«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
The quantitative data derived from the PSPP and PIP facilitated thinking about the parameters of the population, suggested themes to explore through subsequent methods and supported the development of an emerging typology of cases. Analytical insights derived from the scale were used to make decisions about subsequent data. The PSPP and PIP results were a point of referral throughout the interpretive analysis of interview transcripts and were used to check meaning, researcher understanding of participants’ viewpoints, and to monitor the characteristics of the voluntary sample as the study progressed.
Semi-structured interviews The semi-structured interview was deemed an appropriate choice of method for this study as it enabled the participants to project their own ways of understanding the world and eliminate potential for restriction that would have resulted from tightly prescribed, pre-determined questions. The use of semi-structured interviews complied with Lincoln and Guba’s (1985, pp.
268-270) purposes for use of this method as a way of investigating constructions of events, discussing feelings and motivations, revisiting past experiences, attempting to make projections about future working practices and to verify, amend and extend the data.
Silverman (1993, pp. 92-93) also points to the usefulness of interviews as a means through which to ‘access beliefs about facts’ (this relates to trainee teachers’ specific knowledge of ITT and PE) and to ‘identify feelings and motives’ (related to dispositions). As Chapman and
Smith (2002, p.125) suggest:
the use of semi structured interviews enables the researcher and participants to engage in a dialogue whereby initial questions are modified in the light of participants’ responses and the investigator is able to probe interesting and important areas which arise.
The use of interviews in this research followed Kvale’s (1996, p. 83) recommended ‘seven stages’ which provide a logical and relevant framework whilst also allowing decision making based on the methodological options available and knowledge of the topic. In the course of the investigation, the researcher was faced with a range of decisions, both within and outside the interview contexts.
Interview Schedules Outline schedules were prepared in advance of each interview. These were not intended to be prescriptive or limiting ‘in the sense of overriding the expressed interests of the participant’ (Bickerstaff & Thompson, 2008, p.8) and were sufficiently open ended to enable questions and prompts to be re ordered and to take account of digressions and expansions during the course of the interview when new avenues for exploration became apparent. This is akin to Patton’s (1990, p. 206) ‘interview guide approach’ where topics and issues to be covered are specified in advance, in outline form. As the researcher-participant relationship developed over time, the interviews also increasingly adopted a more ‘informal conversational’ approach (ibid) where previous interviews, emerging findings and specific data for each individual case supported the emergence of questions from the immediate context. The thematic focus of the interviews changed over time, shifting from an initial focus on dispositions and beliefs towards a broader but more participant-specific focus on ITT related specific factors. As the study progressed, and individual cases became more developed, the interviews also provided an opportunity for checking understanding and to seek confirmation that each case was being depicted accurately in the eyes of the respondent.
Semi-structured interviews were used to allow the researcher and the participants to engage in a dialogue to ‘obtain descriptions of the lived world of the interviewees with respect to interpretations of the meaning of the described phenomena’ (Kvale, 1996, p.30). A schedule was designed for each interview (see appendix 7 for samples), in the form of a ‘shopping list’ of topics, maintaining flexibility with regard to sequencing of probes, wording and time allocated to specific questions (Robson, 2002, p.278). The schedules enabled the focus on the relevant field of enquiry to be maintained without losing the opportunity to deviate and follow through responses that may not have been previously anticipated. The schedules were made up of open-ended items which provided frames of reference for the participants’ answers without restraining possibilities (Kerlinger, 1970). Initial questions were generally indirect, seeking broad responses to a topic that the researcher introduced. However, these were often followed up with more direct questions to clarify a response and to seek further views in line with the research questions.
Planning the interviews Concurring with Cohen, Manion & Morrison (2003, p. 279) who assert that the ‘interviewer must be at pains to conduct the interview carefully and sensitively,’ the interview process necessitated careful planning and reflection regarding my own skills and approaches as an interviewer. A clear priority was the need to establish an appropriate and conducive atmosphere that would encourage the participants to talk freely. Careful consideration was afforded to the location of the interviews, the lay out and seating arrangements of the rooms used, and the way in which I presented myself in the interviews. My aim was to put respondents at ease, to reduce ‘stage fright’ and quickly encourage positive engagement of the participant. All interviews therefore took place at the trainee teachers’ university, in classrooms where they attended lectures and on days when the trainees were scheduled to be at university (for example, before or after lectures). These measures served to inconvenience participants as little as possible and to encourage on-going participation in the investigation. I presented myself informally in the interviews, consciously deciding to ‘dress down’; rather than being perceived as a lecturer from another university, the aim was for the participants to think of me as a research student. Whilst my own role as a lecturer at another institution was not hidden, this potential barrier was also tackled through provision of assurances regarding anonymity at the start of each interview. Seating was arranged so that the interview did not appear or feel like a formal job interview (chairs were arranged along adjacent sides of a desk for example, rather than directly face to face) and steps were taken to ensure that interruptions from the outside would not occur (door signage and communication with staff in adjacent rooms). Opening questions were used to put the participants at ease. These tended to be easier and non-controversial ‘what’ questions whilst those posed later in the interviews probed at a deeper level. For example, in a Stage 2 interview early questions included: ‘what did you do in your PE lecture yesterday’, eliciting a descriptive response; a more probing later question asked: ‘tell me how you felt during the PE lecture’, and such questions were only introduced when the interview and researcher-respondent relationship were deemed to be progressing positively. In addition to the issue of sequencing questions, I monitored my own role during the course of each interview. This reflection was supported by note making during the interview where observations that would not necessarily be apparent when listening to recordings or reading transcriptions were recorded. Such observations included pauses marked by a participant’s defensive body language, or the need for me to consciously seek further responses by using verbal or non-verbal communication. Whilst unable to capture every detail and nuanced behaviour that makes up the interviewer-participant dynamic, the aim was to build up an accurate picture and to begin to analyse the data as it was being collected.
Group interviews In Stage 1 of the research, group interviews were conducted. Group interviews were utilised to encourage the trainee teachers to volunteer for the study with their peers and to facilitate the development of discussion. It was also decided that this would be the most appropriate way in which to begin the interview investigation given that the trainee teachers were in their very first term at university; the assumption was that trainees would be more likely to become involved in the study at this stage if they felt that they were part of a larger group. This choice was not straightforward. Such a group setting can also restrict opportunities for all to give their opinions, particularly where personal issues (as may be the case when discussing physical selfperception) were raised. Watts and Ebutt (1987) suggest that ‘the dynamic of a group denies access to this sort of data’. In the group interviews, I adopted a role as moderator or facilitator in which the aim was to ‘generate interest in and discussion about a particular topic’ (Sim, 1998, p. 347). A key intention at this stage, however, was on establishing an appropriate and viable group of participants, on introducing them to the concepts of the research and to begin to develop a positive relationship with them. The themes that emerged from the two group interviews, allied with the quantitative data collected through the PSPP and PIP, were valuable, suggesting lines of enquiry to be pursued in subsequent stages of the research.
Transcription of interviews Each interview was recorded using a digital recorder and subsequently downloaded to a memory drive and listened to using computer software. This enabled quick and accurate movement backwards and forwards within each digital record of the interview. The digital recordings were used to create transcripts, providing a full written account of everything that was said during the interview. As transcribing was considered an integral aspect of the analysis framework, I completed the transcription personally, making use of the opportunity to become fully immersed in the data. Transcription has been conceptualised by some as a ‘behind-the-scenes aspect of data management’ (Oliver, Serovich & Mason, 2005, p. 1273) and a ‘chore’ (Agar, 1996, p. 153), although I have recognised the importance of transcription to the process of qualitative inquiry (Poland, 2002). The transcription process was considered to be an important part of data analysis in this research; whilst listening to the recordings and transcribing the dialogue, researcher reflections, thoughts and concepts came to light which were recorded in my note book, added as annotations to the transcript and utilised during data analysis. A reliance on the recording alone can filter out important contextual factors and neglect the visual and non-verbal aspects of the interview (Mishler, 1986; Morrison, 1993).
Data analysis was therefore supplemented with reference to field notes during both the transcription and analysis processes.
Documents and field notes Documentary artefacts relating to the case study institution, to the BA Primary Education course, PE generalist and specialist module options and to school placement requirements were collected at the outset and throughout the three year study. This data consisted of documents written for purposes other than this research project. The collection of this data was ‘unobtrusive’ (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 199), in that others’ working practices were not disturbed and respondents were not present at the point of data collection. The data was also in permanent form, and could be subjected to re-analysis which allowed cross checking. The collection of such data also supported the aim for analysis to be ‘a pervasive activity throughout the life’ of the research project (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996, p.11). A key task in reviewing the documentation was to locate PE within the wider ITT and educational framework, to understand the expectations of trainees within the subject and how these related to broader requirements of compliance, school-based experiences and formal assessments.
This was relevant given the policy backcloth detailed in chapter 2 and the concerns raised regarding the relatively low status of PE within primary schools and primary ITT.
The documentation, and my enhanced understanding of the context derived from it, was used as a source for cross referencing, particularly when primary data collection focused on trainee teachers’ perceptions of the expectations placed upon them during the course. The documentation was also utilised as a reference that enabled me to become more familiar with the investigative context and to aid the development of interview schedules. For example, the formal expectations placed on trainee teachers in school during each stage of the course were used as prompts in semi structured interviews. In this way, documentation aided analysis of dispositions and structures throughout the investigation, particularly highlighting the trainee teachers’ developing knowledge of the regulatory framework of ITT. Course documentation enabled me to better understand the structure of PE modules and of the course in general, aiding formulation and timing of interview questions. For example, semi structured interviews that took place during a university-based phase of ITT in Year 1 were able to include questions about experiences during taught lectures in PE. Interviews taking place following Year 2 school experience were able to focus on opportunities to gain practical teaching experience and levels of mentoring support experienced. In each example, I was aware of the aims of the course and the formal expectations placed on the trainees and those supporting the trainees in school. A notebook was kept throughout the duration of the investigation for the recording of field notes both in situ and away from the investigative context. Reference to such documents was made within the notebook and used to support data analysis, as a reminder of what occurred in the field and as a point of cross referencing. The notes also included comments about hunches and questions that were raised in my mind at the time of data collection in addition to simple descriptions of the research process, my feelings as researcher and general observations. Notes were dated and coded to ensure that cross referencing to interview transcripts and specific cases and other data was possible. Sample entries from the field notes are also included in appendix 7. Interview recordings were reviewed simultaneously with the field notes and cross referenced to course documentation where relevant to ensure that a full immersion in the data was achieved and that all available data were utilised.