Back to School: Students Researching Education

Dr. Michael Fielding is a researcher in the United Kingdom who has studied more than 100 schools that engage students as researchers. In a study led by Dr. Fielding, researchers found the following stages exist in most projects that engage students as school researchers:

  1. Involving students – How do students come to be involved in the project? Do teachers select them, is it a class project, or do they volunteer? What age ranges should there be? How many people should be involved?
  2. Choosing and focusing topics to research – What are the areas of interest and concern to students? Where is there a real chance of change? Is there a culture of silence in the school that results in students censoring themselves about important issues? What are the boundaries of the topics?
  3. Establishing staff roles – What are the roles of the adults involved in this project? Are they different from their normal school roles? How? Are both students and adults clear on their roles? Does the research reflect “student voice” or “teacher voice”?
  4. Matching enquiry strategies to the topic – How can student-led research fill in gaps that professional research cannot? Are there ways to study students other than interviews? What would be the most effective approach?
  5. Setting a timeline and distributing tasks – What is the end date to the project? What is the final product from the research? Are there individual roles for students, opportunities for teachers to support students, and opportunities to get knowledge from students who are experienced in research tasks?
  6. Analyzing the data and writing it up – What information was gathered? How was it obtained? How did the plan go, and were there any hitches? What are the numbers involved and themes along the way?
  7. Share the findings – How can students in the school learn about the findings, and why they matter? What about teachers and other adults?
  8. Celebrating the project – Are students recognized for what they have achieved? Are there individual letters to students, or public “thank yous”? Do students receive class credit for their work?
  9. Responding to the findings – Are the findings “doable”? Is it the actual outcomes of the project that matter, or the process that led to them? What are students’ expectations of the impact of the actual report? What responses do they want to see? What adults are committed to seeing the findings through to implementation?

Adapted from Fielding, M. and Bragg, S. (2003) Students as Researchers: Making a Difference. London: Pearson. Want to learn more? Visit the SoundOut Students as Education Researchers resource page.

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