Learn Where We Teach: A journey to critical intersubjective awareness via self study and action research with primary school teachers

McGowan, Jean (2018) Learn Where We Teach: A journey to critical intersubjective awareness via self study and action research with primary school teachers. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

Learn Where We Teach: A journey to critical intersubjective awareness via self study and action research with primary school teachers
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McGowan, Jean-Education- September 2018. pdf.pdf - Whole Document

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


The education system in Ireland is increasingly held accountable by government and media for the country's performance in the globalised knowledge economy. International test-based comparisons drive the competitive focus and permeate each level of the system with a subsequent reduction in the space available to identify and address local and individual educational needs. The neoliberal political and economic agenda underpinning competitiveness may not be explicitly identified by practitioners yet is experienced in daily practice as individuals and organisations strive to demonstrate achievement of its targets.

This research originated in an urban disadvantaged primary school located in provincial Ireland. Motivation to engage in research was initiated by the contradiction I experienced as practice in our school became increasingly directed by external strategies designed to improve results rather than through engagement with the principles of education underpinning the Primary School Curriculum. Those principles explicated that the child’s language, prior learning and cultural background constituted the context for learning. Presupposing teachers' professional agency, the curriculum envisaged that teacher judgements would inform the content and methodologies adopted to meet the specific contextual and individual needs of pupils.

Research began with my unexamined subjective assumptions about education and a naivety about the political, cultural and social forces that had structured my perspectives. Pierre Bourdieu's theoretical framework of capital, field and habitus facilitated self-study reflection at an entry level to research methodology. Deeper reflexive engagement with Bourdieuian concepts enabled research into the positioning of teachers within the cultural milieu of Irish primary education.

An action research approach was adopted to engage colleagues in the research process. It centred on a context specific photographic intervention named PLACE (Photographs to stimulate Learning, Language and Communication in Education) designed to connect children's lived experience outside of school with their work and relationships in school. Moreover it aimed to facilitate teachers' knowledge and understanding of the local context for its inclusion in the curriculum. Two cycles of PLACE, over a two year period were carried out focusing on teachers' perceptions before and after each cycle.

Findings indicated that engagement in PLACE had positive effects on teachers' intersubjective acknowledgement of pupils' indigenous knowledge and culture. Analysis of those findings through a Bourdieuian framework uncovered themes of continuity and certainty in teachers' practice perspectives that indicated a practice constraining collective cultural homogeneity. A subsequent historical review of literature pertaining to Irish education revealed deeper issues related to the structuring forces of the interrelated mesh of historical, political, socio-economic, denominational and ideological issues that prefigured more recent neoliberal policy in the unique educational context of Irish primary education.

This thesis affirms action research as an evolving process that enabled my gradual transition from a practice orientation to one that explored beneath the surface of current professional practice to reveal the tenacity of past traditions on individual and collective understandings. It contributed to actionable knowledge about practice in the conceptualisation of a cultural architecture that captures these prefigurative forces. It suggests that the research process and findings are of commensurate value to knowledge growth.

Keywords:Education, Primary Education, Curriculum, action research
Subjects:X Education > X320 Academic studies in Primary Education
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Education
ID Code:35712
Deposited On:17 Apr 2019 14:50

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