Teachers' own concerns

6th July 2001 at 01:00
UNDERSTANDING SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS: A Teacher's Guide to Effective School-based Research. By Ruth Kershner and Roland Chaplain. David Fulton pound;14. TES Direct pound;13.50

This is a very helpful little book. The first part gives an excellent rationale for school-based research, drawing distinctions between different kinds of research and highlighting key issues for teachers undertaking their own investigations.

There follows a valuable section which gives selected examples of school-based research that can act as models for teachers doing their own research into a range of matters such as pupils' learning, the classroom environment, collaboration between adults, responding to individual needs, and whole school development.

The penultimate chapter of the book is perhaps too ambitious. It provides a useful framework for research but the learning curve for the reader becomes too steep, with different kinds of research focus subjected to alternative paradigmatic perspectives: qualitative, quantitative, critical. Issues are skimmed over in this approach, giving a false impression of simplicity.

In looking at the quantitative approach to one focus, for example, the null hypothesis, multiple regression and statistical significance are whizzed through in two paragraphs following the reassuring introduction that there are many easy books available on statistics (I have not found one yet), and "Most of the calculations involved can be done quite easily on computers or even calculators". The fact that computers will do the donkey work is neither here nor there, for the statistician's precept "garbage in, garbage out" applies especially where research design considerations have been misunderstood. And quantitative research design is far from simple.

The final chapter gives a user-friendly discussion of writing up and dissemination, which includes a good digest of sources of information for those doing school-based research. This is a timely book responding to the growing mood that educational research should cease to hanker after all-embracing solutions and should increasingly be related to teachers' own concerns in their own situations.

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