Saturday, 17 August 2013

Laying the path - part two

In the second half of my blog on the 18th July (Laying the path) I highlighted some areas that I needed to reflect on regarding both the consent letter for the participants and who I would be giving these letter out to. In this blog I wanted to talk about the hows and whys of the decisions that I arrived I and what happened next...

In a desire to create a sample group of students that would be a) representative of each school, and therefore prove a wider cross-section of the students that I interact with in my professional practice, yet b) not cause students to feel either exposed, and therefore unable or unwilling to be honest about their experiences for fear of repercussions, or under-valued by not being asked to participate, I came up with two main criteria (some of which are identified in my inquiry proposal):

1. Students will be between 12-16years of age
I chose this age range as I feel that such a short project, with such a limited sample size, necessitates limiting who is included so as to provide findings that are potentially more representative of a particular spectrum of students. Also, understanding that extrinsic and intrinsic motivators shift in balance once children reach middle school age, and that thinking will have changed from concrete to abstract around the lower end of this age-range, I felt that it was more likely that participants would a) understand the topic of my inquiry, b) be able to provide richer data from their experiences, and c) gain the most benefit from both taking part in the research and, potentially, from when the research is completed.

2. Students will study multiple classes with multiple teachers
My students safety, security, confidentiality and anonymity are at the top of my list when it comes to undertaking this research. It would be unforgivable for me to place any student of mine in a situation where they felt embarrassed, betrayed, let down or, worst of all, where they felt unable to attend certain lessons or even the dance school as a result of my incompetence or ignorance. This said, the reason for choosing students studying more than one lesson a week and with more than one teacher within the school affords two potential benefits,
  1. Generalisations of, for example, 'who did what to whom' are much harder to identify if the student is attending several classes. This better protects the students, hopefully stopping them from worrying about things like, for example, 'what if my teacher finds out I'm talking about her' or 'I can't say that in case...' There is also, then, more protection afforded the teachers within the school and other pupils too. 
  2. By attending multiple classes with multiple teachers the potential for data is expanded as participants will not only be doing more than one hour a week of dancing but will also be able to drawn on experiences from different styles of teaching, different locations, times, class dynamics/ sizes, etc.
3. Students will not be considering a career in dance
This was included for two reasons, 1) there is already research on professional dance students, for example, in The Student Dancer by Julia Buckroyd, and 2) students who have a desire to pursue a career in dance will have that added level of motivation - to be a success within the field.

Plus, due to the short time-frame and limited resources of this inquiry, I felt it was necessary that all pupils invited were taught by me for at least one of their lessons - to afford greater access to the participants, and vice-versa - and will mean that I will already have built up a certain level of (two-way) trust with each one, which I hope will allow for a more relaxed, honest, and open form of communication.

I used these factors to go through the school registers to select my participants, crossing out all that didn't meet the first two, and then using my knowledge of my students to disregard those that I knew had ambitions to pursue a career in dance. It  left me with, quite fortuitously, a very limited number of pupils, which I decided would be a feasible, although challenging, number of participants. It also allowed for the possibility that some students might not wish to take part, or that might drop out at a later date, without making the sample size too small.
(N.B. I do not feel that it would be at all appropriate for me to ask a second batch of students to 'make up numbers' if there were any negative respondents - how 'valued' would those students feel!!)

Having selected the students to whom I would give letters I then set about creating a letter of consent. I made a couple of changes to the letter I had created for my gatekeepers - based on the BAPP practitioner model consent form (Unknown, 2012) - keeping the language and content exactly the same and just changing the subject from principal to participant. I also wanted, very strongly, to give each student the autonomy to say yes or no to participating in my study, even though I knew I had to gain consent from a parent/ guardian too. To achieve this I wrote the letter to the student not the parent/ guardian, and asked for, firstly, the student to sign and date the letter, then, secondly, the parent/ guardian to sign and date it, then, thirdly, I would sign and date it.

Each letter was given out in a sealed envelope, with the inquiry aims, objectives document attached, and after a brief verbal exchange between myself and each student. It was really inspiring to see the level of enthusiasm with which my letters were received and each student immediately said they'd like to take part. I responded with equal enthusiasm but pointed out that I would like them to talk to their parents about it and that it needed to be signed, but they all felt that their parents would be 'ok' about it too.

I have now received all letters back giving consent to participate in my project, with some equally enthusiastic responses from parents (along with some equally interesting discussions but that's not for this post!), for which I am very pleased, grateful, excited, but also feeling, more than ever, the responsibility I now have to repay my students for their generosity, and the parents for their support too, with an inquiry that is fulfilling, interesting, fun, engaging and worthwhile.

So, it's back to the books and on with the planning...

Buckroyd, J. (2000). The student dancer: Emotional aspects of the teaching and learning of dance. Dance Books Ltd.

Denscombe, M. (2010). The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects. Open University Press.

Fraser, S. 2004. Doing research with children and young people. London: Sage Publications

Greene, S. and Hogan, D. 2005. Researching children's experience. London: SAGE

Unknown. 2012. Model consent form for practitioner inquiry. [e-book] LONDON: Institute for Work Based Learning. p. 1. Available through: Middlesex University [Accessed: 18th July 2013].

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