This paper is based on a critical analysis of a research article, “The Analysing Children’s Creative Thinking framework: development of an observation-led approach to identifying and analysing young children’s creative thinking” by Sue Robson. The analysis will show how Professional Development Education and Training (PDET) issues can benefit from an evidence-based investigation using best practices of research design, methods, and analysis of findings. The paper by Robson (2013) supports the use of observation-led approaches over traditional methods to identify and analyse young children’s creative thinking. More so, young children’s creative thinking can easily be inferred through observing a wide range of aspects that take place in their everyday behaviour. Action research is the most suitable approach that can be used to enhance the learning and teaching process for students and teachers.
Creative thinking is the universal capability to use human intelligence to solve problems. Robson (2013) contended that the most appropriate tool to use as practitioners and researchers in early childhood is observation. This is because observation –led researchers can provide evidence of behavior, which is used to reflect aspects of the thinking of an individual. Sylva et al. (1980) suggested that “young children do communicate much about their inner thoughts and emotions by overt behaviour” (p. 10). This presents some kind of creative thinking. Drawing from the article by Robson (2013), the benefits of using observational-led methods over traditional methods in education include recording the non-verbal and verbal behaviour of young children because their verbal fluency is less developed compared to older children. Also, observation in naturalistic areas provides a researcher with the opportunity to record all the social processes and individual activity. The implicit narrative structure of naturalistic observation provides observers with the potential to observe all the possible processes and individual instances involved in creative thinking. Thus, observational-led approaches have the capability to solve PDET issues as they involve the participants to be part of the research.
One of the most appropriate ways to improve the learning and teaching and understanding of students is through the use of action research. Action research has been described by Carr and Kemmis (1996) as “a form of self-reflective inquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situation in which the practices are carried out” ( p. 162). Based on this definition, action research reflects its attention to the practice of professionals in the classroom. Thus, action research could be used to address PDET issues because it allows a practitioner to participate in research to improve their own professional practices. From the article by Robson (2013), observation as a research tool for data collection is founded on the concept of action research. In the contexts of education, “action research is a special form of research that may be carried out by teachers who are not only interested in understanding, but in changing their teaching to make it more in line with their values” (Arhar & Buck, 2000, p. 336). Thus, the action that takes place based on a systematic inquiry in the course of an action research project is a primary component and differentiates action research from any other kind of practitioner inquiry (Loughran & Russell, 2002).
In educational contexts, action research is composed of “research that is undertaken by educational practitioners because they believe that by so doing they can make better decisions and engage in better action” (Noffke, 1997, p. 317). Given that teachers may experience PDET issues while in the classroom, action research is authentic and meaningful because it allows the teacher-researcher to conduct research in his/her own classroom space and understand what students need to learn and what they think. For instance, as pointed out by Robson (2013) undertaking research in a natural setting provides a naturalistic observation that affords the observer the chance to look at possible processes. Thus, it can be used to assess individual instances of creative thinking. Moreover, action research reviews problems currently faced and requires improvements and this is achieved through the use of students and members of the school community. Action research can thus be used to improve educational practices (McAteer, 2013). For example, observations on students can be used to understand the level of creative thinking, and subsequently use to improve instructions.
One of the major issues PDET issues faced by professionals is developing and increasing the levels of self-efficacy. In Robson (2013), the researcher took ownership of the situation by focusing on the children while in a natural environment. In the same context, action research is preferred in an education setting as it allows teachers to be in charge of their teaching. This takes place when researchers consider a classroom design a study, perform the study, use data and findings, and undertake reflection on what the findings imply (MacNaugthton & Hughes, 2008). The action research progression is an interactive process, and this allows teacher-researchers to be active creators of knowledge (Henning, Stone, & Kelly, 2009). As indicated in Robson (2013) article, professional instructors develop new knowledge by linking past knowledge, and subsequently, learning occurs. When faced with the instructional issue, evidence-based research is suitable because it can be used to solve the problem and improve instructions (Henning, Stone, & Kelly, 2009). Thus, professionals could benefit from using evidence-based investigation because the production of new knowledge is used to enhance a deeper understanding of the learning process. For example, observation-led research by Robson (2013) allowed the researcher to understand the aspect of creative thinking in children as the approach used was more interactive and engaging.
The Analyzing Children’s Creative Thinking (ACCT) framework is a useful tool that has the ability to support professional development, and this makes it an effective tool for research and practice. In the study by Robson (2013), the ACCT is an evidence-based approach to research that was used for professional development by providing opportunities for the adult to reflect on their roles and how they interact with children. In the same context, Clark (2006) contended that close observation is an important tool in research as it allows researchers to have a closer look and interact with participants. Such a setting allows children and adults to sit together in an interactive manner. As reflected in Johnson and Button’s (2000) study, the use of action research can help teachers establish the connections between their personal learning issues and those of the learning students. Thus, by using action research, it is possible for teachers to appreciate their personal ability to improve their knowledge via their own projects. Sax and Fisher (2001) suggested that action research permits teachers the chance to identify changes needed in order to make the teaching career smooth through the provision of a framework based on their own classroom projects. Thus, such observational –led research practices embedded in action research connect the researcher and the environment hence solving issues of PDET.
The PDET issues could be solved through the ability to work with other people to produce evidence-based results. In the article, the emphasis was on the roles of other people, including adults, in assisting a child to undertake thinking to a more sophisticated level. This is realized by bridging the gap of proximal development. Action research in education is suitable for the improvement of knowledge and development. Koutselini-Ioannidou (2010) pointed out that action research in education is comprised of an original cyclical process that moves “from action to reflection and from reflection to new action with the active involvement of all participants in authentic learning environments” (p. 12). This allows researchers to produce new knowledge and enhance a deeper understanding of the learning process. In such cases, the teachers could design personal action research projects, and use a systematic approach in order to determine the answers required for instructional issues. It is powerful because it is an ongoing, interactive, and systemic type of professional development. The general knowledge ensures that discussions are conducted between practitioners, which are enhanced by the sharing of observations as well experiences. This supports the development of professional relations that is characterized by reflection, and the willingness to criticize the practice. This enhances the development of professional confidence.
The benefit from evidence-based investigation using best practices of research design, methods, and analysis of findings to solve PDET problems is that one is able to make use of what is already known. Robson (2013) for instance established that observation-led researchers utilized evidence of what is already established as valuable to the children Vygotsky (1962) contended that information that is acquired by a child today through help today is valuable, and such a child could acquire it tomorrow on their own. The implication made is that the value of acquiring new knowledge as well as insights can be carried out via a process of co-construction and the use of prior knowledge. Thus, past experiences and prior knowledge as well as new one can be used to improve issues during professional development. Thus, through the use of action research, professionals can first use someone else’s research results of what has already been researched to solve problems, rather than engaging in active participation in the research data collection and design (Johnson & Button, 2000). Thus, action research could be used to devise a systematic plan needed to examine practice closely and solve any possible PDET issues.
Conducting action research solves problems faced by teachers by putting them in control of professional development. For instance, when the ownership of the research process is owned by the research especially action research, the process of learning is improved through the use of various ways such as trying new strategies, engaging in professional development, evaluating existing programs, and expanding instructional repertoires, in order to assist develop new pedagogical knowledge (Pollard, 2008; Pester & Trotman, 2002). Change and improvement take place when teachers learn more about matters related to their teaching and instruction. McBee (2004) noted that the quality of teaching, rather than quantity can be improved when teachers make use of their own research experiences. Johnson and Button’s (2000) study established that the approach to thinking can be used to improve their instructional practice. Also, action research is the incentive for teachers’ changes, and it can be used to make changes in their pedagogy, the way to think, and improve confidence, and this results into o professional growth as well as improvement (Boog, Preece, & Slagter, 2008; Sax & Fisher, 2001).
By using the action research process, it is possible to learn about colleagues and students and to learn about areas that require improvement and continually improve those areas in long run (Ferrance, 2000). Action research when used promotes experience and they subsequently become mentors to other professionals (Sax & Fisher, 2001). By engaging in action research classroom practices are improved by using competencies that reflect the strengths of the children as well as those of adults. The research approach used by Robson (2013) was observed and it helps learn about behaviours of students, which subsequently promotes an understanding of creating thinking. Therefore, action research can be used to solve PDET issues by fostering positive relationships, whereby collaborative action research is used to support teachers’ professional development (Aubusson, Ewing, & Hoban, 2009). It can also be used to assist teachers to increase self-efficacy levels and develop intellectual capacities, required so as to cope with the everyday demands of classroom life.
The article reviewed is based on the use of the observation-lead approach over traditional methods. Observations are part of action research and can be used to solve PDET problems by improving learning and understanding. It can also be used to change pedagogy, and the manner in which people think, and enhance confidence, and this results in professional growth and improvement. The use of observation-led approaches is appropriate over traditional methods because action research is the most appropriate approach that can promote the learning and teaching process for students and teachers. Action research is undertaken in a natural setting because it offers a naturalistic observation that offers the observer the opportunity to look at likely processes.
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