Barker (university podcast about framing research questions) tells me that once I have identified my problem, I should frame research questions that pinpoint the issue or concern I am interested in and specify the respondents or sources of information that should enable me to answer my own question(s). e.g. Main Research Question: To what extent do senior managers at the college perceive that problems with your change initiative match the common reasons for failure identified by Kotter? You’ll want to get the wording as clear as possible. But you’ll also want the question to be ‘researchable’ – i.e. how are you going to find out the extent to which your problems are like those discussed by Kotter? Who or what are your sources of information? This main research question makes this source clear – the perceptions of senior managers. But you may prefer to look at the perceptions of faculty leaders, or support staff assistants, or a carefully chosen and representative sample of the whole staff. Play with the main research question until all this is clear.
So let's apply that process to my question. My problem was that, although research suggests that the most effective student learning happens in a culture in which teachers, in a specific, shared context, are engaged together in improving practice and working towards a shared vision of student learning outcomes and that the most effective way of achieving this is through the development of professional communities which are engaged in ongoing, collaborative, reflective and accountable learning and application, there seemed to be a problem in actually making this happen in practice. That led to the following question: How is capacity and commitment built in a professional learning community? So, how can I frame this to pinpoint the issue/ concern and specify my sources of information?
- How can school communities (teachers and leaders) build a shared commitment to and capacity for improved student learning through school-wide professional development?
- Bell (2010: 30) tells me to ascertain the purpose of my study and to be critical about it by asking myself questions about my questions.
So, the purpose of my study is:
to identify and evaluate ways in which capacity for and commitment to improved student learning can be built in a professional community of teachers through the provision of professional development.
- what is meant by capacity? capacity of whom? how can it be measured?
- how can commitment be measured or evaluated?
- what evidence is there that this is a professional community focused on improved student learning?
- what's the best form of professional development? how does context affect that?
- do I mean identify/ evaluate? or something else?
- what is meant by improved student learning?
- how is professional community defined?
As always when I am doing this, I seem to pass through moments of clarity, when I think I see it all unfolding in front of me, shortly before plunging back into a fog of questions and doubts and confusions, especially about the precise wording of my questions and where they might lead me. For someone who considers myself to be fairly adequate with words and getting them to do what I want, I find this surprisingly difficult. I am aware that I am spending a lot of time on it, but prior experience tells me that it is usually the difference between a project going well or not.
Reassuringly, Thomas (2013: 18) tells me not to worry if I feel my question is not quite right at this point. In fact, he tells me it is to be expected. I'll take your word for it Mr. Thomas.