Understanding research with children and young people
Understanding research with children and young people

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Understanding research with children and young people

3 Communicating children’s and young people’s views

As you carry out your research project, you may find you are listening to a range of voices from a range of backgrounds and age-groups. In this next recording, you will hear Alison Clark, Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies at The Open University, talking about one of her participatory research projects with the under-fives, focusing on communicating children’s views in her work.

Activity 4

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes.

As you listen, note what challenges she encountered, and put your thoughts in the boxes below.

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Transcript: Audio 1

Interviewer
This was your third study with children under five using the Mosaic approach. What questions did you face in adapting the methods to fit this study?
Alison Clark
Well, firstly I was working with children under five, as I had been doing in my two previous studies involving the Mosaic approach, but one of the main differences here was that I was working with children in a school context and so there were different demands on the research, and also different demands because a real building project was ongoing and so I wasn’t in control of the timing and the deadlines of the building, I needed to carry out the research within that process. I think another challenge was working with architects, so it was a new disciplinary group, professional group to be working with, and so I had to learn what were the professional languages and what was the culture like that architects work with on a day-to-day basis in order to work out how to best involve the views and experiences of young children in the design process.
End transcript: Audio 1
Audio 1
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What challenges did Alison face? How do you think she could deal with these while doing her research?

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Interviewer
And you mentioned that you were working with architects. Can you give some examples of adapting your methods to do that?
Alison Clark
It became very obvious when I had my first introduction to one of the architects’ practices that using visual methods, using photographs and plans and models, was very much part of the everyday practice in the architects’ office. So it seemed to be a natural way to help the communication between the young children and the architects to work with images that the young children had made, and in the main that was children’s own photographs. So when I first met one of the architects, John Jenner, he showed me a storyboard of images of some of the building projects he’d been involved in, and that seemed a very natural way of me helping the architects to understand more fully the young children’s perspectives by making the equivalent of storyboards or large visual maps of the children’s own photographs, to have a more in-depth conversation about what the young children thought about their existing environment and from that basis to then think about what could be possible features of the new environment.
End transcript: Audio 2
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What similarities did she find between how architects work and how children express themselves?

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Interviewer
What about adapting your methods to work with practitioners in the school and children’s centre case studies?
Alison Clark
I think one of the first things that needed to be taken into account were how busy the practitioners, the teachers and teachers’ assistants were within the two case studies. One of the adaptations I made was to present the practitioners with a summary of the individual children’s involvement in the study, so to demonstrate their interests and priorities, what they had been telling me about their existing environment, and these became the catalyst for more conversations with the practitioners about their own views on the new building. There was another way in which I adapted the methods when I was working with the practitioners: when it came to the review of the completed school with the new nursery, I experimented with the practitioners making their own maps, using their own photographs to document what they thought about the new space, so it was a way of trying out the Mosaic approach tools with the adults as well as with the young children.
End transcript: Audio 3
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What methods did Alison use to make sure that the practitioners’ views could be fully expressed and understood?

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Having looked at young children, we need to understand that as they grow and develop, our approach to working with them needs to adapt and change in order to respect what they have to offer. Their ability to make choices becomes more complex as does their ability to engage with and determine different aspects of a research project. Look, now, at another researcher, Meera, who is working in a school context with older children. In this short video, you will see her talking about how she sought to hear, understand, and value the views of her students.

Activity 5

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes.

Bearing in mind what you have been considering in terms of effective listening skills, and the importance of the young people being able to participate fully, watch the video and then try the activity that follows.

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Transcript

Meera
When we came down to this piece of research, it was really important that we had a space for students to express their views really clearly. So we did that through using some really clear boundaries. And developing those boundaries in the classroom initially help to do that. Also trying to value their voice and their opinions, it was done through having some clear class rules about whose voice should be heard, and how those voices should be heard.
And we came to a agreement within the classroom that everybody’s voice should be heard through given a set of particular rules, such as respecting each other, trying to show that you were listening, when you are talking to be able to face the class. So a lots of discussions are held at that point to really come to an understanding of what those classroom rules were, but we did that together.
End transcript
 
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These five statements summarise the key points Meera was making about how she set up her project, but some of the words are missing. Can you write in the missing word?

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. space

  2. agreement

  3. respect

  4. voice

  5. show

  • a.Pupils were given _____ to express their views.

  • b.Body language was important; _____ that you are listening.

  • c.There were boundaries, but these were set by _____ with the class.

  • d.Every _____ was valued.

  • e.A vital element was _____ for one another.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = a
  • 2 = c
  • 3 = e
  • 4 = d
  • 5 = b

Discussion

  • Pupils were given space to express their views.
  • There were boundaries, but these were set by agreement with the class.
  • A vital element was respect for one another.
  • Body language was important; show that you are listening.
  • Every voice was valued.

Rather like Alison, whose work you have been learning about, Meera found she developed some new skills, new approaches as she was working with her pupils. Think about the answers you have just given, and the concept of ‘attunement’ and effective listening.

In her classroom, what simple things do you think Meera might have done to ensure that her pupils were able to participate fully and be listened to? Note down one or two ideas first, then watch the video to see what she has to say. See if you can identify at least three simple steps she takes, and write them in the box.

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Transcript

Interviewer
Now could you tell me in your view, what specific skills you think are required when listening to children and young people?
Meera
I think there are a couple of skills that are needed something that I have been really conscious of in my teaching practice is where I stand in the classroom. And by this I mean, a lot of the time, I was sitting at the front of the classroom. And throughout this process, and even in previous kind of research projects, I’ve always tried to move around the classroom, sit with students to position yourself differently in the classroom really helps to move away from them seeing us this voice authoritative voice of being the one reaffirming their voices.
Whereas having students come up to the front teaching from the front at times, and moving around the classroom kind of breaks that physical barrier. I think that’s really lovely. And also when you are having groups tables being able to sit down with students, crouch down also to be able to be attentive. Have that eye contact. Make sure that you are asking questions that are directly relevant to what they are saying. I think that makes them feel incredibly valued.
So I’m encouraging others to kind of inquire. So once you said something, you can open that. Yes, I really value that. But what do you think? And seeing yourself as a mediator and a facilitator as opposed to seeing yourself as a teacher as somebody who’s the one confirming a student’s response, or saying that’s the correct response. I think that’s very difficult as a teacher, because you’re kind of trained to do that. However, it’s kind of unlearning those processes before you relearned some other ones.
End transcript
 
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What does Meera do to ensure the pupils’ voices are heard?

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Discussion

She moves around the classroom. This breaks the ‘physical barrier’ she perceives between teacher and pupil.

She sits with the pupils, she crouches down.

She is attentive to what they say, establishes eye contact. She encourages other pupils to do the same.

She sees her role as mediator or facilitator in order to value the pupils’ contributions.

In this section, you have learned that researching with children and young people means listening effectively. To ensure full participation, all voices must be heard, so it is important to find the most appropriate way for children and young people to communicate.

In the next section you will look a little closer at what motivates children and young people to participate in research, and what research means to them.

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