«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Bourdieu’s (1977) view of habitus and doxa may help to better explain practices in context, yet this also has the potential to reduce the actions of trainee teachers’ to automatic, lacking thought or individual reflection and ignoring the potential for action that matches dispositions and beliefs. I have therefore considered Archer’s conceptualisations, adopting a realist stance in a similar way to what Stones (2005) termed as a ‘strong structuration’ framework. This bridges the gap between Giddens’ (1979) and Bourdieu’s (1977) conceptualisations of structuration theory and its application at a substantive level. The research has adopted a stance which sees the external regulatory framework of primary ITT (which includes the wider educational context) as autonomous from trainee teachers. Put simply, at the outset of the ITT course, external structures pre-exist trainee interaction. The professional standards for QTS and working practices in school are constituted, reproduced and/or changed independently of the new trainee teacher. Trainee teachers have no choice but to comply with certain expectations such as attending courses and striving towards achieving the standards – not doing so would be to fail in the quest to become a qualified teacher. Such external factors can therefore be seen as ‘independent causal influences’ (Stones, 2005, p. 111) where the structure has complete autonomy from the agents whom they affect.
In the context of this research, internal factors are conceived as relating to the dispositions of individual trainees which include a sense of normative expectations within ITT (as exemplified in the professional standards, course requirements, and expectations within school-based practice). This is also concerned with context specific knowledge evident in the university, school and peer group to which the trainee teachers relate. Linked to this is the notion of power-relation whereby different roles (for example, the role of first year trainee teacher, that of school-based mentor) are oriented towards certain patterns of practice, perhaps stipulated in official course documents and frameworks. The trainees’ dispositions towards PE and sport and their knowledge of the structures of ITT are both therefore seen as a crucial bridge between structure and practice, working to connect the two concepts through processes of reflection, categorisation, ordering and reaction. It has, therefore, been necessary to formulate a research strategy that adequately addresses both structural and dispositional factors and enables representation of the processes through which the trainee teachers reflect on and seek to explain their practices. The following section of this chapter describes the specific methods utilised in this regard, centred on answering the research questions, which
themselves were formulated as a result of the above deliberations:
1. What are the dispositions of trainee primary teachers in relation to PE and sport and how are these dispositions animated by the properties and processes of ITT?
2. Given the context of primary ITT, what possibilities of action are evident to trainee primary teachers during PEITT?
3. How does primary ITT currently impact on the development of trainee primary teachers as teachers of PE and how can provision be developed to better support trainee primary teachers in this regard?
A flexible research design In order to develop an improved understanding of the social world of primary ITT, first-hand knowledge of the subject under investigation was necessary (Sparkes, 1992) together with an approach which allowed the subject to unfold its nature and characteristics during the process of the investigation (Burrell & Morgan, 1979, p. 6). The considerations detailed above led me to favour predominantly qualitative approaches; a reliance on quantitative methods risked neglecting ‘the social and cultural construction of the variables which quantitative research seeks to correlate’ (Silverman, 2000, p.5) and there was also a perceived danger of ignoring relevant phenomena about the trainee teachers’ everyday lives. This was thought to be a particular risk when wishing to consider trainee teachers’ reflections and categorisations of practice. A flexible research design was therefore adopted. Silverman (2000, p. 11) suggests that ‘the whole qualitative/quantitative dichotomy is open to question’, and agreeing with this, I endeavoured to ensure that methodological decisions reflected the specific nature of the investigation rather than a mere ideological commitment to one paradigm or another (Hammersley, 1992). Pring (2000) suggests that the perceived dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative approaches is unhelpful and accepted that qualitative and quantitative methods can be applied within any research paradigm (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994).
Qualitative approaches themselves are often deemed to be flexible, in that research design evolves as an investigation proceeds (Robson, 2000, p. 5). As Anastas and MacDonald (1994) suggest, the word flexible is more appropriate than ‘qualitative’ for this research, permitting use of methods which generate numeric data. A flexible research design maintained the qualitative interest in interpreting phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998), whilst being supported by a quantitative strand of the investigation which highlighted dispositional differences to be explored subsequently ‘in a more interpretive mode’ (Pring, 2000, p. 5). An initial quantitative scale was used in Stage 1 to ‘buttress and clarify’ (Robson, 2002, p. 37) the account derived from subsequent qualitative methods, providing initial systematic, standardised, and easily presented data (Patton, 1990). The use of a quantitative scale was also an effective means to access a large number of potential participants at the outset of their ITT course. The nature of this scale, and the subsequent qualitative methods deployed are discussed below following considerations of case study and life story research, each of which formed aspects of the investigation.
Selecting the case(s) It has been imperative that the methods have enabled the investigation of the overarching structural context and supported an on-going focus on trainee primary teachers’ dispositions and beliefs in relation to PE, and their perceptions of external structures. The research examined, in depth, the experiences of a relatively small number of individual trainee teachers within one undergraduate ITT course and consequently drew on conceptions of case study research to inform design. Case study research has been classified in various ways, largely dependent on the desired research outcome. For example, Yin (1984) identifies three types of case study research (exploratory, descriptive and explanatory) whilst Stake (1994, 1995) identifies a further three categories: a) intrinsic (undertaken to understand the particular case in question); b) instrumental (examining a particular case in order to gain insight into an issue or theory); c) collective (groups of individual studies that are undertaken to gain a fuller picture). The approach taken in this research was both collective and descriptive; the aim was to generate a fuller picture by carrying out more than one case study whilst the individual cases were centred on narrative accounts. By taking this approach, the aim was to describe each case of interest and to produce ‘explanations which are generalizable in some way or which have a wider resonance’ (Mason, 1996, p. 6). Whilst the context of the research was one particular University-based ITT course, the unit of analysis was at the level of each individual trainee teacher. The use of case study research raises questions about sampling. According to
Denzin and Lincoln (1994, p. 202):
Many qualitative researchers employ…purposive, and not random, sampling methods. They seek out groups, settings and individuals where… the processes being studied are most likely to occur.
Primary PEITT currently takes place in a number of HEIs and other providers (e.g. SCITTs).
Owing to the planned depth of enquiry and logistical considerations (for example, time required to travel, costs and so on), only one HEI was selected as the context for the research.
That said, the research could be repeated in other institutions and within other ITT contexts in the future. Consideration was also given to which of the routes to QTS should form the context of the investigation. Given that my own professional concerns were initially related to the undergraduate university-based context within which I worked, and that such a course provided an opportunity to investigate experiences in school and university over a three year period, a university-based undergraduate ITT course was selected. The selection of the particular HEI was also based on practical considerations, such as pre-existing effective channels of communication with staff members (to aid with setting up the study and access to the trainees). The university at which I was employed as a PE lecturer was also discounted as a potential case in the interests of managing subjectivity and participant confidentiality.
Following selection of the contextual case, a key challenge became the identification of individual trainee teacher participants. As discussed above, a flexible research design was adopted, enabling initial use of a quantitative scale, which provided a means through which a large number of potential case study trainees could be recruited at the outset of the investigation. In Stage 1a of the research, the Physical Self Perception Profile (PSPP, see appendix 5) and the accompanying Perceived Importance Profile (PIP, see appendix 6) was administered to a large voluntary sample (n=83), accessed at the end of a whole cohort lecture during the first week of a BA Primary Education degree course (September 2004). The quantitative data yielded from this facilitated thinking about the parameters of the population (Silverman, 2000), suggested themes to explore through subsequent qualitative methods and supported the development of an emerging ‘typology’ of cases (Stake, 1994). Although it was acknowledged that the results from the PSPP and PIP scales should be treated with caution, findings highlighted a wide range of issues pertaining to trainee teacher physical selfperceptions and dispositions, raising significant questions for further investigation. Some individual trainees who had completed the PSPP were subsequently recruited to take part in the first stage of semi-structured interviews. This entailed probing and investigating trainee teachers’ views in relation to physical self-perception and began to explore internal dispositional structures in depth. The list of voluntary respondents was cross referenced to PSPP and PIP scores (to enable interview schedules to reflect the patterns demonstrated within profile data) and 24 were recruited for group interviews. These 24 were deemed as representative of the initial participants as demonstrated by a breadth of ‘scores’ within each category of the PSPP and PIP. Following Stage 1a research, initial data analysis suggested a range of ‘types’ of trainee primary teacher and subsequent inquiry was designed to identify similarity and difference of features across the trainees. Analysis of the data therefore centred on the identification of patterns, trends and themes. In Stage 2, the focus was on a smaller number of ‘information rich’ cases. This was meaningful theoretically because it built on characteristics which helped to develop and test emerging explanations (Mason, 1996). A smaller number of trainees, from within the initial sample, maintained participation in the study on a voluntary basis and analytical insights derived from the quantitative scale were continually used across subsequent stages to make decisions and interpretations regarding qualitative data (Ball, 1993). This sample of trainees was further reduced through natural wastage (trainees chose not to continue to attend for all stages of interview or did not continue within the course) and continued purposeful sampling (as the research evolved and findings emerged, an ever sharpening focus was placed on a decreasing number of information rich cases). Six trainee teachers became the key focus for inquiry during Stage 2b, with eight and then seven taking part in Stages 3a and 3b. This slight broadening was deliberate in an attempt to clarify understanding; at this stage, a key focus was in confirming categories within the typology of trainees in relation to PE and a return to earlier participants was necessary to check my understanding and accuracy of analysis.
In the final stages of the research (4a and b), the sample was broadened again to test the theories and to seek feedback from a larger entity of trainee primary teachers at the end of their undergraduate course. This was achieved by presenting emerging findings to the whole year group cohort at the end of the three year degree within the case study institution. The emerging findings and conceptual models were also presented to a group of final stage trainee teachers at another university provider of undergraduate ITT one year later as a means through which feedback and suggestions could be gleaned from a broader group of trainee primary teachers. The feedback gained in the form of written and verbal comments enabled the results and analysis to be developed to strengthen possible claims of generalisability. The flexibility in the approach to sampling fits with Alasuutari’s (1995) analogy of an hour-glass, in which the sample size is narrowed and then broadened at subsequent stages. Each stage of the research process is summarised in table 4.1.
Table 4.1 Overview of the research process