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The LWL Project: Research

Overall approach

Our strategy was to bring together a carefully selected group of experienced teachers who identified themselves as having rejected ability labelling and who had been actively working to develop their approaches in accordance with their beliefs and values.

We worked collaboratively with them, first to discover and document what each of them was doing individually, and then to compare and contrast similarities and differences in their personal approaches. From this comparative analysis of individual accounts of their teaching, we set out to identify and elaborate some of the distinctive characteristics of pedagogy free from ability labelling.

Research aims

  • To examine the constructs used by teachers who have consciously rejected notions of fixed, differential ability to formulate their knowledge of learners and learning processes, and to account for and respond to differences in educational performance.
  • To investigate how such teachers actively use this knowledge to inform their professional work: their curriculum planning, the organisation and conduct of classroom teaching, their interactions with and responses to individuals, and the assessment and evaluation of their teaching.
  • To explore how the children/young people in the classes of such teachers construe themselves, and one another, as learners, and how children's constructions relate to those of teachers.
  • To construct models of teaching that are free from determinist assumptions and based on practice, i.e. adapted to the usual conditions under which teachers work (with a whole-class group).
  • To explore the conditions and circumstances that support the effective use of these strategies in individual cases, and examine the implications of these findings with regard to structural changes that may be needed in order to facilitate the widespread transferability of such practices.

Overview of the research

Following a nationwide advertisement and interviews, nine teachers were recruited to the team, reflecting different ages and phases of education, and schools with widely varying school populations.

The processes of data collection and analysis took place over one school year and were divided into three phases. Eight of the teachers worked collaboratively with a member of the University team, who visited each school seven times, three times in Phase 1 and Phase 2, and once in Phase 3. The ninth teacher worked collaboratively with her students as co-researchers to investigate and generate an account of her practice.

Phase 1

  • Create a descriptive account of each teacher's thinking and practice.
  • Observations and interviews
  • Identify key ideas at the heart of each teacher's personal construct system, and explore the relationship between these key constructs and their classroom practices.

Phase 2

  • Further observation and interview to discover how the key constructs worked together to create each teacher's distinctive pedagogy.
  • Sustained observation, analysis and conversation about up to five selected individuals. The teachers recorded observations and reflections in journals.
  • Classroom activities and interviews to explore young people's self-perceptions and experiences of learning in these classrooms.
  • Explore relationship between the teachers' approaches and the wider context of the school in which they were working.

Phase 3

  • In collaboration with teachers, develop fully elaborated accounts of each teacher's thinking and practice.
  • Interviews with head teacher or senior manager to understand school contexts and how these enabled teachers to work in accordance with beliefs and values.
  • In collaboration with teachers, comparative analysis to explore similarities and differences between accounts and identify key concepts and principles.

Full details of the research can be found in chapter 3 of Learning Without Limits.