Budding researchers get to grips with schools

Educational research at the University of Stavanger is taking new routes, with trainee teachers now becoming actively involved in work aimed at achieving better schools.

This project is examining what benefits the students get from taking the same course as teachers involved in the Respect school development programme.

Developed by the Centre for Behavioural Research (SAF) at the UiS, the latter aims to set clear standards in an educational system where everyone respects each other.

The Respect programme is now due to be piloted at seven schools in Stavanger and Sandnes. This work will involve just over 3 000 pupils and 300 teachers, as well as 50 students doing general teacher training and practical pedagogics at the UiS.

One goal of the programme is to turn teachers into clear class leaders who set boundaries and show concern for their pupils. Much of its coursework accordingly focuses on classroom leadership.

- This is something we know we need, says Karen Johannessen, who is doing a full-time post-graduate teaching course in the present academic year.

- I’ve no teaching experience, so the transition from student to educator seems very abrupt. I hope this work will help me to feel more confident in the teacher role.

Kristian Malde, in his fourth year of teacher training, is also confident that taking part in the project will make him a better educator.

- I hope to learn how to be a clear classroom leader, he says.

- Teachers who set boundaries and make demands gain pupil respect, but it’s also important that they respect the pupils in return. Being a good leader will eliminate classroom disruption and reduce the number of pupils who create problems.

Difficult behaviour, bullying, concentration and discipline are other subjects tackled in the programme. The research project aims to identify its practical impact on pupils at the seven pilot schools, their teachers and the students.

- We’ll be studying what the schools, the teachers and the students achieve, explains project leader Professor Erling Roland at the SAF.

- By comparing various students and teachers before, during and after the programme period, we also hope to find interesting differences.

He is looking forward to involving the students in the research, and notes that this the first time such a group has been directly studied.

- I have great faith in this work, and hope it will benefit schools and teacher training as well as the students. Theory and practice go hand-in-hand in the project – a good combination.

The project is a collaboration between the SAF, the post-graduate teacher training (PPU) group at the UiS and the department of education (IAS).

Assistant professor Gro Næsheim-Bjørkvik at the IAS, who will herself be conducting research in the project, thinks students stand to benefit greatly from their participation.

- Taking the courses will give them practical knowledge of dealing with both everyday conditions and special conflicts, she explains.

- Collective strategies are a big challenge for a school, and it must be highly interesting for the students to learn how teachers develop these.

- At the same time, they’ll see how well they manage to solve the assignments themselves. They get a better understanding of the school day and the problems they could encounter as teachers.

Assistant professor Narve Dolve in the PPU group also believes that the students will learn a lot from taking part.

- Participation in such a project could inspire them to study pedagogics. They may find that this will be crucial for success as a teacher, he observes.

- Good educators are also the single most important factor in developing a school which looks out for pupils who are different.

He admits to being pleased that both he personally and his students have been given an opportunity to take part in the project.

In addition to the broad commitment of both programme and project, the latter involves a number of researchers in everything from student dissertations to PhD theses and other scientific products.

- I’m privileged to be taking part, says MSc student Per Jarle Marsli.

I have a whole research group to advise me on writing my own dissertation. That gives many opportunities, while also creating an obligation.

- It’s fun to be included in a research team. You get a good network of contacts. It’s also very interesting to see how the other researchers pursue a subject you’re involved with.

Bodil Anne Kalgraff, another MSc student in the project, is also looking forward to researching the programme and the human and practical aspects of school life.

- Textbooks will never replace us, she maintains.

- People are our instrument. Because personal experiences are such an important part of the project, I have great faith in it.

This practical experience is an important reason why the trainee teachers also expressed interest in taking part.

- I get a better understanding of what it means to be a teacher, agrees Janette Holmen, another student in her fourth year of teacher training.

- Being trained in how to lead a class gives us many positive suggestions about what to do if pupils refuse to respect us as teachers. That’ll give us the courage to gain our own experience when we’re at the chalkface.

Post-graduate trainee Karen Johannessen agrees.

- I want to gain my own experience. That’s the most educative. I hope the lessons I learn will make me a better teacher and a more attractive candidate when applying for jobs.

- And it’s never a disadvantage to learn more. To me, that’s a good enough reason in itself.

Text: Silje Stangeland
Photo: Elisabeth Tønnessen