘working space’ (Leat, 2006) for all participants. The publications submitted with this commentary draw on both empirical research and systematic review to support a view of professional learning and change that takes account of learning theory, social and cultural context and the complexity of real classrooms. Throughout the text, these publications will be referenced with this notation [1].
Description: PhD Thesis (Doctoral statement only, published works appear in print thesis)
Appears in Collections:School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

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