Our approach: action research
Action research, as the University of Bristol defines, is ‘a method of systematic enquiry that teachers undertake as researchers of their own practice.’11 We wanted to utilise this research approach so that we could become ‘active producers of knowledge, not simply consumers’ (p.56)12. Further, Jean McNiff explains that:
In a practice setting, action research can… be a powerfully liberating form of professional enquiry because it means practitioners themselves investigate their practices…13 (p.10)
The activities – three staff research meetings and two student and staff research meetings – have provided opportunities for the partnership to audit, explore, experiment and conclude what is the most effective practice in and between music and English language teaching and learning (formal and non-formal), and to apply this across a range of contexts. The transnational visits enabled participants to learn more about the broader educational contexts of the five countries and to work alongside non-formal education organisations and practitioners in each country.
The research was framed as a series of iterative stages. We commenced our exploration through a desk-based audit of the existing practices in music and English language teaching and learning that we already use already in each participant’s armoury. We developed a reference list of key texts and other tools. We then met in Sweden as a group of educators to observe practice in our Swedish partner school, before individually and team teaching the Swedish students. We engaged with a local cultural partner to understand the non-formal context and opportunities available to the city’s children and young people. This approach was mirrored in Hungary and, because of the pandemic, virtually in Spain as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic across Europe.
Punctuating these staff-only research exchanges were visits to London and Germany for students and staff from the five schools. These week-long exchanges enabled the deeper involvement of external cultural partners, such as the Roundhouse in London, as well as exposure to a wider range of teaching approaches for the students. There were opportunities for cultural enrichment, such as a visit to the historic city of Heidelberg, and a ‘sharing’ element at the end of each week; still resonant is watching students confidently and expertly perform in the Jugendzentrum (JUZ) in Kaiserslautern. Importantly, the participating students were asked to evaluate each workshop during these weeks to provide feedback to the practitioner-researchers on our emerging understanding of what, for students, constitutes effective practice in and between music and English language education. This iterative and reflective process involved twenty-eight practitioner-researchers and over 150 collaborating students.
This breadth of experience across the three years has resulted in the development of a toolkit of effective teaching and learning practices in and between music and English language that we hope will strengthen the teaching of these subjects in our five schools, while also offering ideas to schools and practitioners across Europe to strengthen their own provision within these subject areas. This will contribute to the teaching in these subject areas remaining current, innovative and impactful.
11 School of Education, University of Bristol. ‘Action Research’. Bristol, 2021. Visit this site [Accessed 26 June 2021].
12 Kincheloe, 2003, p.56, quoted Martell, C. Action Research as Empowering Professional Development: Examining a District-Based Teacher Research Course. Boston: Boston University, 2014. Visit this site [Accessed 26 June 2021].
13 McNiff, J. Action Research: All You Need To Know. London: Sage, 2017.