Young people as researchers on Enquiring Minds

July 2006

About this report

This is a report on the process of working with young people in the role of researchers from schools participating in Enquiring Minds.

The full version is available to download (open pdf version of Young people as researchers on Enquiring Minds - 12 pages, 1.7mb), while on this page you'll find the first couple of sections of the report.

Introduction

This brief document reports on the process of working with young people in the role of researchers from schools participating in Enquiring Minds. It provides a short background to the concept of 'student research', outlines the aims and practicalities associated with setting up the scheme, and then provides a detailed case study report of the outcomes.

It is written in such a way that it is hoped other interested researchers or teachers would be able to adopt some of the approaches, although it should be noted that some of the activities draw on those detailed elsewhere. Readers looking for specific details on, for example, how to develop young people's abilities to learn specific research methods, or to understand research ethics, should consult the short reading list provided at the end.

It is also important to state that it was not the intention of this scheme to train young people fully in the methods of social research, though some appropriate methods were introduced to them. Most of the activities reported here were mobilised to encourage young people to engage critically with the idea of research on childhood and youth, to respond to recent media and research related to children and young people, and therefore foster the necessary questioning attitude essential to all researchers. The activities they participated in included analysing media and research texts, analysing visual images of youth, as well as fieldwork exercises involving using photography as a research tool, and conducting face-to-face interviews.

Additionally, of course, the students were recruited for involvement into a specific project, not solely to develop their own independent skills. As a result, this report should be read as being about the involvement of young people as participants in research, not fully-equipped researchers in their own right.

Background

A central principle of Enquiring Minds is that children and young people themselves take increasing responsibility for defining what and how they want to learn. One aspect of a schooling system engineered around this core concept is that students will be seen as ‘researchers’, capable of planning and conducting studies across a range of diverse areas of interest and, through this process, developing their own knowledge. The term ‘researcher’ does not imply that Enquiring Minds is focused on training young people to do social sciences research; rather, it is invoked as a term applicable both across all school subjects and other areas of interest. At a subject level, it is equally relevant to talk about scientific research, historical research, literary research and social research. In terms of students doing their own research, we might want a more general interpretation, along the lines of ‘collecting and interpreting information about a topic’, which can then take into account students’ own interests, regardless of whether they fit neatly into a subject category or not.

When education researchers and experts talk about students as researchers, however, they are often interested in the idea that young people can take responsibility for researching the school itself. In some of Michael Fielding’s work (see reading list), students have been involved as researchers on topics such as the role of student teachers in order to improve schooling and education. Elsewhere, the Manchester Inclusion Standard project has been piloting approaches with student school councils, who take responsibility for gauging their peers’ opinions on matters relating to teaching and learning as well as school meals and uniforms. At the Open University’s Student Research Centre (childrens-research-centre.open.ac.uk), on the other hand, young people are taught how to carry out research so they can carry out their own studies on matters that are important and meaningful to them.

Enquiring Minds is attempting to adopt the best of these practices. Firstly, it is developing the idea of student research as an alternative approach to didactic, teacher-centred curriculum and pedagogy as it currently stands. Secondly, it involves working with young people as researchers contributing to the aims of the project, and helping to focus the initiative on issues of schooling and experience that students themselves are able to identify as problematic or worth pursuing. It is the second strand that this brief report focuses on.

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