Mary Roche’s PhD Thesis

© Mary Roche 2007
Towards a living theory of caring pedagogy:
interrogating my practice to nurture a critical,
emancipatory and just community of enquiry.
Mary Roche
For the award of PhD from the University of Limerick
Professor Jean McNiff, Thesis Adviser
Submitted to the University of Limerick
June 2007
© Mary Roche 2007
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LIST OF FIGURES ………………………………………………………………………………………….v
LIST OF APPENDICES…………………………………………………………………………………
LIST OF VIDEO CLIPS………………………………………………………………………………….vii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS …………………………………………………………………………….. viii
Introduction and Overview………………………………………………………………………………..1
Outlining the main ideas of my thesis………………………………………………………………1
My values…………………………………………………………………………………………………2
My epistemological values …………………………………………………………………………4
Issues of validity and values ……………………………………………………………………….5
The potential significance of my study…………………………………………………………6
My claim to knowledge ……………………………………………………………………………..9
Organisation of the thesis………………………………………………………………………….11
Section 1………………………………………………………………………………………………………..13
Setting out on my epistemological journey …………………………………………………….13
Chapter 1……………………………………………………………………………………………………….14
Background to my research ………………………………………………………………………….14
How and why my research question evolved ………………………………………………14
My experiences as a student and student teacher………………………………………….17
The evolution of my methodological stance………………………………………………..19
The evolution of my research question……………………………………………………….19
Thinking Time ………………………………………………………………………………………..20
No ‘right’ answer …………………………………………………………………………………….23
New school, new practice: beginning my action reflection cycles ………………….28
Key issues of my thesis…………………………………………………………………………….31
Preliminary findings of my study ………………………………………………………………36
Chapter 2……………………………………………………………………………………………………….39
Problematic Contexts: Why was I concerned? ………………………………………………..39
My training to be a teacher in a women’s training college…………………………….39
Early misgivings ……………………………………………………………………………………..43
An initial concern about silence…………………………………………………………………44
My next concern: beginning to question my own logics ……………………………….45
From problem-solving to problematising ……………………………………………………48
Developing conceptual frameworks …………………………………………………………..49
Chapter 3……………………………………………………………………………………………………….52
Methodological issues: How could I address my concerns? ……………………………..52
Chapter 3 Part 1 ………………………………………………………………………………………….52
Explanations and justifications ………………………………………………………………….52
Intellectual elitism and the exclusion of practitioners …………………………………..53
Holding myself accountable for my practice ……………………………………………….56
Separating the knower from the known………………………………………………………56
Towards a living theory of practice ……………………………………………………………58
A vignette from practice …………………………………………………………………………..61
Chapter 3 Part 2 ………………………………………………………………………………………….65
Practical issues ………………………………………………………………………………………..65
Research design ………………………………………………………………………………………69
Developing the capacity to articulate the potential significance of my research.73
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Ethical considerations: Negotiating permissions and access ………………………….81
Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………..83
Section 2………………………………………………………………………………………………………..84
Explaining my conceptual and literature frameworks ………………………………………84
Chapter 4……………………………………………………………………………………………………….85
Taking action, engaging with the literature, developing conceptual frameworks …85
Values and my early practice…………………………………………………………………….85
My value of care ……………………………………………………………………………………..86
Demonstrating caring justice and freedom in practice – C’s story………………….88
Demonstrating caring justice and freedom in practice – A’s story………………….88
C’s and A’s stories as reflective learning opportunities ………………………………..89
My value of freedom………………………………………………………………………………..92
My value of justice…………………………………………………………………………………..96
Letting the other ‘be’ ……………………………………………………………………………..101
Letting the other be silent ……………………………………………………………………….103
My capacity for silence…………………………………………………………………………..104
Enforced silence, care and dialogue………………………………………………………….105
Maxine Greene’s influence ……………………………………………………………………..105
Linking values, action and standards of judgement…………………………………….107
The concept of hegemony……………………………………………………………………….112
Some power issues and paradoxes……………………………………………………………114
Chapter 5……………………………………………………………………………………………………..120
Becoming Critical: Engaging with the literatures of critical thinking, policy and
research contexts……………………………………………………………………………………….120
Experiencing myself as a living contradiction……………………………………………121
The concept of timeslots and dialogical ways of knowing…………………………..123
An overview of the contexts of Philosophy for Children (P4C), Thinking Time,
the Critical Thinking movement……………………………………………………133
The dangerous reification of critical thinking…………………………………………….137
Policy contexts ………………………………………………………………………………………141
The 1971 Curriculum……………………………………………………………………………..141
The 1999 curriculum………………………………………………………………………………142
Research contexts…………………………………………………………………………………..143
Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………146
Section 3………………………………………………………………………………………………………147
Chaos into order ………………………………………………………………………………………..147
Chapter 6……………………………………………………………………………………………………..148
Reflecting on Action: Action Reflection Cycle 1 – identity issues and beginning my
research ……………………………………………………………………………………………………148
Identity issues………………………………………………………………………………………..149
New school, new identity………………………………………………………………………..149
Processes and analyses of Action Reflection Cycle One……………………………..153
Creating new rules and norms………………………………………………………………….158
Encountering dilemmas ………………………………………………………………………….166
Early Thinking Time episodes: successes and non-successes ………………………168
Stopping in my tracks: A second critical episode……………………………………….178
Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………182
Chapter 7……………………………………………………………………………………………………..184
Action Reflection Cycle 2…………………………………………………………………………..184
Part 1 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….185
© Mary Roche 2007
Cats, spiders and commoners: Thinking Time with Senior Infants……………….185
Creating an authentic space for dissent……………………………………………………..198
Ordinary conversation about cats, commoners and spiders………………………….205
Moral outrage………………………………………………………………………………………..209
Dear Greenpeace……………………………………………………………………………………214
Encountering resistance to my ideas…………………………………………………………215
Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………217
Chapter 8……………………………………………………………………………………………………..219
Action reflection cycle 3…………………………………………………………………………….219
Developing as a critical thinker: working with 8 and 9 year old children in 3rd
class ………………………………………………………………………………………….219
What does my practice look like?…………………………………………………………….220
Influence on institutional practices …………………………………………………………..223
Trying to become a better teacher…………………………………………………………….225
Forms of representation ………………………………………………………………………….226
Beginning work with 3rd class ………………………………………………………………..227
Episodes of learning from practice …………………………………………………………..228
Data excerpt 1: learning from ‘The Indian in the Cupboard’ ……………………….228
Data excerpt 2: beginning to change practice …………………………………………….231
Changing practice ………………………………………………………………………………….234
Data excerpt 3: Learning to ‘let go’ of lesson plans: …………………………………..236
Data excerpt 4: Learning from failure ………………………………………………………242
My meta-reflections ……………………………………………………………………………….244
Concluding chapter: The end is a new beginning………………………………………………248
Chapter 9……………………………………………………………………………………………………..249
Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………….249
The potential significance of my research …………………………………………………249
Chapter 9 Part I …………………………………………………………………………………………250
Releasing the Imagination……………………………………………………………………….250
My educational influence in my workplace and in the wider domain……………265
Chapter 9 Part 2 ………………………………………………………………………………………..270
My claims to knowledge at the level of theory…………………………………………..270
Reconceptualising my relationship with my students………………………………….270
My improved self-understanding……………………………………………………………..273
Reconceptualising my understanding of freedom……………………………………….274
Reconceptualising my ideas about care …………………………………………………….276
Reconceptualising my practice as an exercise in justice ……………………………..277
Judging the quality of my practice and my research……………………………………278
Attentiveness in dialogue………………………………………………………………………..280
Developing my own critical awareness …………………………………………………….282
Beginning to realise the potential of my research as contributing to social
betterment ………………………………………………………………………………….283
My potential contributions to new forms of educational theory……………………284
Bibliography ………………………………………………………………………………………………..286
© Mary Roche 2007
Figure 1-1: Photo of a Thinking Time circle in my infant classroom …………………….21
Figure 1-2: Video still from a Thinking Time with 3rd Class ……………………………….21
Figure 2-1: Table: Strands of English Language Curriculum………………………………..46
Figure 4-1: Video still of J’s ‘sweating ostriches’ picture…………………………………….93
Figure 4-2: Photo of student in dialogue with self……………………………………………….95
Figure 4-3: Photos of students in dialogue with others…………………………………………96
Figure 4-4: Video still KT shows me his picture……………………………………………….100
Figure 4-5: A diagram of my understanding of the link between values, action and
standards of judgement ………………………………………………………………………………….108
Figure 5-1: Table: Suggested minimum weekly time framework ………………………..122
Figure 5-2: Photos of my students researching together……………………………………..125
Figure 5-3: Photo of E presenting her findings of her research on dinosaurs…………126
Figure 5-4: Photos of my students examining seeds and planting potatoes …………..127
Figure 5-5: Photos of acid/alkali indicator and exploring sounds experiments………127
Figure 5-6: Photos of students working together on measurement and prisms ………128
Figure 5-7: Video still and photo of dialogue and knitting………………………………….128
Figure 5-8: Photos of students in a gallery ……………………………………………………….129
Figure 5-9: Display of photos from the woodcarver’s visit…………………………………130
Figure 5.10: Video still of children preparing the room for a circle……………………..136
Figure 5-11: Video stills of my participation in discussion…………………………………136
Figure 5-12: Video still of me listening as a child speaks …………………………………..138
Figure 8-1: Photos of my students going carol singing and browsing at a book fair 222
Figure 8-2: Video still of my students researching together and photo of students
presenting findings of their research………………………………………………………………..223
Figure 8-3: Scanned copies of Cn’s and En’s stories about St. Bridget ………………..235
Figure 9-1: Photo of students deep in thought in an art gallery……………………………251
Figure 9-2: Photo of students engaged in dialogue planning an art topic………………251
Figure 9-3: Photo of two children in one-to-one dialogue about art……………………..251
Figure 9-4: Photo of children in dialogue about sculptures in a gallery………………..252
Figure 9-5a: Photo of students’ responses to Picasso …………………………………………253
Figure 9-5b: Photos of students’ responses to Miro …………………………………………..253
Figure 9-6: Photos of students reading & sharing US pen pal letters ……………………257
Figure 9-7: Photo of Arizona pen pals’ schooldays project …………………………………258
Figure 9-8: Photo of E’s church with ‘action man’ St Patrick……………………………….259
Figure 9-9: Photos students presenting creative writing & science experiment ……..261
Figure 9-10: Photos of bridges made by students during science…………………………262
Figure 9-11: Photos of bridges demonstrated by students for science open day…….262
Figure 9-12: Photos of students demonstrating butter making & magnetic cars …….262
Figure 9-13: Photos video still from discussions with 3rd classes ……………………….271
Figure 9-14: Photos of students in dialogue with each other……………………………….272
Figure 9-15: Video still of me in one-to-one discussion with a student ………………..272
Figure 9-16: Photo of a group in dialogue as they work in pairs on an assignment ..273
Figure 9-17: Video still of a student & I relating to each other through dialogue…..275
Figure 9-18: Video still of a student enjoying herself as she voices her thoughts…..280
Figure 9-19: Video still of attentiveness in dialogue ………………………………………….281
Figure 9-20: Video stills of students listening to peers……………………………………….282
© Mary Roche 2007
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Appendix A Ethics statement and letters of permission
Appendix B Validations and evaluations
Appendix C Selection of transcripts referred to in thesis
Appendix D Examples of in-house evaluations of Thinking Times
Appendix E Samples of children’s responses to music and art
Appendix F Extract from Religious Education teacher’s handbook
Appendix G Responses from educators to ‘a question about your schooldays’
Appendix H Samples of reports by observers of Thinking Time
(To note: a detailed index to the appendices follows page 313)
© Mary Roche 2007
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File Name Title of Video Clip PageNo
Chap0_Clip_01 Dialogue in a circle May 2006 4
Chap0_Clip_02 Worksheet dialogue October 2006 4
Chap1_Clip_01 Preparation for circle 2002-2003 16
Chap1_Clip_02 A bit of a challenge April 2006 23
Chap1_Clip_03 Wasting time in school April 2006 23
Chap1_Clip_04 No right answer April 2006 24
Chap1_Clip_05 Listening to others’ thoughts April 2006 24
Chap1_Clip_06 Interesting questions Action reflection cycle 1 2002-2003 28
Chap1_Clip_07 Jack and the beanstalk Action reflection cycle 1 2002-2003 29
Chap1_Clip_08 Communicative competency May 2006 31
Chap2_Clip_01 Talking with … November 2006 50
Chap2_Clip_02 Disagreeing with teacher May 2006 67
Chap2_Clip_03 I disagree with Teacher… from ‘Swimsuit’ May 2006 76
Chap4_Clip_01 Early school activities 2002-2003 90
Chap4_Clip_02 Responding to music December 2006 92
Chap4_Clip_03 I disagree with myself April 2006 102
Chap4_Clip_04 Respecting silence October 2006 103
Chap4_Clip_05 …run away screaming like a girl… April 2006 111
Chap8_Clip_01 Sharing of ideas & turn taking 2006-2007 237
Chap8_Clip_02 Becoming more critical and confident 2006-2007 238
Chap9_Clip_01 Dialogue and knitting February 2007 253
Chap9_Clip_02 Worksheet collaborations and creative writing 2006-2007 253
Chap9_Clip_03 I mean … he’s a toad! May 2006 255
Chap9_Clip_04 The children’s voices 2006-2007 279
To Note: The video clips are not viewable in this web
version of the thesis. A disk containing a digital copy
of the thesis and the video clips is included with the
hard copy of the thesis and is available from the library
of the University of Limerick, Ireland.
© Mary Roche 2007
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I wish to acknowledge the support and encouragement of the following people:
– Mr. Tom Geary, Head of the Department of Education and Professional Studies
at the University of Limerick, for enabling me to pursue my doctoral studies at the
– My supervisor, Professor Jean McNiff, who has mentored my studies since 1998
when I first began action research for my MA. Jean’s educative influence helped
me to realise my capacity to think for myself and to recognise the significance of
my practice. I am truly grateful for her support in bringing this thesis into being.
– The board of management and my school principal for facilitating me in
undertaking my research.
– My teaching colleagues, against whose critical insights I tested my research
findings and emergent ideas.
– My students, without whom this study would not have been possible. I will be
forever grateful to all the children, from whom I learned so much, and to their
parents who supported and collaborated in my research by viewing videos,
reading transcripts and making evaluations.
– My colleagues and critical friends in the University of Limerick PhD study
group who advised, listened, critiqued, and provided strong and sympathetic
support when it was needed.
– My colleagues in the Association of Teachers of Philosophy with Children and
all the teachers who attended workshops and in-service courses and who gave
permission for their evaluations to be used as data.
– My daughters: Emma, for reading several early drafts and for painstakingly
checking my bibliography, and Sarah for listening, sharing children’s literature
with me and for cooking dinners when I forgot.
– My husband Charlie whose faith and love never wavered, and whose technical
expertise was so reassuring.
– Finally, my beloved sister Rosie from whose short life I learned so much about
relationships grounded in an ethic of caring.
© Mary Roche 2007
In this narrative of my self-study action research into my practice I describe and
explain my living theory of caring pedagogical practice as I claim to know my own
educational development (Whitehead 1989a) in relation to teaching children to realise
their capacity to think critically, within a context of a new scholarship of educational
practice (Boyer 1990). I claim that as I researched dialogical pedagogies that would
support my aims of encouraging children to be critical thinkers, I also
reconceptualised my own identity as a critical thinker and began to challenge
dominant orthodoxies that have traditionally determined who is seen as a knower in a
primary classroom and who is seen as an educational researcher.
I articulate how my ontological values of care, freedom and justice in relation to
others were transformed through their emergence into the living standards of
judgment by which I evaluated the educational influence in learning of my developing
dialogical practice.
I claim that I have generated a personal living educational theory about teaching
children to be critical thinkers that is grounded in the idea of ‘being’ rather than
‘having’ (Fromm 1979), and this stands as my original contribution to knowledge in
my field. I explain how I experienced a dissonance between my values and my
practice that led me to critique dominant didactic norms as located in an abstract
concept of a generalised ‘Other’, whereas my dialogical practice was located in the
idea of relationships with real, concrete others (Benhabib 1987). I explain the
significance of my research, grounded in my multimedia evidence base, for my own
educational development, for my institution, and for the wider educational research
community, as I clarify the developmental processes of my capacity to theorise my
© Mary Roche 2007
Introduction and Overview
Outlining the main ideas of my thesis
This thesis is my research story. It is the narrative account of my self-study action
research as I deliberately transformed myself from being a propositional thinker into a
critical thinker. It is therefore a story of my own epistemological journey, and tells of
what I now know and how I came to know it (Whitehead and McNiff 2006). My claim
throughout is that I have come to know how I think and why I think as I do.
Furthermore, as a teacher who teaches children to be critical thinkers, I am saying that I
now understand my pedagogical practice at a new level, in ways that I did not
appreciate before. I can offer descriptions and explanations for my work with young
children, and these descriptions and explanations constitute my living theory of critical
practice. I am claiming that I am offering my living theory of practice as a critical
pedagogue as my original contribution to knowledge in my field. Throughout I will aim
to demonstrate the validity of this claim by producing authenticated evidence in relation
to identified criteria and standards of judgement, and I will explain how I have sought
critical and informed feedback to test the robustness of my claims.
My understanding of self-study action research is that it is a form of enquiry that is
committed to action, and to improvement of practice. My thesis is grounded in my
understanding of how I took action to improve my critical awareness as the grounds for
developing new pedagogies to encourage my students to realise their infinite capacity to
know and to think for themselves. My study therefore becomes an account of an
emerging praxis – that is, moral, informed, committed action. I undertook my study
with a view to improving my practice, and to contributing to the development of a good
social order (McNiff 2005a, McNiff et al.1992), and I will explain throughout how I
have come to the point where I believe I am succeeding in my educational goals, and
can produce authenticated evidence to test the validity of these claims.
In this report you will read about my efforts to create and sustain a critical community
of enquiry in my classroom and in my institution. I will explain my struggle to come to
© Mary Roche 2007
the understanding that, in order to help my students to think critically and exercise their
intellectual freedom, I first had to learn to be more critical myself.
Becoming more critical for me meant that, as I engaged in systematic processes of
cyclical inquiry and reflection in order to make informed choices about courses of
action in my practice and, as I worked my way through both the research process and
the writing process, I found that I gradually became better able to document both my
professional and personal world. I became more critically aware of the many sociocultural
and historical narratives and discourses that have contributed to my ontological,
epistemological and educational values, and that have shaped me personally and
professionally, and to which I in turn also contribute. As the document progresses, my
deepening understanding about the processes of education can be seen evolving from
chapter to chapter. By problematising some of the many complexities of the taken-forgranted
concepts about knowledge and knowing in educational settings, I believe that I
have come to a richer and more critical understanding of why I do what I do.
To provide a context for these issues, I outline some key concepts that have informed
the writing of this thesis. These ideas will be more fully developed later. The key
concepts include issues of ontology, methodology and epistemology, and I explain the
relationships between them in the generation of my living educational theory, and its
potential significance for transforming the existing social order.
I begin with my values.
My values
My research is grounded in the values I hold about research, education, and my
relationships with others. I explain how my ontological, epistemological and
methodological values have come to act as the explanatory principles for my work and
for the writing of this thesis (Whitehead 2005, McNiff and Whitehead 2005). In
offering this account of my exploration into my practice I show how I hold myself
morally accountable for the actions I take within my practice by explaining the reasons
and purposes for those actions.
My living theory of practice is drawn, therefore, from the values that inform my life. I
explain how my practice is shaped by who I am, and how my identity is rooted in the
© Mary Roche 2007
values I hold. At the same time, I appreciate that my living theory is informed by the
specific influences of my life history and living contexts – my age, race, class, gender
and sexuality (Denzin and Lincoln 2000, Kincheloe and Berry 2004). This means that
my theory is both an explanation of my practice and an explanation of my living
relation to the world of my practice (Kincheloe and Berry 2004).
This scrutiny of my values as the grounds for practice enabled me to understand and
justify my choice of research methodology. I deliberately chose a self-study action
research methodology for my enquiry because I believed it to be one in which my
educational commitments and my educational values would be in harmony. Whitehead
and McNiff (2006) suggest that
We understand our ontological values as the deeply spiritual connections
between ourselves and others. These are embodied values, which we make
external and explicit through our practices and theories.
(Whitehead and McNiff 2006 p.86)
Whitehead and McNiff (op cit) describe how, in a living approach to educational action
research, the researcher’s ontological values can transform into an educational
commitment. Similarly, Bullough and Pinnegar (2004) suggest that issues of ontology,
that is, ‘one’s being in and towards the world should be a central feature of any
discussion of the value of self-study research’ (p.319). My educational commitments
are grounded in my sense of integrity towards others, and in my values of care, freedom
and justice for others. They are also grounded in my capacity to think and generate
knowledge for myself, as I endeavour to bring my values to a living form in my
everyday dealings with others.
Furthermore, I have come to understand how values can transform into action. Raz
(2001, cited in Whitehead and McNiff 2006 p.85) explains how values remain as
abstract concepts until they are transformed into living practices and thus have the
potential for creating meaning. I am aware of how my abstract values took on meaning
throughout my living practices as they transformed into the living critical standards I
identified for my practice. As I seek ways of bringing my embodied values into a living
form in my everyday practice, I present myself with general questions of the form:
• How do I live my values of care, freedom and justice in my practice?
I also ask more specific practice-based questions of the form:
© Mary Roche 2007
• Why do I form a circle with my students and provide opportunities for
dialogue? (Video link: Dialogue in a circle)
• How do I encourage my students to exercise their critical faculties and think for
• Why do I resist being prescriptive or didactic and instead seek to provide
opportunities for my students to learn about their world through their own
capacity for enquiry?
• Why do I endeavour to encourage my students’ aesthetic responses to music and
art through providing them with opportunities to respond in ways that honour
their different intelligences?
• Why do I view worksheets as occasions for dialogue? (Video link: Worksheet
This list is not exhaustive: it provides examples of the kinds of questions I ask of my
practice. In addressing these kinds of issues, I aim to show how my descriptions and
explanations of my critical and dialogical pedagogies demonstrate how I am living in
the direction of my values as the grounds for my original claim to research-based
My epistemological values
Through my study I have come to new understandings about the nature and acquisition
of knowledge. I have come to see knowledge as provisional and in a constant state of
evolution. While I accept that much valuable knowledge appears in a propositional
form, I have come to see how propositional knowledge needs also to be contextualised
within the living process of an enquirer’s attempts to come to know. Throughout I
critique traditional views of knowledge as existing separate from the knower, a view
that appears to be dominant in Irish education, and I will look at the potential
significance of my action enquiry for contributing to and possibly transforming the
existing knowledge base of educational enquiry in Ireland.
More importantly, I have learned to problematise. To explain my use of the term
‘problematise’, I draw on the literatures of critical pedagogy (for example, Darder et al.,
© Mary Roche 2007
2003, Freire 1972, 1973; Kincheloe 2004). I understand problematising to mean
looking at a situation from all sides. Rather than accepting normative understandings,
one draws back from a situation in order to look at it again from a more critical
perspective. Drawing on Freire (1976) I now see problematising as a question posing or
‘dialectic process’ (p. 151) that seeks to ‘reveal and apprehend reality’ (p. 150) and very
different to a technical rational ‘problem-solving’ stance. Yet for Freire (op cit)
‘problematisation is not only inseparable from the act of knowing but also inseparable
from concrete situations’ (p. 151). A developing capacity for problematising or
deconstructing has led me to important new insights about the nature of my work. I
have learned that ‘being a critical thinker’ is not the same as ‘doing critical thinking’ or
‘having critical thinking skills’. My examination of the processes of becoming a more
critically aware person has informed and transformed how I thought and taught, and
now influences my approach to encouraging my students to be critically aware.
Issues of validity and values
I have also deepened my understanding of the need to test my claims against the critical
insights of others, in order to establish their validity. Testing my claims has involved
identifying the criteria and standards of judgement I use to make judgements about the
potential worth of my practice and the validity of my claims. Both are linked, in that
both are grounded in my values. In describing my practice, I show how my values of
care, freedom and justice, in relation to the integrity of my practice, and care for my
students as significant others, coalesce as the living standards of judgement by which I
assess the quality of my practice. I then explain how I test my claims against the same
values of care, freedom and justice. I explain how I am therefore transforming the
abstract linguistic articulation of my values into my critical living standards of
judgement (McNiff and Whitehead 2005 p.1) whereby I assess the quality of my work
and ‘judge the authenticity of my claim to knowledge and my ontological and social
integrity’ (ibid).
I further explain how I have tested my claims in the social sphere. I have tested them
against existing views in the literatures of education and educational research; against
the critique of peers and students; and against the critique of others in the wider
educational domain (Roche 2001a, 2002a-c, 2003a-h, 2004a-b, 2005). I test my claim
by asking you, my reader, to judge if my claims to knowledge may be accepted as
© Mary Roche 2007
valid in terms of their methodological and epistemological rigour, and whether my
account, in the form of the communication of my emergent living theory, may be
legitimised through establishing that it is comprehensible, sincere, truthful and
appropriate in that it demonstrates awareness of the normative assumptions of my
contexts (Habermas 1987, see also Hartog 2004, McNiff and Whitehead 2005).
I now consider the potential significance of my study, and some of the potential
implications arising from my findings.
The potential significance of my study
A firm belief in the capacity of people for critical and creative and independent thought,
and a steadfast commitment to developing pedagogies that would sustain those values
and allow them to emerge in a living form in my practice influenced me to begin this
study. By adopting a self-study action research methodology, I have found an approach
that enables practitioners like me to offer their living educational theories as they seek
to account for their professional practices. This approach is well documented in the
literatures (for example in McNiff 2002, Whitehead 2004a, 2004b; Whitehead and
McNiff 2006), and has had influence for the transformation of existing social and
cultural practices (see Church 2004, Lohr 2006, Naidoo 2005, Pound 2003). The
development of this approach in Ireland is especially significant (Farren 2005, Glenn
2006, McDonagh 2007, Sullivan 2006). I hope that my thesis can contribute to this
growing body of knowledge.
This methodology endorses the idea of ‘teacher as theorist’ (McNiff and Whitehead
2005), an evolution from the idea of teacher as ‘reflective practitioner’ (Schön 1983)
and ‘teacher as researcher’ (Stenhouse 1975). Efron (2005), writing about the educator
Janusz Korczak, says that Korczak, too, questioned the traditional positioning of teacher
as transmitter of knowledge and implementer of others’ theories. For example, Efron
states that Korczak was
… suspicious of the theorists’ presumption to guide educators in their practice,
and he resented the view of teachers as passive transmitters of knowledge,
authorized from above. He mocked the pretentious “expert” whose theoretical
principles have limited value for the daily struggles of teachers
(Efron 2005 p.146)
© Mary Roche 2007
She also suggests that Korczak appreciated the need for practitioners to investigate their
own practice and interrogate their values:
…[He] appreciated that the uniqueness and mysterious nature of the human
soul requires subjective, context-related, and intuitive perspective … Korczak’s
ideas are still relevant to the current educational discourse and may stimulate
new insights into the role of the educator as a researcher and knowledge
producer who is an active advocate of change and reform
(Efron 2005 p.146)
Whitehead (1989) explains how educational theory as a living form can be generated by
a teacher from within her lived practice in the classroom. I found this approach
attractive, because I have always seen the potential of my classroom based work for
personal and social transformation. Now, by placing my thesis in the public domain, I
hope that I am contributing to the development of a growing body of scholarship of
educational enquiry that enables teachers and other practitioners to come to see how
they can do this for themselves.
The appreciation of the need for teachers to be seen as educational researchers and
theorists is especially important in contemporary debates in Ireland and elsewhere about
the significance of practice-based research. Kincheloe and Berry (2004) appear to agree,
when they explain how important it is to
… abandon the quest for some naïve concept of realism, focusing instead on
the clarification of [one’s] position in the web of reality and the social locations
of other researchers and the ways they shape the production and interpretation
of knowledge.
(Kincheloe and Berry 2004 p.2)
As a full time teacher as well as a researcher, I am concerned to have my practitioner
voice heard and to have my experience as a practitioner researcher investigating her
educational practice contribute to academic discourses. Traditionally the voices of
primary teachers have not been heard in the academy except, perhaps, as units of
enquiry for external researchers. I did not have an awareness of these issues when I
began my research. I was unaware of how practitioners can come to be used as data in
others’ enquiries, and how their voices can be systematically marginalised in the
process. However, by pursuing my study, my critical awareness developed as I
encountered and began to problematise issues to do with the dominance of propositional
forms of knowledge over the knowledge of experience.
© Mary Roche 2007
I have become involved in debates about these issues. I now understand that the
dominance of western Enlightenment principles about knowledge has led to the
traditional valuing of objective, neutral and value-free scientific research. Enquiry into
why this is so has been a feature of the work of many postmodern researchers. Suresh
Canagarajah (2002), for example, argues that, although scientific research would claim
to be apolitical, it both complements and benefits from a favourable set of
sociopolitical, material and historical conditions and thus ‘promotes the hegemony of
Western civilization and its knowledge tradition’ (p.58). In a paradoxical sense, he says,
‘disinterested positivism serves ideological interests’ (p.59). These issues have become
central for me, and permeate this thesis, because I have come to understand how the
same hegemonic grip over what counts as valid knowledge and who constitutes a
knower, has traditionally served to silence the voices of teachers and children by
relegating them as ‘units of enquiry’ to the margins of educational and social scientific
research. They have also been relegated to the periphery of public discourses, and this
public marginalisation has thus denied them the right to be seen as theorists and
knowers in their own right. My work, in the sense of challenging such silencing, and in
the sense that I encourage my students also to challenge norms, could be understood as
These insights have developed through the frequently problematic process of my
research. I show the progression of my learning from a point where, as I began my
study, I was supremely confident of my ability to carry out a self-study action enquiry
(without having any grounds for that confidence), and convinced of the ‘rightness’ of
my choice of topic, to a point, now, where I realise that I am less likely to say that I am
confident or convinced, because I realise now that my theory and understanding of my
practice are provisional, still emerging and developing in a dialectical relationship with
my values, which themselves are constantly evolving in my practice and in my life.
The significance of my research therefore, lies in my capacity for critical engagement
with my own learning for cultural transformation, as this is grounded in my emergent
practice. I explain first what led me to question my practice. I describe how I felt that
my values of care, freedom and justice were being denied in my practice. I felt that the
form of education that I, as part of the wider institution of education in Ireland, offered
to children in my classroom was a potential denial of those values. I was concerned
© Mary Roche 2007
about the dearth of opportunities for children to develop their capacity for originality of
mind and critical engagement, and their right to a voice to demonstrate that capacity. I
show how I attempted to change this situation, first by improving my learning about
such issues, and then bringing this new learning into my field of practice to inform and
improve new learning and practice.
My study is about transforming values of oppression into values of a caring and just
form of freedom as I teach in ways that encourage children to think independently, to
avoid fundamentalist thinking, and to critique rather than accept passively the stories
they are handed through the media. I do this in the interests of making my contribution
to an open society. By developing my own theory of practice and encouraging my
children to do the same, I am contributing to a form of practical and theoretical practice
that is itself emancipatory and contributes to forms of open thinking.
I can now begin to examine the transformative potentials of how I teach in ways that
honour children as original and critical thinkers, and throughout I attempt to explain the
significance of my study for my own learning and that of my institution. I show how, as
I grew into my research, I slowly acquired my theorist’s voice and gradually came to
see that, in order to encourage my children to think critically, I first had to understand
my own practice as a critical thinker. I then look at some of the wider potential social
and educational implications of this study.
My claim to knowledge
I present my claim to knowledge in terms of my possible contribution to new
educational practice and to new educational theory:
• In relation to practice, I indicate how my living theory of the practice of
freedom as a form of caring justice values the capacity of children for
independence of mind and critical engagement, as well as their entitlement to
opportunities to exercise this capacity in school. My living theory therefore has
potential significance for other practitioners. I offer my living theory to other
practitioners through this account as well as through making my work public in
several other ways (at education conferences; through professional development
in-service provision and workshops for teachers; through the publication of
papers; and through communication with other researchers). In all cases I invite
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others to see if my work has relevance for them. I do not prescribe: I respect
each practitioner’s right to think for themselves. (Appendix B.)
• In the domain of educational theory I demonstrate the significance of my living
theory of the practice of freedom as commensurable with my values of justice
and care and I explain how my theory builds on and differs from traditional
propositional theories of care, freedom and justice in the literatures as I engage
with these literatures in a critical way.
My research is located in the notion of a new scholarship, which emerged from ideas
developed by Boyer (1990), Schön (1983, 1987); Whitehead (1993), Zeichner (1999).
In testing my claim to knowledge I focus on standards of judgement that are grounded
in my ontological values of justice and freedom. By drawing on my values as living
standards of judgement I engage with the work of Whitehead (1989a) whose idea of a
scholarly practice of educational enquiry (Whitehead 2000) encompasses a new living
form of epistemology that grounds standards of judgement in living values.
In testing the validity of my claims I ask myself questions of the kind:
• Have I taught in ways that acknowledge my students as creative independent
knowers, capable of original and critical engagement?
• Is there evidence for my claim that I have developed my own learning along
with my students?
• Have I made a difference for good in my institution through the exercise of my
educational influence?
• Have I contributed to the learning of others through living towards my values of
justice and freedom in my educative relationships?
The broad aims of my research therefore became:
• a reconceptualisation of my understanding of what ‘teaching critical thinking’
means, and a reconceptualisation of my identity as a more critically aware
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• an improvement in my educational practice and the realisation in my practice of
my values of care, freedom and justice, along with the development of my own
critical awareness
• a realisation of some of the stated aims of the Primary School Curriculum
(Government of Ireland 1999)
• the promotion of a culture of respectful dialogue in my classroom: a
development of my students’ confidence in their ability to speak to a group of
their peers and the development of their capacity to critique
• a contribution towards the development of a critical community of enquiry in
my institution as I assist colleagues in their efforts to establish an environment
for critical dialogue in their classrooms.
Organisation of the thesis
The organisation of the ideas in this thesis loosely follows the steps involved in an
action enquiry as outlined in McNiff and Whitehead (2006), as follows:
• I identify a concern when my educational values are denied in my practice
• I offer examples of situations to show how these educational values are denied
in my practice
• I imagine and implement a solution to the situation
• I evaluate the outcomes of the implemented solution
• I modify my practice in light of the outcomes of the implemented solution
The thesis document is organised into three main sections each comprising two or three
chapters. Section 1, which comprises three chapters, is concerned with the background
to my research and with methodological issues; Section 2 includes two chapters in
which I explore my conceptual and contextual literature frameworks and Section 3
contains three chapters which provide my meta-reflections on my action reflection
cycles. This is followed by my concluding chapter which explores the significance of
my study.
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Each chapter addresses identified issues, and shows the systematic process of my
enquiry (Stenhouse 1983). In each chapter I engage with appropriate literatures, and I
articulate for my reader my understanding of the significance of my research as I tell it.
The thesis itself can be seen as a continuation of my action-reflection, as I interrogate
the significance of producing the thesis in my attempts to have my claims to knowledge
validated by the Academy and legitimised as worthy of acceptance in the public
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Section 1
Setting out on my epistemological journey
This section provides the background to my studies. I explain how I came to identify a
research question. I explain how I articulated a concern about my practice and how the
focus of my research then shifted to a consideration of the possible reasons for my
concern, and how this became the beginning of my capacity to theorise my practice. In
order to look at how and why my journey into critical thinking began in the first place, I
outline my personal professional history, and show how my early experiences had a
direct influence on later pedagogical practices. I explain and justify why I chose a selfstudy
action research methodology and I outline some of the practical details of
conducting my enquiry. I organise this section into three chapters which segue into and
inform each other.
I now begin my story.
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Chapter 1
Background to my research
Inevitably, my thesis is a retrospective account. I explain the past in light of current
understandings. Often those understandings were achieved with difficulty, and are
therefore possibly more worthwhile than if they had come easily. In this chapter I
explain how I came to identify a research question, and how the question itself evolved
in light of new insights that emerged through the processes of studying my own
How and why my research question evolved
My research question as it has evolved is in two parts:
• How can I improve my practice and develop my critical awareness so as to live
in the direction of my values of care, freedom and justice?
• While endeavouring to live my practice in the direction of those values, how do
I develop pedagogies that provide my students, colleagues and myself with
authentic opportunities to work in ways that demonstrate our capacities to think
critically and to co-create knowledge for ourselves?
This was not the research question I identified at the beginning of my study. Following
completion of my master’s study programme (Roche 2000b) in which I had begun to
investigate my practice as a primary school teacher who was trying to teach children to
philosophise, I decided to undertake a doctoral studies programme in order further to
develop my understandings. I have maintained this focus in my work, but have now
deepened my understanding of what I am doing as contributing to children’s capacity to
think critically. However, back in 2001, I began an action enquiry into ‘improving the
higher-order thinking of my pupils through classroom discussion’ (see Appendix A.2.
and Roche 2002a). That title tells me now that, as I began my study, I positioned myself
within propositional epistemologies and logics, and adopted the ontological perspective
of one who is separate from the action and outside the study. By propositional logics I
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mean a form of logic grounded in the idea that knowledge exists separate from the
knower, and is reified and abstracted.
I would probably have argued back then, that my study was insider research, grounded
in a dialectical form of knowing, an understanding located in the idea that knowledge is
created in the to-and-fro of question and answer, and in conversational relationships. I
appreciate now that I had not fully explored my epistemological stance. I was clearly
confused about the assumptions underpinning my research, thinking that, because I was
both a practitioner and a researcher, I was de facto ‘doing self-study’. I now see that in
order fully to understand what I was doing, I first had to enter into a double dialectic of
meaning-making about my practice (Lomax 1999). This meant that I had also to engage
in a deep and systematic way with a reflective writing process both as a sense-making
activity for myself, and as a way of communicating my ideas to others.
I began by studying what happened as I engaged my students in a weekly process of
classroom discussion called Thinking Time (see below for an explanation of ‘Thinking
Time’). I planned to foreground this aspect of my practice and faithfully record what
took place during these discrete discussions over a period of years. I did not see that in
relegating it to the background I was making an assumption that the ‘rest’ of my
practice was not in need of improvement. When I began researching I was not fully
aware of the dialectical nature of the relationship between the knowledge I create and
myself, or between my practice and my theory, or even between my teaching and my
learning, partly because I had not yet begun the task of trying to internalise and then
explicate my ideas through the writing process. When I reflect on my early field notes
and diary, I can see that I thought in logics that were more technical-rational than I
realised. For example, in the data excerpts below, following some Thinking Time
activities, I transcribed what the children had said in the discussions and then wrote in
my journal:
The discussion lasted 35 minutes. Most children became engaged in
discussion. Only C, S and R failed to contribute. C. tended to get up and
walk around at times, but it did not seem to distract the others. There
were no interruptions, and no noise from next door. (RD 16-01-02)
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The children are getting used to the idea of Thinking Time and are now
able to prepare the room for the circle (Video link: Preparation for
circle). CD insisted on holding her teddy for the duration of the
discussion. (RD 05-02-02)
The sun shone … I took the circle out of doors. The topic worked well:
I’ll recommend that colleagues try it. I’ll need to check on R’s
participation in future discussions. Not sure if K understood concept:
perhaps I should have him assessed for language processing difficulty.
(RD 12-02-02)
(To note: I place excerpts from my research diary into this kind of textbox and refer to
them as RD.)
Many entries in my reflective diary are similar: they are concerned with case study type
analyses, dates and times, and what my students did or said. They contain observations
of what others and I were doing but few reflections on what I thought, and they offer
my suggestions as to what ‘ought’ to be done. There is virtually no problematising or
critique, and little or no theorising. My ‘I’ is distant and abstract, and communicated in
the voice of one who is observing and describing the actions of others.
I now see that I could have learned far more from these episodes of practice had I
reflected on my learning from them and theorised my practice by offering explanations
as well as descriptions, and without then using those descriptions as prescriptions for
the practices of others. Instead, my initial focus was to gather data about the children’s
behaviour, rather than any accounting for my practice. In looking for ways of improving
what the children might do better, rather than what I might do differently, I failed to ask
myself important critical questions because I was not thinking critically at that time. I
was not, for example, asking critical questions about why I believed that an intervention
in my practice was necessary – why I was doing Thinking Time in the first place, or
why, for instance, I felt that C’s wandering (data excerpt above) was acceptable. In the
same way that I can now appreciate that my values about care, freedom and justice
influenced my decision to adopt pedagogical strategies (such as Thinking Time) that
would provide my children with greater opportunities for dialogue, I can now see that
the same values informed my decision to accept C’s roving, and not to insist that he
© Mary Roche 2007
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conformed. Those values also possibly influenced my decisions to take the children out
of doors frequently (data excerpt above). At the beginning of my research, however, I
had only superficially articulated my values: I had not carried out any deep inquiry into
why I held them or how they might synthesise into living practices and standards for
judging my practice (McNiff and Whitehead 2005). I neither recognised the link
between ontological and epistemological values, nor critically analysed them as living
standards by which I could judge my practice.
I have also become aware that, when I began my study, I did not engage critically with
literatures: I accepted underlying assumptions as givens, and reported the thinking of
others in my writing, rather than think for myself. I now understand that engagement
with literatures means that I must demonstrate that as I read, I can critique, and arrive at
my own conclusions.
I shall shortly outline how and why my critical capacities began to emerge, but here, I
will show why they had not, including the experience of being lulled into a sense of
complacency about my thinking and my pedagogies. I begin with my experiences as a
student teacher.
My experiences as a student and student teacher
Perhaps my personal experience of education contributed to my being an uncritical
thinker. I was schooled as a student and trained as a teacher to rely on propositional
knowledge. When I read the prescribed educational literatures, I read for information,
which I automatically accepted as valid knowledge, and I believed most of what I read.
I felt that academic books were recommended by experts (my college professors),
written by experts, and, being ‘only a teacher’, I had not enough academic status or
knowledge to critique them. I can now explain how this stance needs to be challenged,
as follows.
I now understand how teachers have until recently been positioned as objects of
educational research carried out by academic researchers, rather than as theorists (see
McNiff and Whitehead 2005). Thérèse Day (2005) for example clearly delineates
between practitioner-researchers and academic researchers:
… the teacher-as-researcher movement makes the case for grounding research
collaboratively with teachers in their own practice through methodologies such
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as action research and ensuring that there is sustained interactivity between
both teachers and researchers … This sort of work offers promising
possibilities for collaborative research between practicing teachers, teacher
educators and educational researchers.
(T. Day 2005 pp. 27-8)
From my more critical reading of contemporary educational literatures, it would appear
that Day’s assumptions are far from unusual. I have developed the capacity to critique
such perspectives. My ontological and epistemological values are such that I value
individuals as unique knowers, and I believe that teachers have the capacity for
researching and theorising their own practices. However, many teachers are often
reluctant to accept the responsibility of researching and theorising their practices, as
explained by McNiff and Whitehead (2005 p.2), who also argue that many teachers
adopt discourses of derision to explain away their reluctance to engage with theory.
Without wishing to portray myself as a victim of repressive educational cultures, I
believe that my reliance on propositional thought could be perceived as a form of
internalised oppression. Internalised oppression is a concept widely used across a
variety of disciplines and critical projects, including contemporary critical pedagogy.
Tappan (2001) suggests that the concept is used
… to describe and explain the experience of those who are members of
subordinated, marginalized, or minority groups, those who are powerless and
(often) victimized (both intentionally and unintentionally) by members of
dominant groups.
(Tappan 2001 p.3)
The word ‘unintentionally’ is important in this quotation. My teachers were
hardworking and conscientious nuns who wanted the best for us. My personal form of
‘internalised oppression’ relates more to my dependency since my schooldays on
absorbing the ideas of others, rather than working out my own ideas and theory, and I
carried this legacy into my practice as a teacher. From conversations with colleagues,
and from my experience of presenting teacher workshops and in-service courses (see
Appendices B. 4. and B. 5.), I consider that I was far from unusual in denigrating my
own knowledge as inferior ‘practical’ knowledge, while believing that all abstract
theoretical knowledge was superior to any knowledge I might have.
Despite these initial ontological and epistemological confusions, though, I felt justified
in arguing that I was engaged in a self-study action enquiry simply because my data
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were concerned with me and with my practice, my students, and my classroom. This
begs the questions as to why I had adopted a methodology with which I obviously was
not initially fully conversant.
The evolution of my methodological stance
I initially chose a self-study action research methodology because ‘it felt right’. I could
not say why I knew it was right for me: I ‘just knew’ (McNiff 2000 p.41). This kind of
intuitive personal knowing finds resonance in the work of Polanyi (1958, 1967).
Polanyi argued that hunches, guesses, and imaginings (all investigative acts) are
motivated by what he suggests are passions, and are not always easily articulated in
formal terms. The evolving understanding about my methodological stance was
accompanied by a similar evolving understanding of the nature of my research question.
Two factors were key to enabling me to become critical: the first was working with my
study group at the University of Limerick; the second was a change of school. I explain
here how these two factors came together and started me on my journey of becoming
critical. At the same time, I explain how my research question emerged from a concern
with my existing practice. This involves a consideration of the idea of Thinking Time,
and how that informed my emergent understanding.
The evolution of my research question
My research question began with a concern that there was something amiss in my
practice, and that discovering it would help me understand the reasons for why I feel
compelled to work in the way I do. As my study evolved I wanted to know the nature of
the passion that drives me to seek to involve my students in dialogue as I encourage
them to search for meaning in their world and their lives; and to understand why I could
not accept the status quo and simply let things be. I needed to know what it was about
the Irish education system that troubled me to an extent where I was willing to engage
in a systematic research programme. Eventually, I also wanted to find ways of
contributing to public debates about education, and teachers’ capacity for thinking
critically about education, and teaching in ways that respect and honour children’s
capacity to think for themselves. I wanted to try to improve the educational experiences
of my students and help them to become more critical thinkers than I had been.
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So my research question began initially in my examination and articulation of my
educational and epistemological values. The encouragement to begin to interrogate my
values began in the experience of being involved with others in the study group that
convened as part of a guided doctorate programme at the University of Limerick, as
well as systematically engaging with literatures that adopted a focused critical stance.
Through reflecting on and interrogating my values, in the company of others who were
doing the same, I came to understand that I greatly value care, freedom and justice.
Furthermore, through the experience of studying together with others who were also
developing their critical capacities, and responding to their critical feedback to my
accounts of practice, I came to see that those qualities were often lacking in my
practice. I was troubled that I was experiencing myself as a living contradiction in that
my values were denied in my practice (Whitehead 1989a). Having experience of using
an action research approach for my MA studies, I felt that the methodology would
enable me to investigate and improve my practice so that my values could be realised.
I therefore began to introduce a range of interventions in my practice, as follows.
Thinking Time
One of my first interventions entailed introducing my students to a process of classroom
discussion called Thinking Time. I had heard about this process in the early 1990s and
felt drawn to it. Thinking Time was developed by Donnelly (1994), an Irish primary
school teacher who adapted the work on Philosophy for Children of Matthew Lipman,
an American analytical philosopher (see Lipman 1982, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1991, 1993,
In my classroom, a Thinking Time session is a discrete time for class discussion on a
topic of interest to the children. The children and I sit in a circle, and I participate both
as facilitator and ordinary member of the circle (Figures 1.1 and 1.2).
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Figure 1-1: Photo of a Thinking Time circle in my infant classroom
Figure 1-2: Video still from a Thinking Time with 3rd Class
Many claims about the efficacy of Thinking Time as a dialogical pedagogical strategy
have been made by Irish teachers who have adopted it in their classroom practices
(Campbell 2001, Donnelly 1994, 2005; Hegarty 2000, Murnane 2000, J. Russell 2005).
Russell comments:
[Thinking Time] becomes a community of enquiry or community of personsin-
relation, speakers and hearers, who communicate with each other under
conditions of equality and reciprocity and with a willingness on the part of the
participants to reconstruct what they hear from one another and to submit their
views to the self-correcting process of further enquiry.
(J. Russell 2005 p.5)
Lipman and Sharp (1994) likewise assert that communities of enquiry that are
encouraged by programmes that promote philosophical enquiry with children, such as
Thinking Time does, are grounded in values of reciprocal care and respect for others’
views. Throughout my research, I gathered data that demonstrate how I live my values
of care, freedom and justice in my practice and my data also show the development of
similar values in my students as they listen with interest and respect to each other in our
classroom discussions. The excerpt below, for example, shows children reflecting on
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important issues such as imagination and the influence teachers can have on children, as
they examine and analyse their conceptual understandings from multiple perspectives.
During a discussion on ‘school’, based on the story ‘Once upon an
ordinary school day’ (McNaughton 2004) some children made insightful
comments that displayed critical awareness about the importance of
children being free to imagine possibilities.
M: Everybody should get the chance to let their imagination go free …
get the thoughts out of your head instead of having them just stuck …
A: … That teacher was fun. Every child should have a teacher like that.
That boy really needed to have a teacher like that for at least one year of
his life.
M: I think that imagination is like water. It’s like water because it can
be frozen and the only time it freezes up is when it’s not running and
being used. It freezes up if you don’t use it.
B: I think he did have an imagination all along. The teacher didn’t give
him an imagination, he just allowed him to use it by playing the exciting
S: … sometimes I start off with no ideas in my head when we begin our
talking, but afterwards I often have loads, because I hear all the different
thoughts from all different kids
Along with my pleasure at the richness of the children’s thinking in
general, S’s comment struck me as interesting. (RD 04-10-05, full
transcript in Appendix C.7.)
S’s response enabled me to understand why I persisted in carrying on with Thinking
Time despite often being stressed by the time constraints of the curriculum and tempted
to forego allocating time for discussion. Her response reinforced my commitment to
living my values in my practice, and throughout this document I show how I attribute
importance to giving children space to reflect silently as well as opportunities to talk.
My students appeared to enjoy discussions. They often expressed their delight, as in the
interchange here:
P: It’s fun … we’re thinking about solutions for all kinds of [problems]
and for all kinds of reasons and that’s school work!
CO: It actually gives your brain energy in it.
CF: One it’s fun – children like it: and two, it brightens up your mind.
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CM: I think sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge, because there could be
yappers in our class and they have to be quiet as well. But it’s also …
good for the teachers because they sit down and listen to what the kids
have to think and they could have been learning something earlier in the
day that they could be mentioning now and you’d notice that they’d
been listening in. (RD 21-04-06) (Video Link: A bit of a challenge)
W, however, insisted that Thinking Time was only fun because it ‘wasted school time’:
W: I love [it] cos it’s a bit of fun … and it’s wasting time in school.
Me: I’m interested in that word ‘wasting’. Is ‘waste’ the word you
wanted to use there?
W: Yeah. (RD 21-04-06) (Video Link: Wasting time in school)
Other children disagreed with W’s perspectives (as in the earlier video link above):
Then A said
A: Well OK, you’re not working – not like in Maths – you’re not doing
anything, just talking and thinking. (RD 21-04-06)
This comment later made me reflect on how I could develop dialogic pedagogies to
make Maths more interesting.
No ‘right’ answer
Perhaps for W, areas such as Thinking Time, PE, art and music, which he also liked,
differed from ‘ordinary’ school work because they allowed for self-expression and were
less likely than ‘regular’ classwork to involve a child being requested to provide ‘right
answers’. Discussing issues in a circle format presents many children, perhaps for the
first time, with the opportunity to reach an understanding that for some questions there
are no ‘right’ answers and that in fact, many answers can be right. It provides a freedom
of expression that may not be available in didactic classwork. The same dialogue
transcript contains the following interaction:
DH: When someone talks you can have a new thought …when you’re
thinking in Maths, still, that doesn’t happen.
Me: I’m interested in what D said about Maths …. that it’s a different
kind of thinking. I agree, because in Maths you’re expected to get a right
answer, and there’s only one right answer, whereas in Thinking Time
there’s …
CF: (Interrupts) – ‘no right answer!’
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Me: (handing over the microphone) Yes? What do you think?
Laughter from group
CF (smiling broadly): Well there’s no right answer, and it’s great! Cos
you’re allowed to think freely and no one else is allowed to boss you
around and it’s just … great! (RD 21-04-06) (Video Link: No right
Another example of the awareness of there being ‘more than one right answer’ occurred
in a discussion following the reading of ‘The Whale’s Song’ (Sheldon 1997), in which
conflicting views of whaling are presented:
Em: Well I’ve got a bit of a problem here: see, I agree with Lily’s
Granny that whales are splendid beautiful creatures and they must be
protected, but I can also see Uncle Frederick’s point of view that whalers
have to make their living too. It’s terrible hard trying to decide who is
right … Maybe they are both right! … Maybe more than one thing can
be right at a time! I never thought about that before! (RD 06-12-06)
Participating in a discussion with peers can also offer children the opportunity to
reconsider their opinions in light of the beliefs and experiences shared by others.
H: …when other people say something your ideas change and you
actually start thinking more … when you read a story by yourself and
you don’t do any thinking about it then you don’t get the point
sometimes, unless they tell it to you, but in Thinking Time you get the
point and other people’s points as well.
J: Thinking Time reveals thoughts. You might have a thought at the
start, but by every person speaking you might change it slightly each
time and you might end up with something totally different at the end.
(RD 21-04-06) (Video Link: Listening to others’ thoughts).
There is an echo here of Bruner’s (1960, 1986, 1990) ideas about communication and
learning and Vygotsky’s (1962) ideas about scaffolding learners and about how
learning occurs in social situations. Observers of discussions in my classrooms have
frequently expressed surprise at the ease with which children change their views as they
assimilate others’ ideas. For example, P, an 8-year-old child, announced in a discussion
I actually completely disagree with myself now! (RD 15-10-05)
In the dialogue from 21-04-06, featured above, W eventually said
© Mary Roche 2007
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W: I’ve actually changed my mind, I disagree with myself: Thinking
Time is fun but it isn’t wasting time, it’s using time in a fun way.’ (RD
When I ran a series of workshops for teachers between 2002 and 2004 (Roche 2002b,
2002c, 2003a, 2003d, 2003f, 2003h, 2004a) this particular aspect of my videos –
children disagreeing with themselves in the light of perhaps, new critical understanding
that had been influenced by others’ thinking – often appeared to be one of the most
remarked upon aspects. A teacher with thirty years experience said:
Hearing those children change their minds so honestly and matter-offactly
is a humbling experience. I think many adults, [laughing]
especially politicians, could learn from them in that respect. I wish I’d
seen these videos when I began teaching. It would have changed my
style completely. (RD comment by MR 27-08-04)
My data show children engaging critically with and developing each other’s ideas. This
resonates with Bohm’s (1998) ideas of how he understands a ‘spirit of dialogue’ or ‘a
stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us’ (p.2). He describes
how it is possible for new understandings to emerge from the dialogue, which can
enable people to create and share meanings together. I like his analogy of these shared
meanings acting as a sort of social ‘glue’ or ‘cement’…
Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the
dialogue is present. The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a
stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us. This will
make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which will emerge
new understanding. It’s something new, which may or may not have been the
starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the
‘glue’ or ‘cement’ that holds people and societies together.
(Bohm 1998 p.2)
While I agree largely with Bohm’s ideas, I am not so sure about the importance he
places on distinguishing between discussion and dialogue:
Contrast [dialogue] with the word discussion … It really means to break things
up. It emphasizes the idea of analysis … where the object … is to win and get
points for yourself … but a dialogue is something more of a common
participation in which we are not playing a game against each other but with
each other.
(Bohm 1998 p.2 my emphasis)
From my research, I am beginning to think it impossible to label interaction like this.
Ironically such labelling also ‘emphasises the idea of analysis’. When my students and
© Mary Roche 2007
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I are engaged in lively verbal interaction I cannot say: “This constitutes dialogue here,
and this is discussion, and this is only conversation.” I do value informal or ‘ordinary
conversation’ (Noddings 2002 p.126) for its role in developing relational knowledge
(McNiff 2000) (see also Chapter 7 this document), but I suggest that when my students
and I talk together, all these elements are often present, interweaving through each
other. However an overall ‘spirit of dialogue’ remains throughout. In our Thinking
Time circles we are not about trying to ‘get points’ or make ‘any particular view
prevail’ (Bohm 1998 p.2), but are rather, intent on sharing thoughts and making
meaning with each other.
So, back to my account of how and why I began to develop my capacity for critical
thinking: initially, developing the idea of the value of classroom discussion became the
focus of my research, so, in 2001, I began to think about how I could use Thinking
Time as a means of improving my students’ thinking. It took me until 2005 to realise
that by focusing solely on what my students thought I was engaged in outsider research,
in a traditional spectator stance. Then I began to see that in order to generate my own
living theory of practice (as opposed to a traditional propositional theory about practice)
I would have to re-evaluate my ontological assumptions and begin to research my own
thinking also.
I became aware of anomalies. In my MA dissertation, I had failed to see the irony in
stating that ‘This kind of work is now given a slot in my weekly timetable and I value it
hugely’ (Roche 2000b p.78). Reflecting now on the evidence I generated at the start of
my doctoral studies to test my claim that, by providing my students with time for
Thinking Time sessions, I was encouraging the children to think for themselves, it
eventually became clear to me that I was still the dominant talker and controller of
interchanges in my classroom. My early data appear to suggest that I would ‘allow’ my
students the freedom to think in a critical manner during discrete weekly discussion
I have scheduled my Thinking Times to take place on a Wednesday
straight after mid-morning break. Wednesdays suit because the children
have settled down after the weekend, there are no extra-curricular events
like speech and drama classes to work around. I will recommend
Wednesdays to colleagues – from 11.30 to 12.15p.m. (RD 06-02-02)
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I never asked myself the question: What about my students’ thinking (or my practice)
during the rest of the week? I also failed to examine the nature of the power
relationships in my classroom whereby I would control classroom discourses and would
make decisions about when to ‘grant’ my pupils the freedom to speak or the
prescriptive nature of choosing a day for colleagues to ‘do’ Thinking Time also.
I believe that the reason it took me so long to see the contradictions in my thinking at
that time may have had something to do with my own school experiences of being
taught to think about knowledge as information ‘out there’ rather than something that I
can generate for myself. Perhaps too, the form of pre-service teacher-education I
received led me to see myself as an implementer of others’ theory. It also probably had
to do with my lack of critical development to the extent whereby I had accepted both of
these situations for so many years.
Whatever the case may be, as my research developed, and as I became aware of the
existence of critical pedagogy literatures, I began to raise questions. I wondered why,
for example, student teachers seemed not to be encouraged to read critical literatures.
While I had no personal experience of being exposed to any critical literatures of
education when I was in college in the early 1970s, perhaps things had changed in the
intervening period. I decided to talk with some newly trained colleagues in my school.
I found that they were unaware of these issues. I wrote:
They did not even recognise the term ‘critical pedagogy’. I then
presented them with some names – Apple, Freire, Giroux, Kincheloe,
McLaren – of which only the name Freire seemed vaguely familiar.
(Informal interviews with OD; DOS; KOC; DM; DW, SB; RL. RD 22-
I asked the same questions when I presented my work to final year teacher education
students in a college of education and wrote later in my diary:
Once again my query regarding critical pedagogy was met by blank
stares and only Freire’s name seemed to ring any bells. (RD 15-05-05)
I began to wonder if student teachers are discouraged from studying literatures that
might encourage them to ask critical questions, or if pressures of study mean they have
no time for reflection and critique. This has relevance for my study because I believe
that if people are to become critical thinkers then beginning the process of thinking
© Mary Roche 2007
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critically should take place early in a child’s education, encouraged by critically aware
I can demonstrate that I have now begun to think more critically through engaging in
my research. As outlined here, the first factor that began my transformation, started
during my MA studies, and developed into my doctoral programme, when I
experienced some of the transformative potentials of action research for improving both
practice and understanding of practice. A second factor was the introduction of the
Revised Primary School Curriculum in 1999 (Government of Ireland 1999) and my
attempts to grapple with its underlying philosophy as I endeavoured to realise some of
its stated aims in my practice. Another factor was moving, in 2001, from an institution
in which I had felt silenced, to a new school in which professional development was
encouraged, as I now explain.
New school, new practice: beginning my action reflection cycles
I will deal in more detail with the context of the 1999 Primary School Curriculum in
Chapter 5 and in Chapter 2 I will examine the influence that changing workplaces had
on my studies. Here now I will describe and explain how initially I set about
researching my practice.
When I changed schools in 2001 I concurrently began my research programme. Over
the course of my research I organised the different phases as three Action Reflection
cycles (Chapters 6, 7 and 8). On changing schools, I focused on the first cycle, in which
I monitored my weekly continuing programme of Thinking Time, while working
mainly with Junior Infants. This phase lasted from 2001 to 2003 (Action Reflection
Cycle 1, Chapter 6). As this cycle developed, I came to realise that I was encouraging
the children to perceive themselves as competent critical thinkers (Video Link:
Interesting questions). The video clip shows the children suggesting what they consider
to be ‘good’ topics for discussion. One little girl, C, proposes that we might discuss
‘what lives and what doesn’t’ (RD 12-11-03). I call the children’s attention to her
question: two other children immediately interrupt with ‘That’s a good question by C!’
and ‘That’s an interesting question by C!’ These children appear to demonstrate critical
awareness in recognising the discursive potentials in the topic. The rules of Thinking
Time – respectful listening and turn-taking – were negotiated by the children. The video
clip also shows how I gave each child plenty of time to speak.
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A second video clip from the same research cycle shows children arguing about why
Jack should be considered a hero in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk (see Shermis
M: but it was his Dad’s; and … since the giant stole the hen and Jack got
it back, well that’s what made him good!’ (RD 12-11-03) (Video Link:
Jack and the Beanstalk)
In this clip the children can also be seen interrupting in their eagerness to make their
point. However, when I said, ‘Hang on C: it’s not your turn,’ the child whose turn it
was, is ‘tipped’ by the speaker before him (‘tipping’ means a tap on the shoulder that
passes on the opportunity to speak from child to child), and the children can be seen
listening to him intently. This demonstrates that the children are becoming familiar
with the format of the circle and they recognise and accept the fairness of taking turns.
In Thinking Time, the ‘tip-around’ continues generally for two or three full circles
(depending on the level of engagement and the size of the group) with each child
deciding whether to speak or pass when her turn came. Another rule negotiated with
the children was that after two or three rounds, if the children wished to continue, there
would an ‘open floor’ with priority being given to children who had ‘passed’ earlier. (In
the same video clip, sounds from the classroom next door can clearly be heard, yet it
does not seem to impinge on the children’s participation – a measure perhaps of their
engagement). However my data from this phase of my study shows that I adopted a
largely propositional outsider researcher stance.
In the second phase of the study, Action Reflection Cycle 2 (Chapter 7), I can show
from my journal entries that my research moved to a point where I began to interrogate
my practice more critically. During this cycle, from 2003 to 2004, I worked with a class
of Senior Infants. Now I began to appreciate that I needed to make serious changes to
my practice in light of my realisation that my students were beginning to generate
general classroom discussions outside of discrete Thinking Time sessions.
Y, a Special Needs Assistant who was present in my class daily and who
had been with these children the previous year also, remarked one day: I
never knew children so young could get so involved in discussing.
They’re ready to discuss anything! (RD 14-01-03)
Because the children were talking so actively now throughout the school day, I
wondered if I could abandon Thinking Time, but decided not to, resolving however to
© Mary Roche 2007
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investigate how I could incorporate more opportunities for critical thinking and
discussion into my everyday work. This led me to problematise the specific processes
of Thinking Time and my practice generally, too, because now that my students had
begun to assert themselves as critical thinkers, they were also demonstrating their
independence of mind by challenging established school norms and practices. For
instance when lining up during a fire drill one day, the children were asked to form
straight lines and Eo, aged 5, asked
Eo: What’s so good about straight lines anyway?
On another occasion, following a classroom discussion, he said:
Eo: I am going home today with just so many questions in my head.
Ao: If you go home with a question and if you get an answer to your
question you can always question the answer! (RD 27-02-04; Appendix
It was this kind of episode that led me to believe that I was beginning to realise my
values in my practice, and how this could be achieved through developing specifically
dialogic classroom pedagogies. During this cycle also I had to re-evaluate my
assumption that the Thinking Time format suited all children and I had to critically
examine my practice so as to justify my decision to make allowances for a child for
whom participation in the circle was difficult (Chapter 7).
The final Action Reflection Cycle 3 (Chapter 8) lasted from September 2004 to
December 2006, (although I am continuing both the practice of keeping my diary and
filming the discussions, which demonstrates that I consider my research as an on-going
living process and that I believe my practice can still evolve and improve). During this
last Action Reflection Cycle I worked with three older groups of children, aged 8–10
years. This cycle became a synthesis of the two previous cycles and my emerging living
theory of critical practice began to evolve mainly from the practice of writing during
this time. As I wrote my draft thesis with increasing critical awareness, I could see that,
despite all my rhetoric about freedom, for example, my initial classroom pedagogies
were linked with issues of control. I came to see that I had wanted to dominate and
manage the discussion and ‘contain’ the children’s thinking. I then had to re-evaluate
my values in relation to issues of care, freedom and justice. This thesis communicates
the deep learning from this experience.
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There is a significant shift in the kinds of data I gathered as the action-reflection cycles
developed. The data became more video-based in the last cycle, because my
competency with digital media developed rapidly. I now frequently used a digital video
camera and had mastered the technology I needed to create CDs from digital data. This
point is important for my later discussion on the forms of representation I have used to
communicate and validate my claims to knowledge. Videoing the discussions also
became a strategy for inclusion and enabled me to live my value of care and justice as I
accommodated the phenomenon of having non-English speaking children in my
classroom within the process of discussion. By inviting children who were initially
struggling with English language competency to be the technicians and camera
operators, they were included as participants in the process. This pleased them and
gave them status amongst their classmates, whereas staying out of the circle completely,
or staying in and not participating, could have undermined their self-esteem. However,
as their communicative competency increased they frequently began to decline the
invitation and opted into the discussions (Chapter 8 and Video Link: communicative
So by reflecting on how and why I was living my values in my practice, I was able to
begin to articulate and communicate my emergent living theory of practice. I also began
to test my ideas against the critical feedback of peers and other professionals. I began to
present my work at conferences, workshops and in-service professional development
courses, both in my own school and in the wider local educational domain (Roche
2001a, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2003a-h, 2004a, 2004b, 2005). As I submitted my
emergent theorisations to stringent public scrutiny and critique, I gradually became
more confident in explaining how I was holding myself accountable for my
epistemological and pedagogical stance.
I then moved into a position where I felt I needed critically to explore whether my
interrogation of what I do in the micro context of a classroom in an Irish school might
hold any significance for the macro world of a better social order, a more educated and
open society. I explore these issues in later chapters.
Key issues of my thesis
I am making substantive claims in this thesis. I am saying that I have learned how to
become a critical thinker, and that I can give reasons how and why I have done this.
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How I have done this has been to enquire into my practice. This has involved a robust
and vigorous exercise in self-reflection akin to what Polanyi (1967) suggests is ‘the
knowledge of approaching discovery’ (p.24). Such knowledge, he suggested, is
personal, in the sense of ‘involving the personality of him [sic] who holds it’ (ibid).
The discoverer is filled with a compelling sense of responsibility for the pursuit
of a hidden truth, which demands his services for revealing it. His act of
knowing exercises a personal judgement in relating evidence to an external
(Polanyi 1967 p.25)
The ‘something that needed to be discovered’, and the ‘compelling sense of
responsibility’ I felt for making an improvement in my practice, gradually evolved into
questions that began to lead me towards the generation of my living educational theory
(Whitehead 1989a). These questions included the following, which I systematically
address in this thesis:
• How do I improve what I do, so as to help my students to improve what they
• How do I know I am justified in doing so? Is what I am doing living to my
values of care, freedom and justice?
• Why is ‘critical thinking’ in many literatures largely presented as a reified
concept about the teaching of skills and strategies and the development of
dispositions? (De Bono 1985, 1993; Ennis 1962, 1992; Paul 1993, Paul et al.
1986, 1987, 1990)
• Is what I am doing in my classroom about a concept called ‘critical thinking’ or
is it more about ‘becoming critical?’ How do I become a critical thinker?
And so, several years after my initial question about improving my students, I now
claim that I have come to my current provisional understanding that the best interests of
my students are served if I focus on researching my own practice in order to understand
how, by developing my critical capacities, I can develop powerful pedagogies that
encourage my students to be critical thinkers also.
In doing so, I have come to understand how issues about knowledge generation have
shaped, and continue to shape, my research and my identity as a researcher, and how
© Mary Roche 2007
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my understanding of education will continue to evolve as I continue to investigate my
practice. My current understanding is that education is about people learning to become
free to think for themselves and to make informed choices about their lives. I use the
term ‘current understanding’ because I believe that my knowledge is temporary and
I understand now that knowledge is about more than the kind of standardised
propositional school knowledge that predominates in Irish primary school classrooms
(Murphy 2004), that the teacher is not the only knower in a classroom, and that there
are as many ways of knowing and kinds of intelligences (Gardner 1983) as there are
people in my classroom. I began by investigating whether I could teach in ways that
honour my educational values and that acknowledge my children as unique, active
thinkers and participants in classroom discourses. I now also want to contribute to the
knowledge base of educational enquiry (Snow 2001), and towards the development of a
good social order (McNiff et al. 1992), through disseminating my new learning in the
public domain. By ‘a good social order’, I mean the kind of society in which people
think for themselves and submit their thinking to the critical scrutiny of others. I suggest
that a good social order can be achieved through the establishment of an educated
public that thinks for itself (see also A. McIntyre 1987, Popper 1966, Russell 1922,
1934, 1941, 1988, 1997). Yet in my personal experience, both as a student and as a
teacher, dominant forms of education in Ireland seem to be less about freedom or
openness and more about control, management and the delivery of large amounts of
propositional knowledge: concepts that one would not link readily with justice or care.
My developing understanding is that the transmission of knowledge, primarily through
didactic pedagogies (Murphy 2004, Government of Ireland 2005b) in a standardised
national curriculum can serve to discourage critical engagement and deny opportunities
for dialogue.
For me, dialogue, including dialogue with the self through reflection, is crucial to the
development of critical awareness, because dialogue, as I understand it, honours the
other as an equal knower who can think and speak for herself. I can see now that for
many years I contributed to an oppressive model of education through my lack of
critical understanding of these issues. Now, as my living educational theory evolves, I
understand that a didactic model of schooling values neither justice nor freedom.
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Through engaging with a large body of literatures of critical theory and critical
pedagogies (such as Apple 1979, Bowles and Gintis 1976, Darder et al. 2003, Freire
1972, Giroux 1988, Illich 1973, Kincheloe 2006, McLaren 1995) I now understand that
instead of acknowledging the child as a knower, didactic pedagogies in many postindustrial
western educational contexts seem to objectify the child as a commodity to
which discrete packets of knowledge are delivered, and then assessed through
standardised examinations to see how much of the knowledge has ‘stuck’. Hymer
(2002) says this obsession with assessment ‘betrays our twentieth-century fixation with
ranking and measuring the unrankable and unmeasurable’ (p.7). It seems to me, based
on my thirty years’ experience in Irish schools, that often, what is measurable is more
highly valued than what is not (Tomlinson 2005): parents frequently request results of
standardised tests in Maths and English, yet I have never been asked how a child is
performing in Art or Music, for example. The current ‘fixation’ of neo-liberal policy
agendas around the idea of establishing a managerial culture of performativity in
education (Bernstein 1996, Brown 2002, McNess et al. 2003, Pollard et al. 1994)
means that schools and teachers are now judged on how well children perform in
standardised assessments. Apple (2001b) states that standardisation is part of a move
towards growing state control. Citing Ball et al. (1994 p.14) he suggests that
educational principles and values are often compromised such that commercial issues
become more important in issues such as curriculum design:
This represents a subtle but crucial shift in emphasis – one that is not openly
discussed as often as it should be – from student needs to student performance
and from what the school does for the student to what the student does for the
(Apple 2001b p.185)
He goes on to suggest that the standardisation of education is essentially:
a mechanism … to specify which knowledge, values, and behaviors should be
standardized and officially defined as legitimate. This is seen in the attempts …
to specify, often in distressing detail, what students, teachers, and future
teachers should be able to know, say, and do (op cit p 188).
As I challenge the orthodoxies of standardised curricula and assessment methodologies
I realise also that they can serve to deny the different ways of knowing of children
(Gardner 1983) and can be disrespectful of their uniqueness as thinking human beings.
Through my research I have now become convinced of the need for critiquing the
premises upon which the measurement of learning is based.
© Mary Roche 2007
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I argue that an educational philosophy, such as that indicated by the principles of the
Primary School Curriculum (Government of Ireland 1999), is based upon an idealised
‘other’ (Mead 1934, Benhabib 1987), and as such, cannot exhibit adequate care and
freedom. By ‘adequate’ here I mean a form of care and freedom that respects the
humanity and uniqueness of each child. For example, I understand a standardised ‘onesize-
fits-all’ (Reyes 1992) approach to curriculum and pedagogy, as a model predicated
on control and domination. I also now appreciate that, with the proposed introduction of
national testing for seven and eleven year olds in the Irish primary education context
(National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 2005), a curriculum that is coming to
be more dominated by traditional models of testing needs to have the assumptions about
teaching and learning that lie behind them interrogated.
As reported earlier, my theory of education is premised upon a concrete personal ‘other’
(Benhabib 1987), and is grounded in the dialogical relationships between people,
including my students and me, and in the dialectical interplay between us as we
generate knowledge together. In this sense my educational theory is living and evolving
from my ontological stance. In the same way that my methodological approach to this
study draws on and incorporates other traditions of research, so my philosophy of
education accepts the value of some instructional and training approaches, but accepts
neither their uncritical assumptions nor their position of dominance in Irish education
(Conway 2000, 2002; Martin and Morgan 1994, Morgan 1998, OECD 1991).
These understandings differ from the seemingly dominant idea that ‘critical thinking’ in
classroom situations is about prescriptive instructional strategies and skills development
(DeBono 1985, Ennis 1962, 1992; Paul et al. 1990, Pithers and Soden 2000,
McGuinness 1999, McGregor 2006). I do not understand now how one can talk about
‘critical thinking’ as though it were a ‘thing’, although I used to do this. It begs the
question ‘critical thinking about what?’ I believe that thinking critically about what
constitutes critical thinking must be grounded in the idea that
• people think and have infinite capacity to be critical thinkers
• people bring their own backgrounds and ontology to the process
• people generate new knowledge for themselves in the process
© Mary Roche 2007
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• thinking needs to be understood as a dialogical and relational process, not a
I have come to understand that when a person enters into a dialectical relationship with
thoughts and ideas, with others and themselves, thinking then becomes a practice of
dialogue, a way of having a dialogic imagination (Bakhtin 1981) a way of being in a
dialogical relationship with knowledge, and a way of being in a living relationship with
other people. Thus it is not predicated exclusively on a culture of ‘having’: the having
of skills, knowledge or dispositions although these can be important components. I
locate these ideas in the work of Fromm (1979) who discussed the cultural and social
significances between an ethos of being and an ethos of having.
Preliminary findings of my study
In this thesis, I present evidence for my claim to have generated a living theory of
critical pedagogical practice from my several years of problematising my educational
values and conceptual frameworks of critical thinking, care, freedom and justice. The
articulation of such problematising can be seen as evidence of my claim to have
acquired a more critical voice and stance, especially when compared with some of my
earlier writing (Roche 2000b). I can now recognise my deepened critical understanding
of the multifaceted socio-historical and political issues that influence education. One of
my preliminary findings, for example, is my understanding, again drawing on Fromm
(1979) that my theory is a theory of being rather than one of acquiring or having. This
means that I realise that I cannot teach a subject called ‘critical thinking’ as the
acquisition of a set of skills or techniques, but that I must develop my own capacity to
be critical enough so that I encourage others to be critical. Instead, in my classroom I
try to embody my values about people being together and thinking together as a
community of enquiry through dialogue such as Bohm (2004) advocated. I believe that
thinking together in a community of enquiry such as I experience with my students in
both Thinking Time and in informal discussion, is an exercise of freedom where each
person’s ideas are listened to and responded to with respect.
Bohm’s (2004) idea of people ‘thinking together’ is completely different to the picture
Fromm (1979) painted of collective ‘herd’ thinking. Fromm (op cit) worried that people
had lost the ability to think for themselves and had become used to collective ‘herd’
thinking. He argued that people must exercise their freedom in thinking for themselves
© Mary Roche 2007
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– with the main kind of freedom being a ‘freedom of being’ which involved the courage
‘to let go [of deeply entrenched habits of non-thinking] and respond’ (p.24). I explain in
this account how I found the letting go of years of habit and training to be very difficult.
Despite nearly five years of my study and more than ten years of doing philosophical
enquiry with children, I was so used to imposing my views on children though
traditional instructional practices that I frequently failed to see how deeply ingrained my
didacticism was. This leads me to another preliminary finding of my study: I now
understand that didactic pedagogies are rooted in ‘othering’ children, whereas my
pedagogies are grounded in inclusion and respect for the humanity I share with my
I hope that this report will demonstrate that I have developed my critical voice as I
reflected on my practice and engaged with educational issues as I struggled to articulate
my living educational theory (Whitehead 1989a). Throughout I will show how I have
tested my claims against existing theories in the literatures, and against the critique of
colleagues, critical friends and peer professionals. This has enabled me to claim with
authority that I now know what I am doing better than I did before.
Furthermore, I am claiming that I have brought my critical understanding to bear on
how I can influence educational cultures. Through my research I have generated
relational knowledge, which, McNiff (2000) says, ‘helps us to understand the nature of
our humanity and our interconnectedness with others across a network of dimensions’
(p.138). I believe that this kind of relational knowledge finds embodiment in an ethic of
care (Noddings 1992). I will show how I try to establish caring relationships with my
students that dissolve traditional power relationships between teachers and students. I
now can see the interconnectedness of my students’ lives with mine, and our
connectedness to others in society, through our dialectical and dialogical engagement.
Over the past five years I believe that I have learned more about teaching than I did
during my previous thirty years of practice. I have now begun a process of teaching
myself to think and work in ways that honour my educational values more fully, and my
understanding of myself as an educator has developed as I have carried out this study.
My research has helped me improve my practice as an educator, be accountable for my
actions, and has shaped my professional identity (Connelly and Clandinin 1999).
© Mary Roche 2007
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Significantly, my study will probably never be complete: it can always develop as I
continue to ask myself questions such as:
• What is going on here now?
• Why did I think that/do that?
• What is the significance of what I am doing?
In summary, between 2001 and 2006 I transformed my research stance from that of
observer of my students to observer of myself-in-relationship-with-my-students. In
2001 I did not understand that I was an ‘I’ sharing my classroom space with other ‘I’s’
(McNiff 2005a). Instead, I was very much in my own space as ‘teacher’, observing
what my students did and maintaining boundaries between my life and theirs, and
between teaching and learning. Even when I thought I had overcome that division by
investigating my own practice, I was still somehow detached from it, seeing it as an
entity ‘out there’, something to be researched and observed. In self-study one moves
seamlessly between the world of actor and spectator (Coulter and Wiens 2002) in a
dialectic between oneself and one’s practice. I stayed for a long time on the spectator
side, talking about my practice and about education. This thesis is the narrative account
of how I changed my mind, literally, so that I came to see myself as a participant in my
own and other people’s lives, and not a bystander.
Having outlined the beginnings of my research programme, and identified my research
issue and my research question, I now move to an explanation of why I was concerned.
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Chapter 2
Problematic Contexts: Why was I concerned?
The focus of my research now shifted to a consideration of the possible reasons for my
concern, so this was in effect the beginning stage of my capacity to theorise my
practice, that is, offer explanations for what I was doing. This leads me, in this chapter,
to think about how and why my journey into critical thinking began in the first place.
What led me to become critical was no single event, but a whole series of critical
moments and episodes that began to accumulate and have a cumulative effect. I outline
the story here.
First, it may be helpful to outline my personal professional history, and show how these
early experiences had a direct influence on later pedagogical practices.
My training to be a teacher in a women’s training college
These young men and women … went to a residential training college [run
mainly by religious orders of priests and nuns] which was conducted on
remarkably authoritarian lines.
(McCarthy 1968 p.21)
The teacher training I received in the early 1970s was conducted on what McCarthy
describes above as ‘remarkably authoritarian lines’. The training of Irish females
differed, however, from the training of Irish males. In my college, up to a hundred
women slept in tiny cubicles in dormitories. Attendance at breakfast and at lectures was
compulsory. Meanwhile, across the city in the male teacher training college, each
student had his own room and could choose whether to attend lectures, not to mention
breakfast. The stories of some teachers in my study group bear out my experience,
which was that the training received by the young women was ‘formation’ rather than
There were so many rules … For example, compulsory daily Mass,
except that there wasn’t room in the chapel for everyone, so a rota was
established and everyone had to go on five out of seven mornings. You
were told which ones and it was a punishable offence not to attend – if
you stayed in bed or didn’t go, you were reported and sent to the office.
That was serious and could affect your chances of employment later.
(RD conversation with C and B 10-04-06)
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We had two veils for wearing in church: a white one and a black one.
… The black one was for ordinary days and the white one for feast days
and Sundays. You got in trouble for wearing the wrong one … you were
expected to know the feast days. I didn’t, because I hadn’t gone to a
convent school. I was always terrified rushing to the chapel in case I was
wearing the wrong one. (RD 10-04-06: conversation with B)
My experience of training college appears to resonate with the collective ‘herd’
thinking to which Fromm (1979) alluded. Teachers, especially female teachers, were
socialised into passivity. We did what we were told, fearing to question the status quo
and be considered ‘devious’. Any breach of discipline would have made it difficult to
gain a teaching position because, as was common knowledge, the sisters who ran the
training college had great influence over the allocation of initial teaching jobs.
It was a dreadful experience. I was almost totally unable to think for
myself when I came out. It took me years to break through that barrier.
(RD: 22-10-04 conversation with FW)
During my studies, I came to understand this situation in terms of what Ken Brown
(2002) refers to as the ‘intimate connections [that] exist between the nature of education
in a society and the configurations of power authority and subordination that define its
political constitution’ (p.29). Interwoven with the state education power in the Ireland
of the 1960s and 1970s, was the power inherent in the social mores of a paternalistic
church-controlled and dominated society (McCarthy 1968, Drudy and Lynch 1993).
Terence Brown (2004) refers to the Irish primary school system as ‘a peculiarly
resonant symbol of a society where authoritarian control enforced ideals of nationalism,
religion, and language’ (p.237).
Mine was an educational experience that discouraged freedom of thought, originality or
creativity and was, I believe, dependent for its efficacy on a passive and pliable
population. Drawing again on Fromm (1979) I see now that it was premised on the
acquisition of skills and strategies of teaching rather than on becoming or being an
educator. This type of education was also premised on a paternalistic model of
childhood (Corsaro 2005, Devine 2000a, Devine 2000b) that viewed children as ‘other’
to adults. Children were perceived as embryonic citizens who would at some time be
‘the people’ or ‘citizens-in waiting’ rather than ‘citizens now’ (Maitles and Gilchrist
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2005 n/p). I believe that the primary school system incorporated and reproduced the
values of a repressed society, and ensured that people learned ‘their place’, so that
society would continue to function smoothly without any major challenges to the status
quo. However, despite such experiences, I retained a sense of vision that supported my
commitment to working with integrity within the system by
• educating myself and reflecting on my learning so that I could develop my
critical awareness, thus keeping a healthy scepticism
• using this learning to teach in a way that fosters a similar critical awareness in
my students and acknowledges their freedom to think for themselves.
In the early 1980s, I took an appointment in an urban school. This experience was to
prove disabling, in that here I was persuaded not to think for myself. The school could
be defined in Rosenholtz’s (1989 p.107) terms as a ‘stuck’ school, one that was not
supportive of change or improvement. One of the main causes of ‘stuckness’ in schools,
Rosenholtz found, was the absence of positive feedback:
Most teachers … become so professionally estranged in their workplace
isolation that they …do not often compliment, support or acknowledge each
other’s positive efforts…strong norms of self-reliance may even provoke
adverse reaction to a teacher’s successful performance.
(Rosenholtz 1989 p.107)
I was happy in school only when in my classroom. I did not try to analyse why this was
so, nor could I articulate my feelings. I started to become more critical, however, as I
researched the education literatures for my MA, and began to recognise myself in some
of them. For example, I perceived my similarity to Fullan and Hargreaves’ (1992 p.55)
description of a teacher who was ‘afraid to share [my] ideas and successes’ (an
indication of my fear of ‘adverse’ reactions) and I gradually began to problematise why
that status quo existed. By the time I had completed my MA I realised that what I was
fighting against was not my inability to work towards my values but an institutionalised
culture of domination towards students or staff who failed to fit an unnamed ‘norm’ that
was decided upon by some staff members who seemed to hold different values to mine.
When I finally did change schools in 2001 I was uplifted to find that my educational
values and vision seemed to be shared by my new colleagues.
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Today at a staff meeting I was thanked for ‘keeping our academic flame
alive’. Going from a situation where I was ridiculed for being
‘academic’ to a school where I am publicly thanked ‘for keeping our
academic flame alive’ has been a major step in developing the
confidence to examine my practice for a doctoral degree. (RD 20-12-01)
In this new context I experienced what McDermott and Richardson (2005) call ‘the
valuable social satisfaction of having your practice sanctioned by a colleague’ (p.34).
Increased happiness and self-confidence, greater work satisfaction and the knowledge
that I was now a valued and respected member of staff in a school in which I loved
working, meant that I became more ready to take risks, including the risks of thinking
more critically.
Changing schools then was significant to the process of how I developed as a critical
thinker. In both schools I learned from being, as well as doing: in one I learned to keep
silent through the rejection of my practices as worthwhile; in the other I gained the
confidence to learn to think critically through the acceptance of my practices as
worthwhile. My experiences resonate with what Freire (1972) said, when he talked
about the inseparability of learning from being, and the need to understand the
complexity of reality as a living process rather than a static entity. Learning, examined
from Freire’s perspective, is grounded in the learner’s own being: ‘their interaction with
the world, their concerns, and their vision of what they can become’ (Kincheloe 2004
p.73). He also argued for this examination of why things are as they are to be
accompanied by the development of a consciousness that refuses to be normalised.
As I have explained above, being ‘normalised’ into acceptable ways of being was part
of the cultural, education and socialisation processes of my formative years. My
learning from reflecting on my past has shown me how my historical context has
influenced my ontological values and my identity. As one who grew up in a culture that
was steeped in a positivistic way of viewing reality, education and intelligence, I was
late in becoming aware of my need to be a critical thinker. I accepted things very much
as they were and I didn’t see that I had agency (Giddens 1984) that could change
situations for myself or even realise that it was within the capabilities (Sen 1999) of
each person, including me, to make changes in their own lives.
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For the naïve thinker, education involves moulding oneself and others to the
normalized past. For the critically conscious thinker, education involves
engaging in the conscious improvement and transformation of self and reality.
(Kincheloe 2004 p.72)
From reading critical pedagogy literatures (Apple 1979, 2001b; Bernstein 1975;
Bourdieu and Passeron 1977, Freire 1972, Kincheloe 2004, Steinberg and Kincheloe
2006) I now realise that, in many western contexts, from the day people enter the
education system, unwritten but nonetheless powerful, meritocratic social norms dictate
that they are selected and streamed into certain categories. Engaging with such ideas
during my studies has been a significant learning experience for me. It meant that for
the first time in my teaching career I questioned many hitherto accepted norms about
teaching and learning; what constitutes intelligence, and why I should strive to enable
my students to recognise why they should challenge these norms too.
Early misgivings
My sense of a need to take stock of what I was doing arose from a sense of dissonance
between my normal daily practices and what I believed education to be about, albeit
tacitly. This dissonance began to develop as early as the early 1970s, when I began
teaching, and became pressing by the 1990s. I could not name the source of the
dissonance, nor could I change what I was doing because I did not know what to
change. This was partly because, at that time, I was working in the institution I have
already referred to, whose organisational values were grounded in logics of domination
(Marcuse 1964), and I felt required to abide by its norms, so I never broke out
sufficiently to question what was happening. Instead I was silenced: I felt I was
somehow to blame, but the experience led me to seek innovative coping strategies.
For example as my concerns intensified as the years went by I sought several practical
solutions to them. I tried out new classroom management strategies; I changed the
furniture around; I facilitated classroom projects; I took themed approaches to aspects
of the curriculum. I attended professional development courses and I read educational
literatures widely, in the hope of arriving at some solutions that would solve my
unarticulated ‘problem’. It never occurred to me to question whether I should be
concerned about my institution, the education system, society, or the bigger picture of
why things were the way they were. I was ‘schooled’, in the sense articulated by Illich
(1973), of the school as formation and training, to look to others for solutions.
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However, like Berlin (1969), I gradually began to look inwards into my own practice
for solutions.
I wish[ed] my life and decisions to depend upon myself … to be the instrument
of my own, not other acts of will. I wish to be a subject, not an object…
(Berlin 1969 p.131)
An initial concern about silence
A concern that emerged early in my teaching career was why children were expected to
remain silent in class, except for answering the teacher’s questions (Murphy 2004,
Norman 1992). Ironically, I was positioning myself as a living contradiction
(Whitehead 1989a) in that I often felt that didactic forms of pedagogy that silenced
children were unfair, yet I continued to teach in a didactic manner. I did not appreciate
how complex these issues were, until some years later when I undertook my research
and I began reading the literatures of critical pedagogy (as listed earlier). When I did, I
began to see that education is a highly contested domain and that knowledge and power
are closely entwined and deeply embedded in socio-historical issues about what kinds
of knowledge are valid and valuable. I also began to see that, as well as engaging with
the critical literatures, I should also become critical of my own practice.
This was, however, easier said than done. As noted, and like many others, I had also
been encouraged to look outside myself for solutions to my pedagogical dilemmas
(Whitehead and McNiff 2006). Beginning my self-study encouraged me to look within.
This, I came to learn later, was dangerous territory. I could relate to Pusey’s (1987)
comment about Habermas:
Habermas offers a comprehensive new social theory that is avowedly critical
inasmuch as it challenges both the criteria on which the reader expects to judge
this and every other social theory and the standards we use to accept, reject, or
simply to interpret the everyday social world we inhabit.
(Pusey 1987 p.14)
At the time, however, I was developing my capacity to be a researcher as well as a
practitioner. This was a new experience for me and I must confess to some feelings of
isolation from my peers, none of whom seemed to share my lack of ease. This led to an
even greater emphasis on trying to make sense of my practice, especially through my
critical engagement with the critical literatures. This was my saving grace, because I
began to see that perhaps there was a problem in education generally and that I was part
of it. Articulating this problem enabled me to identity my first concern, which was to do
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with the silencing of children, and of me, their teacher, as I came later to understand. In
fact, the articulation of the problem was an initial step in finding my voice. I gradually
came to the point where I saw that, if I wanted to be able to articulate the unarticulated
worry about my practice, I would have to have to bring the assumptions that
underpinned that practice into fuller consciousness.
My next concern: beginning to question my own logics
These realisations led me to question my own logics. I was still stuck in contradiction.
Even as I was putting in place strategies such as Thinking Time to increase
opportunities for more dialogue in my classroom, I was becoming increasingly
frustrated, but again could not say why (Chapters 7 and 8). In retrospect I can see that I
was beginning to question, perhaps for the first time, how I thought, and to see that I
was moving from propositional to dialectical forms of thinking. I realised that I was
teaching within an education system which relies heavily on propositional forms of
knowledge, and which requires its participants also to give priority to propositional
forms of knowledge. As I search my data archives for evidence of where this
awareness began to manifest itself, I see that in February 2003, when rehearsing for a
seminar in the University of Limerick in June 2003, I presented my thinking on these
issues to my colleagues and supervisor (Roche 2003d). The presentation shows a
distinct shift away from the propositional stance of my MA dissertation (Roche 2000b)
towards a newer, critical stance that became a feature of my doctoral studies.
At this point I began seriously to interrogate the education system of which I was a part.
As well as emphasising propositional knowledge, the Irish educational system seems
not to encourage critical engagement. The structure of the school day requires teachers
to provide coverage of the curriculum, so a culture of what Dadds (2001 p.49) calls ‘the
hurry-along curriculum’ begins to emerge, in which teachers’ concerns are more about
teaching to ‘get through’ the subject area requirements of the curriculum than teaching
for understanding or critique. This view is echoed by Brandt (1993):
The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. As long as you are
determined to cover everything, you actually ensure that most kids are not
going to understand.
(Brandt 1993 p.3)
Apple (2001b) suggests that subject divisions provide more constraint than scope for
discretion. He argues that (in the US) standard attainment targets that have been
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mandated cement these constraints in place (p.191). The 1999 curriculum for Irish
primary schools divides what is to be taught into discrete subject areas or clusters of
subject areas. ‘Language’ is divided into L1 and L2 (English and Irish). Social,
environmental and scientific education (SESE) incorporates Science, History and
Geography. Arts education encompasses the subject areas of Visual Art, Drama and
Music; the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) cluster includes Physical
Education, and Relationship and Sexuality Education. Mathematics stands alone as a
Each subject area is divided into discrete ‘strands’ and ‘strand units’. Curriculum
handbooks contain exemplars to show how these subjects should be taught. The school
week is divided into specific times allocated to each subject.
For example, as in Figure 2.1 below, the English curriculum is allocated 4 hours per
week in senior classes and 3 hours per week in Infant classes. The strands in English
1. Receptiveness
to language
2. Competence and
confidence in using
3. Developing
cognitive abilities
through language
4. Emotional and
development through
Figure 2-1: Table: Strands of English Language Curriculum
Each strand is then subdivided into strand units, which are further divided into the three
areas of oral, reading and writing. In the first strand ‘receptiveness to language’, the
strand units for infant classes are:
• Oral: developing receptiveness to oral language
• Reading: developing concepts of language and print
• Writing: creating and fostering the impulse to write
The curriculum documents outline targets and objectives for each strand and strand unit.
The example of the Infant programme (English section) in oral language reveals that
Strand 1 comprises six aims and objectives in a bulleted list which are largely skills
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The child should be enabled to:
• Experience, recognise and observe simple commands
• Listen to a story or description and respond to it
• Hear, repeat and elaborate words, phrases and sentences modelled by the
• Use and interpret tone of voice expressing various emotions
• Learn to adopt appropriate verbal behaviour to secure and maintain the attention
of a partner
• Mime and interpret gesture, movement and attitude conveying various emotions
(Government of Ireland 1999, English pp.15-21)
Strands 2 and 3 of the English curriculum have six bulleted aims and Strand 4 has ten.
The lists above refer only to Oral language, and the lists for Reading and Writing are
equally detailed, so this gives an idea of the workload facing teachers in one subject
area. Furthermore, these objectives are to be met in an infant classroom within a time
allocation of 3 hours per week. Bearing in mind that the curriculum contains twelve
subjects, each divided into many strands and strand units, and that many classrooms
have one teacher and thirty or more children, one gets a sense of the often frantic pace
of the ‘hurry-along-ness’ to which Dadds (2001 p.49) refers.
I colluded in this hurried and fragmented curriculum. In order to devise short-term
schemes of work for each fortnight, and fit in my data gathering for my study, I had to
timetable Thinking Time initially under the strand unit ‘developing cognitive abilities
through oral language’. By doing so, I could satisfy the obligations of curricular
planning. There was no strand in any curricular area that matched ‘teaching children to
think for themselves’ or ‘enquiring into one’s practice’. Through developing such
strategies, however, I was accepting the underlying curricular propositional logics and
assumptions about the reification of knowledge, and trying to fit my dialogical
educational values into a technical rationality that negated them. I was holding values
but acting in ways that denied them, but had not made that knowledge explicit by
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articulating it as such to myself. I was oblivious to the fact at this point that my values
were embodied in my practice and could be manifested through my practice, because, at
first sight, this manifestation could not be slotted and timetabled. I was still unaware
that living out my educational values would have to permeate every moment of my
teaching life.
This awareness did develop, however, as my study progressed. I began to question the
compartmentalisation of the school day into discrete parcels of information
transmission. I began to challenge and question the need for standardised curricula and
methods of assessment, and to examine my growing resistance to the technical
rationality of education as I was experiencing it. This feeling of growing resistance, I
now see, was the beginning of my becoming critical (Carr and Kemmis 1986). I saw
that instead of fitting my values to an existing educational situation I would have to take
an alternative stance and try to make the situation fit better with my values.
This required me to develop the capacity for critical engagement, confidence and
courage. I am more confident now but, for many years, even after embarking on my
doctoral studies, I remained compliant with the norms of the system. Gradually,
however, the process of researching my practice of encouraging others to be critical
thinkers shifted the focus from my students to me. I began to see the need for a shift
from problem-solving to problematising.
From problem-solving to problematising
Initially I perceived my efforts as ‘problem-solving’. I saw my identified concerns as
problems for which solutions had to be found. Part of the process of becoming critical
for me was to shift from this bipolar problem/solution stance to a more reflective and
critically conscious stance of problematising my practice. The process of
problematising is grounded in several assumptions: that I must examine my concerns in
a critical way, and look at underlying assumptions and norms; that there may be no
‘right answer’; and that I must develop ways forward through developing dialogical
practices. The answers, if there were any, were unlikely to reside in the set of twenty
three Irish Primary Curriculum handbooks (Government of Ireland 1999).
By problematising though, I was finally beginning to transform myself into a critical
thinker, and was in turn helping my students to become critical thinkers.
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This focus on my own learning enabled me then to problematise why my educational
practice appeared to deny my values of freedom and justice. From a position where I
had naively assumed that teacher-talk dominated in classrooms because large classes
necessitated didactic forms of pedagogy, I now began to be aware of deeper layers of
meaning. I found support for my views in a large body of research. In Britain, The
National Oracy Project (Norman 1992) examined teacher-talk in classrooms. The
relationships between talk and learning, patterns of classroom interaction were explored
(Edwards 1992, Edwards and Mercer 1987, Galton et al. 1999) as were the differential
oracy experiences of home and school (Tough 1977, Wells 1999). Edwards and Mercer
(1987 p.20) assert that talk is both ‘a medium for teaching and learning’ and say it is
‘one of the materials from which a child constructs meaning’. This finding spoke to my
conviction of the importance of classroom dialogue and the significant role of the
quality of the interpersonal relationships in classrooms between teacher and students
and between students and their peers.
Alongside my growing awareness of the importance of pupil talk and shared classroom
discourse, I began too, to recognise that pedagogy can be seen as a highly contested
political arena that demanded critical awareness (Alexander 2000, Dadds 2001). I came
to question my simplistic notion that didacticism had to do with ‘classroom
management strategies’ and I saw instead that the exercise of technical rational forms of
management and assessment of teachers and students has to do with issues of power
and control (Apple 1995, 2001a, 2001b; Darder et al. 2003, Kincheloe 2004). For the
first time I looked at theories of education from the critical perspective of whether they
were founded on notions of care, freedom and justice. I realised that while the rhetoric
of the Irish Primary School Curriculum supports principles of social justice and care for
the other, the reality is that education is largely about school and classroom
management as teachers struggle to implement syllabi premised on propositional ‘know
that’ and ‘know how’ knowledge (Ryle 1949).
Developing conceptual frameworks
These realisations enabled me to formalise my values of care, freedom and justice as
broad conceptual frameworks, and I can trace how these frameworks are associated
with the writing of key theorists (see Chapters 4 and 5). In relation to my value of care,
I have been influenced especially by the work of Noddings (1984a, 1984b, 1988, 1998,
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2006) and Buber (1965). In particular I have been influenced by Buber’s ideas about ‘IIt’
and ‘I-Thou’ relationships. These ideas have helped me to interrogate my own
ontological stance in relation to others. My evidence throughout this thesis shows that I
engage with others in my classroom in a way that includes and respects them as ‘Thou’.
I show that in talking ‘with’ rather than ‘at’ my students, I value them as equal knowers
and significant others (Video Link: Talking with …). The work of Benhabib (1987) also
helped me to examine how I view the ‘concrete’ and ‘particular’ children in my
classroom. This stance is reflected too, in my choice of action research as a
methodology. I understand action research as research in relation with others rather than
on others. In this I have been significantly influenced by the work of McNiff (2000,
2004, 2005a, 2005b).
Reading Bourdieu (1990) and Foucault (1980) influenced my developing insights into
how schools can operate as instruments of social control. From Foucault I learned about
how power and knowledge are interwoven, and how institutions such as schools,
hospitals and prisons can become instruments of social control through processes of
objectification that transform the body into an object of scientific investigation. I had
never before considered school in this light, but as I reflected on the literatures I saw
how children are often powerless and objectified in classroom situations (Devine 2000a,
2000b, 2003). Bourdieu (1990) argued that mechanisms of social domination and
reproduction, as evident in many schools, were focused on bodily know-how and
competent practices, which came to act as symbolic capital in the social world. Such
practices can be inculcated through what he terms ‘symbolic violence’ (p.27). I could
see a relationship between Bourdieu’s ideas and the way in which dominant
institutional epistemologies and practices formed and moulded children’s identities as
passive thinkers. In my own context, for example, I had often reproduced my early
experiences as a silent learner in my practice as a didactic teacher.
Bourdieu’s and Foucault’s ideas made me think deeply about how I had complied with
a concept of the school as a context for social control. I now saw that by delivering the
reified knowledge of the curriculum in an uncritical way, I had unconsciously
contributed to a form of symbolic violence as understood by Bourdieu, and I had used
the power of my ‘superior’ teacher knowledge to dominate and control the children in
my classrooms in Foucault’s sense of the institution as a form of social discipline.
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Bourdieu’s and Foucault’s ideas had therefore a part to play in the reconceptualisation
of my practice. Because I consciously develop humane and respectful relationships with
my children I decided to seek pedagogies that would allow us to seek knowledge
together, and accept each other as ‘other’. To that end I began to create and develop
dialogical pedagogies that would respect the open-ended nature of knowledge, the
capacity of people to be creative and critical knowers and the humanity of interrelating
with my students through pedagogies that have care, freedom and justice as guiding
principles (Chapters 8 and 9).
I develop my themes of engaging critically with the literatures in Chapters 4 and 5, and
I show how my values informed my choice of conceptual frameworks. At this point,
however, I conclude this chapter by saying that I will provide evidence to show that the
focus on my practice, and the focus on my learning from my practice, are not separate
spheres of enquiry but are incorporated within, and grounded in one another. I draw on
the work of McNiff (2000, 2005a, 2005b) and McNiff and Whitehead (2005, 2006) and
on Bohm’s (1998) ideas about how creativity can be encouraged through dialogue. My
focus shifted to a concern to improve the quality of opportunities for children to
exercise their independence of mind as well as the development of my own capacity to
exercise critical engagement.
I now turn to a discussion of the methodology I used that enabled me to do this.
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Chapter 3
Methodological issues: How could I address my concerns?
In this chapter I set out the methodology I used to conduct my enquiry. The chapter is in
two parts. I first give an explanation and justification for why I chose this methodology.
Second, I outline some of the practical details of conducting my enquiry. Articulating
these issues enables me to claim that my research has been conducted with
methodological rigour (Winter 1989), and paves the way to my efforts to show its
Chapter 3 Part 1
Explanations and justifications
As recorded I set out several years ago to ‘improve’ my students’ thinking. I now know
that my attitudes of that time reflected not only an ontological perspective in which I
saw myself as separate from and superior to my students, but also how my logics took a
propositional form. I valued certainty and knowing the ‘right’ way to do things, and,
while I believe I had a strong sense of justice and was outraged by any form of injustice,
I rarely questioned ‘the way things were’ in the world, why they should be so in the first
place, and, most importantly from a critical perspective, how I might be contributing to
the perpetuation of the existing situation.
I took as normative a view that schoolchildren needed to be ‘taught’ the ‘content of the
curriculum’, and my pedagogies relied heavily on and reproduced the ways in which I
had been taught and trained. I did not critique the assumptions inherent in educational
discourses about what constitutes education or knowledge generation. I did not ask
whose interests were being served by having a standardised national curriculum and
what might be the possible injustices in such a policy. Yet at the same time I kept
abreast of innovative educational practices: I attended professional development
courses, and read widely. However, I did not question why, for example, I am expected
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to absorb passively the abstract theory presented in an in-service lecture. I accepted
such normative practices unquestioningly.
Neither did I question the assumption that it was my responsibility to implement others’
theories. I did not question the logic that suggests that, because an educational theory
‘worked’ in one school or classroom, it should ‘work’ in another. When I tried out
others’ theories and could not replicate their findings, I attributed my failure to the fact
that perhaps I was ‘only a teacher’ or, because my students (at that time) were
considered ‘disadvantaged’, they could not be as ‘good’ as the people in the study.
An example of my efforts to implement one such theory occurred when I first tried
doing ‘Thinking Time’ (Donnelly 1994) in 1996. I had seen videos of children in
discussion and I was eager to do the same in my own classroom. I chose a topic that had
‘worked well’ in Donnelly’s context. When the discussion began, I was nervous and
unsure: my students sat uncomfortably in the circle and most ‘passed’ without speaking.
One child, a compassionate boy, asked: ‘Teacher, what do you want me to say?’ I don’t
remember what answer I gave, but I remember that I wanted him to ‘say’ something
that I hoped would be clever, similar to what children had said on the ‘Socrates for 6
year olds’ video (BBC TV 1990) and on Donnelly’s videos. I wanted a specific
outcome: I knew in advance what it was to be. When the children failed to produce it, I
was devastated. I desperately wanted to ‘improve’ my children, however, and continued
looking for ways to help them become ‘better’ thinkers. It did not occur to me back then
to consider studying my practice in order to improve it: I was ‘just’ a teacher, not a
researcher. I later reasoned that I had fallen into the trap of intellectual elitism, where I
positioned recognised theorists and myself in hierarchically-organised categories.
Intellectual elitism and the exclusion of practitioners
McNiff and Whitehead (2006 p.65) refer to the way in which academic elitism has
traditionally discouraged practitioner research, largely through presenting theory as an
abstract discipline (Pring 2000) and through communicating messages that practitioners
are unequipped to do research (D. McIntyre 1997). I agree with what McNiff and
Whitehead suggest, and I also believe that self-styled elitist academic groups can create
within practitioners what I earlier referred to as ‘internalised oppression’ (Tappan
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Furthermore, the development of internalised oppression by practitioners can also lead
to their exclusion. I now understand how teachers have traditionally been positioned by
the academy as Other, as practitioners upon whom studies can be carried out in the
interests of developing propositional theory. It is possible that teachers have contributed
to their own exclusion through their failure to claim their voice and by allowing others
to speak for them. When they allow others to theorise on their behalf, by interpreting
their words and actions for them, they are effectively colluding in the widespread
understanding that they have no voice or theory worth listening to.
Suresh Canagarajah’s (2002) arguments are also relevant for me as a primary teacher,
when he speaks about how texts construct and constitute knowledge and how the values
of the Western intellectual traditions are reflected in the conventions and practices of
academic communities:
… mainstream journals and their publishing practices are congenial to the
interests of center knowledge while proving recalcitrant to periphery
discourses; … academic writing/publishing functions as an important means of
legitimating and reproducing center knowledge.
(Suresh Canagarajah 2002 p.60)
Academic journals and publications are not easily accessed by ‘ordinary’ teachers.
Unless a teacher has access to a university library, she is obliged to purchase journal
articles at a prohibitive cost. However, unless a teacher knows about the journals in the
first place, and has some familiarity with the system, she will find the process difficult.
Teachers are effectively barred from academic discourses through such exclusion
strategies. Their voices, if heard at all, are generally mediated through the voice of a
researcher who has carried out a study ‘on’ them.
Without access to opportunities for carrying out insider research that could potentially
influence education policy-framing, teachers risk losing their autonomy and identity.
Education policy is formed without recourse to practitioner-research into what really
happens in living classrooms (see Apple 2001b). Several literatures exist in Britain, for
example, that point out the risks attached to the loss of teachers’ autonomy and the
expansion of a pervasive performative culture for teachers as well as for children.
Concern has been articulated over the increasingly managerial approach to education.
McNess et al. (2003) suggest that there is a ‘disjunction between policy and preferred
practice’ (p.256). Bernstein (1996) also suggests that performance models are
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dependent upon external regulation so that pedagogic practice is subordinated to an
‘external curriculum of selection, sequence, pacing and criteria of the transmission’
(Bernstein, 1996, p.62). According to Sultana (1994, cited in McNess et al. 2003 p.257)
the call for the raising of school standards and pupil attainment in predefined ways has
increasingly applied pressures for ‘performativity’ within teaching and learning. This
contrasts with a previous, more holistic model of teachers’ work by restricting their
ability to ‘creatively mediate’ external demands with regard to curriculum content and
pedagogic practice (p.256). In Ireland too, there is a growing push towards a
performance-oriented, transmission model of learning (Lynch 2006).
The view that education is simply another market commodity has become
normalised in policy and public discourses. Schools run purely as businesses
are a growing phenomenon.
(Lynch K. 2006 p.1)
The research that has influenced managerial-style education policy directives has most
likely been carried out with outsider and ‘objective’ researchers with no practitionerresearcher
involvement in or ownership of the research. Teachers, in this sense, are
powerless. This is borne out by Lynch and O’Neill (1994) who suggest that
professional researchers in the social sciences often exacerbate the powerlessness of
those they study (p.244). They argue that, without intent, researchers
… become colonizers…. [They] know and own part of people’s world about
which people themselves know very little. … It means that there are now
people who can claim to know you and understand you better than you
understand yourself: there are experts there to interpret your world and to speak
on your behalf. They take away your voice by speaking about you and for you.
(Lynch and O’Neill 1994, in Lynch 2001 pp.243-4)
I am not sure however, that I agree with the phrase ‘about which people themselves
know very little’: Lynch and O’Neill also appear to be positioning themselves here as
belonging to an elite who understand ‘what people know’ differently to how the
knowers understand it. From my perspective I would claim to know only what I know,
and even this is often incomplete and inchoate. I do not believe I have the right to claim
knowledge of what others know.
There is a paradox inherent within the Irish system, I believe, that places the current
performance-oriented, transmission model of education (Morgan 1998; Murphy 2004;
Government of Ireland 2005a) at odds with the aspirations of the 1999 Primary School
Curriculum (Government of Ireland 1999). The curriculum recommends a sociocultural
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model of education that claims to recognise and include the emotional and social
aspects necessary for learner-centred pedagogies (Introduction, Government of Ireland
1999 p.8). It emphasises activity and discovery with ‘the child as an active agent in his
or her own learning’ and promotes ‘celebrating the uniqueness of the child; ensuring the
development of each child’s potential (ibid). However, evidence exists that didacticism
is still a prevalent methodology in Irish schools (Conway 2000, 2002; Murphy 2004,
Government of Ireland 2005a, Government of Ireland 2005b). Through examining my
practice from the vantage point of over thirty years of experience within the Irish
system, along with almost ten years of action research since undertaking my MA
studies, I have now generated my own living theory of dialogic practice that has
significance for my practice and may have significance for teachers struggling to marry
these opposing education models.
Holding myself accountable for my practice
As reported, when I finally began my current research programme, I began to
reconceptualise my identity as ‘researcher’, but with a focus on studying my students
which meant that I was also adopting an outsider stance. I also failed to see the irony in
the fact that not only did I begin to research my students, I actually did so with a view to
‘improving’ them (Roche 2002a).
I have now come to hold a more inclusional perspective, and I can see that ‘improving
others’ is an outsider researcher stance, based on ontological values that position the
researcher as separate from her object of study. Over the course of this study I have
come to realise that, at best, all I can do is to examine my own values, and ground my
practice in them, so as to make an improvement in how I work, with the understanding
that my actions have the potential to influence others. This means that I have tried as far
as possible to hold myself accountable for my actions in relation with others to ensure
that I act with integrity in the interests of all in working towards sustainable educational
Separating the knower from the known
The traditional separation of the researcher from the object of study harks back to a
Cartesian perspective that attempts to ensure objectivity and value-free enquiry.
Descartes explained mind and body as separate entities and developed a form of
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analytic thinking, which splits complex phenomena into separate parts so as to
understand the behaviour of the whole from the property of its components (Capra
Social science researchers traditionally operate from such a spectator perspective.
People, especially children, are often perceived as Other, and from a frequently
patriarchal perspective.
… existing research gatekeeping systems tended to construct children as
dependent, in need of protection and as ‘human becomings.’
(Balen et al. 2006 p.29)
Seen from such a perspective children are often viewed as ‘potential’ citizens, or as
‘human becomings’ (Balen ibid), rather than human ‘beings’. For me, processes of
‘becoming’ seem to take the form of a dialectical relationship between ‘being’ and
‘non-being’. Childhood is assumed to be a stage on the way to being a finished and
complete person. Like Freire (1972), I believe that people are always ‘unfinished,
uncompleted beings, in and with a likewise unfinished reality’ (pp.56-7). My
ontological commitments hold within themselves the idea of improving myself as a
person, and my educational values are about inviting others to help themselves to
become better persons also. This is not the same as ‘improving other people’, the stance
I initially adopted.
I no longer view my students as components in a homogenous group who belong to a
state named ‘childhood’. Like Moss (2002), I raise critical questions about the meaning
of the term ‘childhood’:
What is our image or understanding of the child? What is our image or
understanding of institutions for young children?
(Moss 2002 p.439)
These understandings would appear to resonate also with Korczak:
… the teacher-researcher should not treat the child as a research object or as a
means in what Buber (1947) called an “I-it” relationship. The purpose of
research should not serve any interest except that of the child, who should be
treated as a unique human being that deserves full respect. “Children . . . are
people – not people to be, not people of the future, not people of tomorrow, but
people now . . . right now . . . today”
(Korczak, 1914/1967b, p. 254, cited in Efron 2005 p.148)
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For me, each child in my classroom is a unique individual with whom I am in relation.
The quality of that relationship is influenced by many factors including my ontological
stance which positions me as in relation with others. I have puzzled over the concepts
of ‘Other’ and ‘other’ for a long time, and I have now arrived at the understanding that I
try to see my students not as ‘Other’, a term that I understand to mean ‘not like me,
different from me’, but as ‘other’, which I understand as ‘people who are like me but
who are themselves unique individuals in relationship with other unique individuals’. I
acknowledge the influence of McNiff with Whitehead (2006) on my thinking.
Prevailing social policy discourses, on the other hand, appear to see children as Other.
Haavind (2005) suggests that such discourses ignore the idea that children may have
any ability to speak for themselves. Like me she feels that methods must be developed
to enable children’s voices to be heard.
When children are seen one-sidedly as dependent, vulnerable and malleable,
the idea that they may have perspectives beyond their immediate existence is
simply ruled out. The same holds for any notion of the child as in a preparatory
stage since such a conceptualization would frame their present subjectivity as
oriented to a not-yet-existing future.
(Haavind 2005 p.149)
Haavind (2005) also suggests that children will in all cases be better served if they are
able to voice their opinion (p.144).
Emphasis on the child as an individual should not be interpreted as
disconnection from the child. Rather, relational qualities help constitute
individual performance. When children are equipped with the abilities to
represent themselves and to explore options, figure out plans and make
decisions on behalf of themselves, these capacities have been confirmed
through a web of interrelation.
(Haavind 2005 p.144)
Insights such as these now inform how I work and how I perceive the purpose of the
institution in which I work, which should be to provide opportunities for children and
staff to realise their capacity to think critically and interpret their world for themselves.
Towards a living theory of practice
I have recounted so far how, for much of my life, I thought in propositional ways, and
have come only recently, through my improving capacity to reflect critically, to take
action on my own processes of thinking and thereby critique my previous propositional
stance. ‘Critical reflection is also action,’ according to Freire (1972 p.99). I learned that
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it was not sufficient to ask only operational and procedural questions around improving
my practice. I also had to interrogate my ontological, epistemological and
methodological assumptions. In this respect, the work of Freire (1972) also resonates
with both the ontological perspectives of action research, which became my preferred
methodology, and with my educational values.
Education as the practice of freedom – as opposed to education as the practice
of domination – denies that man [sic] is abstract, isolated, independent, and
unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart
from men. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world
without men, but men in their relations with the world.
(Freire 1972 p.54)
Having moved away from a propositional to a more critical stance, in which I was
beginning to see the need for a critical self-perspective, I seriously considered the idea
of first-person enquiry (Marshall 2004), or self-study action research (McNiff and
Whitehead 2006). For me, self-study action research makes moral and ethical sense,
because it enables me to see my ‘I’ in relation with many other ‘I’s’ who are also in
company with many others – ‘a community of “I’s”’ (McNiff and Whitehead, 2006 p.
25). Epistemologically, self-study makes sense for me because I have come to see
knowledge as something inseparable from me as a knower.
The idea of a living theory of practice is premised on the idea that the ‘I’ is the centre of
educational enquiry, and that all individuals are capable of offering their own account of
practice, comprising their descriptions and explanations, to show how they address the
question, ‘How do I improve my practice?’ (Whitehead 1989a), and so hold themselves
morally accountable for their practice. Such accounts come to stand as their living
educational theories (McNiff 2007). This idea challenges traditional orthodoxies and
power structures about knowledge and knowers, and places the practitioner-researcher
at the centre of the research process. Consequently, living theories generated from
practice-based research can now be seen to be located in the researchers themselves as
they go about their practice in workplace contexts.
McNiff (2007) sees knowledge as relational in that, while the practitioner-researcher is
the centre of the enquiry, they are always in company with others. The processes of
learning, according to McNiff, have the potential to transform and evolve into new
knowledge. These ideas about the generative transformational and relational aspects of
living theory have implications for my practice as I seek ways of working that are
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inclusional, invitational and respectful of the other. Because living theory places moral
responsibility on practitioners to hold themselves accountable for their practices, the
ideas of relational knowledge and generative transformational processes have moral and
ethical connotations that weave issues of social justice through the fabric of my living
Bakhtin, as reported by Holquist, also acknowledges the existence of the ‘living I’:
Much as Peter Pan’s shadow is sewn to his body, ‘I’ is the needle that stitches
the abstraction of language to the particularity of lived experience. And much
the same structure insures that in all aspects of life dialogue can take place
between the chaotic and particular centrifugal forces of subjectivity and the
rule-driven, generalizing centripetal forces of the extra-personal system.
(Holquist 2002 p.28)
Holquist (2002) also suggests that Bakhtin’s dialogism is ‘relentlessly relational’ and ‘is
a way of looking at things that always insists on the presence of the other’ (p.195).
However, according to Holquist (op cit) Bakhtin located his work in the idea of ‘the
inescapable necessity of outsideness and unfinalizability’ (Holquist 2002 p.195). While
I would agree with the idea of ‘unfinalizability’, because living theory is about
continuity in evolutionary processes, I would also argue that living theory is firmly
located in the idea of insideness. The living theory I generate is ongoing and is worked
out dialogically from within my practice through processes of communication with my
own critical reflection on action, and with others who have been invited to participate in
the process.
Reaching these understandings has enabled me to appreciate my own capacity for
personal and social transformation. I have become aware of my own transformational
power. Power is frequently construed negatively. It can be used to control and shape
behaviour (Foucault 1980), or to gain dominance over others. Power can also be used
productively to improve the human condition (Kincheloe and Berry 2004). I now
understand how I can use the power of my deeper critical awareness to generate
explanations for my actions, and in turn use that power to influence the education of
social formations (Whitehead 2004a).
Therefore, in constructing explanations for my professional practice I have found it
necessary to clarify for myself the meanings of my ontological and epistemological
values by showing their emergence in action (Whitehead 1989a p.6), and I have done
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this by immersing myself in the process of taking action grounded in critical selfreflection.
I have found, like Mellor (1998) that the methodology is the process and the
process is the methodology.
A vignette from practice
Aware, always, of the need to produce validated evidence to test and hopefully support
my claims to knowledge, I now offer one vignette from my archive to illustrate how I
learned about my practice from reflection-on-action (Schön 1983) and from dialectical
engagement with both a piece of data (a videoed excerpt of practice), and with the
critique of others.
On 23-07-04 I showed a videoed classroom discussion to a group of critical friends
from my study-group. I hoped to show them that my students were adept talkers and
thinkers. I knew what I wanted the group to see. I thought it would be unambiguous.
However, I later wrote in my journal:
When the tape ended P said, ‘First off what strikes me is the way you
take this so much for granted – little 5 and 6 year olds discussing and
thinking and listening. It’s amazing! You are so used to it you don’t
even see how amazing that is in itself!’ (RD 23-07-04)
This was significant for my learning. I realized I had been so busy looking at tapes and
transcripts for specific data, that I often ignored the larger potential significance of my
practice. I wrote:
The questions that strike me now that I didn’t think of asking P are:
a) Why should the idea of little children in dialogue be ‘amazing?’ What
assumptions are being made here about the idea of children engaging in
b) What is considered to be ‘normal’ classroom practice so that my
practice looks ‘amazing’? (RD 23-07-04)
Reflecting on these issues afterwards led me to research literatures around issues of how
teacher talk can silence children, and to critical pedagogues like Apple (1979),
Kincheloe (2004), and McLaren (1986) who aim to challenge injustices in traditional
forms of pedagogy.
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C said that she thought, and the others agreed, that even though video
can be a very powerful visual medium for demonstrating what the
written word can’t – facial expression, body language, voice timbre – it
was not until I provided explanations for my actions that the picture
became more complete. (RD 23-07-04)
On reflection, I realised that this has implications for my methodology because an
outsider observing my practice might not have interpreted my actions accurately. (This
episode had significance for my later examination of appropriate forms of
representation of my data).
M commented that I seemed to allow two children in particular a lot of
speaking time. She wondered if this was unfair to the other children.
I explained how both children Sh and Eo, were struggling
‘academically’. While they were obviously articulate and intelligent and
showed this in the video, I explained that I knew from their performance
in traditional workbook activities, and from my thirty years of classroom
experience, that when standardised test time came around they would
I explained how I felt that such technically rational assessment
procedures were unjust because they failed to recognise the whole
intelligence of a child, while marginalising those whose learning
strengths did not match those valued by the assessment. (RD 23-07-04)
When I reflected on this episode I realised that I was beginning to develop my living
theory of practice. I had offered a description of what was happening, by means of a
visual narrative. Now I was offering an explanation for my practice in relation to my
decisions. However, closer reflection shows me now what I failed to see then, that I had
been acting out of my values of justice and care and that these values may have been
embodied in my practice longer than I realized but had not been made explicit until
In another section of the video a child struggled to articulate a thought
and took some time to speak. C asked me why I hadn’t intervened to
help him.
I replied that I felt he would get there by himself and I wanted to let him
try at least.
C asked me why I felt that this was important.
I explained that I have made a conscious effort to give children time to
think. In the past I didn’t always wait long enough for children to
answer. I have tried to improve my practice in this respect. (RD 23-07-
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I found evidence in the literatures to support the view that teachers often do not wait for
children to answer (Galton et al. 1980, 1999; Goodlad 1984, Walker and Adelman
1975, Wragg and Brown 2001). In this way, teachers use their power as the authority
figure in the classroom to control and dominate classroom discourse. However, some
children invoke their own power and choose to use this to their advantage (Devine
2003, Holt 1964). As reported earlier, recent studies of Irish primary schools show that
didacticism remains sufficiently dominant to cause concern for the ‘active learning’
recommendations of the 1999 Primary School Curriculum (Conway 2000, 2002;
Murphy 2004, Government of Ireland 2005a, 2005b). This, I maintain, is an area of my
research that could have significant implications for policy and practice in Irish
When I later reflected on the process of showing the video to my critical friends in July
2004, I realised that the video could be described as a visual narrative of the
transformation of my learning (McNiff and Whitehead 2006). Here was visual evidence
of me embodying values of justice and care in practice, as I offer this research-based
account to show how caring pedagogical practices can improve the quality of learning
experience for children.
I am aware, however, that the kinds of claims I am making here need to be tested
against the critical responses of others. I have already recounted how I invited the
critical responses of my study group to my claims, and I have also come to see this
process of dialogically-grounded critique as a form of knowledge creation in itself. New
learning emerged for myself and my colleagues. One subsequently wrote:
I learned a lot from the conversation regarding your video. I realised that
sometimes, I don’t always appreciate the significance of what I am
doing in my practice until I hear it from others … When we all engaged
together in that validation exercise, I took a lot of notes and have since
looked at episodes of my own practice with new eyes. (RD email from
BL 03-09-04) (Further examples of such critical responses can be found
in Appendix B.3.)
My living theory is explicitly rooted in my embodied values of care, freedom and
justice. Rather than excluding others or dominating others through prescriptive practices
I aim to develop a form of critical practice that is grounded in logics of inclusion and
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freedom. This, I felt, was well exemplified in my response to my colleague’s earlier
comment in relation to my providing space for a child to think before speaking.
C said that she felt that this was an extremely important explanation
because it provided an insight into how I work towards including all
children democratically as active and equal co-participants with me.
The others agreed that the episode shown certainly tested my claim that
in my classroom children have freedom to speak, freedom from
coercion, freedom to be silent and that I provided adequate description
and explanation for my actions. (RD 23-07-04)
This episode is significant also because previously I had not theorised how my actions
could be a realisation of my values. Now I could see that these values inform my
practical professional decisions. I began then to look with new critical eyes at other data
and I began to appreciate Geertz’s (1973) emphasis on the need for ‘thick’ descriptions
of data. I saw that it is important not only to describe episodes and support them with
case study material but also to locate my arguments within my conceptual frameworks,
such as why I believed I should adopt caring and nurturing practices and the nature of
the relationships between my ideas of care and nurturing and critical thinking.
The dialectic between making sense of my practice and my growing critical awareness
meant that I began to see myself as an integral part of the practice I am studying. I
became a living participant in my own knowledge creation process (Bohm 2004). This
dialectic also enables new problem-posing forms of practice (Freire 1972).
I have come to see how dialogue plays an essential role in the development of my living
theory of education. I now understand education to be about learning how to live a
moral life and how to make choices that value the inclusion of the other. I believe too
that education is about learning to learn, and about learning to think for oneself through
dialogic processes. Because my educational values are premised upon democratic
practices and dialogue, I now understand more fully that education should be about
non-coercive practices. Thus I now have begun to see my role as a teacher much as
Freire (1972) described, as one of inviting others to share in knowledge generation
through dialogue. In this account I attempt to explain how my values have inspired and
provoked me to change the way I was working so as to become what I consider to be a
‘better’ teacher by employing dialogical pedagogies. The focus of the research is on me,
as I deliberately reconceptualised my identity and transformed myself into a more
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critically aware thinker, through the dialogical process of helping my children also to
become critical thinkers.
I now turn to the more practical elements of my research design and its
Chapter 3 Part 2
Practical issues
Mellor (1998) speaks of the search for a methodology as a most confusing process:
I have toyed with the metaphors of a journey, a garden, ‘buying the
thingamygig’ and ‘hunting the snark’, but that which most closely embodies
the development of this undertaking, with its dead ends, confusions, shifts in
focus and occasional fruits of publication, is the unusual, but nonetheless
extremely successful growth of the banyan tree.
(Mellor 1998 p.467)
Similarly, for much of my study, I had ‘no research question and no clear method’
(Mellor 2001 p.465). I was ‘working without rules in order to find out the rules of what
[I]’ve done’ (ibid). Initially I found the situation destabilising because no definitive
‘method’ exists for self-study action research. I wanted definition, clear answers, and a
‘right’ procedure to follow. I floundered in the methodological freedom I had, and, as
Freire (1972 p.23) described, I preferred the security of conformity with [my] state of
unfreedom to the creative communion produced by and even the very pursuit of
Guidelines to the methodological process of action research enquiry exist, particularly
in the works of McNiff and Whitehead (McNiff 1988, 2002; McNiff et al. 1996,
McNiff and Whitehead 2006, McNiff with Whitehead 2002) but like Mellor (1998) I
hunted several ‘snarks’ before realising that I was researching myself and my practice,
and finally understanding that the process of the methodology itself was in its practise.
The finding of the questions was itself more important than the questions
themselves. … I eventually came to accept that my struggle in the swamp was
the method, not a path to find a better method … I was struggling to find a
methodology … which I could ‘own’ – which did not fragment the complex
whole of my own lived experience and my values.
(Mellor 1998 p.462)
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Mellor’s (2001) look at the ‘untidy realities of research’ was also consoling as I
gradually came to a new understanding of what theory and evidence and claims to
knowledge meant, as I struggled to write up my research account. I had to free myself
from the ‘tyranny of method’ (Thomas 1998 p.151) and the internalised oppression of
feeling unequipped as a researcher, because I could find no clear path to enquiry.
I began to see myself as constantly changing and recreating my identity as I investigate
what I do. An initial focus on why I was uneasy about the dilemmas of practice now
refocused into how I could improve my practice in relation to how I might improve the
current situation for the benefit of myself and others who share my institutional context.
I began by identifying my values. I took these as the guiding explanatory principles for
my research. The core values I identified were those of care, freedom and justice. I
wondered whether I was living these values in my practice. I decided that I would
gather data in relation to these values. Could I show episodes of practice that
demonstrated me living in the direction of these values, and transform those data into a
strong evidence base against which I would test the validity of my claims to
knowledge? Because I was developing my critical capacity, I found myself asking
questions such as, ‘Why am I telling this story from my data and not another story?
What have I learned from this incident? What am I learning now as I critique it and
what can I learn from other critical incidents of practice?’ For example, as I examined a
videoed classroom discussion to note incidents of where children disagreed or agreed
with me or with peers, I saw that initially, I had been looking at superficial aspects of
practice rather than providing critical explanations.
I notice that I seem to be taking it for granted that it is significant and
important to show that children have the freedom to agree or disagree. I
need to explain why it is important to me to show that a child has
disagreed with me. Critical questions might include:
Who is traditionally allowed to disagree in a classroom? Why do I feel
that the idea of a child disagreeing with a teacher is so noteworthy?
Why do I think that this is significant? What does this tell me about
perhaps, inherent assumptions around power in the classroom? (RD 25-
This is a very different approach to general social science methodologies. The data
gathering methods may be similar, but the approach is different in that I am the one who
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interprets my practice and theorises it to generate my own living theory of practice. I
therefore ask questions of my data such as: Why do I feel that a child disagreeing with
me is noteworthy? Why do I feel that the idea of children disagreeing with a teacher is
so noteworthy? (Video Link: Disagreeing with teacher).
As I researched my practice I systematically gathered data about how I gradually
deepened my own critical awareness. My data gathering techniques involved the use of
a reflective diary, audio and videotape recordings of myself in interaction with the
children, and records from, and email correspondence with critical friends and
validation groups. I was therefore able to capture the rich complexity of the different
stages of my research. For example, I was able to reflect critically on this diary entry
drawn from early draft writing.
Choosing action research self-study as a methodology within which to
frame an enquiry into my practice emerges first of all from my
ontological stance, which is the way in which I perceive myself in the
world. This standpoint influences how I relate to others as well as
informing how my epistemological values have evolved. (RD 15-01-06)
The sentence rankled with me each time I read over it. I felt it was too glib in that it did
not represent the struggle to come to an understanding of these concepts. My research
diary became a rich source of evidence.
Email correspondence also enabled me to record my own processes of coming to know.
For example, here is an email record of correspondence with my supervisor that clearly
communicates this process of struggle and confusion.
Think about the patterns you are communicating here. You seem to be
focusing on the general patterns of other people’s thinking, without
acknowledging that you are a core piece of that pattern.
Where are you in this? (RD email from J 10-07-05)
It seems that I was so deeply embedded in propositional logics that I could not see for
myself where I was experiencing myself as a living contradiction (Whitehead 1989). I
tried repeatedly to articulate my ontological stance as I understood it. My reply shows
my emerging new understanding although I still seem to reify the concept of critical
© Mary Roche 2007
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Let’s see if I’ve made it a little clearer for myself: I knew I ought to be
writing about my practice and I knew I wanted to write about critical
thinking but what was happening was that I was trying to link them
I now see that I ought to be writing about my practice in relation to
issues about critical thinking and I ought to be writing about critical
thinking insofar as it relates to my practice – not in isolation from each
other. (RD email to J 16-07-05)
Gradually I saw why I had been so inarticulate: methodologically, I had been
researching my practice as though it were ‘out there’ separate from me. I had failed to
see that I was part of the situation that I was investigating.
It took a long time for me to understand that the knowledge I generate for myself is
always going to be temporary and uncertain, and even longer before I saw my
reflections, problem-posing, difficulties and tentative solutions as ‘knowledge’. I
considered that what I produced was less than ‘knowledge’ and certainly less than
‘theory’. It took me several years to understand that the ‘answer’ to ‘how can I improve
my practice?’ lies in the way I live through my practice in relation to my educational
By carefully monitoring and recording my process of enquiry, I have a clear record of
my emergent understandings about the politics of knowledge, as well as my own
capacity for knowledge generation. As reported earlier, traditionally, ownership of
theory resided in the academy. I can now claim ownership of my own capacity for
theory generation because I am explaining how I became competent as a researcher
who can provide a valid evidence base against which to test my emergent living
theories of practice. I can explain the process through which I have reconceptualised my
identity as both researcher and practitioner. I have established my epistemological voice
as I realise my capacity to know my own educational development. I have also grown
into my methodological voice because I have had to adapt and innovate, as I have
created my own methodology, and because I am an active agent in the process of
enquiry into my practice. There are no ‘models’ for this process because every process
of self-study enquiry is distinctive to the unique enquirer. Each person has to work it out
for herself.
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6 9
As my research progressed, I began to use other data gathering methods such as case
study, narrative in the form of vignettes from practice, photography, video and audio
recording, transcripts of dialogues with children, research diary and field notes,
informal interviews and written validations by observers of classroom practice, critical
friends, parents, students and colleagues. When I came to generating evidence from my
data, I identified specific criteria and standards of judgement in relation to my values,
and I showed how the values themselves transformed into those criteria and standards
of judgement.
Research design
When I speak about my research design, I mean it in the sense of how I have organised
my research process to pursue a systematic enquiry. The thesis follows the form of this
research design, in that the various chapters offer a narrative account of what happened
as the research process unfolded. Of special note is the idea that I came to see how my
research was not just about taking action within a social situation, but also about
reflecting on the reasons and purposes of that action. I try to communicate this through
the written form of this thesis.
In Chapters 4 and 5, I offer a narrative account of the processes of action, and also show
how these processes were informed by a range of factors, including my critical
engagement with the literatures. In Chapters 6, 7 and 8, I offer a narrative account of
how I reflected on the action, and came to see that I had organized my research in terms
of three action reflection cycles.
Therefore, although at the beginning of my research, I had a notion of how it might
develop, my research process unfolded through taking action and reflecting on the
action, and then using my reflections to inform new action.
However, I needed to start somewhere, so I took as my starting point the action plan
outlined in McNiff and Whitehead (2006 p.8). This action plan now acts as a
retrospective checklist of whether or not my research process has been systematic and
has achieved methodological rigour, for the purposes of testing the validity of my
claims to knowledge, as follows:
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• Had I taken stock of what was going on in my practice and identified a
Yes. I examined my context and I recognised that the education process for my students
was largely grounded in didactic pedagogies that sought to deliver propositional
knowledge into the allegedly empty heads of students. A concern emerged that children
were frequently being denied opportunities to demonstrate their capacity to think and
generate knowledge for themselves. The concern was to do with my emergent
understanding that, as well as denying children freedom, such an educational model
meant that social justice and care for the other were being denied. My concern was that
I was colluding in this unjust situation despite holding values that espoused a different
and more democratic kind of education for children, and that I was therefore
experiencing myself as a living contradiction (Whitehead 1989a). I also began to
perceive that teachers also were often silenced by curricula and syllabi that were
prescriptive and propositional. I saw then that through doing this study I was changing
that situation for myself and possibly for others. I came to see that the micro practice in
my classroom had potential for change at a larger macro societal level.
• Did I identify my concerns?
Yes. I articulated my values of care, freedom and justice, and saw how I was not living
in the direction of these values and how, despite rhetoric to the contrary, what was
demanded by the curriculum and syllabi of the primary school also contributed to this
denial of my values. I examined my personal context to identify where these values
came from and I saw how I had been denied freedom to think and learn in ways that
were appropriate for me when I was a student. I recognised that systematising the
education process through managing and controlling it has resulted largely in a
technical rational approach to the assessment of children, the inspection of teachers and
schools and the potential overcoming of educational values by industrial commercial
values (Lynch 2006, McNess et al. 2003, Whitehead 1989a p.3). I saw that within
bureaucratic systems, people can become units to be controlled and managed. Learning
to think for oneself, I realised, is a key initial step towards nurturing a more open and
humane society where social systems such as education can be interrogated and
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• Did I try to think of a possible way forward?
Yes. Initially I decided to look for ways of introducing more opportunities for dialogue
in my classroom. I researched and implemented classroom discussion through Thinking
Time (Donnelly 1994). I looked at what I was learning about my practice and I asked
myself, ‘How do I do it better?’
• Did I monitor the action by gathering data to show what was happening?
Yes. I kept transcripts of all discussions. I kept field notes and a reflective diary and I
recorded conversations with students, parents, colleagues and observers. I made tape
and video recordings, and I transcribed considerable amounts. These data can be found
in my appendices and data archive.
• Did I evaluate progress by establishing procedures for making judgements
about what was happening?
Yes. After doing Thinking Time for a few years I saw that while it certainly helped to
encourage dialogue and thinking as well as engendering a sense of cohesion and trust in
my classroom, I began to develop my practice by asking more critical questions and
pushing for higher-order thinking without taking away control from the children. I saw
too that I was changing my pedagogical style within the classroom generally and
outside of ‘Thinking Time’ sessions to allow for a more dialogical practice.
I believe that I am showing here how my enquiry was systematic and methodologically
rigorous (Winter 1989). As noted earlier, this was never a tidy process and involved
considerable anxiety and frustration. Given that I began writing parts of my research
report in 2002, correspondence with my supervisor and early writing attempts
demonstrate that coming to a clear understanding of what my research was about took
three years. Despite having collected large amounts of data, and having sent many
thousands of words in written drafts to my supervisor, it is clear that the rigorous
process I have outlined above took time to conceptualise and take living form. At
different times I thought I was researching classroom dialogue, educational policy,
institutional change, technical rationality, issues of domination and control, and feminist
ideas. These conceptual frameworks all had relevance for my study in relation to its
values base, yet, while I had read copiously and widely and tried to engage critically
© Mary Roche 2007
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with what the various writers had to say, it took a long time to see where my practice
could be incorporated. It took considerable struggle to move from writing about these
issues and about my practice. To give a flavour of the struggle, here is an episode of
email and telephone correspondence that communicates my frequent bouts of despair.
Following yet another unsuccessful attempt at theorising my practice, I received this
email from my supervisor.
I do appreciate what you are saying and I think you are on the right
track. But, rather than talk about your practice and about critical
thinking, can you show how you came to be a critical thinker? (RD
email from J.16-07-05)
After this exchange I spoke with a critical friend on the phone and explained how
frustrated I felt, because, while I was certain that I was offering an account of my
practice from an insider perspective, my supervisor saw that I was still adopting a
propositional stance.
Me: Isn’t my practice reflected in what the children are doing and
saying? So why is talking about my practice somehow wrong?
B: look at what you’re doing now in relation to Thinking Time
etc…what’s different? Why not write about that?
Me: But I’ve been doing that…I’ve written about all the new learning
I’ve had since I started to think more critically…in fact J says I now
sound angry and polemical! But that’s probably because I feel I’ve been
hoodwinked for years – I never realised any of this stuff before.
B: Well that’s new then…so is that new learning changing any part of
your practice?
Me: … Yes, I am more critical of the curriculum and I see how I need to
somehow encourage the children to begin to ask those questions too.
It’s not enough to just do Thinking Time… that’s so obvious to me now.
B: What is so obvious?
Me: I can show that I do things differently because I’m different now…
….I am thinking more critically about curriculum, education – that’s
what’s different! Me! (RD conversation with BL 16-07-05)
At this point I felt I had at last begun to capture a sense of what was at the heart of my
research. However, still lacking confidence, I needed to be sure that I was correct in
thinking that I could study my growing critical awareness of what I was doing as a
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teacher in relation with my students, as well as studying my students in relation to my
teaching. The next email exchange went as follows:
… I would appreciate your advice about a piece of writing, some of
which you saw during our tutorial in UL. It’s the piece where I talk
about teaching children to be critical thinkers as opposed to teaching
critical thinking. (RD email 17-07-05)
‘My particular area of interest for this thesis is in the area of teaching
young children to do critical thinking or, more correctly, encouraging
them to be critical thinkers. … ‘teaching critical thinking’ has overtones
of a transmission pedagogical model whereas ‘encouraging students to
be critical thinkers’ is more in line with my values because I do not seek
to indoctrinate but to invite children to think for themselves. …
Throughout I show how I have now transformed my own thinking and
have become more critical in that I have developed from being an
unquestioning follower of rules into a more critical stance.’ (RD excerpt
from work emailed to J. 17-07-05)
My supervisor’s reply confirmed for me that I was at last moving closer to the issues
that were core to my study:
I think you are moving to the heart of the matter. Your study has
evolved into how you have made yourself into a critical thinker, how
you have created your own identity as a critical thinker, rather than only
teach your children how to do something. … Your study is about your
own education, your own growth in understanding, as you contributed to
your children’s education, their growth in understanding. (RD email
reply from J. 17-07-05)
Given that I began my studies in 2001, it can be seen that I had been slow in grasping
that what I was really researching was my capacity to know my own educational
development (Whitehead 1989). Now it was becoming clearer.
Developing the capacity to articulate the potential significance of my research
One of the issues I grappled with when beginning to write this section, was justifying
why I felt that action research self-study was the most appropriate framework to
describe and explain my personal living theory of education (Whitehead 1989a). Selfreflection
and the possible confrontation of negative or problematic aspects of one’s
practice can be deeply destabilizing, as I have explained. Facing the ‘experiencing [of]
oneself as a living contradiction’ (Whitehead 1989a) requires courage and honesty, if
one is improve one’s practice. Balaban (1995) states that ‘possibly the most
© Mary Roche 2007
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treacherous aspect of teaching occurs when teachers face themselves’ (in Ayers 1995
Despite being involved in education for over thirty years, I have only now come to
understand that forms of educational practice can be influenced by the forms of theory
they engage (McNiff 2005a). My form of educational practice has been influenced by
the understanding that my epistemology has been informed by my ontological stance.
However, relinquishing my dependence on the certainty of propositional forms of logic
for the more unbounded and fluid nature of dialectical logics took courage and struggle,
because there had been security in relying on others’ thinking. A traditional research
study would have provided security in the form of clear structure. The freedom to
develop my own methodology felt destabilising for about three years of my study. For
almost fifty years of life I had become used to the safety net of prescription: I had been
told what to think as a child and as a student and even as a teacher. ‘Teacher-proof’
manuals and programmes ensured that I had little autonomy about the syllabus of my
daily schedule. Timetables and bells order my school day. The curriculum and the
textbooks prescribe what is to be taught. However, I now recognise that there can be
more tyranny than security in prescription. Freire (1972) describes prescription as ‘one
of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed’ (pp.23-4).
The methodology of self-study represents freedom in that there is no prescribed
‘method’ or design. But for a long time I was reluctant or unable to grasp or celebrate
that freedom.
Yet the reluctance was mainly in relation to learning how to develop an explanatory
framework for my practice, not to developing the practice itself. I paid considerable
attention to improving my capacity for awareness of my own critical pedagogies. To
provide data for this improvement in pedagogical practice I refer to the fact that I
frequently received letters from parents, and evaluations from observers in my
classroom, that suggest I have an invitational rather than coercive pedagogic style.
… We have seen a huge improvement in [P]’s self-confidence, in
particular, and his Maths (and attitude to same) has come on in leaps and
bounds. You also opened his eyes to new areas of interest – history,
science and even politics spring to mind! (RD extract from end-of-year
card dated ‘June 2006’; Appendix B.8.c.)
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Over the years I had often received testimonies from parents that I had ‘seen their child
as a person’ and ‘brought out the best in them’ (see Roche 2000b; Appendices B.8.a.–
e.). I had never given these comments and letters much thought, other than to feel
pleased that I had perhaps touched someone’s life in a positive way. It is only now that I
see how these testimonies can act as strong evidence, in that they reflect the living
demonstration of my embodied ontological and pedagogical values.
This is the first time in five years that E. has actually been happy going
to school each day…. You brought out the best in him and saw him as a
person in his own right. (Extract from letter from parent 25-06-05)
You share experience. During my first year out of college I learned more
and gained more valuable insights into what education is all about from
working in a partnership with you than I did in my four and a half years
in college … and the things I learned could not be written down in a text
book. (Extract from letter from colleague D 22-02-05)
Thank you for being a very kind teacher. You are not bossy. You make
school fun. I liked being in your class. (Extract from end-of-year card
The data I have offered here would seem to indicate that I may have tacitly held
embodied ontological values of seeing myself in relationship with others, while not
fully understanding that I did so. I have now deliberately developed dialogical
pedagogies because, through researching theories of the Other (Buber 1965, Benhabib
1987, Bohm 1987, 1998, 2004; Derrida 1964, 1978; Habermas 2001), I see now that
dialogical practices are more harmonious with my ontological stance. For example
when I relate to my students socially in ordinary conversation, which Noddings (2002)
deems as essential to educative practice, ‘the very heart of moral education’ (p.126), I
believe I am engaging in a form of practice that recognises the other as an equal, as onein-
relation with me.
From my rigorous methodological processes, I am now claiming that I have developed
a deeper understanding of my practice as grounded in educative relationships. This idea
is drawn from several sources, (e.g. Dewey 1934, Freire 1972, McNiff 2000, 2005b), as
well as from my own reflections on practice. I view educative relationships as processes
in which people help each other to grow in terms of their own capacity for independent
thinking and personal growth, and in which they allow each other to do the same. My
influence could be seen as being oriented towards helping myself and others, including
my students and my colleagues, to understand that each of us has the capacity for
© Mary Roche 2007
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independence of mind and creativity of spirit. As such the influence that I exercise is
ultimately aimed at enabling others to be free. My practice of encouraging children to
exercise their capacity to think for themselves involves helping my students to become
free of me. An episode that illustrates this emerging freedom occurred as my Senior
Infant class was about to go home following a discussion on ‘rainbows and reality’ that
had lasted for more than an hour and that had amazed me (and two observers) in its
intensity and depth.
As he put on his coat 5 year old Eo said ‘Guess what, Teacher, I am
going home with just so many questions in my head!’ I said that I
thought that was good: after all, ‘That’s what school is for – asking
questions and thinking about possible answers.’ Ao, also 5, then said,
‘and if you go home with a question and you get an answer to your
question, you can always question the answer.’ (RD 27-02-04; full
transcript in Appendix C.5.)
This last comment is, perhaps, the most significant piece of data in my research.
Questioning the answer has become a normal practice in my classrooms. I question
answers and the children question answers. In the course of our discussions the children
frequently disagree with me and explain why. My data excerpts (below) bear this out.
‘I think that willpower is just something that you need to do and you’re
trying to do it, so Teacher, you could be right or you could be wrong.’
(P) (RD from video of Frog and Toad’s ‘Willpower’ 26-04-06).
‘I disagree with Teacher because it mightn’t look funny on someone
else: it might only look funny on him.’ (D)
‘I disagree with Teacher because the story said “you look funny in the
swimsuit”, not “the swimsuit looks funny on you”.’ (DB) (RD from
video of The Swimsuit (Lobel 1992) 22-05-06) (Video Link: I disagree
with Teacher…).
I want to return to the idea of testing my claims to knowledge, to establish their validity.
I agree with Whitehead that
Questions of validity are fundamentally important in all research which is
concerned with the generation and testing of theory.
(Whitehead 1989b p.47)
A number of writers indicate the importance of establishing the validity of research
claims. McNiff and Whitehead (2006) state that producing evidence is ‘a rigorous
process which involves making a claim to knowledge, establishing criteria and
© Mary Roche 2007
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standards of judgement, selecting data and generating evidence’ (p.148). According to
Bullough and Pinnegar (2001), increasing the quality and validity of self-study means
paying attention to and making public the ways that one constructs representations of
research and the processes by which one aims to establish its validity. Lomax (1994)
suggested that validity in action research is about being able to make a reasonable case
for one’s research claims before an educated audience of peers. She identifies nine
criteria that she considers to be necessary qualities of educational research (p.14):
• It is always tentative
• It has an ethical dimension
• It is self-developing
• It is practical
• It is authentic
• It is democratic
• It has rigour
• It is holistic
• It is influential
Hartog (2004) used these nine criteria as a framework for the development of standards
of judgement against which she tested her claim to knowledge (pp.81-2). When
Whitehead (1989a) argued the case for practitioners to study the development of their
own learning he said that ‘researchers need to know what to use as the unit of appraisal
and the standards of judgement in order to test a claim to educational knowledge’ and
he suggested that ‘the unit of appraisal is the individual’s claim to know his or her
educational development’ (p.3). In more recent work (Whitehead 2004a) he has
clarified the nature of living standards of judgement for testing the quality of practicebased
To test the rigour of my methodology and the validity of my claim to knowledge I have
chosen the two overarching questions below as my principal organising framework in
© Mary Roche 2007
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systematising the process of how I have come to know my own educational
• In relation to my claim, have I identified the standards of judgement I use to
establish what counts as evidence for my claim to knowledge and how did I
arrive at them?
• In relation to my methodology, can I demonstrate that my work is authentic, just
and trustworthy, and have I made my enquiry methods transparent and subjected
my claims to my own critique as well as to the critique of others?
Traditional normative criteria for judging the validity of research methodologies
suggest that research must, among other qualities, display replicability and
generalisablity. My study is concerned with the deepening of my understanding and the
improvement in my learning as well as in my practice: it would be impossible to try to
generalise from the particularity of my context to a wider general domain. I agree with
Lomax when she says,
Generalisation in the sense that an experiment replicated in exactly the same
controlled conditions will have the same results a second time round seems a
nonsensical construct in the hurly burly of social interaction. However, I do
believe it important that action research projects have an application elsewhere,
and that action researchers are able to communicate their insights to others with
a useful result.
(Lomax 1994 p.118)
Winter (1989) also suggests that developing criteria from the research process itself
might be an appropriate strategy for assessing its quality. Whitehead (1989b) makes the
case for a living theory approach as a form of generalisablity when he says that he
believes that ‘educational theory is being created through the theorising of individuals
about their own professional practice as they attempt to improve the quality of their
own and their pupils’ learning’ (p.6) and then demonstrates through the website for his
work at Bath University ( the extent to which a living
theory approach has been incorporated into the professional enquiries of many
To the extent that a community can be shown to be sharing a form of life in
their research activities I would say that the approach was generalisable.
(Whitehead 1989b p.7)
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7 9
While the methodology of generating a living theory of practice will be generalisable to
the extent that through making my account public all can share in the approach to
enquiry, my particular area of enquiry, which involves the deepening of my own critical
understanding of my practice, cannot be generalisable. Neither will my findings be
replicable because, from year to year I will have changed, and the children I work with
will be different. I cannot replicate exactly what I do because my actions are never
taken in isolation from others and need always to be understood in the context of my
relation with others. Replicability has overtones of prescription. I try not to be
prescriptive now. My research offers an invitation to others to critique and to test some
of my ideas for themselves. Thus a possibility can be created for each new practitioner
to bring something potentially new and unique to the process. Similarly my practice in
relation to Thinking Time is offered to others as a form of practice they can shape for
themselves. For example a colleague who was influenced by my practice now does
what he calls ‘free-thinking time’ with his class:
Mary has influenced me educationally in a number of ways but
especially through thinking time. I’ve observed thinking time in her
classroom … There was no rigid structure and children participate in
‘free-thinking’ [with] no pressure to give a right answer … they were
very at ease. The child’s opinion on a topic was given equal status to that
of the teacher …
… The best example of free thinking I experienced in my class was
when a child who was a cardiac baby [sic] was asked who she thought
invented time. She said ‘I think doctors invented time. They gave me
more time to live when I was a baby.’ (RD extract from JM’s letter 24-
02-05; full letter in Appendix B.1.a.)
In testing my claim against the standards of judgement I have drawn from my values, I
do not rely just on my own interpretation of what is taking place, but through relating
my practice and emerging theory to the literatures I also test my ideas against the ideas
of others in the field as well as against the critique of colleagues. I therefore make these
kinds of claims:
• I claim that I have reconceptualised my practice and come to a deeper
understanding of the processes of education in which my practice is
© Mary Roche 2007
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• I claim that I now know that I cannot teach ‘critical thinking’ but rather have to
develop my capacity for thinking critically so as to encourage others to think for
• I claim that I ground this understanding and my practice in my ontological
values of care, freedom and justice
• I claim that I have improved my practice and transformed my pedagogies so that
my practice is now more commensurate with my values
I have generated this knowledge as I have studied my practice in order to improve it. It
is new knowledge and ‘is being put into the public domain for the first time and is
adding to the public body of knowledge’ (McNiff and Whitehead 2006 p.149). This is
my original and scholarly contribution to knowledge in my field.
This leads me to consider the nature of the standards of judgement I used to assess the
quality of my practice and my research. Included in the living standards of judgement
by which I evaluate my claims are:
• Have I adequately articulated my values?
• Is there evidence that I am attempting to live my articulated values in my
practice? Does my practice evidence values of freedom, care and justice in
• Is there evidence that I have improved my understanding of the educational
contexts in which my practice is located?
• Have I problematised and reconceptualised my practice in line with my
ontological commitments?
• Is there evidence of change in my logics and in my practice over the period of
the study?
• Is there evidence of an enquiring and critical approach to an educational
• Was my enquiry carried out systematically, in an ethical way?
© Mary Roche 2007
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• Does my account show originality of mind and critical engagement?
This list may well evolve as I learn more through writing my accounts of practice.
Ethical considerations: Negotiating permissions and access
I now need to explain how my research can be understood as ethically sound.
Prior to commencing my actual research process, I sought and obtained permission
from all participants to involve them in the research. I issued my ethical statements, and
I obtained written permission from all parties. (Appendix A.)
My research focuses on establishing whether I am improving my practice, in terms of
developing my own capacity for critical thinking, for the purposes of enabling my
children to develop their capacity for critical thinking. The focus is on me, and involves
my children as reflectors of my practice. The children’s actions could reflect how my
practice may have been improving, in relation to the improvement in their own critical
capacities. Consequently, I monitored both myself and my children, and traced the
concurrent development of critical thinking in myself and in them.
The first group of children who became research participants was a Junior Infant class. I
explained to them what I was studying and enlisted their help. I asked them to help me
to study how I could make myself a better teacher and, especially, how together we
could investigate how to make our discussions better. I also wrote to each child’s
parents explaining what I was doing and asked for their permission to allow their
children to be co-participants in the study (see below). Subsequently with older children
I negotiated parental permission in writing and requested my students to be active
participants by inviting them to critique my practice as I tried to improve classroom
dialogue. I invited them to evaluate transcripts, the methodology of Thinking Time
practice, and video recordings of discussions (the last both as a class group and in
conjunction with their parents; Chapter 9 and Appendix B.7.).
In requesting the consent of parents it was necessary to ensure that all parents saw the
consent form. This entailed an ‘active parental response’ whereby the parent had to sign
that they were actually conferring on me the right to carry out research with their child.
(Appendix A.4.) I considered but rejected as a possible strategy the idea of ‘passive
parental consent’ (Balen et al. 2006), a strategy sometimes used in school studies where
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parents receive a notice describing the research and are asked to sign and return the
form only if they objected to having their child participate (op cit), since I would have
had no way of knowing if parents had actually seen the forms. Children sometimes go
to after-school clubs or to a child-minder’s house and do their homework there: parents
might not always see letters from teachers.
I also felt that it was critical to my study that my students did not feel coerced either by
me or by their parents into participating in the research so I went to some pains to
explain my processes of enquiry to each group of children and to negotiate their consent
I sought and was given permission from the Principal and the Board of Management to
carry out the study in the school. I also negotiated with my school colleagues that they
would act as critical friends, observers and evaluators. (Appendix A.6.)
I negotiated with the school authorities, the children and their parents that I would from
time to time invite observers into my classroom. These observers would at times be
asked to evaluate my practice (Appendices B and H), but they would also be colleagues
who wanted to learn about doing classroom discussion. This latter is because I have a
special post of responsibility in relation to developing a culture of critical thinking in
the school and therefore I have to provide professional development for colleagues. The
opportunity to share and disseminate my work and the potential for influencing the
education of the social formation of my school as well as my classroom is a welcome
one, and I have found it more commensurate with my epistemological and ontological
values to invite others to see for themselves what I do rather than provide prescriptive
lectures about my work (Appendix B). I sought and was given permission by both
children and parents from third classes to include examples of the children’s work
(Appendix A.12).
Because I wanted to have the opportunity to video tape our classroom discussions from
time to time, I negotiated permission from the school authorities, the children and their
parents to record the discussions and also subsequently to show the videos in teaching
situations. I promised that I would not let the videos out of my possession. This
presented problems for me subsequently at a conference when a colleague requested to
video my presentation. I had to refuse on the grounds that I had not negotiated
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permission for such a scenario from the parents of my students. I have since negotiated
new permissions which allow for the judicious dissemination of recordings and for CD
ROMs of classroom discussions to be included with my thesis (Appendices A.4., A.11).
I have at all times promised to act responsibly and with integrity in relation to the
protection and the rights to privacy of my students. For this reason I have not named my
institution and concealed the names of all students and colleagues by referring to them
by initials.
I have endeavoured at all stages of the study to ensure that my actions embody an ethic
of caring. I have kept others abreast with the process of the study and shared drafts of
written work with colleagues, especially where their voices or influences were included.
Where I have included conversations with others I have sought their permission to use
their words. Likewise I have established with all those who have given written
evaluations that I have their permission to include these in my account. All written
permissions are contained in my data archive (Appendices A.1. to A.12.).
In this chapter I have made the case for adopting self-study action research as an
organising framework for enquiring into my educational development, as I generate my
living educational theory. In the next two chapters I offer an account of how I began to
take action to improve what I perceived as a problematic situation. I indicated earlier
that these chapters offer a narrative account of how I was beginning to develop a critical
pedagogical practice, as inspired by the literatures I was reading, yet I had still not
moved into a form of critical practice whereby I actively reflected on what I was doing.
The next two chapters reveal this focus on action, linked with appropriate literatures. In
Chapters 6, 7 and 8, I explain how I came to transform this stance by theorising my
practice as cycles of action-reflection, and really began to develop the capacity for
critical reflection.
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Section 2
Explaining my conceptual and literature frameworks
Here I outline my early interventions in my practice. I show how I came to ground my
conceptual frameworks in my educational values and how these values led me to
research relevant literatures. I explain how I identified care, freedom and justice as core
conditions for the development of critical thinking in my practice. I explore ideas and
literatures around these values and show how I began to appreciate that my values can
transform into my living practices. I show how I began to deconstruct concepts and my
own mental models, and started to frame an understanding that, although I was teaching
children to think critically, I needed first to engage in the idea of what critique meant.
This section is organised into two chapters.
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Chapter 4
Taking action, engaging with the literature, developing
conceptual frameworks
In this chapter I outline how I began to intervene in my practice, both by taking action
in my classroom, and also by engaging with literatures that informed the development
of the conceptual frameworks of my research. I explain how I grounded my choice of
conceptual frameworks in my educational values, and how these values led me to a
range of literatures that were relevant for my study. As reported, the key values I
identified as informing my practice were care, freedom and justice. I recognised them
as core conditions for the development of pedagogies to explore and support critical
thinking. I explore ideas around these values, and I show how they later led to my
further critical engagement with the literatures of critical pedagogy (Chapter 5) and with
my subsequent interrogation of my propositional stance in reifying the concept of
critical thinking.
I further explore what became for me an important issue, in that I began to appreciate
how values do not remain only as abstract linguistic phenomena, but transform into
living practices (Raz 2001). This, I believe, is a significant understanding to emerge
from my study. I also link this understanding with a deeper appreciation of the
relationship between my values and the development of my critical pedagogies, because
I began to see how values can be reconceptualised as living practices only when critical
pedagogies themselves become real as living practices.
In this chapter, therefore, I focus on how I began to engage with the literatures that
came to form my main conceptual frameworks and also how these values began to
emerge as living practices through my developing capacity for critical engagement.
Values and my early practice
I think I always grounded my practice in the values of care, freedom and justice, and
see them as intimately linked with what it means to be human although for a long time I
did not articulate this. Noddings (1992) also made a somewhat similar link, when she
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drew on Heidegger’s (1962) idea that care is inevitable for all aware humans. Caring
has been described as a fundamental human capacity that translates into a coherent
pattern of behaviours in life affirming interpersonal interactions (Iaani 1996, Lin 2001,
Noddings 1992). Caring sees the creation of trusting relationships as the foundation for
building an effective academic and social climate for schooling (Chaskin and Rauner
1995, Erickson 1993). Lin (2001), citing Noblit, Rogers and McCadden (1995),
suggests that caring may not be visible or explicit in an educational environment ‘yet it
guides the interactions and organization of schools and classrooms’ (p.2). Noddings
argues throughout her work that authentic human liberation and social justice can be
achieved by ‘caring people in caring communities’ (Bergman 2004, p.151). Noddings
(1992) also suggests that the need to be cared for is a universal human need, if we are to
grow and arrive at some level of acceptability in our culture and community.
The value of care has frequently been linked with the values of freedom and justice.
Held (1995), for example, states that an ethic of care is based on a view of persons as
interdependent. She suggests that morality should address issues of the caring and
empathetic nature of human interrelationships. She argues against Rawls’s (1971)
theory of justice that sees people as solitary rational agents and suggests that a possible
way of linking care and justice is to
… think of justice as setting moral minimums beneath which we ought not to
fall, or absolute constraints within which we may pursue our different goals,
whereas care deals with questions of the good life or of human values over and
above the obligatory minimums of justice.
(Held 1995 p.3)
At this point, however, I will discuss the values of care, freedom and justice as separate
though interlinked, for purposes of analysis. I will later synthesise them within stories
of my living practice.
My value of care
As well as arguing for the need for caring practices, Noddings also introduces the idea
of obligation (1984b) as a feature of a caring practice, an idea with which I agree. My
understanding of care then is not only one of ‘I ought’, which has its roots in duty
towards the other, but also one of ‘I care’ in which one encounters (Buber 1965) the
humanity of the other. Noddings (1984b) goes on to say that our inclination towards
morality derives from caring.
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In caring we accept the natural impulse to act on behalf of the present other.
We are engrossed in the other. We have received him and feel his pain or
happiness, but we are not compelled by this impulse. We have a choice; we
may accept what we feel, or we may reject it.
(Noddings 1984b, cited in Held 1995 p.13)
Bergman (2004) also maintains that because the self is in relation, all acts of caring are
characterised by give and take. He uses the example of a teacher suggesting a new
approach to solving a maths problem to a frustrated student, who entertains and tries out
the new ideas. ‘The need is met, the caring offered by the carer is completed in the
cared-for, and the caring relationship is established, maintained or enhanced’ (Bergman
2004 p.152).
Noddings further suggests that dialogue plays an important role in caring educational
contexts, ‘in a common search for understanding, empathy or appreciation’ and that it
‘builds up a substantial knowledge of one another that serves to guide our caring
responses’ (Noddings 1992 p.23).
So the idea of linking variously the values of care, freedom and justice appears to be
well established in the literatures. It has been especially developed in the work of Baier
(1995), Gilligan (1982, 1995); Held (1993, 1995); Noddings (1984a, 1984b, 1991,
1992); Ruddick (1995) etc.
What’s new, then, in my study? Quite early in my studies, and especially inspired by
the critical conversations I enjoyed with my study group, I began to question the idea of
how the dominant literatures communicated values as abstract linguistic phenomena
rather than as living practices. My understanding is that values need to transform into
lived practices if they are to have meaning in the social world (Raz 2001). They need to
be examined from the perspective of seeing others as ‘concrete others’ (Benhabib
1987). I understand ‘care for others’ as ‘care for real others’. Similarly I relate the term
‘justice’ to concrete rather than generalised others. I do not see justice as embodied in
abstract principles so much as in embodied practices. Consequently, the form of justice
that I try to practise is a caring form in which I endeavour to see others, such as my
students, as real concrete beings with whom I am in relation.
I believe I always practised in a manner that could be described as a caring form of
justice, so that my practice becomes an embodiment of my ontological values. I offer
some vignettes from practice here to show why I believe I am justified in saying so.
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Demonstrating caring justice and freedom in practice – C’s story
In November 2001 I began teaching a class of 27 mixed gender Junior Infants. The
children were well-behaved, and, apart from one child, C, they sat attentively at their
tables. Generally they were adept at ‘writing’ activities. C, however, seemed not able to
sit still. He appeared to hate fine motor activities and whenever they began, he would
walk about, open cupboards, and act in a mildly disruptive way.
I felt that all he needed was more time to settle down, probably from a sense of
compassion and care for the little boy who I felt was not being deliberately wilful or
naughty. I introduced the class to Thinking Time, and, following a story from Fisher
(1996) about a bonny baby contest in the jungle, I asked the children for their thoughts
about beauty.
Each child said beauty was something visual. C prowled about as usual,
but was obviously listening to what the others said, because he suddenly
sat into the circle and said, ‘I actually know what the most beautiful
sound in the world is’ and he proceeded to tell me that it was the sound
of a Mummy’s voice if a child were lost in a forest. (RD 19-12-01)
I was moved by what he said and by his earnestness, and I believe I communicated that
to him without making any overt value judgement. In Thinking Time, I try to refrain
from passing any comments that place me in too much of a teacher or authority role,
preferring to participate at the level of person-in-the-circle. I felt that he knew I was
moved and that I was pleased he had joined the group. This episode marked a kind of
watershed for C, because after that he regularly joined in. He showed that he had
considerable verbal reasoning skills and became a consistent contributor to discussions.
Demonstrating caring justice and freedom in practice – A’s story
In my next Junior Infant class (September 2002 to June 2003), I had a similar student,
A. A was also restless, but unlike C he showed it in noisy and assertive ways. He too
seemed to hate pencil activities. He disrupted other children’s work causing them to
complain. I began to suspect that he had some attention disorder. As before, I
introduced Thinking Time. The topic, ‘What would happen if you left your teddy out in
the rain?’, was based on an activity suggested by oral language development cards,
which, as part of the English syllabus, had the aim of developing the children’s
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competency to use words to describe ‘wetness’. However the dialogue went far
R: Your teddy might get robbed if you left it out all night.
A: Well anyway, I know how to catch a robber. See, you dig a hole,
right? And you put a blanket over it and then put some dirt on the
blanket and the robber won’t see it and he’ll step on it and fall into the
hole. That way you’ll get your teddy back and then you could call the
police and they’d take him away.
C: Yes and while the robber is down the hole the foot cutter might come
along and cut off his feet and stop him from running away!
E: The foot cutter? Don’t you mean the woodcutter?
C: No! This is a new guy that I’ve just invented and he’s called the
footcutter. (RD 16-02-03)
A contributed several more times to the discussion and clearly enjoyed himself. At the
end he asked, ‘When can we do that again?’ Over the next few sessions A spoke
frequently and articulately and became fully engaged in the discussion circle. As I grew
to know him better, I realised that school regimes simply had not suited A. He was
intelligent and proud, and possibly felt a sense of failure because of his lack of fine
motor skills. His coping strategy appeared to take the form of developing avoidance
strategies. Thinking Time gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his excellence in
talking and thinking.
I deliberately developed strategies that would encourage caring and just behaviours. I
introduced the children gradually to the language of ‘I agree with X because … and I
disagree with X because …’. This seemed to pay off in A’s case. Children began to
affirm him with comments such as ‘A, I think you’re really good at talking’ (RD 05-03-
03), and he began to settle down even more. Meanwhile with a larger triangular pencil
and rubber grip, and plenty of opportunities to scribble, gradually his fine-motor skills
C’s and A’s stories as reflective learning opportunities
I have selected these two episodes because I believe that they were significant learning
experiences for me. In C’s situation, I realised that the conventions of a junior infant
classroom seemed to place extraordinary emphasis on conforming and compliant
behaviour. Children who exhibit these qualities are often deemed to be ‘good’ children.
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The comments left by the teacher previous to me showed that. C had been described as
‘messy’ and disruptive. In my research diary (21-11-01) I wrote:
There was no reference to him being intelligent, articulate, logical, and
witty or a good listener. … He exhibited keen critical thinking abilities
and he questioned a lot. At four and a half years of age, and the
youngest child in the class he wanted answers to several critical
questions: why we had to do homework; why children had to go to
school at all after they learned to read; why we couldn’t do more stuff
outdoors; why we couldn’t do harder science; why we had to spend so
long at rhymes, why everybody in the school had to wear blue except the
grownups. If I gave him an answer that made sense to him he accepted
it; if not he stared at me and said ‘Yeah. OK’ and walked away, clearly
disgruntled. (RD 21-11-01)
I found myself questioning systemic norms even more because of him and I found
myself critiquing my own practice. I was by now looked for pedagogies to support the
kind of enquiring mind that C had. I had a computer in the class and I found some
software that gave him an opportunity to think critically about science and maths. I gave
the children opportunities to develop ways of learning through enquiry. A video clip
shows children working collaboratively in groups enjoying activities such as bridge
building, dressing up, working out Maths problems with construction toys, playing with
water and with a parachute. I devised strategies that had them out of their seats and out
of doors as much as possible (Video Link: Early school activities).
C’s critical questions led me not only to examine my teaching practice, but also to
examine how I understood my values of care, freedom and justice, in relation to the
literatures that I was now accessing. I saw that in order to prioritise these values in my
practice, relationships involving trust, good cheer, equality, peace and compatibility
(Noddings 2002) mattered. Noddings (op cit) suggests that those kinds of human and
caring qualities matter in a community such as the community of a classroom. I also
began to see that I could not continue to conceptualise values only as abstract linguistic
phenomena, and needed to make the critical shift to seeing values as concrete practices,
conducted with concrete others.
Consequently, my living practice took a turn, for the better I think. One of the aims of
my study was to establish a critical community of enquiry. A sense of community, I
reasoned, was built on trust and mutual respect, and would include Bohm’s (1998,
2004) ‘spirit of dialogue’. Through C’s persistent challenges to ‘the way things were’ I
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was able to transcend my earlier prescriptive self and begin this process. I began to
differentiate the curriculum so as to give him access to a computer to work on science
software, extra non-fiction reading material appropriate to his age and plenty of
opportunities to display and develop his verbal reasoning abilities. His parents
confirmed that he was happy:
We really appreciate the way you have tried so hard to help C fit in. We
are grateful that you looked beyond his prickly exterior and saw the fine
little fellow inside. (RD excerpt from letter from AON 22-05-02)
When I think about my actions, I realise that it was my regard for C and my values of
care that influenced me. I did not force him to conform: I respected him and he
responded well to that care and respect. In recognising the inevitable otherness of each
person (Derrida 1978, Levinas 1989) I put a lot of emphasis on what Noddings (2002)
calls ‘receptive attention’, to signify what she calls the act of attention to the other that
results in being engrossed by them. For Noddings (1984a), a call to care for others
involves an act of transcendence. It means, for me, that I must transcend my own needs
for, perhaps, order and quiet, in order to meet the needs of those for whom I care; it
means that I must learn to accommodate children who do not wish to speak, or who
cannot participate in the circle (Chapters 7 and 8): it means that I step out of myself
towards others. In the state of care, Noddings says, there is invariably a ‘displacement
of interest from my own reality to the reality of the other’ (Noddings 1984a p.14). In
this displacement of self-interest, there is also a displacement of being. We become
‘engrossed’, larger than our ordinary selves:
I receive the other into myself, and I see and feel with the other. I become a
duality . . . The seeing and feeling are mine, but only partly and temporarily
mine, as on loan to me.
(Noddings 1984a p.30)
Care, according to Noddings is a gift in two senses. It is something one gives to another.
Yet, in another sense, it entails something far more than this. It involves the gift of
being able to see the infinite beauty and uniqueness of the other as a complete human
being equal to ourselves.
From reflecting on my own reconceptualisation of my values, and their transformation
into living practices, I am now able to show how I can incorporate propositional forms
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within living forms (Whitehead and McNiff 2006), in the development of my own
inclusional practices.
My value of freedom
The value of freedom is usually presented as an abstract concept in the dominant
literatures: I have now begun to appreciate it as a living practice that incorporates
insights from the abstract conceptualisations. My study is about how, in my classroom,
and drawing on the ideas of Berlin (1969), I try to exercise my positive freedom to
teach in ways that are caring, supportive, and encouraging of my students’ efforts to
become critically aware. For example, I have encouraged my students to think for
themselves in regard to their aesthetic responses to art. As well as providing
opportunities for creative self-expression through a variety of art media, I use a data
projector connected to a computer that is linked to the internet and the children can
explore the biographical facts of artists’ lives while also appreciating their work. They
can visit ‘virtual’ galleries. I also introduce them to living artists and bring them to real
galleries, where they can look at and respond to art in ways that are appropriate for
themselves. I have encouraged children to respond to music through drawing, painting,
acting, dancing writing, as well as verbally (see Figure 4.1below; Appendices E.1.–
R’s mother wanted to know what the name of the piece of music was
that made him want to dance and roar like a monster. (It was Grieg’s
‘Hall of the Mountain King.’)
J said ‘that music feels like it needs a bit of ballet attached to it.’ (The
music she referred to was Saint-Saëns’ ‘Swan’ from Carnival of the
I played Gasparyan’s (2005) ‘A cool wind is blowing’ and asked the
children to respond by drawing and writing what they felt:
A said ‘this music reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean: the curse of
the Black Pearl’. In my head I think of the devastation and the dead
people in it’.
CaD said it reminded her of ‘swans on a lake and birds flying for the
CD said it reminded her of ‘a scene after a battle when there’s all smoke
and people are going around looking for dead bodies’.
J said it reminded her of ostriches sweating in a very hot desert. (RD 05-
12-06; Appendix E.1.) (Video Link: responding to music).
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Figure 4-1: Video still of J’s ‘sweating ostriches’ picture
When I presented this particular ‘responding to music’ activity, I did not tell the
children what to think or what the music reminded me of. My students’ freedom to
learn in their own way contrasts strongly with the way I was educated, when I was told
what to think, even in secondary school. We had Cole’s Notes (e.g.1968) on
Shakespeare, which analysed and interpreted the plays for us. We had a book of pieces
of prose with comprehension exercises, and the English teacher wrote interpretations of
poetry for us which we copied and learned off. Similarly, in Thinking Time I
encourage my students to exercise their freedom to think for themselves. When I
showed some Thinking Time videos to parents of my students, K’s father was reminded
of his own schooldays:
I am so heartened to see my daughter thinking her way through
literature, albeit only a children’s story. I wish we had been allowed to
do that in school: we were told the way we should think about stuff.
We had those stripy Shakespeare notes and we had to learn the stuff off
by heart. What a waste! (RD evaluation by PL 05-05-06; Appendix
By exercising my positive freedom and critical faculties in providing dialogical
pedagogies that support my educational values, I understand that my students will
benefit from their negative freedom – freedom from prescriptive pedagogies that may
close down opportunities to critique. Because I believe that freedom of thought and
speech are among the basic goods of humanity, then the denial of such freedom is, to
me, a denial of justice and a negation of care; and this situation again represents my
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concern about myself as a living contradiction when my values are denied in my
I believe my research to be important within the context of dominant forms of abstract
conceptualisations and prescriptive pedagogies. The 1999 Primary School Curriculum
Introduction states, on p 15 that:
The ability to think critically, to apply learning and to develop flexibility and
creativity are also important factors in the success of the child’s life. The
curriculum places a particular emphasis on promoting these skills and abilities
so that children may cope successfully with change.
(Government of Ireland 1999 Introduction p.15)
It also states that one of its specific aims is:
To enable children to come to an understanding of the world through the
acquisition of knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes and the ability to think
(op cit p.34)
There are several references throughout the documents to the importance of children
thinking critically (see for example SPHE documents for 5th and 6th classes under the
strand unit ‘media education’). I will show in Chapter 8 how my students demonstrate
their critical capacities – as they critique, for example, the hegemony of globalised fastfood
[the child should be enabled to] become increasingly critical and discerning in
his/her own attitude to advertising and the techniques used to promote
products, life-styles and ideas.
(Government of Ireland 1999 SPHE curriculum p.66)
Exemplar 19 in the SPHE curriculum teacher guidelines (Government of Ireland 1999
p.83) advocates seating the children in a circle for discussions. However, I was unable
to find in the curriculum documents any recognition of the need for teachers to be
critically aware as they seek to fulfil the aims and objectives relating to teaching
children to be critical. While there is no overt denial of the right to freedom of thought
in Irish primary schools, I believe that there is a dearth of opportunities to develop the
skills of critical engagement, and a corresponding lack of opportunities for freedom of
speech, because of an emphasis on traditional epistemologies and didactic pedagogies.
This is borne out in a range of research reports including Murphy (2004), Greaney and
Close (1989), and the Chief Inspector’s Report (Government of Ireland 2005b). From
these studies, it would appear that whole class instruction, involving dominant teacher
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talk, is still prevalent in many Irish classrooms. There is nothing new here. Wragg
(1973) observed student teachers talking for 73% – 81% of the time in their secondary
school classrooms; Galton et al. (1980) found that in primary classrooms teachers spoke
for 60% or more of the time – three quarters of it in propositional statements and the
rest in follow-up questioning. Walker and Adelman (1975), and Edwards and Furlong
(1978) found that many classrooms follow the general rule of teachers talking for two
thirds of the time and, furthermore, that not all the pupils hear what teachers have to
say. Goodlad (1984) found that not even 1% of the instruction time in American high
schools was devoted to discussion that required ‘some kind of open response involving
reasoning or perhaps an opinion from students’ and he noted that ‘an extraordinary
degree of student passivity stands out’ (p.229).
Reid (1978) suggests that
Teachers not only monopolise classroom talk, they also control it in ways that
from others in school would be regarded as rude and unacceptable. They
typically ask questions to which they already have the answers and check up on
and interrogate pupils almost constantly. They consistently state and impose on
their pupils their definitions of order, discipline, knowledge, and ability.
(Reid 1978 p.112)
My practice is not like this now. Instead I endeavour to realise my values as my living
practice, as illustrated in Figures 4.2, 4.3 below.
Figure 4-2: Photo of student in dialogue with self
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Figure 4-3: Photos of students in dialogue with others
By providing my students with opportunities to engage others in dialogue or to stand in
dialogue with themselves as they ponder, for example, which colours to put into a
picture (as in Figure 4.2 above), I believe I am providing them with what Von
Glasersfeld (1996) said was the means to undermine a part of the traditional view of the
world. He maintained that our knowledge can never be interpreted as a representation of
that real world, but only as a key that unlocks possible paths for us. Von Glasersfeld (op
cit) believed that individual knowledge is in a state of constant re-evaluation through
adapting and evolving. To me this is a closer match to what I am trying to do in my
classroom. ‘Unlocking possible paths’ is to me a freer, fairer and more caring form of
education than lecturing students about someone else’s knowledge and reinforcing the
lecture with repetition and consolidation.
My value of justice
I outline how I believe justice also needs to be understood as a living practice, and I
relate my understanding to the contexts of Irish education.
The focus on propositional forms has led to some interesting contradictions. Although
the language of the 1971 and 1999 Irish Primary School curricular documents
(Government of Ireland 1971, 1999) stress a child-centred and hermeneutic approach to
education, reports such as Eivers et al. (2005) express concern about ‘prescriptive
pedagogies’ and recommend ‘greater emphasis on oral language activities’ (p.28).
Dominant didacticism is not only inconsistent with the principles of the curriculum, but
is also unjust in that it is a denial of children’s capacity to think for themselves and a
negation of their right to express themselves. This right is enshrined in the United
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Nations Charter of Children’s Rights and was ratified in 1992 by the Irish Government
(Ireland 2000). Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(cited in National Children’s Strategy document, Government of Ireland 2000 p.30),
emphasises that
State Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own
views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child,
the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and
maturity of the child.
(Government of Ireland 2000 p.30)
The document also states that a ‘national goal’ will be that ‘children will have a voice’
(op cit p.29) and continues:
Giving children a voice means: Encouraging them to express their views and
demonstrating a willingness to take those views seriously.
(op cit p.30)
I suggest that much of what passes for ‘giving children a voice’ is tokenism and
decoration (Hart 1992). There is no evidence in the National Children’s Strategy of any
research that shows the living practice of giving children a voice. Instead there are
propositional statements such as ‘children appreciate and rise to challenges which
stretch their capabilities and enable them to feel valued and appreciated’ (Government
of Ireland 2000 p.30) or rhetoric such as ‘experience has shown that giving children a
voice helps to protect them from abuse’ (ibid).
The National Children’s Strategy document can therefore be seen as an example of
what Benhabib (1987) holds as the concept of generalising others. I do not adopt this
stance. My practice is located in the reality of my relations with concrete others, with
real children like A and C and E (see below). It is easy to advocate theoretically and
aspirationally for justice for generalised others; it is more problematic when there are
real concrete others involved in real concrete situations. That is when one’s ontological
values are called upon in order to decide how to act. This is why I have sought to
provide opportunities for my students to engage in dialogue and to learn in ways that
are appropriate for different learners’ styles. It also influenced my decision to include
several pictures and a CD of videoed discussions and classroom episodes with this
document. I did so in order to allow something of the concreteness and ‘realness’ of the
individual children to shine through.
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There is no question but that the values that inform the National Children’s Strategy
(Government of Ireland 2000) are based in an acceptance of the rights of children;
however, there is less urgency to implement these rights, I believe, when they are
founded on rights for children as abstract generalised others. My values of freedom and
justice are centred on my concern that an education that denies the capacity of children
such as A and C in Junior Infants (see Chapter 6), Er in Senior Infants (see Chapter 7),
and E in 3rd class (see Chapter 9), to think for themselves and to demonstrate their
abundant gifts and abilities, is unjust and uncaring. An element of ‘I ought’ (Noddings
1984a) is present therefore. Because I am their teacher, with what I believe is a moral
obligation to try to provide the children with the best education possible, then I have a
moral responsibility to examine my values keenly and seek to live towards them. Thus
my practice of providing dialogical learning opportunities for my students, such as I
recount in this thesis, is informed by my values.
Furthermore, I believe that, by transforming my values into my living practices, I have
succeeded in rendering the incommensurable commensurable, as Berlin has maintained
(Berlin 1969, Gray 1996). Berlin regarded values as human creations (see Cherniss and
Hardy 2005) and, from his explorations of the idea of value pluralism, he saw that
within values as well as between values there could be conflicts or even
incommensurables. Gray (1996) states that what Berlin meant by value pluralism was
that ultimately human values are objective but irreducibly diverse, that ‘they are
conflicting and often uncombinable, and that sometimes when they come into conflict
with one another they are incommensurable’ (p.2). However, I believe that values such
as justice and freedom are not necessarily mutually exclusive within the context of my
efforts to establish a living practice of a just and caring critical community of enquiry in
my classroom and institution.
Thus I show that, when I intervened in my practice of teaching Junior Infants in order to
develop opportunities for children like A and C to demonstrate their innate capacities
for critique, I understand that I was living to my value of care and justice. I do not see
care, freedom and justice as separate substantive issues, but as integrated within a
caring practice that focuses on enabling all to be freely involved in their own learning.
When I provided opportunities for creative learning experiences for E (see Chapter 9) I
understand my practice as showing care. When I facilitate weekly classroom
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discussions where my students are encouraged to think critically and creatively and
dialogue with their peers I am opening up possibilities for children to be more than they
are. I said earlier that the notion of obligation as outlined in the work of Noddings
(1984a) is linked with my idea of caring. Because I felt that I ‘must do something’ in
response to my concern about the dearth of opportunities for children to exercise their
voice and their capacity for original thought, I am placing a value on the obligation I
feel to help my students. When I made changes to my classroom management and to
my teaching to accommodate the different styles of learning and conforming for
children like A and C, I believe that I demonstrated that I was trying to meet the
emotional as well as the academic needs of my students and that they responded well in
turn to feeling cared for. I have evidence for this claim, both in my own research journal
and also in the form of letters from observers and from the children’s parents.
You greet each child and have a word with each mother. How
democratic! (RD 09-06-03 comment by RH visiting educationalist)
You speak very kindly to the children… you seem to be able to make
them feel that what they have to say matters. (RD 02-11-05: comment
by CO’C following the viewing of videoed classroom discussion.)
In such seemingly simple and everyday acts of caring, says Bergman (2004 p.152),
much is at stake besides the immediate need being addressed – the carer’s sense of
herself as a caring person, the cared-for’s sense of trust in the world as a safe and
reliable place, and of herself as a centre of value worthy to be cared for. In the act of
giving and receiving care, the self of each person is confirmed.
Teacher, you’re a very kind woman. (A comment by D RD 12-12-06)
Thank you for a wonderful day (CT’s parting comment as she leaves
each day Sept-Dec 2006)
I drew this picture for you because I think you’re a very kind teacher.
(KT and I in conversation about his picture) (Figure 4.4 below and
Video Link: Talking with…) (repeat)
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Figure 4-4: Video still KT shows me his picture
Selves are not born, Noddings argues (2002 p.98); they are continuously being
constructed through encounters of all kinds. It was through care and respect that I saw
that C and A needed a different kind of syllabus. Ultimately, it was through dialogue
that the children were able to demonstrate their capacity for independent thinking, and it
was through what Fine and Weis (2003) call ‘extraordinary conversations’ that I got to
know the children.
Other teachers have also attested to this aspect of classroom discussion. On 02-10-06 a
colleague from another school who does classroom discussions weekly with her class of
11 and 12 year old girls told me of how she felt that, because of her discussions with her
students, not only did she learn to see them as individuals, but they also began to
recognise and ‘encounter’ her. She wrote:
The empathy engendered by Mary’s version of classroom discussion
permeates the children’s way of being with others and colours their
inter-personal relationships at class and whole-school level … I feel the
girls learn self-respect and respect for others, and learn to see me as a
human being, capable of feelings, as opposed to just a ‘teacher’. (RD
excerpt from written evaluation by MO’S 02-10-06; Appendix B.2.)
In C’s case I felt I got to know him when he said that he ‘actually knew’ what the most
beautiful sound in the world is and proceeded to tell me that it was
… when ‘you’re all alone in the deep dark forest and there’s all noises
around and suddenly you hear a voice saying “C: it’s Mummy: I’m over
here”….That’s the most beautiful sound in the world!’ (RD 19-12-01)
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In A’s case it was when he presented his theory of catching robbers (see Chapter 6).
When Sh explained what he thought ‘commoners’ were, and M told me about the
‘smell’ of the ladybirds in his garden and J explained about spiders eating their own
webs for ‘a bit of nourishment’ and E told me about his cat making plans and Ao told
me that when you get an answer you can always question the answer (Chapter 7), I got
to know these children as the warm lovable caring people with whom I love working.
Noddings (1998) suggests that care theorists agree with Socrates that education must
encourage students to explore their own lives and investigate the great human questions
that human beings have always asked. She also provides a caveat to Socrates: ‘Care
theorists,’ she says, ‘would not force students to grapple with the so-called “eternal
questions”. Rather we would invite such conversation and allow students to co-direct
the line of investigation’ (1998 p.191). I believe that this is what I do: I do not tell my
children what to think. They co-direct the line of enquiry. My research archive and this
document contain substantial amounts of evidence against which to test this view.
My understanding of caring is one that is grounded in the intersubjective nature of my
relationships with my students, a relationship that allows them to be free active social
players with a voice rather than passive recipients of care. I draw here on the ideas of
Tronto (1993, 1995) who also advocated the activity of caring as a practice rather than
as a set of abstract principles to be followed. When I say I care about my students, I
think again of A and C rather than of abstract students, and this sense of relationship
strengthens my resolve to show how I hold myself accountable for my work. Like
Jaggar (1995), I can see that reasoning about care encouraged my personal
accountability and my individual resistance to oppressive structures.
I now wish to depart from a discussion about the need to critique dominant
conceptualisations of values orientations in the literature, and to return to a main
conceptual framework, as a synthesis of the values of care, freedom and justice, which
is to do with allowing the individual create themselves, as they wish themselves to be.
Letting the other ‘be’
Derrida (cited in Noddings 1998 p. 194) speaks about ‘letting the other “be”’, which I
understand as respecting the other as other. It does not mean mere co-existence. Some
of the implications for me as a teacher mean living my practice in a way that honours
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the children as unique human beings who can learn rather than as objects who need to
be taught. Acknowledging the uniqueness of learners is also one of the principles of the
curriculum (see Introduction, Government of Ireland 1999 p.8). ‘Letting be’ does not
mean ignoring, however, nor does it involve, as Noddings (1998) suggests, ‘abstaining
from intervention’ (p.194). It neither entails indoctrination through the coercion of
reward and punishment, nor the imposition of one’s will on another. It involves
recognising the other as a ‘genuine, unique subject who gazes back at me’ (Derrida, in
Noddings 1998 p. 194) and engaging that other in dialogue. I am not convinced that
these issues have been fully explored by the compilers of the principles of the
curriculum. Research into classroom practices such as already cited (Murphy 2004,
Eivers et al. 2005, Government of Ireland 2005b) would seem to bear this out. To
achieve a situation in which relationships can develop involves exercising educative
influence through affirming and dialogical relationships.
I realised early in my studies that I needed to develop a clearer understanding of the
nature of dialogue, and I found Bohm’s (1998) insights helpful in enabling me to
develop appropriate pedagogies.
The object of a dialogue … is to suspend your opinions and to look at the
opinions – to listen to everybody’s opinions, to suspend them, and to see what
it all means.
(Bohm 1998 p.6)
The qualities outlined by Bohm here were evident in my circle discussions and the
children also clearly recognised this aspect of their dialogue themselves (video
discussion on Thinking Time 24-04-06). In the video the children can be seen speaking
to each other and to the group, listening to each other’s ideas, building on the ideas and
agreeing and disagreeing with equanimity and delight. A child called W had made what
the group seems to consider the contentious statement: that Thinking Time was ‘good
for wasting school time’. Although most children disagree with W, there is good
humour and no ‘side-taking’ or attempts to change others’ opinion. Towards the end W
says, ‘I need to say something.’ The microphone is handed to him and he says,
I kind of disagree with myself now ’cos … I’ve been thinking about it
there and we aren’t wasting time – we’re using time (RD 24-04-06)
(Video link: I disagree with myself) .
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An examination of the video shows children smiling at each other and at me, listening
intently, making eye contact and engaging with ideas. It can be seen that the children
display no inhibitions about expressing opinions with which I may disagree, which
seems to demonstrate that they feel a sense of safety and trust in the circle. I can be seen
at the end ensuring that W has not felt pressured into changing his mind. Mindful of the
vulnerability he may be feeling in the face of the others’ earlier disagreement with his
stance, I expressly tell him to ‘make sure to think his own thoughts’. This constitutes
evidence of the realisation of my embodied values of care and respect for the other, not
only to let them be, but also to encourage them to be in their own way.
Letting the other be silent
Learning to ‘let the other be’ has also meant that I have learned to respect silence. In
traditional didactic classrooms, silence is often linked with ‘not-knowing’. If a child is
asked a direct question and remains silent, one might assume that the child does not
know the answer, or is being defiant or heedless. When children remain silent in our
discussions, I understand their silence to have a range of meanings. Perhaps they are
taking the opportunity for creative daydreaming; perhaps that they are thinking deeply.
H and R, quiet reflective children, frequently said when it is their turn to speak, ‘Come
back to me; I’m still thinking.’ (Video Link: Respecting silence). This video is an
amalgam of two video clips: in both children can be seen forgetting what they wanted to
say; choosing to remain silent, passing and later asking for the microphone to be
returned. It is usual for children to ‘pass’ in the circle as they choose to continue
grappling with a thought. Sometimes, too, they lose their train of thought and trail off
into silence. This does not worry them or me: they know that they can interrupt if they
Respecting silence in this way contrasts starkly with my own terror of silence as a child,
particularly when asked to recite from memory, often using language I did not
understand. I spent hours at night ‘reciting’ my homework and pestering my parents to
‘ask’ me my work. The worry about forgetting the memorised content frequently meant
that my mind would go blank when asked in school, and I would feel the cold fear that
preceded a punishment. It is one of the reasons why I never force a child to speak if
they chose to remain silent. I will never subject a child to the same kind of emotional
harassment that I endured as a child.
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When I was at school, we were silent for much of the day, yet were expected to speak
promptly in response to a direct question. Jaworski (1993 p.169) explains how children
can be ‘socialised into silence’ but that they can liberate themselves from it when they
grow up. His use of the word ‘liberate’ is interesting, implying to me that silence is seen
as a confinement from which children free themselves. This may have been true in an
era when children were expected to be seen and not heard, such as when I was a child,
but in my current classroom contexts, silence and speech are equally respected, as can
be seen in the videos I include here as part of my evidential base.
I have also had to reflect on the importance of my own silence in classroom discussions.
Fiumara (1990) speaks about the silence of listening as ‘the other side of language’
(p.4). From being a teacher who relied heavily on verbal skills in a largely didactic
practice, I have learned to take a back seat as regards speaking in classroom discussion.
Macdonald (1995, cited in Whitehead and McNiff 2006 p.91) referred to the need for
the teacher to meet their students ‘person-to-person, not status-to-person’ (Macdonald
op cit), and speaks of school settings as opportunities where ‘the teacher may hold open
the world for a child’ (Macdonald op cit). By staying silent in classroom discussions as
much as possible, I can use my silence to hold doors open for my students to find their
voices and think and speak for themselves.
My capacity for silence
The data presented in my videos show that I rarely speak except at the beginning of the
discussion period. On 06-02-03, A, a Spanish teacher in our school sat in on one of the
discussions and later wrote an evaluation, in which he said:
The teacher had also a very important role … [she] had to listen very
carefully without speaking for a long time (RD excerpt from evaluation
by A. 12-02-03, Appendix H.6.)
A also stated that he was astounded by how articulate the children were. He posited that
this was not a ‘normal’ lesson. In a ‘normal’ classroom, ‘the children’s voices are the
silent ones.’ (RD 06-02-06). Other observers have also referred to my ‘invisibility’
during classroom discussions, as in the following comment.
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It’s quite amazing watching one of these [discussions] because it seems
like you disappear into the background and the children run the
discussion and I think they often even forget you’re there. (RD
conversation with SH 12-10-06)
Buber (1965) also spoke about attentive silence. He believed that in an educational
encounter it is important to enter into the spirit of a dialogue through an attitude of
respectful attentiveness. This, he suggested, could often be achieved through silence,
not a hostile silence, but a respectful hope-filled, pregnant silence, in which participants
are prepared to give the other their full and undivided attention.
The capacity for empathetic silence, however, has to be considered within contexts of
institutional power that often serve to enforce silence, rather than nurture dialogue.
Enforced silence, care and dialogue
There is a considerable body of literature around the concept of enforced silence. Piercy
(1971), for example, wrote about ‘Unlearning to not speak’. Martin (1994) encouraged
me to question how women have been marginalised and excluded from educational
discourses and led me to research writers such as Spender (1980, 1982, 1983).
Spender’s work also made me understand how language is frequently organised from a
male perspective and made me sensitive to how I use language and how I encourage
children to do so. I read Held (1993, 1995) whose ideas on justice and care encouraged
me to rethink what I understood about caring. Through engaging with the literatures, I
began to see that teaching in a caring way involved relationship and dialogue.
Buber (1965) explains that ‘the relation in education is one of pure dialogue’ (p.98).
Dialogue, for Buber, meant not only speaking and listening, but also receiving each
other in silence. He referred to it as ‘the silver mail of trust … that is the most inward
achievement of the relation in education’ (Buber 1965 p.98). I understand Buber’s use
of the word ‘dialogue’ as a form of communion. It does not always need words. Kind
gestures, a smile, a sense of being respected and valued can also be understood as
Maxine Greene’s influence
My study has also been deeply influenced by the ideas of Maxine Greene. When I first
read her work (Greene 1978) in 2002, I was instantly enthralled by her belief in the
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potential of each person and in the need to educate so as to encourage the development
of this capacity and to ‘transcend passivity’ (Greene 1978 p.2). Greene argues that
Talk of participation in policy-making by those affected is heard less and less
often. Technological expertise has taken over; things are done to people or for
them; apathy and passivity increase. Uncritical, frequently bored, individuals
become evermore susceptible to mystification.
(Greene 1978 p.1, emphasis in original)
She argued that unless educators engaged in their own quests for meaning they would
be unlikely to be able to influence or encourage others to do so. This made sense to me.
So also does her statement that teachers must be on-going questioners and, through
questioning, learners.
The more fully engaged we are in this quest for meaning, the more we can look
through others’ eyes, the more richly individual we become.
(Greene 1978 p.3)
I can see a strong connection between Greene’s ideas here with what Derrida (1964)
wrote about respecting the otherness of the other and letting the other be. Greene (1988)
led me to try to come to an understanding for myself of what an education for freedom
entailed. Educating for freedom means, for me, that I must do what I can to encourage
myself (alongside, and in relation with, my students) to come to an awareness of the
many points of view there can be, and the multiple ways that exist for interpreting our
worlds. To be free, I believe, is to be able to think and speak for oneself; to be able to
engage the world in an ongoing conversation; and to value the power and meaning that
new points of view bring to the collective search for fulfilment. I was enabled by
Greene (1978, 1988) to understand that freedom requires a refusal to accede to the
given, that it entails a reaching for new possibilities and potentials and a resistance to
the objectification of people. I drew connections between Buber’s (1965) and Freire’s
ideas about a problem-posing form of education (1972), Derrida’s ideas about allowing
the other to be (1964), and Dewey’s ideas about reflective thinking (1934). Greene
enabled me to see the need for such connections:
The activities that compose learning not only engage us in our own quests for
answers and for meanings; they also serve to initiate us into the communities of
scholarship and (if our perspectives widen sufficiently) into the human
community, in its largest and richest sense … Teachers who are alienated,
passive, and unquestioning cannot make such initiations possible for those
around. Nor can teachers who take the social reality surrounding them for
granted and simply accede to them.
(Greene 1978 p.3)
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Greene’s work led me to revisit Dewey (1934): he too emphasised the dangers of
passivity and ‘complete uniformity’ the ‘routine and the mechanical’ (Dewey 1934
p.272). Greene, like Dewey, advocates that education should be aesthetic, encouraging
‘wide-awakeness’ (Greene 1988 p.125) rather than ‘anaesthetic’ (Dewey 1934 p.272).
Anaesthetic education, she argues, numbs people and prevents them from reaching out
and enquiring.
I am suggesting that there may be an integral relationship between reaching out
to learn [how] to learn and the ‘search’ that involves a pursuit of freedom.
(Greene 1988 p.124)
Learning to learn, ‘unlearning to not speak’, learning to question, to reach out, and to
draw relationships between my values and my practice, has become a key focus of my
research and informs my conceptual frameworks. In Chapter 1 I articulated some of my
values about life and freedom, and about the kind of education I want to be involved in.
Throughout my research I have set about transforming my values into practice, and I
have also come to understand how those values have transformed into the living
standards of judgement whereby I evaluate my practice to see if it is commensurate
with my values.
I value others as unique human beings who have an infinite capacity for development. I
value this quality in myself. This is why Greene’s work spoke so eloquently to me. I
recognised in her work and in reading about her life that she appeared to be operating
from a perspective less grounded in propositional logics than many other educational
philosophers. Her work inspired me to make the relationship between my values and
my practice more explicit for myself. Through the work of McNiff (1993, 2000, 2004,
2005a, 2005b); McNiff et al. (1992), I was given the language to organise my ideas
more elegantly. Through the work of Whitehead and McNiff (2006) I came to
understand more fully the philosophy underpinning the generation of living theory
through which I was able to make explicit the links between my values, the action I
took to improve my practice and the standards of judgement I employed to test my
claims to be realising my values.
Linking values, action and standards of judgement
I have tried to depict the link between values, action and standards of judgement in a
diagram (Figure 4.5):
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Figure 4-5: A diagram of my understanding of the link between values, action and standards of
Making this link also enables me to appreciate the transformational relationships
between dialogue and dialogical ways of knowing. The transformative cycle in that case
takes the following form:
• I value dialogic pedagogies
• I ask myself questions of the kind, ‘How do I improve my practice so as to
provide opportunities for dialogue?’
• I find ways of improving my practice: for example I now participate with my
students in classroom dialogues.
• The questions I ask about my research to establish the validity of my knowledge
claims develop into my living standards of judgement: ‘Is there evidence in my
1. Reflection on Values
I value enquiry learning
4. Further reflection
Standard of judgement
Is there evidence in my
practice that shows that
I have provided my
students with ways to
learn through enquiry?’
3 Action
I provide my students
with opportunities to
question and to exercise
their capacity to generate
knowledge for
2 Reflection
I ask myself questions of
the sort: How do I
improve my practice so
as to live to this value?
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practice of me living in the direction of my values about dialogue and dialogical
ways of knowing?’
Cultural influences
To clarify these ideas further, I would like to digress briefly into an account of my early
schooldays, and show how the cultural influences of that time informed the
development of the values that informed my decision to pursue this research. Like
Noddings (1997) who suggests that her professional and academic life developed
largely as a result of ‘various accidents and awareness of opportunity’ (p.166), my
research also involved some less than happy ‘accidents’ as well as some fortuitous
The educational values which led me to research how I might teach in ways that honour
the capacity and right of all for independent thinking were influenced as reported earlier
by my early schooldays which were dominated by a culture of didactic pedagogies. It
was schooling in Illich’s (1973) sense of the word.
Schooling … the production … the marketing of knowledge … draws society
into the trap of thinking that knowledge is hygienic, pure, respectable,
deodorized, produced by human heads and amassed in stock. … [people] are
schooled to believe … that learning is a thing rather than an activity; a thing
that can be amassed and measured.
(Illich 1976, cited in Gajardo 1994 p.715)
When I was a schoolchild the teacher generally talked at us. I sat and absorbed and tried
to work out what the teacher wanted so that I could give it to her. Failure to do so would
result in verbal or physical punishment and humiliation. I also knew I would have to
regurgitate the acquired ‘knowledge’ in exams. This pedagogical model was premised
on controlling behaviours. My behaviour was less about trying to please and more about
trying not to displease. Such schooling did not feel just: it appeared to have more to do
with the power of the teacher – and the powerlessness of the child to control her own
learning environment in any way – than with education, as I understand the concept
My experience was symptomatic of Irish education in the 1950s and 1960s, which can
be characterised largely as a culture of control and subjugation. I have engaged with
literatures explaining the values base of Irish education during that period (S. Farren
1995, T. Brown 2004, Drudy and Lynch 1993) and literatures of power (Danaher et al.
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2000, Foucault 1980, Peters 2002). As a result, I now understand that while issues of
control and subjugation influenced my student life, they also often influenced the lives
of those who appeared to hold power, such as teachers, who were themselves often
controlled, according to T. Brown (2004 p.236), by the hegemonic practices of a
dominant and controlling church-state collaboration.
At the heart of the system was the National School teacher … Rigidly
controlled by the Department of Education, these teachers were often
themselves … a source of that ubiquitous Irish authoritarianism which … was
to be found in the carefully regulated relationship between church, state and
National Teacher.
(T. Brown 2004 pp.236-7)
The patriarchal and authoritarian culture that existed in Ireland at that time (see T.
Brown 2004, Drudy and Lynch 1983) found it easy to silence teachers, the majority of
whom were female. This helps to explain to me why, even as a teacher, I remained an
uncritical receiver of others’ knowledge. Several works support the notion that women
have been systematically silenced or ‘written out’ of the world, particularly the
academic world (Spender 1982, 1992, 1993; Martin 1985, 1994).
Martin (1994) explains how a literature has now developed which documents the ways
in which the intellectual disciplines (history, psychology, literature, the fine arts,
sociology and biology) are gender biased. The criticism contained in this new body of
literature, she says, reveals that historically women have typically been excluded from
the ‘conversation’ (see Martin 1985) that constitutes the history of Western educational
thought, and that the disciplines fall short of the ideal of epistemological equality,
including the representation and treatment of women in academic knowledge itself.
Furthermore, she adds, the disciplines exclude women from their subject matter:
They distort the female according to the male image of her; and they deny the
feminine by forcing women into a masculine mould … women are excluded
both as the subjects and objects of educational thought from the standard texts
and anthologies: as subjects.
(Martin 1994 p.35)
When Martin talks about women being excluded as subjects she suggests that ‘their
philosophical works on education are ignored’ (op cit p.36) and by being excluded as
objects of educational thought, she posits that women’s roles as educators of the young
are ‘largely neglected’ (ibid).
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This has a threefold significance for my study:
• it provides a deeper understanding of my ontological stance: why
I am how I am; why my schooling and training were run on the
patriarchal authoritarian lines that they were; and why (if
Gilligan (1982) is to be believed), traditionally, male
propositional logics have come to dominate over more dialectical
or dialogical logics.
• it has significance for my methodology which redresses the
traditional practice/theory divide and is grounded in dialectical
• it has significance for my pedagogies, in that I wish to contribute
to the kind of education of my students that encourages them to
critique taken-for-granted assumptions about the world that
mean that issues such as gendered bias often go unchallenged.
I believe that my work, in encouraging children to think, to question and to enter into a
conversation with each other and with their world, may have the potential to change
normative educational cultures. I can see some of this potential realised already, as in
this excerpt about the nature of courage:
CY, arguing that courage was not something that showed in a person’s
appearance and was not synonymous with size or physical strength,
illustrated his point by suggesting that
‘you could see this big strong guy and think he looks brave, but then
something bigger comes along and then he’s really scared and runs away
screaming like a girl.’ (RD 03-04-06) (Video Link: …run away
screaming like a girl…).
In the video clip, one can hear a shocked intake of breath followed by laughter from the
other children. Subsequently, the dialogue turns towards discussing whether girls are as
courageous as boys.
CM: Well men probably have a teeny bit more courage than women but
only because they can get them to do things. Girls are treated like things
– they stick them in their underwear [in ads] and throw them on the
bonnet of a car – just to sell the car!’ (RD 03-04-06)
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The excerpt demonstrates, I believe, critical awareness of the fact that the children
understood intuitively that CY’s statement should not go unchallenged, and CM
demonstrated an awareness of how women can be objectified in marketing strategies.
By exploring these issues I came to new understandings of the concept of hegemony.
The concept of hegemony
T. Brown (2004) referred to the ‘hegemonic practices of a dominant and controlling
church-state collaboration’ (p.236). I am interested in the concept of hegemony because
I feel it has relevance for my study at two levels: first, examining the concept helps me
to understand my own background; second, I want to become more critically aware so
as to assist my students also to develop critical awareness.
The Italian political theorist Gramsci (1971) considered hegemony to be the process by
which dominant power-wielders maintain and hold their power. The key dimension of
hegemony is the manipulation of public opinion in order to gain public consensus,
according to Kincheloe (2004).
When hegemony works best, the public begins to look at dominant ways of
seeing the world as simply common sense.
(Kincheloe 2004 p.65)
Through a coalition of coercion and moral and intellectual leadership, dominant groups
are usually in a position to maintain their influence over other groups. Edward Bernays
(1891-1995), nephew of Sigmund Freud and considered by many to be the one of the
most influential public relations propagandists of the 20th century, recognised the
power of manufacturing consent through the hegemony of propaganda and stated in
1928 that:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and
opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those
who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible
government which is the true ruling power of our country….
(Bernays 1928 p.1)
If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not
possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their
knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is
possible ….
(op cit p.71)
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Manipulating and controlling ‘the masses’ involves collusion at several levels. Shine
Thompson (2005) argues that hegemony involves a symbiosis between intellectuals, the
state, and people themselves, in which intellectuals educate the people, and high culture
informs popular culture, so that subordinate groups consent to those who are dominant
… coercion has been met in equal measure by an educated consent, by
acquiescence to the moral and intellectual leadership of the various hegemonic
groups in the constellation of the child’s life. Traditionally these have included
the church and state. … The vast majority of children is educated into
compliance with the values inscribed in these institutions both formally in the
school system and in extracurricular contexts; for a child to be ‘good’ is to be
conformist and tractable.
(Shine Thompson 2005 pp.191-2)
As I reflected on how hegemonic public practices influenced my childhood and my
early education two things happened. First I began to critique how I have until recently
been led to think in terms of the dominant forms of propositional logic. Second, as I
became aware of how I have been shaped by these propositional logics into passive
uncritical acceptance of the status quo, I resolved to improve my practice so as not to
contribute to an education in which children would be educated into compliance with
uncritiqued values.
I am determined not to let the same powerlessness and silencing as I had experienced
befall my students. I encourage them to be well-behaved, but not at the expense of
being critical (Russell 1932). I resolved to encourage my students to question and
challenge anything that they did not understand. My work could therefore be seen as
counter-hegemonic (Freire and Macedo 1987).
I will show in Chapter 7 (Action Reflection Cycle 2) how, when my five year olds
began to challenge the status quo by asking critical question such as, ‘What’s so good
about straight lines anyway?’, I found myself realising that I too needed to interrogate
some assumptions. When a four old child challenged the wearing of a uniform one day
(RD 16-01-02) by asking, ‘How come we all have to look the same in blue clothes?’, it
meant that the children and I began to problematise concepts of uniformity, and whether
or not it was a contributing factor to equality. I found myself defending the idea of
uniforms at first, because they are part of our institutional status quo. However, later I
found myself questioning my stance, as I filled in my journal.
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There are several reasons for why wearing school uniforms could be
seen as desirable: uniforms make everyone look the same, so no-one can
avail of the social capital of having more expensive clothes; a mandatory
uniform speeds up the process of getting dressed for school (from my
own experience of being a parent).
But in the military, uniforms play a role in training personnel to obey so
blindly that in battle situations they will even rush uncritically into
death…So wearing a uniform can also diminish children’s chances of
being individuals, of standing out from each other… (RD 16-01-02)
Later on again, when my 3rd class discussed issues from the story of Gandhi, I had to
revise my thinking once again (Chapter 7).
My research into the literatures about socio-historical influences on education in Ireland
in the 1950s informed developing insights into my ontological and epistemological
stance and provided an impetus for me to delve more deeply into literatures that
challenged dominant epistemologies (including Belenky et al. 1986, Gilligan 1982,
1995; Held 1995, Martin 1994), radical pedagogy literatures (such as hooks 1994, 2003;
Kozol 1992, Shor 1992, 1998, 2002), and critical pedagogy literatures (such as Darder
et al. 2003, Kincheloe 2004, Leistyna et al. 1996). As I read, my consciousness was
heightened and I began to see instances of injustice in my world that I had hitherto
allowed to go uncritiqued. I vowed then to use my educative influence to encourage my
students to be autonomous thinkers.
Through my research I have become aware of how power is embedded in education
(see also Foucault 1991, Devine 2003, Lynch and Lodge 2002). I have found also that
issues of power permeate and influence the story of my learning journey. For example,
when my students began to challenge norms and practices of my institution, I began to
examine for the first time the nature of the power relationships within my classroom,
my institution and within education generally. With my newfound critical awareness I
have begun to try to make sense of some of these power issues.
Some power issues and paradoxes
Developing the capacity to critique, however, always needs to be understood as taking
place within a social context, which can be problematic. Leistyna (2002) says that a
major role of critical research/interpretation should be to expose and transform
inequities of power (p.72). Kincheloe and Steinberg (1996, in Leistyna et al. 1996),
state that the great paradox of contemporary schooling and teacher education is that
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while educators speak of empowerment as a central goal they often ignore ‘the way
power operates to subvert the empowerment of teachers and students’ (in Leistyna et al.
1996 p.191). The paradox of seeking ways of empowering my students, while at the
same time often feeling disempowered myself by the education system of which I am a
part, and by the prescriptive curriculum which decides what knowledge may be taught
and when, has been one of the dilemmas that I have had to try to work around as I
taught my students to learn to think for themselves. As this account shows, I have also
had to negotiate it for myself as I, too, tried to learn to think critically.
A. McIntyre (in McIntyre and Dunne 2002) identifies a somewhat similar paradox in
education when he states that the main purposes of education are the formation of
citizens while encouraging people to think for themselves (McIntyre and Dunne 2002,
Dunne and Hogan 2004). As I tried to engage critically with that paradox, I have had to
grapple with questions such as, ‘Can I work creatively towards my epistemological
values within a prescriptive curriculum?’ I have come to the realisation that, although I
do not have a great deal of latitude about deciding what subject matter is taught, I do
have autonomy about how I teach.
I must also ask myself if my students are to be free from my imposing my way of
working on them and how I will know whether, by encouraging others to think for
themselves, I am imposing my values (Appendix B). In Chapter 1, I stated that I believe
in freedom for all from the imposition of the constraints on their right to think for
themselves. When I stated, in a recent seminar with my study group in March 2006, that
one of the core concepts of my study was freedom, my supervisor asked me if I had
examined my stance in relation to imposing freedom on others (RD 24-03-06). This
led me to revisit the work of Berlin.
Berlin (2002) critiqued the work of six philosophers who were prominent just before
and after the French Revolution and whose work, he said, all had some qualities in
common, one of which was that:
… they all discussed the problem of human liberty and all … claimed that they
were in favour of it – indeed some of them passionately pleaded for it and
regarded themselves as the truest champions of what they called true liberty
(Berlin 2002 p.5)
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However, Berlin then added
… yet it is a peculiar fact that in the end their doctrines are inimical to what is
normally meant, at any rate, by individual liberty, or political liberty. (ibid)
In other words they were in a sense all ‘hostile to liberty’ (Berlin 2002 p.5) in that they
endeavoured to impose freedom on others, not recognising that what they were doing
was a denial of the very form of freedom they supported. I wondered if I could see
myself reflected here.
A similar dilemma of practice presented itself as I interacted with my colleagues.
Because of experiencing silencing in my early teaching life, I have spent many years
trying to ensure that I am affirming and co-operative with teaching colleagues. This is
relevant for my study because as, I will show in Chapter 5, I have a position of
responsibility in relation to younger colleagues, in that I have been charged with the
task of developing pedagogies to support a spirit of critical thinking that will inform
school policy. My practice is not then confined to my own classroom. As I attempt to
establish and develop a caring critical community of enquiry in a caring community of
practice (Wenger 1998) with my colleagues, as well as with my students, I try to ensure
that I use my educative relationships to encourage people to be critical thinkers, rather
than coerce people to do critical thinking. Wenger (op cit) speaks of the power of
communities of practice for mutual empowerment and personal and professional
development through educative relationships. In arguing that learning is not just an
individual activity, he places the focus of learning on participation so that an
individual’s learning can contribute to the learning of their communities (p.7). I have
had to consider how I can contribute to such learning by sharing the experiences of
studying my practice. Like Whitehead (2004b) I have come to ask how I might
contribute to the education of social formations, in my case, the social formation of the
school staff of which I am a part.
The contribution I wish to make is, while living to my stated values of care, freedom
and justice, to develop myself as a critically aware thinker, and encourage colleagues
through my educative influence to recognise their own potentials for critical thinking,
and for us all to encourage this capacity also in the children with whom we work. In this
way, I believe, we can collaboratively nurture a culture of democratic critical enquiry in
our school. I am aware, however, through my studies, of the difficulties of influencing
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normative cultures that do not embrace the idea of enquiry. Russell (1932) explains,
reminiscent of the Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s in which I grew up, how there is often
‘too great a love for conformity both in the herd and in the bureaucrat’ (Russell 1932
p.144). Russell saw these two factors as grounds for ‘the harm that is done to education
by politics’ (op cit p.144). I now understand education to be a deeply political concept,
rather than a neutral enterprise, as I had believed before my study. My wish to influence
the nature of work practices that are in harmony with values of democratic enquiry is
political insofar as a population of educated independent thinkers, passionate about
what Bohm (1998 p.2) called ‘a spirit of dialogue’ and who ‘share opinions without
hostility’ in a ‘coherent’ way (pp.6-7), has potential significance for an open and
democratic society, as Bohm explains:
…a genuine culture could arise in which opinions and assumptions are not
defended incoherently. And that kind of culture is necessary for the society to
work and ultimately for the society to survive.
(Bohm 1998 p.7)
These ideas find resonance in many other literatures about democratic practices. Young
(2000) contrasts deliberative democracy with activist democracy. Deliberative
democracy, she argues, relies on reasonableness and discussion while activists take
political matters into their own hands by the use of such techniques as boycotts and
protests. In activist democratic situations all citizens are actively involved, while in the
deliberative model citizens elect representatives to speak on their behalf. Said (2004)
suggests that active or critical democratic participation is considered a ‘danger to
stability’ (p. 137). Referring to the report of the Trilateral Commission (1975) he says
… the argument is that too much democracy is bad for governability, which is
that supply of passivity which makes it easier for oligarchies of technical or
policy experts to push people into line. So if one is endlessly lectured by
certified experts … there is very little inclination to address this order with
anything like individual or even collective demands.
(Said 2004 p.137)
Chomsky also has pursued such arguments through his systematic critique of US
foreign policy (Chomsky 1995, 1999, 2000, 2002). Like Said, Chomsky and Young, I
too believe that all people should have access to participative democratic practices, and
it has become one of the reasons why I place such importance on encouraging full
participation in classroom dialogue and in developing a culture of critical enquiry
throughout the school.
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This can be an uphill struggle because, in my experience, and in relation to the ideas in
this chapter, schools are rarely modelled on participative democratic principles.
Teachers seldom have autonomy over what to teach, and students appear to have even
less autonomy over their learning environments. I am not alone in this opinion: McNess
et al. (2003) point out how in the UK the ‘effective’ (in terms of policy for producing
improved performance ‘outcomes’ in the ‘Key Stages’ of education) has come to
dominate the ‘affective’ (in terms of the previously more holistic teaching policies).
Likewise Bonal (2003), and Robertson, Bonal and Dale (2002) examine how the full
responsibility for education and for accountability in educational practices has been
transferred by the state to teachers and schools, while the state simultaneously retains
control of education at a more central level:
Neoliberal political rationality, however, develops mechanisms through which
the state can manage to reduce its presence as well as its legitimation burden,
while at the same time uses new modes of governance to intervene in the
affairs of individuals and communities. … Individual and collective behaviour
are formally free, but new forms of governance are able to shape that
(Robertson, Bonal and Dale 2002 p.469)
As reported earlier, educational policy in the Ireland of the 1950s virtually ensured a
form of compliant non-participative democracy when I was in primary school. I believe
that I internalised my experience of oppressive models of education, to the extent that
speaking out, questioning, or thinking critically were never an issue for me, mainly
because I did not know that they were possible. Like many children I was ‘socialised
into silence’ (Jaworski 1993). I relate this experience to those of other researchers in the
literatures (see Hartog 2004; Church 2004). My study has enabled me to ‘unlearn to not
speak’ (Piercy 1971). In correspondence with several colleagues and friends in Ireland
and in many other English-speaking countries, I have learned that my experiences of
school were similar to people of different ages from different educational and
geographic contexts. (Appendices G.1. to G.7.)
I am now able to articulate my desire to offer a form of counter-hegemony by
exercising my voice as a researcher, and by presenting the voices of my students as
researchers. Through the generation of my own living educational theory, I challenge
the traditional epistemological gate-keeping role of the academy by claiming to know
my own educational development (Whitehead 1989a). I wish to exercise my capacity to
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influence my colleagues to do the same. It is a relatively new departure for a hitherto
silenced teacher population to be in a position to claim theory generation.
I believe this to be the nature of my original scholarly contribution: I am now able to
generate my own living theory for how I have come to understand and improve my
practice, and to encourage my colleagues also to do so. I have done this initially through
my engagement with the literatures of critical pedagogy, and with the literatures around
the conceptual frameworks of my study. The next chapter focuses on contextual issues
and I will engage with literatures around the contexts of critical thinking, the Irish
primary school curriculum and research contexts in order to show how I critique these
contexts and test my claim to have developed pedagogies, in line with my values, that
encourage critical awareness. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 will describe how I introduced such
critical pedagogies into my classroom practice, and Chapter 9 speaks further about the
potential significance of my research for the education of the social formation of my
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Chapter 5
Becoming Critical: Engaging with the literatures of critical
thinking, policy and research contexts
In this chapter I continue my theme of how I took action in my context, without, at first,
critically reflecting on what I was doing or why I was taking action. However, as I have
already shown, some new understanding began to emerge as I engaged with the
literatures of critical theory and critical pedagogy. This too became a form of action
because reading critical literatures (such as Apple 1979, Bartolomé 1992, Chomsky
2000, Freire 1972, Kincheloe 2004) raised more questions for me than answering them.
I often found the process quite destabilising as my faith in the hitherto unshakable
foundations of the education system of which I was a part, had begun to crumble. Now
I began to look with new eyes at education and question many of the assumptions
around current educational policies. For example, in this chapter I begin to deconstruct
the notion of a standardised curriculum, the breaking up of knowledge into discrete
curricular areas, the dominance of didactic pedagogies and standardised assessment
processes and the ensuing labelling of children. It will be seen that these understandings
permeate this document. Now, with raised critical consciousness I began to look again
at what I understood by intelligence and interrogate how I had made assumptions about
children in the past. I also began to question my own logics. It was only then as I
began to deconstruct concepts and my own mental models that I began to realise that,
although I thought I was teaching children to think critically, I needed first to engage in
the idea of what critique meant. In order to do so I first needed to examine the
contextual frameworks of my study – critical thinking, the Irish primary school
curriculum and the research contexts around teaching children to think critically
The starting point for my critique, as I undertook my action enquiry, was to consider the
idea of experiencing myself as a living contradiction when my values were denied in
my practice. Early in my studies I was able to articulate my values, but it took
considerable critical engagement with my own learning to see that I needed to transform
those values into a living practice. Developing such an understanding came about
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through reading, talking with critical friends, reflecting on practice and eventually
coming to the point where I was actively able to critique. I explore these issues in this
chapter, and now engage with the literatures around my contexts of curriculum and
critical thinking. I also examine some research contexts in the field of critical thinking.
Moreover, I demonstrate how I have come to think critically by engaging critically with
the literatures whose content I am now critiquing.
I begin by offering an account of the early stages of my research, and the experience of
myself as a living contradiction.
Experiencing myself as a living contradiction
Throughout my teaching career I have consistently sought ways of including children as
active participants in their learning processes and in dialogue. However, my emergent
capacity to articulate my values, and to consider the extent to which I was living in the
direction of my values, gave me cause for concern, especially in relation to an
expectation that I would conform to normative school regimes, and my lack of
resistance in doing so. From my reading of critical and radical pedagogues such as
Ayers (1995), Greene (1995), Holt (1964) hooks (1994), Shor (2002) I now saw that
along with setting aside time for discrete weekly discussions I needed to develop a
wider range of dialogic pedagogies in order to live more closely to my values (see
Chapter 7). However I was frequently frustrated because living to these values meant
that I often found myself unable to ‘cover’ the entire range of curricular areas. For much
of my teaching life I had neglected to ask why this should be so. I understand now that
didacticism is premised on propositional logics whereas my epistemological values are
grounded in more dialectical forms of logic. I can now see that didactic lessons are
reifiable ‘things’ that can be ‘planned’, ‘executed’ and ‘assessed’ within a given
timeframe especially if the only voice is that of the teacher and the children passively
follow her plans. Such a lesson could be considered a product. A dialogic lesson is a
process: it is about opportunity, conversation, flow, engagement, being: the process can
be ‘planned for’ but there can be no guarantees around ‘outcomes’ or about what
happens when children and teachers explore and create new knowledge together.
Dialogic pedagogies could be seen as square pegs that resist being pounded into the
round holes of timetables and schedules. Evaluating such activities can also be
problematic as I will demonstrate below.
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For much of my teaching career, life had been simple. I had allowed myself to be
dictated to by the demands of the school system of bells and timetables, and a
curriculum which presents the different subjects as discrete areas to be timetabled
accordingly (Introduction, Government of Ireland 1999 p.70). As reported, I had not
questioned this state of affairs although I had often felt uncomfortable about my
practice, because for much of my life I did not realise the status quo was questionable.
Now with increasing critical awareness I found that interruptions such as bells and
timetables make dialogic practice difficult and that I needed to deconstruct for myself
the concept of knowledge being a ‘thing’ to be chopped into discrete deliverable
‘things’ called subjects (for example see Figure 5.1 below).
Figure 5-1: Table: Suggested minimum weekly time framework
(Curriculum Introduction, Government of Ireland 1999 p.70)
For a long time, though, in spite of appreciating my values as the guiding principles of
my practice, I complied with what was expected of me so as to try to ‘deliver the
curriculum’. Although I had not the language initially to articulate my feelings of
dissonance at the contradiction between the kind of teacher I wanted to be, and the kind
I actually was, I now see that at heart there was an inherent tension between my
dialectically informed epistemological values, and the propositional forms of logic that
underpin technical rational timetables, the separation of subjects into discrete contents,
and the prescription of teacher manuals.
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As my studies progressed, and I began to develop more dialogical pedagogies, I was
frequently stymied by the technical rational constraints of the school day. For example,
in my current institution I met every fortnight for short-term planning with two other
teachers. We searched our textbooks and resources to devise interesting lessons in each
subject area and sought appropriate assessment strategies. When I introduced ideas for
more dialogical forms of practice, my colleagues were supportive, but we found that
dialogical pedagogies do not ‘fit’ tidily into twenty-five minute timeslots. I could see
the competing epistemological stances clearly for the first time.
The concept of timeslots and dialogical ways of knowing
Drawing again on the work of Capra (1997), the concept of curriculum as a sequence of
timeslots can be understood as grounded in a technical rational managerial approach to
education and in positivist ways of knowing that hark back to Cartesian epistemological
values (see Chapter 3 this document). Descartes understood mind and body as separate
entities. He saw the universe as a mechanistic entity, which could ‘be understood
through analysing it in terms of its smallest parts’ (Capra 1997 p.19). He developed a
form of thinking that ‘consists of breaking up complex phenomena into pieces to
understand the behaviour of the whole from the property of its parts’ (Capra 1997 ibid).
Dialogical pedagogies, on the other hand, involve what Bohm (1998) calls entering into
‘the spirit of the dialogue’ (p.2), in which knowledge is understood as a flowing process
involving wholeness (Bohm 2004). Bohm states that fragmentation originates in how
we think and suggests that ‘it is thought that divides everything up’ (p.10).
Every division we make is a result of how we think. In actuality the whole
world is shades merging into one. But we select certain things and separate
them from others – for convenience at first …
(Bohm 2004 p.10)
It can be seen immediately how the concepts of fragmentation and flow are in tension.
The artificial division of knowledge into separate categories is indicative of an
education system that perceives education as something to be controlled and managed.
Foucault (1980) would suggest that it is indicative of a public discourse that sees people
as things to be controlled and managed also. McDermott and Richardson (2005), cite
Freud’s statement that ‘education must inhibit, forbid and suppress’ (p36). I work in a
school that is collegiate and supportive of innovative practices. Our mission statement,
which I, as one of the first four members of staff, helped to generate in association with
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a group of parents, states that we endeavour to ‘create an environment where all are free
to question and encouraged to think.’ Nevertheless, broader educational systemic norms
influence policy. These systemic norms involve rules, routines, administration, a
standardised curriculum with discrete subject areas, and large classes of 30 or more
children with scarce resources unless they are provided by fundraising on the part of
parents and staff. As I struggled to implement dialogical pedagogies, I now saw such
norms, especially the breaking up of knowledge into discrete subjects as a prime
example of the fragmentation of which Bohm (2004) spoke. Trying to adhere to
timetables is frequently frustrating when I am involved with my children in a creative
process and a bell goes which tells us it is now time to go to Drama class, and we are
already immersed in a flow of creativity, such as poetry composition or art.
I did not, however, abandon my wish to develop a creative, dialogical experience for
my students and myself, and I persevered in my efforts to devise interesting learning
activities that spoke to the children’s experience. I was diligent in my short term
planning. I addressed the demands of the curriculum, and wrote up my fortnightly
schemes accordingly. However, I found it impossible to stick rigidly to schemes: when
a subject was interesting and when the children were creative and involved, I would join
with their sense of delight, and, providing the children were not obliged to go to another
area of the school for lessons, I saw no problem with allowing the activity to run on
until, together, we felt we had fully explored the subject. This got me into several kinds
of difficulty: initially I risked alienating the goodwill of other teachers, such as the
learning support and language support teachers who provide in-class support and who
expect me to be doing what it says on the timetable. An entry in my diary reads:
When D came in for Maths today, the children were experimenting with
constructing bridges that would support an increasing weight of
materials. It was noisy, fun and exciting.
She was very supportive and got involved, but interestingly, the children
she usually supports didn’t appear to need her help with construction.
Their difficulty appears to be with abstract, conceptual mathematics.
(RD 30-03-06)
Children who need help with learning have a right to every possible resource that the
system can offer. The learning support teacher, the language support teacher and the
resource teacher (who also has to come to my class), are obliged to adhere to timetables
in order to fulfil their obligations to the children who need them in various classrooms: I
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have to try to teach in ways that support my values. There are competing rights and
value-systems here, and each of us has the best interests of the children at heart. It has
taken cooperation and collegiality to come up with creative and just solutions whereby
the rights of the children in need of support are met. However, to return to the data
extract, the fact that the students did not need the assistance of the learning support that
day bears out the thinking of several educators (Gardner 1983, Dewey 1910, 1929; von
Glasersfeld 1995, 1996) who argue that children need experience with solving ‘real’
problems, as much as with abstract conceptual mathematics. The learning support
teacher and I were then able to use this knowledge to develop a range of alternative
ways of scaffolding learning.
The issue of evaluation and assessment remained. At the end of each month, I would
submit my planning schemes to my principal as monthly progress reports, with each
area duly ticked off as ‘done’ or ‘not done’. As it was not always easy to determine
what exactly had been ‘done’, I got around my difficulty by sometimes including CDs
of discussions or photos of children working individually and collaboratively, as
illustrated in Figures 5.2 and 5.3 below.
Figure 5-2: Photos of my students researching together
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Figure 5-3: Photo of E presenting her findings of her research on dinosaurs
From reading critical pedagogues, such as Ayers (1995), Shor (1992) and others, I
began to question again the didactic practices which had been so much part of my
teaching repertoire. I began to look for ways to incorporate more dialogue, and more
enquiry learning methodologies into my practice and seek ways of devolving more
autonomy to my students. I gathered data from some of these enquiry methodologies
that show my students engaging with a variety of learning opportunities. However, the
learning involved would often be difficult to assess by any kind of standardised
methodology. Factual knowledge could be checked but the full range of the children’s
learning is probably immeasurable.
Figures 5.2 and 5.3 demonstrate one such activity in which the children researched
dinosaurs in teams (3rd class November 06). The 8 and 9 year old children took
responsibility for the whole activity. It involved the interpersonal skills of negotiation
and management in deciding who would do what, in terms of who would get the
material and document the data, who would compile it, and who would report to the
class what the team had found out. I stepped out of the activity other than to direct
individual children towards resources. In this way the children negotiated a complex
range of new learning. One such was the discovery of how to use the index in reference
books, a source of surprise to J who said:
You mean I could have just looked there in that list and found the right
page! I’ve just spent ages going through the whole book! That’s so
handy! (RD 24-11-06)
My students researched palaeontologists on the internet, drew and made models of
dinosaurs, looked up whether their dinosaur was a carnivore or an herbivore, brought in
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models for display, composed poetry, learned a song about dinosaurs and wrote up their
findings, and finally presented their work publicly. The learning involved multiple
intelligences (Gardner 1983) and coverage of different areas of the curriculum.
However little of this learning could be assessed by technical measurement.
Other examples of enquiry learning that were difficult to assess in technical rational
ways, include investigating seeds, making butter, sowing potatoes, examining prisms,
looking at fingerprints, making raisins ‘dance’ in fizzy drinks and several other science
projects, as illustrated in Figures 5.4 to 5.6 below. Children who performed well in
these activities were often the same children who did not encounter success in
standardised tests.
Figure 5-4: Photos of my students examining seeds and planting potatoes
Figure 5-5: Photos of acid/alkali indicator and exploring sounds experiments
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Figure 5-6: Photos of students working together on measurement and prisms
As well as working dialogically together in the area of history, geography, maths and
science, I also arranged opportunities for my students to meet with artists and
craftspeople who visited our classroom to demonstrate their work, and to talk with the
children. The children were helped to learn to knit in collaboration with a team of local
women. This was a very successful project, because, as well as learning the craft, the
children and knitting experts were soon exchanging ideas about colours, textures, styles
of knitted garments and stories from the knitters’ early knitting attempts, as shown in
Figure 5.7 (below) and which also shows a video still of a group of children in a
‘knitting and chatting’ circle, which some boys, in particular, seemed to enjoy (see also
video link ‘dialogue and knitting’ in Chapter 9).
Figure 5-7: Video still and photo of dialogue and knitting
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But again the learning was of the sort that cannot easily be assessed by technical
rational methods. When I tried to tick the ‘done’ and ‘not done’ boxes in my progress
reports, I found it difficult to articulate what had been ‘done’.
We also visited several art exhibitions. The physical act of going there could be ticked
off as ‘done’, but to try to assess, or even to describe the learning that took place, was
not so easy. It is not possible to measure the kind of learning that happens when a child
is in rapt communion with a piece of art. It may not be even possible for the child to
articulate her response in any other way, except through smiles, or through drawing or
through engaging in silent dialogical engagement with the art – see Figure 5.8 below.
Figure 5-8: Photos of students in a gallery
Neither is it possible to gauge what is happening when a child is in conversation with a
visiting knitting volunteer. I can say, ‘X learned how to cast on 10 stitches today’, but
perhaps X also learned about life in school when the knitting volunteer was young, or
perhaps X was exposed to a new methodology for holding knitting needles if one is lefthanded,
or experienced an aesthetic response to the texture or the colour of the wool. It
is not possible to quantify empirically, for example, what kind of relational knowledge
was generated or what development of interpersonal or intrapersonal intelligence
(Gardner 1983) occurred while in a dialogue with the visitor. When activities ran over
their allotted time, something else had to be dropped. This meant that I often looked in
dismay at my progress records and ticked several ‘to be done’ boxes.
For example, in November 2004 my father visited my class to talk to the children about
his passion for woodcarving (Figure 5.9 below). The visit was scheduled to last for
forty minutes. Instead it lasted over two hours. The children listened, questioned, and
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engaged him in dialogue. They experimented with tools; they felt and smelt the wood
and rubbed the wax; they had a science lesson about how bog oak is formed; and a
history lesson about what life was like when my father attended school more than
seventy years ago. Afterwards, parents came to thank me for what appeared to be one of
the ‘coolest’ (according to one child) school experiences their children had had. I wrote
in my diary:
A week after the woodcarving presentation M told me that she and her
child had gone to the shopping centre. They passed a display of wooden
carvings. C touched several pieces and said, ‘Somebody carved that with
tools and rubbed wax on it to shine it. I’d like to do that too sometime.’
(RD 16-11-04)
Figure 5-9: Display of photos from the woodcarver’s visit
I have offered these stories to show that I was consistently experiencing myself as a
living contradiction, because the values that inspired my everyday practices were often
denied by the technical rationality of the wider education system of which I was a part,
and with which I was expected to conform. The realisation that I was a living
contradiction (Whitehead 1989a) came about slowly. I believe that I have always been a
reflective practitioner (Schön 1983) and have always tried to teach with integrity, but
now I realise that reflection alone is insufficient for bringing about methodological
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change in one’s practice. In my case, a further element was needed, that of becoming
more critically aware.
One of my tasks in becoming more critical was to try to see things not just as they were
and are, but also how they might be otherwise. Greene (1995) suggests that each
person’s reality must be understood as interpreted experience, and that the mode of
interpretation depends on his or her situation and location in the world. It depends as
well, she says, on the number of vantage points a person is able or enabled to take: the
number of perspectives that will ‘disclose multiple aspects of a contingent (not a selfexistent)
world’ (p.19). Didactic teaching mostly involves one perspective – that of the
didact – either the teacher or the textbook. I sought pedagogies that embody my values
of care, freedom and justice – pedagogies that would allow my students to think for
themselves and go beyond the commonplace and glimpse what ‘could be’.
It is to see beyond what the imaginer has called normal or ‘commonsense’ and
to carve out new orders in experience. Doing so, a person may become freed to
glimpse what might be, to form notions of what should be, and what is not yet.
And the same person may, at the same time, remain in touch with what
presumably is.
(Greene 1995 p.17)
I have referred to how my critical awareness emerged when I started researching some
critical pedagogy literatures. I looked again at my practice and my context to try to
develop my ability to envisage possibilities I had not hitherto imagined. For example, I
suddenly became aware of the increasing prescription in textbooks and teacher manuals.
The Religious Education programme and the Irish Language
programmes are particularly prescriptive in outlining every day’s
activities, the questions I should ask, the answers I should solicit and the
tasks I should set the children: nothing is left to chance. They are being
marketed as ‘teacher-proof’ and no-one seems to see the irony there.
(RD 22-01-02 and Appendix F.1.)
I understand prescription as signifying a lack of trust in people’s ability to discern and
make choices, and that it can close down critical thinking. For Freire (1972),
prescription has connotations of the oppressor:
One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed
is prescription.
(Freire 1972 p.28)
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I had never challenged prescription before, because I had never noticed it. Critical
awareness developed only gradually. For example I wrote:
R, S and I spoke today about the gradual systematic erosion of teacher
professional autonomy. I explained my concerns about the Irish and RE
programmes. S commented that the RE manual was so prescriptive that
if given to the postman he could probably ‘teach’ the lessons. It specifies
what to say in discussions and when; what questions to ask and when;
what artwork should be done and how: there are even some questions
and answers to be memorised! (RD 22-02-03)
My capacity for critique came from talking with critical friends and engagement with
the literatures, and it is to these literatures that I now turn.
As an organising framework for this section, I draw on the ideas of Foucault (1982) that
discourses are made up of discursive practices. Foucault describes these discursive
practices as a body of anonymous, historical rules (p. 45) and he held that power
relations are embedded in the discursive practices of institutions such as schools.
According to McLaren (2003a) such discursive practices refer to the rules which
… govern what is said and what must remain unsaid, who can speak with
authority and who must listen… [these are] not simply words but [are]
embodied in the practice of institutions, the patterns of behaviour, and in forms
of pedagogy.
(McLaren 2003a p.83)
I explained in the previous chapter how I thought about what might be the discursive
practices embedded in my classroom and institution, and researched literatures
pertaining to Irish contexts (Lynch 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006; Lynch and Lodge 2002,
Devine 2003, Drudy and Lynch 1993). I came to see that teachers as well as children
are sometimes powerless. Although I knew that traditionally children ‘must listen’ in
class, until recently I did not realise that teachers were also among those who ‘must
listen’. While verbally dominant within their classroom context, within larger
institutional and education systems teachers are often encouraged to ask only procedural
or operational questions in relation to systemic or institutional norms, making them
simultaneously powerful and powerless (Lynch 2005). I realised too that the power
differentials in education seem to have remained more or less the same since I was in
school. Lynch (2005) states that
… power inequalities are not just a problem for students. Teachers experience
power differentials both horizontally and vertically, in terms of school
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management and colleagues respectively … They are subject to control by
external bodies and by the authority of those in superordinate positions within
their own institution. They are simultaneously both powerful and powerless.
(Lynch, in Lyons and Waldron, 2005 p.155)
When I looked at my own practice, I saw that, although I can challenge pedagogical
issues in relation to the curriculum, I cannot unilaterally decide to jettison any part of
the curriculum, or decide, for example, that the concepts of division or fractions should
be left until fourth class rather than be taught in third class. To do so would have to
involve whole school policy and negotiation with the inspectorate. Similarly, I could
not challenge with any authority, issues such as proposed performance related
assessment of teachers and children, standardised testing of children, or the publication
of inspectors’ reports about schools on the internet, all of which appear to me to be at
odds with the rhetoric of the 1999 Curriculum (Government of Ireland 1999), which
emphasises child-centred learning and democratic practices.
I could, however, change my pedagogy, and so challenge pedagogical norms by
introducing new forms of pedagogy that seemed to carry more hope for the realisation
of my values than traditional didactic pedagogies. This is what I decided to do. I now
offer a critique of the contexts in which my critical pedagogies are located, and in my
next three chapters I explain how I put them into action, and how I also began critically
to reflect on and generate insights about what I was doing. I began to move from
description to explanation.
I start by offering an overview of the contexts of Philosophy for Children (PC4), and
Thinking Time, and their relevance for thinking and teaching with critical awareness
and I test my ideas against them.
An overview of the contexts of Philosophy for Children (P4C), Thinking Time,
the Critical Thinking movement
In the 1990s, as noted earlier, I introduced a programme called Thinking Time into my
practice. This programme was adapted from the ideas of Matthew Lipman (1982, 1984,
1985, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1996; Lipman et al. 1980; Lipman and Sharp 1994) who
devised a programme so that teachers, equipped with Lipman’s novels and instruction
manuals, could introduce philosophical dialogue in their classrooms. The teachers
would then aim to draw out responses from the children according to Lipman’s
methodological guidelines. For many years I accepted the underpinning assumptions of
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Lipman’s work. Now, through my increased critical awareness arising from reading
critical pedagogy literatures I began to ask some questions.
For example, while I agree with many of Lipman’s reasons and ideas, his methodology
seems to me to be unduly prescriptive, and rests on an underlying assumption that,
without Lipman’s manuals, teachers would not be able to guide the discovery of
knowledge through dialogue. Lipman’s ideas have been adapted for use in many
countries ( and training courses have been set up to ensure that teachers
know what to do. A critical appraisal of the materials, however, would reveal that
children are being ‘taught to think’ in order to work towards an end point called ‘better
thinking’. Vansieleghem (2005), for example, suggests that the Philosophy for Children
(P4C) movement appears to be an all-or-nothing ‘package’:
… there is reason for scepticism … Since we are expected as a matter of course
to subscribe to the basic assumptions of Philosophy for Children, we seem to
have tied ourselves to the whole package, as it were, without reservation.
(Vansieleghem 2005 p.20)
I also find disquieting some of the claims of the P4C movement in that there appears to
be an assumption that a general consensus will be reached though guided discussion.
This makes me anxious, because it appears to hint at some kind of ‘right answer’ that
children will achieve, given enough time and guidance by the teacher. My videos show
that in classroom discussions with my students, I position myself as co-participant and
remain largely silent, speaking only when it is my turn or when I feel that the children
are unable to move the discussion along. Several observers have remarked on this:
… the children just keep talking and you don’t really intervene at all
(comment by YO’F after observing several classroom dialogue sessions.
RD 06-12-04)
What’s surprising to me is how little input you have in the discussion.
(comment by parent DMcC following a viewing of videoed dialogues
Lipman believes, however, that the teacher should intervene frequently and drive the
dialogue through a specific agenda, so the children’s thinking becomes guided by the
teacher towards what seems to me the ‘correct’ philosophical conclusion (see BBC TV
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Furthermore, the Lipman programme appears unduly deterministic, although the
avowed aim is to create democratic citizens for the future. This view is not
commensurable with my own values. Like Russell (1932), I believe that it is better to
produce free-thinking individuals than conformist citizens. Hence my decision to
generate my living theory of practice, which, while it incorporates insights from
Lipman’s work, is grounded in the realities of creating democratic and fair conditions in
my everyday work, and in the evidence I produce to show how I am creating those
conditions. The reasons for adopting this perspective appear to be shared by
Vansieleghem (2005), who says:
… thinking and dialogue as conceived by Philosophy for Children cannot be a
basis for democracy and freedom simply because it is determined in advance
by a specific kind of thinking and acting in accordance with roles that we are
expected to fulfill: namely, being autonomous, critical, creative and
communicative citizens. Other possibilities are excluded.
(Vansieleghem 2005 p.20)
Long (2005) also critiques Lipman’s emphasis on the ‘training’ of children as
philosophers by learning the skills of argument, maintaining that philosophy therefore
becomes an end rather than thinking for its own sake. I agree with Long, albeit from a
different perspective. I want my students to learn to become critical thinkers not merely
to learn to acquire debating skills. To that end I provide opportunities in which to
discuss and dialogue – not training sessions.
I also agree with Reed and Johnson’s view of the purposes of philosophy for children:
The assumption behind philosophy for children is that if you can get children to
talk well … you are well on your way to achieving the goal of creating a
person who can think well for herself or himself.
(Reed and Johnson 2000 p. 206)
Like Reed and Johnson (ibid) I question the inherent assumptions underlying the notion
of ‘getting’ the children to ‘talk well’ and the idea of ‘creating a person’. To me these
phrases are redolent of prescriptive practice and propositional logics. To achieve the
situation in which children do talk and think well, I adopt the following strategies for
classroom discussions. First I provide the starting points for formal dialogue by making
plenty of time available. I arrange a circle seating arrangement by moving the
classroom furniture with my children (see Figure 5.10) and sometimes by taking them
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to an empty classroom where chairs are already made available in a circle, although this
latter later proved to be problematic (see Chapter 8).
Figure 5.10: Video still of children preparing the room for a circle
I sit in the circle at the children’s level, where possible, and after reading a story or
introducing a picture or poem or a child’s question as a starting point, I then turn the
responsibility for the discussion over to the children and become one with them in the
circle. I sit, listening, thinking, remaining silent, or speaking when it is my turn (see
Figures 5.11).
Figure 5-11: Video stills of my participation in discussion
In my videos it can be seen that the children ‘run’ the discussion: they keep the flow of
dialogue going; they listen to each other attentively and with respect; they engage with
each others’ ideas and build on them; they exhibit delight in the use of words. They
fulfil many criteria that Bohm (1998) suggests are essential for dialogue: they can
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maintain eye contact through the circle arrangement; there is no set agenda other than
an open discussion about what the story or topic meant to them, and there is an open
forum, with no scoring of points.
During discussions like this, I have found myself drawn in by the richness of the
dialogue and amazed at having my own ideas challenged both by myself and by the
children. It is clear, I believe, from my videos (see accompanying CD), that my students
have demonstrated their capability to think for themselves in critical and creative ways.
My deep learning from my research is not that I have taught them this, but rather that I
have learned how to think critically myself alongside them so as to recognise the
importance of what is happening.
Despite my reservations about his methodologies, however, I found much to be admired
about Lipman’s work. I have incorporated elements of Lipman’s ideas and elements of
other different thinking programmes into my practice.
For example, Donnelly’s (1994) idea of Thinking Time offers open-ended selection of
topics and affords opportunities to pursue these topics in a wide variety of directions. In
this model the teacher seeks to be a member of the discussion circle rather than an overt
authority figure. However, I will show later that as I became more critically aware
myself, I saw that this approach, if it is isolated from a wider dialogical practice, fails to
fully realise my value of teaching children to be creative autonomous critical thinkers.
The dangerous reification of critical thinking
I have been influenced by the large body of literature relating to critical thinking (for
example Ennis 1987, Lipman 1984, 1987, 1988; Paul 1993, Paul and Elder 2001, Paul
et al. 1995, Quinn 1997, Siegel 1988, Splitter and Sharp 1995, Thayer-Bacon 2000).
However, these literatures largely view critical thinking from a propositional
perspective, as a reified ‘something’ that one ‘does’ following the acquisition of
specific skills. The aim is to produce a product called ‘better critical thinking’ through
an analysis of skills, dispositions and knowledge. For example, Paul and Elder (2001
p.84) list eight universal elements of reasoning that are present in all reasoning of all
subjects in all cultures for all time. Their ideas appear to be firmly grounded in
propositional thinking. Paul et al. (1995) suggest that teachers should develop
themselves into critical thinkers. I agree with this stance, but I disagree with their
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suggestion that teachers should do so by learning and using the principles and skills of
critical thinking. Again this approach is also premised on the view that knowledge is
reified, and that critical thinking is ‘thing’ that incorporates a set of skills that can be
‘got’. Splitter and Sharp (1995) advocate promoting a culture of critical thinking in a
classroom, an approach with which I agree, but they also adopt a propositional
methodology for doing so.
Siegel (1988) articulates a view of critical thinking that comes close to my own when he
says that a critical thinker possesses both skills and character traits. He refers to these
traits as a critical spirit (p.39). He argues that a person must not only be able to think
critically, but that critical thinkers must be willing or otherwise disposed to doing so. He
does still, however, tend to reify critical thinking, and favour the ‘having’ of a set of
discrete skills.
I believe my research goes beyond propositional theories, although it incorporates
elements from many of them. When I sit with my students and take a non-didactic role
in the discussion I am not ‘studying critical thinking’, nor ‘teaching critical thinking’
neither am I studying my students. I don’t ‘teach’ the children any skills for doing
‘good’ discussion. I don’t prepare a lesson in advance on dispositions of critical
thinking. Instead I listen to what is being said (Figure 5.12) and I engage with my
children as a co-thinker, co-talker, and co-participant in the conversation.
Figure 5-12: Video still of me listening as a child speaks
I find much to relate to in the work of Burbules (1993) who criticises ‘antidialogical’
instructional practices, particularly the initiation-response-evaluation type of
questioning which he says, serve to ‘maintain the crude appearance of discussion while
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maintaining the teacher’s desire for actual control’ (p. 154) and which displays ‘lack of
commitment to truly open-ended and exploratory dialogue (p.153). Burbules’ approach
is honest and tentative:
…I would recommend a pragmatic, contextual, fallibilistic perspective that
regards the possibilities of dialogue with persistence and hope, while being
prepared as well for its possible failure and breakdown.
(Burbules 1993 p.160)
Unlike the Lipman methodology and focus on the product of ‘better thinking’, my
discussions with children are open-ended processes. There is no artifice, no pre-planned
agenda to the discussions. Once we are seated in a circle, discussion tends to happen
organically. In my research diary on 03-04-06 I wrote
I have been discussing this story (‘Dragons and Giants’: Lobel, 1992)
with different classes now for about 6 years and I am amazed
continually by children finding new aspects of the story that I have never
A’s comment today about there being ‘no way of looking brave, but a
way of looking not brave’ was very interesting. Does this mean that you
can see fear in a person but not courage? Where does this kind of
learning come from? I certainly did not ‘teach’ it.
J’s analytical enumeration of all the different kinds of courage was
interesting. One can see his logical scientific mind at work. It was a
stimulating discussion. It was interesting how the topic of courage
segued into physical strength: it’s as though some children see physical
strength and courage as synonymous. (RD: 03-04-06)
I can see that in my reflections I am shifting from a position of observer and teacher
into one of participant and learner. This is as it should be, I believe: my researcher
voice, learning voice and teaching voice are interwoven with my ordinary human
participative voice.
The next piece of data is drawn from a discussion on freedom following the reading of
Anne Frank’s story (Polle and Barrett 2005) from our history syllabus. Neither I nor the
children set out with the agenda of discussing freedom. The children’s comments on
what they understood by freedom came about organically as they responded to the
story. It shows me the high level of critical awareness that some children can reach.
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K: People deserve freedom: everybody is human, so in that way
everybody is the same. It’s not fair if one person makes another person
do something they don’t want to do. No one is more important than
anyone else …
C: I agree with T that freedom is being able to do whatever you want
but you shouldn’t have the freedom to kill anyone. Or you shouldn’t be
able to take over the world and kill people …
Jk: I just thought of this when CY was talking about slaves. I think
freedom isn’t something you can give to someone. Even if you’re a
slave owner: because the slave might have freedom already inside
themselves and you might be only giving them sort of like …
permission or something. Permission doesn’t really mean the same thing
as freedom … (RD 07-02-06)
One child who was new to the school spoke about the need for people to be left alone
while they grieved.
DH: I think freedom is something you need all the time but sometimes
you need it more than other times, like if someone dies and you’re very
sad you need freedom to be alone … (RD 07-02-06)
This student has experienced difficult situations in his personal life: it was poignant that
it took a classroom discussion on freedom to release some of this emotion in words. I
later wrote:
I came to think more deeply about freedom through this discussion. The
liveliness and energy of the children was almost palpable. They were
engaged completely …
… the conversation continued as they walked out to yard break at lunch
time. I was really surprised that DH spoke about grief. This is a major
step for him and took a lot of courage. I must make sure he gets some
extra attention. (RD 07-02-06)
The entries in my diary differ considerably from the kind of rhetoric in the mainstream
literatures of critical thinking. I am living and working with real people. We share
human experiences, and our discussions involve us in a genuine sharing of ideas, in a
constant flow as Bohm (1998) described.
I now move to a brief discussion of policy contexts to which research about critical
thinking may be relevant.
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Policy contexts
The main policy documents that are relevant for my research context are Curaclam na
Bunscoile (Government of Ireland 1971) and the 1999 Primary School Curriculum
(Government of Ireland 1999). I give a brief outline of both documents.
The 1971 Curriculum
It is important to realise that the dominant theoretical approach in Irish educational
sociology up to the 1970s was functionalist (Drudy and Lynch 1993 p.29). Such an
approach promotes an ‘equal opportunities’ meritocratic ideal, grounded in an ideology
that promotes a view of success in education and industry as based on ability and effort
and not on socio-cultural factors such as social position, background, race, gender and
place of residence.
… it is the task of education to make sure that every member of society has, as
it were, an equal chance to be unequal and can move according to skill and
effort into the social position most appropriate to their talents.
(Drudy and Lynch 1993 p.31)
It could be argued that the offering of a broad base of curricular subjects at primary
level seems to imply less emphasis on meritocratic ideals and thus less danger of
selectively screening children for future employment as happens in the secondary
system. However, this is not the case in reality. In the primary education system
pedagogical practice is still heavily reliant on the weighting of the ‘academic’
disciplines of ‘the 3 R’s’ (see Murphy 2004) and, despite awareness of theories of
multiple intelligences (Gardner 1983), the Irish primary school assessment system still
relies heavily on empirical standardised norm referenced assessment. Tests such as
Micra T (Wall and Burke 2004) and Sigma T (Wall and Burke 2007) are used
extensively in Irish schools and are seen as reliable methods of determining the
cognitive abilities of students. Spirituality, interpersonal and intrapersonal abilities,
spatial awareness, or an aesthetic sense are often ignored as indicators of future success.
They are not ‘measurable’ by national standards and therefore not valued (see also
Apple 2001b).
Studies such as the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) (1986) and Hall
(1995) showed there were high levels of support for the principles of the curriculum but
at the same time (according to an INTO survey cited in Drudy and Lynch 1993 p.103),
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60% of teachers expressed a preference for traditional didactic approaches. INTO
(1986) and Hall (1995) show that, in the majority of schools, practice was teachercentred,
and that there was divergence between approval of the curriculum and its
The 1971 Curriculum claimed to favour enquiry learning and an emphasis on oral work.
However, according to Hall (1995), implementation of the 1971 Curriculum
recommendations was mainly limited to the infant classrooms where a constructivist
approach grounded largely in Piagetian theory was favoured. Middle and senior classes,
on the other hand, seemed to be guided by a constructivist theory but implemented a
behaviourist practice. This situation was contradictory, in that constructivism provides
descriptions of how individuals learn rather than prescriptions for how they should
learn. A survey by INTO (1986 pp. 18-19) suggested that two-thirds of teachers
reported spending more than half their time in whole-class teaching using didactic
pedagogies, which would appear contrary to the 1971 Curriculum guidelines.
The 1999 curriculum
The introduction of the 1999 revised New Curriculum (Government of Ireland 1999)
was preceded by several papers: the OECD’s Reviews of National Policies for
Education (Government of Ireland 1999); Education for a Changing World: Green
Paper on Education (Government of Ireland 1992), and Charting our Education
Future: White Paper on Education (Government of Ireland 1995). The White Paper
built upon the consultative processes following the National Education Convention in
October 1993 (Government of Ireland 1995 p.1). The opening sentence on the section
entitled ‘Education and the State’ (p.6) reads
The State’s role in education arises as part of its overall concern to achieve
economic prosperity, social well-being and a good quality of life within a
democratically structured society.
(Government of Ireland 1995 p.6)
‘Economic prosperity’ and ‘investment’ are referred to, several times.
Economic activity is increasingly dependent on the knowledge and skills of
people and their capacity to learn … Thus investment in education is a crucial
concern of the State to enhance Ireland’s capacity to compete effectively in a
rapidly changing international environment.
(op cit 1995 p.7)
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A functionalist ideology appears to remain as an underlying principle of the philosophy
of the 1999 curriculum.
I have already referred to how critical thinking is referred to in the Introduction, History
and SPHE documents and how the idea of a teacher using her own critical awareness to
promote her students’ critical awareness is not addressed. Furthermore, although
references appear about the need for discussion and for higher-order thinking skills in
several places in the Curriculum handbooks and teacher guidelines, apart from the
already cited SPHE exemplar 19 (SPHE Teacher guidelines Government of Ireland
1999 p.83) referring to seating children in a circle for discussion, there is no clear
provision of contexts as to how these can be linked and implemented so as to allow
children to engage in dialogue in conjunction with the fostering of critical awareness.
The aims of the English/literacy document are specific in relation to language
development and to cognition, but nowhere in the curricular documents can I find an
acknowledgement of the child’s capacity as an autonomous critical thinker.
In Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE), the idea of ‘thinking
scientifically (predicting, hypothesising, evaluating and making cognitive connections)’
is referred to. References to ‘discussion’ occur in strands of the geography and history
sections. While this awareness of the linking of higher-order thinking and language is to
be welcomed, I believe it stops short of addressing what I consider to be the real
purpose of thinking in a classroom context: learning to think for oneself. I suggest that
in our classroom discussions my students and I place a greater emphasis on learning
how to think than what to think. We engage in non-violent and non-judgemental
argument; we respect the rights of others and ‘question answers rather than answer
questions’ (Chapter 7). We learn to view knowledge as something that we can cocreate:
we learn to learn, and to make good judgements.
Research contexts
I now turn to a brief discussion of the external research contexts in which critical
thinking and philosophy for children is placed.
Studies into philosophical enquiry with children include the following:
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• In the USA: studies on philosophy for children and the community of enquiry
movement have been carried out primarily by the Institute for the Advancement
of Philosophy for Children (IAPC), Montclair State University, New Jersey see
for example
• In England: Robert Fisher in Brunel College, London; the Society for the
Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and reflection in Education (SAPERE)
whose research can be accessed at
• In Wales: Karin Murris and Joanna Haynes have been the principal researchers
into Philosophy for Children.
• In the University of Dundee, Scotland: Keith Topping evaluated the Thinking
Through Philosophy programme (see Trickey and Topping (2004). The results
of the Clackmannanshire Study (see ) were
widely reported in the media
• (see also,,2006734,00.html)
• In Australia, studies conducted by Laurence Splitter of The Centre of
Philosophy for Children and the Australian Council for Educational Research
have been carried out into Philosophy For Children.
• In Ireland there are two completed PhD studies into Thinking Time (Donnelly
2005 and Russell, J. 2005) and several members of the Association of Teachers
of Philosophy with Children (ATPC) have carried out research that led to the
awarding of Masters Degrees (including my own MA study Roche 2000b).
• Studies have also been carried out in several European, South American and
Asian countries (see Splitter and Sharp 1995 pp. 147-154).
The accumulated findings of the studies listed above attest to several phenomena in
• Improvement in performance in other curricular areas
• Improvement in ratio of pupil : teacher talk
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• Improvement in teachers’ level of skill in open-ended questioning
• Improvement in children supporting opinion with evidence
• Improvement in moral reasoning
• Improvement in discipline and behaviour
• Improvement in interpersonal skills
• Improvement in self-esteem
• Improvement in teacher/pupil relationships
• Improvement in the skills of dialogue
• Improvement in metacognitive abilities
• Statistical improvements in levels of pupils’ verbal, non-verbal and quantitative
reasoning (see Clackmannanshire study at:
I question the ‘measurability’ of thinking or the quantitative assessment of the learning
from dialogue. The improvements measured above seem to rely on what Hymer (2002
p.7) calls a ‘fixation’ with ranking and measuring.
However, although the many researchers have attested to the improvements in
children’s thinking, nowhere have I found a study into critical thinking, or Thinking
Time, or Philosophy for Children, in which the researcher examines the improvement of
her own practice, or the development of her own critical awareness, or of her own living
theory of practice as she engages in transforming herself from being a propositional
thinker into a more critical thinker through developing her dialogical pedagogies.
This is where I feel that my study will fill a lacuna in the research area, and will qualify
my research as making an original and significant contribution to knowledge of my
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I have told in this chapter how I began to take action in my classroom to improve an
unsatisfactory situation, which was to do with how my children were being silenced by
my didacticism, and how I had also learned to be a silent and uncritical deliverer of a
curriculum. I took action by informing myself critically through researching critical
pedagogy literatures and literatures pertaining to the area of critical thinking. I
developed programmes and pedagogies that would encourage critical thinking. I had not
yet, however, begun to reflect critically on what I was doing as research. I still tended to
see it as practice. Over time, however, and through critical engagement with my study
group, I began to perceive my practice as a form of research, and developed an acute
understanding of the need to offer explanations for practice, as much as descriptions of
practice. This becomes the focus of the next three chapters. I saw how my practice had
actually constituted three distinct though interrelated action-reflection cycles, and the
accounts I now offer show how I am able to speak about the action I took, and also offer
critical reflections on the significance of the actions themselves.
© Mary Roche 2007
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Section 3
Chaos into order
In this section I show how I am now able to theorise my practice, in the sense that I am
able to offer coherent explanations for what, at the time, I understood only as practical
action. Having reflected on the experience of being immersed in a confusing experience
of trying to live in relation to my values, while not being clear about what was going on,
both in myself and in the wider context, I am now able to see that I was in fact engaged
in a systematic process of action reflection, and that there were distinct phases in the
focus of my actions and the learning arising from those actions. I therefore organise my
account as three chapters, each of which is the story of reflection on the actions I have
recounted. Each chapter therefore constitutes an action reflection cycle. I aim to show
how one cycle emerged out of the learning from the previous one, and transformed into
new practices and new learning. In a sense then these next three chapters represent my
meta-reflections on my action-reflection.
© Mary Roche 2007
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Chapter 6
Reflecting on Action: Action Reflection Cycle 1 – identity
issues and beginning my research
This chapter covers the period 2001–2002, the beginning years of my research. That
period was characterised by considerable confusion and anxiety, as I tried to make
sense of who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I can see now, as I reflect on
my practice, that I was struggling with issues of how I had been influenced by a range
of factors, including dominant theories and normative assumptions, as communicated
through the literatures, and how these had come to form my social understandings and
my values. This was also a time when, inspired perhaps by my ‘curious spirit and my
yearning for change’ (Ropers-Huilman 1999 p.21) I was working out a new
professional identity (Sachs 1999). Sachs citing Kondo (1990) argues that identity is
often context dependent:
In times of rapid change identity cannot be seen to be a fixed ‘thing’, it is
negotiated, open, shifting, ambiguous, the result of culturally available
meanings and the open-ended power-laden enactment of those meanings in
everyday situations.
(Kondo, 1990, p.24 in Sachs 1999 p.5)
This was my experience, as I struggled with moving from a practice of obedience, by
trying to fit my practice into a predetermined framework set by others, to a critical
practice, where I saw my practice as emergent and in relation to my own articulated
educational values.
I can also locate my understanding against Wenger’s (1998) view that there is a
profound connection between identity and practice: ‘Developing a practice requires the
formation of a community whose members can engage with one another and thus
acknowledge each other as participants’ (p.149). I can see now that initially I failed to
acknowledge that my students and I formed a community of practice and I failed to ask
critical questions of my context and my practice. This understanding is borne out by the
evidence that my questions from this first Action Reflection cycle are mainly
procedural and operational, and, were shaped by my earlier identity as a conforming
© Mary Roche 2007
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thinker. However, through my ongoing engagement with critical literatures, as outlined
earlier, I had come to question the idea of universal or transparent truth. Now after five
years of my study, I hold my knowledge lightly, and I have begun to recognise the
uncertainty in the temporary and tentative nature even of my new knowledge.
Identity issues
My story begins therefore with my reflections on my identity as I began my studies, and
how this identity might have influenced why I stayed for so long at the procedural and
operational stage of questioning. Some literatures of teacher identity suggest that past
ideas of self can significantly influence present identity (Cooper and Olson 1996,
Coldron and Smith 1999). This has relevance for my slow emergence as a critical
thinker and my initial reluctance to challenge normative practices, including my own.
Propositional knowledge prioritises objective know that and know how (Ryle 1949). I
found it a comforting, if somewhat closed, world. I could look to ‘experts’ for answers.
Now, I have come to the point where I incorporate the propositional into more
dialectical forms of logic, in which there is a constant open interplay between questions
and answers. This form of logic resonates more fully with the epistemological values
that underpin my methodology and my pedagogies. I have developed a practice that
integrates propositional and dialectical forms within a living inclusional form of logic
(Whitehead and McNiff, 2006 p.39).
These understandings are new to me. They have emerged through my reflection-onaction
and reflection-in-action (Schön 1983), and are emerging even now, as I write this
account, through what I call my ‘meta-reflection’ (my reflection-on-reflections) about
the whole process of enquiry.
I have recounted above how the impetus for developing my capacity for critical
thinking came from the two main influences of working with my study group, and
changing schools. Here I frame the experience of the change of school as a
reconceptualisation of my identity.
New school, new identity
In 2001, at around the same time as I began this study, I took up a position teaching
Junior Infants in a new mixed-gender school located in a middle-class suburb of Cork
city. My study on philosophising with children (Roche 2000b) had been an influential
© Mary Roche 2007
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factor in my appointment (conversation with principal: research diary 21-11-01). My
principal had expressed an interest in and support for the idea of classroom discussion
and advised me that he wanted it ‘to be one of the core foundations of our educational
policy’. It was my responsibility ‘to get all the teachers doing Thinking Time as soon as
possible’ (Research diary 11-10-01). I was of course pleased.
… I am now going to work in a school where not only are my ideas
about classroom discussion and critical thinking welcome, but they even
seem to be crucial to the development of the school ethos and policy.
(RD 11-11-01)
In my previous school apart from two supportive colleagues, my work had been largely
met with derision. In my new institutional context, I felt that at last I was in a position to
influence the ethos of my institution.
It was suggested at my interview in 2001 that, in time, I would be invited to help
colleagues to get my ‘version’ of classroom discussion established in their own practice.
While this was pleasing, however, the responsibility of putting a culture of classroom
discussion formally into practice throughout a developing school eventually became a
huge pressure. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility to ‘get it right’ because I was
one of the founder members of the school. This meant that I did not try to look critically
at my practice in the early stages of the study. The case was quite the opposite, because
as it was my responsibility to ‘put critical thinking into school policy’, I became
defensive about my practice of Thinking Time, and I certainly did not want to make any
changes to a model that I felt ‘worked well’.
By November 2001, when I began in my new school, I had already started on the
literature research of my study programme without any clear idea as to what I was
studying. I had an idea that I wished to carry on from my MA research, so I set out to
‘investigate developing higher-order thinking skills in children’. This was the idea
behind my proposal for the University of Limerick (Roche 2002b, see also ‘letters
requesting permission to carry out research’, Appendices A. 2. and A. 4.). I decided to
begin my field work within my own classroom and keep transcripts and detailed notes
of all my weekly Thinking Time discussions. My aim initially was to develop as a
reflective practitioner, as I investigated how I was teaching children to think critically.
© Mary Roche 2007
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The idea of ‘the reflective practitioner’ is well established in the literature. Ample
advice exists about what a reflective practitioner is and how to be one. Here is a typical
Reflective practitioners think about their experiences in practice and view them
as opportunities to learn. They examine their definitions of knowledge, seek to
develop broad and multifaceted types of knowledge, and recognise that their
knowledge is never complete. Reflective practitioners are concerned about the
contexts of their practices and the implications for action. They reflect on
themselves, including their assumptions and their theories of practice, and take
action grounded in self awareness. Finally, reflective practitioners recognise
and seek to act from a place of praxis, a balanced coming together of action
and reflection.
(Kinsella 2001, in Procee 2006 p.237)
However, I quickly began to appreciate that being a reflective practitioner involves
more than reading words and applying them to practice. It involves a real-world
practice of becoming critical, and this practice is ongoing. As evidence of this position,
I can say that my reflections now, at this ‘writing up’ stage of my study, are informed
by a greater critical awareness than were my reflections during phase one of my study.
In a sense I will always be reflecting on reflection-on-action (my idea of metareflection).
I am therefore using this thesis as a living example of what it means to become critical.
For that purpose, wherever the document needs it, I will use two voices: Reflections 1
(reflections I made during the data gathering period) and Reflections 2 (my current or
meta-reflections upon the older reflections).
Reflections 2
Even as I write this, I am struck by the idea that, in speaking about ‘reflection’, I
was making the assumption that the concept of ‘reflection’ is propositional.
Perhaps I am working towards Whitehead’s (2004a) understanding that
inclusional logics include propositional logics (reflective journal 24-07-06).
I can appreciate Procee’s (2006) propositional analysis of the concept of reflection:
…[there are] different levels of reflection – a technical, problem-solving level; a
hermeneutic level focused on interpreting different views; and an epistemic,
critical level that emphasizes analyzing fundamental points of reference.
(Procee 2006 p.239)
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However, says Procee, the concept of reflection is ambiguous:
The concept remains elusive, is open to multiple interpretations, and is applied
in a myriad of ways in educational and practice environments.
(op cit p.239)
I now believe that I went through several different forms of reflection during my three
Action Reflection cycles. In Action Reflection cycle 1, my reflections could be said to
be at a first-order technical, problem-solving level when I focused on offering
descriptions of practice. In cycle 2, I began to ask more hermeneutic second-order
questions, and began to offer explanations of practice. In cycle 3, I began to ask critical
higher-order questions, and also began to integrate descriptions and explanations into
the communication of my living theory of inclusional and democratic practice. This
last type of critical reflection will be evident in my meta-reflective voice throughout
these three cycles of action and reflection.
Some significant understandings came about for me through collaborative reflection
with critical friends, in agreement with O’Hanlon (2003), who suggests that, in order to
defend against ‘hasty misjudgements’ (p.114), discursive and interpretative feedback
between the research participants is necessary:
It is in the research communication, conversation and discourse that
interpretations are developed and confirmed through sharing of evidence,
perceptions and ideas. Interpretative reflection can only emerge through
dialogue. It needs communities of discursive practitioners to engage in
dialogue on the crucial issues of inclusive practice.
(O’Hanlon 2003 p.115)
While I agree with O’Hanlon’s interpretation here about the importance of collaborative
reflection and discursive communities of practitioners, and I agree that interpretative
reflection can emerge through dialogue, which includes dialogues with the self, as it
emerges as a process of meta-reflection, I have found that through reflecting on my
reflections over a period of time, I have created new understanding for myself. When I
present this new understanding as a written text, further opportunities for reflection
emerge which can then lead to new understanding.
© Mary Roche 2007
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Processes and analyses of Action Reflection Cycle One
I wish to develop this idea of how reflecting on an experience, and analysing the
reflection, can lead to improved insights about oneself and others. I bring this procedure
to a description and analysis of the processes of undertaking Action Reflection Cycle 1.
Given that I began by accepting uncritically that the practice of Thinking Time was ‘a
good thing’, my data archive from Action Reflection Cycle One consists of written
transcripts of sixty-seven Thinking Time discussions on various topics, along with
video and audio tapes of discussions with my students, my field notes and research
diary, interviews and informal conversations with children and parents, interviews and
informal conversations with colleagues and with critical friends, and email
conversations with my supervisor. Data are also drawn from early attempts at writing
my research account, from correspondence and from critical feedback of presentations
in the wider teaching community (see appendices B. and C.).
The data from classroom discussions were collected mainly in my written transcriptions
of what the children said. I also made several audio recordings and some video
recordings of Thinking Time sessions and transcribed them later. Data are also provided
in the form of observations of others who witnessed classroom discussions and several
examples are included in my appendices (Appendix H).
The research questions I presented initially seem to be concerned with procedural and
operational issues. This shows me two things:
• I did not fully understand my ontological stance in relation to the
methodological assumptions of insider research and self-study;
• I did not appear to have an understanding of the ideas about the epistemological
base of living theory.
However, I began my research assuming that I was doing self-study, and, having
negotiated permissions, I set about monitoring the weekly Thinking Time discussions in
what was, effectively, an outsider researcher mode.
The first few weeks were spent helping the children to get used to the idea of arranging
their chairs in a circle. This was not without difficulties, and in my diary I wrote:
© Mary Roche 2007
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How can I do this better? Making space for a circle is difficult in the
prefab. The children put their tables to the sides of the room. I lift half
of the heavy tables upside down on top of those on the floor, to create
space for the circle. The whole process is repeated in reverse afterwards.
I am often hot and bothered by the time I begin the session. The children
make quite a racket rearranging the furniture. There is only a thin
partition between my classroom and next door… I am concerned about
the noise. (RD 20-11-01)
I tried preparing the room during yard time: it’s not really working out.
The children are rarely finished their lunches in time before going to
I also realise that I want the children to help get the room ready because
I feel that it’s an important part of the procedure: it gives them an
organising role, and some ownership of the process. (RD 16-12-01)
Reflection 2
A critical question now might be why all the fuss about making a circle. Why did I feel
that a circle was an appropriate format for discussion? What is the underlying
epistemological premise for a circle? I realise now that because I had been trained in the
philosophy with children method of Thinking Time, I had accepted a circle format
unquestioningly. Initially, perhaps, I acted out of some subconscious sense that
resonated with my values of inclusion but I now understand that the circle allows for
equality of position and facilitates eye contact and inter-personal relationships and
dialogue. I now realise that I probably had absorbed this knowledge and embodied it
without articulating it explicitly for myself.
It could be argued then, that it was personal knowledge that influenced me when I
placed such emphasis on making space for a circle. I hadn’t really given any thought to
why I felt that a circle was appropriate other than an intuitive sense that it ‘felt right’
when Donnelly (1994) recommended it. Polanyi (1958) suggests that personal
knowledge is developed through experience and strongly influences an individual’s
problem-solving approaches. Looking again at the journal entry above, I also see that it
© Mary Roche 2007
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tacitly acknowledges my embodied values around children as active participants,
whereas the rest of the entries from that time seem concerned with management and
control. This demonstrates that I was not fully sure of my ontological perspective and
that while I had a tacit understanding of myself in relation with the children, this would
frequently slip in favour of my more uncertain identity as a newcomer in the school.
Involving the children in preparing the room was a significant part of the process.
Dunne (1995) speaks about the importance of engaging children in the decision-making
processes of the classroom and refers to the hidden curriculum of the school as ‘the
ways in which it constructs the role of pupil’ (Dunne 1995, in Carr 2005 p.154). I
believe that I was conscious of a need to give my children the opportunity to be active
participants in classroom decision-making processes.
When I spoke about the hassle of getting the circle ready a colleague
asked why I bothered. ‘Surely you could have a class discussion without
all that fuss? Leave them in their ordinary places!’ I defended the circle
format by explaining that in their ‘regular’ places, norms had probably
already been formed by the children and I around classroom discourse,
such as certain children always dominating and others always staying
silent. I said that I felt the circle interrupted norms of classroom culture
and was a more democratic form. (RD conversation with D 13-12-01)
I believe that I had a foundation of values of freedom, care and justice for my practice,
but my appreciation of these values was often muddied by more mundane identity
issues. Because I was determined that my Thinking Time discussions would go well, I
did not dream when writing my diary that I would ever ‘make my angst public’ (Mellor
2001 p.479). However, by the time I came to writing up this document, I realised that
in order to be truthful, and to avoid my report being considered a victory narrative
(Stronach and MacLure 1997) I would need to show how often my research almost
foundered. I felt too that perhaps my struggle would be helpful to other practitioners. I
can now relate to Mellor’s (2001) understanding.
… it is refreshing to find thoughtful writings …that vividly portray the
intellectual and emotional struggles that researchers face when they are truly
concerned about truth value and ethical behaviour in their work although it is
rare that authors share their angst publicly.
(Mellor 2001 p.479)
In spite of organisational problems I persevered with Thinking Time in my own
classroom but the difficulty of influencing others to try the practice of Thinking Time
© Mary Roche 2007
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remained. I was concerned with for example, that, until we moved into spacious
permanent classrooms, my colleagues might well reject the whole idea of Thinking
Time because of the tedium of moving furniture around. I countered that by
enthusiastically sharing stories of practice with colleagues and encouraging them to take
their children out of their regular school places and form a circle. My concerns about
my possible over-enthusiasm were allayed when a colleague said:
… after listening to your stories, I really wanted to try Thinking Time
out for myself. I could see how much you believed in it and were
getting so much from it. (Research diary: conversation with R 16-10-05,
Appendix B.1. i.)
Coldron and Smith (1999) say that sharing accounts of practice may add to teachers’
At a time when there seems less space for choice by teachers and the personal
dimension is diminished by competence models, it is especially important to
affirm the significance of each teacher’s art, and to examine how teachers may
be able to plot their paths between creativity and control.
(Coldron and Smith 1999 p.723)
McDermott and Richardson (2005) refer to how thoughtful conversation between
teachers ‘will both catch and create a reality of teaching from the teachers’ perspective
and encourage a conscious shaping of future teaching situations in line with the best
experiences of the past’ (p.32). This is borne out elsewhere, for example in Clark
(2001). Clark suggests that authentic conversation is about ‘making sense of and
articulating our own experiences, implicit theories, hopes, and fears, in the intellectual
and emotional company of others whom we trust’ (p.177). He argues that while ‘the
heart of conversational learning for teachers is about ourselves’ (p.177) ‘a conversation
group, in the best of circumstances becomes a social context for doing the work of
reflective practice’ (p.180). I realise now that, by inviting colleagues to share in my
accounts of practice rather than prescriptively lecturing them about the idea of doing
classroom discussion, I was living out one of my values – that of the importance of care
in relations with others, while recognising the essential role of dialogue in forming
caring relationships and developing community. This aspect has some relevance, I
believe, for my claim to be contributing to the education of the social formation of my
© Mary Roche 2007
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institution through my educative influence (Roche 2005), although I had not articulated
it for myself during the early stages of my research.
Bourdieu (1990), among others, presents the idea of social formations as people coming
together in different social contexts. Whitehead (2001, 2003, 2004a) speaks of the
education of social formations when he refers to people in groupings come to
understand their own processes of working together. McNiff and Whitehead (2006)
maintain that the process of the education of social formations begins with ‘each
participant learning to recognise themselves as ‘other to the other’ (p.34). When I say
that I now believe that I have contributed to the education of the social formation of my
school, I am referring to my understanding of the way in which I perceive myself as one
in relation with all the others in my classroom and in my institution, and to whom I am
yet another ‘other’. Given this understanding of the other, I am referring also to how I
believe I have contributed to the learning of others in my institution and their
understanding that I have helped them to learn something. In return, I have learned from
their comments and suggestions and this has added to the improvement of my practice.
One of the key aspects is that working together is far from
unproblematic: it involves negotiating meanings and working through
the conflict of respecting that other people think in different ways and
have different values. (RD email from J March 2005)
In my practice both with my colleagues and with my students I now understand the
education of social formations to be about how we have learned from one another, and
how we bring that learning to our work in other contexts. The data (below) demonstrate
that although initially my motives for sharing my accounts with colleagues were part of
a policy agenda, I have realised the capacity of individual practitioners to influence their
own practices, with the potential of influencing organisational structures.
I was amazed by what my infants knew! I’ve been teaching infants for
years and I suppose I just never let them talk enough before. The stuff
they said about their souls… amazing! I couldn’t believe they knew all
that! (RD extract from conversation with ML 08-03-05, Appendix B.1.
© Mary Roche 2007
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Mary introduced me to the concept of Thinking Time in a casual
conversation. I was immediately interested: children thinking laterally
and creatively, speaking in turn and listening to each other: I wanted to
know more! … I listened to Mary talk about her class, ways in which
she facilitated the setting up of the circle etc. Through these discussions
I picked up many ideas that I later tried out in my own classroom. (RD,
email from RL 06-03-05, Appendix B.1. i.)
(These data are representative of thirteen similar comments from my data archive. See
also Appendices B.1.a. to B.1.m.).
Creating new rules and norms
McNiff and Whitehead (2006) comment on how social situations are manufactured by
the people who inhabit them:
A social context is not a free-standing entity, but comprises people who make
decisions about how they should think and act. Sometimes these decisions
become solidified into accepted rules and structures, and sometimes the rules
and structures take on a life of their own, and rise above the heads of the people
who made them in the first place (Habermas 1987). People come to serve the
rules, rather than have the rules serve them, and see the rules no longer as
temporary answers, which were appropriate for a particular situation at a
particular time, but as fixed norms.
(McNiff and Whitehead 2006 p.168)
I believe my work is significant for enabling others to revision their identities, as I have
done, and to use their knowledge to create new forms of rules and practices that show
how they can live their values in their practice. Our school was unusual because it had
started from a ‘green-field’ situation, and therefore provided a creative space for such
revisioning. We were endeavouring to put in place structures that had the potential to
initiate traditions, practices and discourses as a foundational ethos as the norms of our
community. I wanted to contribute to a culture of openness and critique. This gave rise
to my early intent to ‘perfect my model’ of Thinking Time and communicate it to my
colleagues. I saw nothing problematic here.
Here is my subsequent reflection on my self-identity and positioning of that time.
Reflection 2
This shows me now that I had little understanding of the asymmetrical nature of
the power structures I was creating. Although I had negotiated with colleagues
that I would include them in my research process as collaborators, I think now
© Mary Roche 2007
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that I really had not understood how this would involve negotiating the balance of
voices raised (O’Hanlon 2003) in my research process.
When I decided to share my practice with colleagues, I was sharing my model of
practice. Although I had adapted Donnelly’s (1994) methodology to suit my
practice (Roche 2000b), I was not conscious of the need to allow my colleagues
to develop their own style of doing Thinking Time: I felt there was a ‘right’ way,
and I ‘knew’ it and would ‘transmit’ it. I realise that I was actually a living
contradiction of my values on several fronts.
My data show that initially I was concerned more with the facilitation of discussion
circles than with critiquing my practice in relation to my values. My solutions focused
on prescription and ‘Othering’ as shown in this data extract:
I’m struggling to ‘perfect’ my model of Thinking Time. I’ve started by
monitoring who spoke and who didn’t and who should not sit
with/opposite whom. I feel sorry about breaking up a little clique of
boys who insist on sitting together and distract each other. I discovered
that I could not allow R to sit opposite T because they make each other
collapse with giggles.
…The thin partition means that if the class next door begin singing or
doing any other loud activity, my children get distracted. I often have to
abandon the Thinking Time and reassemble the classroom furniture
However most initial sessions went really well and I transcribed all the
discussions and gathered lots of data in relation to them. (RD 07-12 -01)
Over the years of doing Thinking Time I have learned to write quickly in a type of
personally developed shorthand so I wrote down what the children said and typed it up
as soon as possible afterwards. I audio-recorded several sessions and made plans for
videoing some. P, a non-teaching member of staff, was available to record the first one.
The episode was a nightmare: I was so tense, some children acted up for
the camera waving and messing. 6 children failed to speak at all … This
was not supposed to happen! This was not how I had planned the
© Mary Roche 2007
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I felt inadequate in front of P who looked bemused by the process. My
feelings were compounded by the fact that her son was in my class.
There were also several interruptions: milk arrived, children from
another class came looking for some art materials … in the end I cut the
session short. (RD 20-02-02)
Reflection 2:
From those data excerpts it is clear me now that at that time I saw myself as a
teacher who should have a well managed and quiet classroom. If my class were
noisy or inattentive I felt guilty: I thought my ‘performance’ as a teacher might be
suspect. Despite my years of experience I had been persuaded to think that a quiet
class was a good class. I felt the same fear of ‘adverse reaction’ (without any
grounds for it) that I used to feel in my previous school.
It would appear from my data that I was more concerned with appearances and
superficial aspects of classroom discussion than with the discussions themselves.
The critical questions I did not think to ask myself include:
Why did I merely ‘count’ how many children ‘failed to speak’ in the first data
excerpt? (and why do I use the term ‘failed’ here?)
Why did I feel it was relevant that I note who spoke and who didn’t?
What does this tell me now about my attitude to silence in a child?
Reading the diary extracts now from a distance of four years, I am conscious that there
appears to be a tension between the ontological and pedagogical perspectives in my
statement that ‘I feel sorry about breaking up a clique of little boys who insist on sitting
together and distract each other’. It appears to indicate some awareness of my
epistemological commitment to a more inclusive dialogical form of knowledge, while
the phrase ‘I feel sorry about’ appears to indicate that I had an awareness of something
being not quite fair about that action. I cared about the well-being of my students and I
wanted them to enjoy their discussions. However, as I asserted my control over them in
trying to manage the classroom discussion times too precisely; I see that I ran the risk of
achieving the opposite. I wanted my children to have the freedom and the space to
© Mary Roche 2007
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dialogue; I wanted to bring about a more just and equitable teacher-student relationship,
yet now, on reflection, I see that despite trying to bring about an improvement in my
practice I was still a living contradiction (Whitehead 1989a). I just did not seem able to
trust in my practice sufficiently to let the children be free to be themselves rather than
some image of themselves that I had constructed for them. In the episode where I tried
to have the discussion videoed I believe I was taking on too much too quickly: I was
new, the children were still not completely at ease with me, they had had two teachers
before me in their first 10 weeks of school. I should have relaxed and enjoyed talking
with the children, maybe not even being concerned about data capture, just enjoying the
interpersonal relationship and allowing trust and ‘safety’ to build up.
I encountered several difficulties, not least my own lack of confidence around my
practice. I was conscious that in my new institutional context, my three colleagues had
high standards of professionalism. At times I lost confidence and became fearful that I
had been mistaken in considering my discrete classroom discussion circles an
innovative practice and that facilitating them was in fact causing disruption. However, I
did persevere with Thinking Time, and gradually my confidence in the programme as a
means of establishing a culture of dialogue in my classroom was restored.
I learned two important lessons from reflecting on the data above: the first is how my
identity was bound up with doing Thinking Time and the second is how normalised I
had been into dominant ideas around what constitutes a ‘good’ classroom. I realise now
that making noise, or requesting the next door class to schedule a quiet activity for the
duration of my Thinking Time sessions would not have been a problem: there was such
goodwill and collegiality among the staff that every effort would have been made to
accommodate me. With hindsight, I believe that my previous years in a non-collegiate
context negatively influenced my self-confidence. I was also conscious at that time that
I wanted my colleagues to view Thinking Time in a positive light. I completely and
uncritically believed in Thinking Time as a method of classroom discussion. As part of
my identity it had become a means of presenting myself and my work to others (Mellor
1999 p.170). Now I felt that if I were to complain about any aspect of it I might
influence my colleagues to view it negatively, and this upset me. I wrote towards the
end of my first year:
© Mary Roche 2007
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I desperately want to make Thinking Time a success. In a way I wish I
could be left alone to carry on with it in my own classroom and not have
to be responsible for putting it formally into school policy. I would much
rather gradually and informally invite teachers who think like I do, to
share in the practice and not have to be prescriptive. (RD 22-05-02)
Reflection 2
The seeds of a critical stance against propositional thinking and prescription are
demonstrated here. At the time I did not perceive it as such. I now believe that I
was drawing on an intuitive recognition that being invitational about sharing my
practice was more commensurate with my values. As time went on I also became
aware of the paradox of wanting to preserve my Thinking Time methodology
while simultaneously becoming fearful of creating norms and rules which would
be difficult to change in light of future self-evaluation. However, my outsider
researcher stance is also clearly evident as I reify ‘Thinking Time’ as an ‘it’.
The value of care that I articulated in previous chapters is a value that links care to
justice. I care about my students as people and so I want them to experience an
educative experience that is inclusive and democratic. Perhaps I was experiencing what
Carr (2005), drawing on Van Manen (1990), suggests is a betrayal of caring
It seems that we constantly betray the call of caring responsibility in our efforts
to be caring in the general sense of duty … Effective practice is not the primary
reason to remain open to the ethical demand. Also important is that caring in
this deeper sense is the source for every other kind of caring.
(Carr 2005 pp.226-7)
In the data excerpts above, I can see that I was demonstrating a value of care. However,
it was a self-focused care about my practice and how it looked to others: I cared about
my identity as a ‘good’ teacher. I cared about being a researcher and gathering ‘good’
data; I cared about how I appeared to observers rather than about the well-being of the
students; I cared about not upsetting other teachers by making noise. In short, my
‘caring’ priorities were in disarray.
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The next extract also seems to emphasise that I was situating my value of caring justice
in a secondary position to that of caring about my own identity.
I can clearly see [from research journal entries] that I am extremely
vulnerable in relation to my personal identity being bound up with that
of my teacher identity to the extent that if my class make noise, I worry
that I will be judged and found wanting. I seem to be vesting a lot of
personal identity into my practice. This is interesting. Why can I not decentre
from my work and see it professionally? Why am I so vulnerable
in relation to how I am perceived by colleagues? Is this a legacy from
my previous workplace conditioning? (RD 22-05-02)
Reflecting on these early journal entries, I was tempted to dismiss them as being
irrelevant but, reading Mellor (1998), I understood that ‘the fuzziness and disorder of
the real world, and my attempts to find a way to explore it’ (Mellor 1998 p.455) can
help to clarify the research process:
I hope later to explore how far the notion that honesty, in the sense of exposing
confusions, side-tracks etc. may add to the credibility of a report, following
Atkinson et al 1991. …The question is, does research suffer or benefit from
bringing these front stage? Measor and Woods (1991) argue that such accounts
are important in that they offer the reader “more material through which to
interpret the study.” (p.79)
(Mellor 1998 footnote 6 p.468)
Like Mellor (1999) I began to wish I were doing an inquiry which would allow me to
interrogate my practice of Thinking Time as my method of developing classroom
discussion, but not necessarily change it. Thinking Time was a technique I was ‘good at
undertaking’ (Schön, 1983 p.318). I saw it as being the kernel of living to my value of
providing my students with time for talking and thinking in my practice. I saw no irony
in the fact that it was a kernel of dialogic practice surrounded by a hard shell of didactic
practice. In fact, as I will later show (Chapter 7) I felt it somehow counteracted my
other didactic practices.
From the start I was a very committed ‘believer in the … method’ … For me,
this was not simply a belief of the kind where I might believe a particular piece
of information to be true. This was a vital aspect of my work, an aspect which
gave me purpose. … it was part of how I viewed myself … It was an identity…
(Mellor 1999 pp.171-2)
I could identify closely with Mellor. His faith in his particular working method had also
become bound up with his identity. Mellor’s articulation of his struggle helped me to
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articulate my ideas about how my identities as a new researcher and newcomer in my
school had influenced the first action reflection cycle of my study. I too was ‘a believer
in a method’, in my case the method of Thinking Time, where I would bring out the
best in my students in discussions.
Reflection 2
The phrase ‘bringing out the best in my students in discussions’ now strikes me as
being problematic. What did I mean by it? I think that what I meant was
something to do with having my students ‘perform’ well for my data.
Again it appears that my ontological and epistemological commitments were in
transition. I seem to be a spectator of my students’ actions, trying to make my data fit a
hypothesis. Bourdieu (1990) speaks about how reality is often modelled in a way that
makes the model more real than the lived reality. Perhaps I was trying to make my
model of the reality of doing classroom dialogue become a reality while at the same
time being fearful that the reality of my model was itself becoming another reality.
Perhaps too, that is why I was reluctant to prescribe to colleagues. I could not say why I
knew this was inappropriate at the time. I thought it was a fear of being overly
prescriptive. I wanted a ‘perfect’ methodology and I wanted others to share in it, but I
didn’t want to lecture others on it: I wanted instead to invite them to see for themselves
how ‘perfect’ it could be, and maybe try it out in their own contexts. However, from my
regular critical encounters with my colleagues in the University study group, and my
reading around issues of critical pedagogy I was also slowly coming to a realisation that
more than a formula for facilitation was needed, that had to do with the idea of being a
thinker rather than having a set of thinking skills. In other words, the seeds of my living
theory were here except I did not recognise them then.
In light of Mellor’s (1998, 2001) explanations about bringing backstage issues to the
fore, I read over my notes and wondered if my early journal ramblings had any
significance. I researched literatures of teachers’ identity (Coldron and Smith 1999, T.
Day 2005, C. Day et al. 2006, MacLure 1993, Nias 1989, Sachs 1999) to see if I could
find further clarity around my confusion.
Teachers, especially …beginning …, may more readily identify with the craft
tradition. … Their professional self-esteem is closely connected with the skills
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of class management and control. Similarly, the confidence of the most
experienced and successful teacher can be sapped by a class that proves
unmanageable. They fear that they have ‘lost their touch.’
(Coldron and Smith 1999 p.722)
The issue of identity proved complex: I was not a ‘beginning’ teacher in Coldron and
Smith’s sense (above), unless my position as newcomer in the school could be viewed
as the beginning of a new identity as both a researcher and as a teacher. In many
literatures of teachers’ identities (Coldron and Smith 1999, C. Day et al. 2006, Nias
1989) identity is considered to be socially and biographically situated, and MacLure
(1993) suggests that teachers’ perceptions of the context and community in which they
work can become central to their professional identity (pp.314-6). MacLure (op cit) also
contends that identity should not be seen as a stable entity that people have but as
something that they use to make sense of themselves in relation to other people, and to
the contexts in which they operate (p.312). Also, because my research was action
research, it was central to my life; it was bound up with the notion of potential and a
moral commitment to improvement in a socially just sense and this too influenced my
feelings about the research process and my practice of doing classroom discussion.
Mellor (1999) suggests that the identity of being a professional and a researcher is not
simply an abstract notion, or a qualification. It is, he suggests, ‘central to the lived
experience of working life’ (p.17).
My identity in 2001 then, was enmeshed in ideals of trying to improve the quality of
social justice in my school, and attempting to improve my practice and make children’s
school experience more participative, while trying simultaneously to prove I was
worthy of hire despite being ‘an older teacher’. This has relevance for my study because
for the first two years, as I searched for a research question, I spent an inordinate
amount of time justifying the methods and procedures of Thinking Time to myself and
others, but not critiquing it objectively and honestly. I had been deeply affected by the
experience of working for many years in a context where my practice of doing Thinking
Time had been largely ignored, and even disparaged by some colleagues. My
confidence as an experienced and successful teacher had been sapped, not by a ‘class
that proved unmanageable’ (Coldron and Smith 1999 p.722) but by my experiences in
an institutional context which resulted in what Andy Hargreaves (1994 p.171) called the
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‘cult of individualism’ to which, he says, teachers resort in order to survive in noncollegiate
Coldron and Smith (1999) also assert that a new teacher in the process of establishing
himself or herself in a school makes choices and works hard to achieve what an outsider
might describe as socialisation into the school culture (p.724). I concur with this
analysis. In my case I made a deliberate choice to try to demonstrate that I was worthy
of the trust that I had something to offer the school in terms of my learning about
classroom dialogue. I did not stop to ask why classroom dialogue was ‘a good thing’ or
what I was achieving in terms of improved understanding of my practice.
Encountering dilemmas
C. Day et al. (2006) suggest that teachers’ professional identities are not always secure.
During different life and career episodes, they say, a teacher’s identity can be
fragmented in the continuing struggle to achieve stability. They suggest that the
professional has been described as ‘mobilizing a complex of occasional identities in
response to shifting contexts’ (p.613) which occur in the space between the exercise of
personal agency on the structures of the relationships between power and status. The
interaction between these influences how teachers see their personal and professional
identities (C. Day et al. 2006 p.613). These ideas are relevant for my study because,
without the confidence of my sense of agency, I was unable to be objective enough to
be a self-critical critical thinker. Furthermore, C. Day et al. (op cit) argue that
‘professionalism is bound up in the discursive dynamics of professionals attempting to
address or redress the dilemmas of the job within particular cultures’ (p.614). I agree
with this analysis and found it to be the case in my early practice.
The first of these ‘dilemmas of the job’ presented itself quickly.
My principal wants the professional development in relation to Thinking
Time put on a more formal footing. I believe he thinks I am too casual in
wanting to share accounts of practice informally with colleagues. He
wants me to start providing in-house in-service to ‘get them up and
running: kick start the process so that everyone will begin doing it.’ (RD
I was hesitant about adopting prescriptive practices, despite the fact that initially I too
wanted everybody doing Thinking Time ‘my’ way, as I explained earlier. Now I
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experienced tension between delight (that my ideas were accepted to the extent I was
asked to disseminate them institutionally) and concern (about the potential impact on
interpersonal relationships by my being positioned as instructor).
My overarching unease however, was to do with the prescriptive nature of ‘instructing’
colleagues and the risk of assuming ‘expertise’ and thereby immersing them too quickly
in a practice which had taken me many years to understand, and about which I was still
learning. I also felt considerable reticence about presenting publicly to a group of peers.
I was concerned to maintain cooperative relationships with colleagues who were coresearchers:
Because I have already negotiated permission from colleagues about
their cooperation in my study, I fear that they will misunderstand my
motives in providing in-service and perceive me to be just feathering my
own professional nest at their expense. (RD 26-03-04)
After reflecting for a long time, I began to see the duelling tensions inherent in that data
excerpt: I was concerned both with how I would be viewed by colleagues and about
how my values were being challenged. Increasingly my resistance to being prescriptive
arose as I began to articulate my values explicitly.
In an earlier draft of this thesis (Roche 2004b) I worked through and arrived at an
articulation of my value of respecting others as individuals who have the capacity and
the right to think for themselves. Honesty is important to me and I felt uncomfortable
with the idea of compelling colleagues to adopt a practice just because my principal and
I believed in it. Mellor’s (1999) work again resonated:
An important aspect … would be … honesty about “mistakes”, diversions,
dead-ends etc. As Devereux (1967) describes “it took me more than three
decades to fight my way through the tangle of my own preconceptions,
anxieties and blind spots, to whatever truths this book may contain” (p. xiv).
He discusses these blind spots openly and has the courage to celebrate them
“the admission of one’s human limitations is not only not self-degrading but
actually useful.”
(Mellor 1999 p.42)
I suggested to my principal that I felt it might be more effective to have
an invitational style. I posited the idea that if teachers feel coerced into a
practice into which they have not fully bought or do not fully
understand, then the whole idea might backfire. I also felt that the notion
of being compelled to do critical thinking was paradoxical. (RD 26-03-
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From my reflections on my diary entries it is clear that in those first two years I was
concerned with wanting to develop an affirming and relational model of professional
development in my new institution that, unlike my previous school, would encourage
educational discourse that was future oriented ‘open and potentiating’ (Bowie 1993,
cited in McDermott and Richardson 2005 p.31). Yet I was apprehensive about
appearing to ‘push’ my model of practice at colleagues. It was confusing. At times I
was living to my values while simultaneously denying them.
A significant and ongoing part of being a teacher, then, is the experiencing and
management of strong emotions. … the emotional climate of the school and
classroom will affect attitudes to and practices of teaching and learning… this
dimension of identity has been given relatively little attention in much of the
(C. Day et al. 2006 p.612)
I had to remind myself of what I knew about educative relationships as characterised by
care and the capacity to recognise the individuality and originality of mind and spirit of
the other (McNiff 2002 p.7) and my commitment to living my value of freedom in
respecting the rights of others to think for themselves, including those who disagree
with me. I reminded myself about how ‘this very value can present difficulties, and
educative relationships can sometimes present a challenge for educational practice’
(McNiff 2002 p.7). Initially, I perceived my dilemma in terms of a binary dualism:
either I was right or my principal was, I thought. I reasoned then that by default one of
us had to be wrong. I failed to see it as a contest of two rights: my principal’s right as
leader of the staff group to direct our school in accordance with his values (and the
expectation that I, as one of ‘his’ staff members would comply), and my right to work
in a way that was appropriate for me and commensurable with my values. In feeling
miserable about the apparent clash of epistemologies in our respective stances, I failed
to see its positive aspect – that we were both trying to achieve the same vision, but by
different methodologies, as these were grounded in dissimilar ontological and
epistemological standpoints.
Early Thinking Time episodes: successes and non-successes
Despite these organisational worries, I was encouraged by the responsiveness of the
children in Thinking Time (see selection of transcripts in Appendices C.1. to C.9.). I
also began to experience feedback that was encouraging:
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Parents have started to comment about the discussions: M’s mother said
that he looks forward to Thinking Time each week.
KR’s mother said she ‘likes this way of learning for her daughter’ and
asked to see some of the transcripts. She wants to send them to K’s
grand father in Bangalore, in India.
So the children (and their parents) seem to be enthusiastic and I also
look forward to the weekly sessions. (RD 06-05-02)
Before beginning philosophy with children I had often asked questions in class but
mostly from a position of establishing whether or not the children were paying
attention. I had been frequently been guilty of relying on the monological technique of
Initiation-Response-Evaluation (Cazden 1988) – a technique I now understand as
located in logics of control. Now, I began to ask more open-ended questions and
encouraged the children to challenge some of the assumptions in their rhymes and
folktales. I now see this change in practice as evidence for my transformation to a more
dialogical form of logic.
For example, instead of asking my four-year-olds how many colours were in Humpty
Dumpty’s trousers or how many buttons were on his shirt, I began to invite the children
to explore why he was up on the wall at all. With such open-endedness all the answers
hazarded by the children had the potential to be ‘right’ and many theories were put
D: Maybe he had short little legs and he couldn’t see over the wall.
E: Maybe his Dad lifted him up.
Me: Do you think he knew he was an egg?
R: He might have been trying to see what was making all the noise.
S: It’s actually very stupid for an egg to go climbing walls.
D: Yeah well, how do you know? Maybe it’s like teacher said, maybe he
didn’t know he was an egg. (RD 07-02-02)
At this time I began to compile a resource bank of materials for use by all staff
members. The topics for our classroom discussions were wide-ranging and came from
different sources such as poems, picture books, photographs, questions asked by
children in the course of curricular work. Sometimes I would read a story, such as The
© Mary Roche 2007
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Little Red Hen (16-01-02), and we would discuss any aspect of it that captured the
children’s attention.
I will now use that particular story as a representational device for many similar
transcribed discussions. Following my reading of the story the children did not suggest
an idea with which to begin, so I opened the discussion with the question, ‘I wonder
why the Little Red Hen’s friend refused to help her?’ In my research diary I noted that
‘the children took the question very seriously’:
R: Well, maybe they weren’t friends, not really friends.
H: I wonder did they have a fight …before the book… maybe they had a
big fight and now they’re not talking to her.
C: Yeah the Chicken might be too bossy.
CY: Maybe they don’t know how to do those jobs…they might be
scared of doing it bad …
KH: I think maybe the man in the …place…the mill …might be a giant
and he would cut off their heads snip snap with a carving knife and they
were scared.
The discussion continued with each child adding his or her reason for
Little Red Hen’s dilemma and then it came to my turn again and I said:
Me: I wonder … what does friendship mean anyway?
C: See, if someone lets you play with them – that’s your friend.
CY: Or if someone likes you…. he is your friend.
T: Friends are kids that your Mum lets you play with.
RA: You aren’t scared of friends … but you’re scared of strangers.
M: Me and my friends share and sometimes they fight, and we won’t be
playing for a little bit but they’re still my best friends. (RD 16-01-02)
In my diary I also wrote:
Nearly all the children spoke. They seemed interested in the topic and
didn’t want the discussion to stop when the time was up. K still ‘passes’
each time: today he looked as though he might be going to speak and
then passed. (RD 16-01-02)
I include this excerpt for a number of reasons:
First, it is representative of my data gathering around classroom discussions. Again, I
thought all I had to do was set aside discrete time for discussion, sit the children in a
© Mary Roche 2007
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circle, choose a topic that interested them and a discussion would start. I would note in
my journal who spoke, whose ‘input’ into the discussion impressed me and who
‘passed’. Looking at the data now from the perspective of distance I can see several
aspects which show a lack of critique, a lack of care, a lack of awareness of injustice on
my part and a denial of the freedom of the children.
For example, despite being aware that the children did not ‘want the discussion to stop,’
I see now that I ignored their wishes in favour of my management priorities. I saw no
problem in stopping the children from carrying on with a discussion that they were
enjoying: my organisational self decided time was up and without negotiation I used my
teacher power to decide what we would do next. I was certainly not living out my
values of justice and care in my anxiety to get the next timetabled item underway.
I can see now too that there was little reflection on what was happening, just record
keeping. I did not challenge myself as to why I felt that any of the discussion data was
worthy of recording, or why I felt that merely providing some time for the children to
talk was enough. I felt that by assiduously adopting the methodology of Thinking Time
I did not have to think very much about the procedure because it was already
established as a methodology and I had ‘proved’ to myself that it ‘worked’ from my
earlier MA study (Roche 2000b).
Now as I analyse my data from the first research cycle, I notice the discrepancies
between my espousal of insider research and an enquiry approach to knowledge
creation, while at the same time propositionally accepting a ‘template’ for a thinking
programme and ‘applying’ it to my practice. I also see that my practical judgements
were being informed by a form of logic in which I saw Thinking Time as a reified
‘thing’ that I would apply in my classroom to my students, irrespective of their ideas. I
saw it as a ‘solution’ to a problem rather than, perhaps, a living enabling process that
could help me to live more in harmony with my values.
Second, my data show no explicit effort to establish whether I was living to my values
of care, freedom and justice, except perhaps to the idea of allotting some discrete time
for classroom discussion. I now believe that had I critiqued my practice and tested it
against some living standards of judgement I might have recognised that by actually
overcoming organisational and confidence issues and persisting with doing the
© Mary Roche 2007
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discussions, I was (albeit tacitly) attempting to live to values of care, freedom and
justice in employing pedagogies that I felt were inclusive and democratic. However,
during this data gathering stage, once the children were talking and seemed to be what I
had previously referred to as ‘philosophising’ (Roche 2000b), I was fairly satisfied with
what was happening.
The data excerpt shows that the children were certainly ‘thinking well together’, to use
some of the criteria I employed in my MA dissertation (Roche 2000b p.64) and thinking
critically. I saw that my students were hypothesising, reflecting through using the terms
‘perhaps’ and ‘I wonder’, building on their own past experience (knowledge) to make
judgements and new knowledge, and so I was content.
I can see now with the benefit of hindsight and a more critical reflection ability that our
discussions were open, fair and democratic, in that I did not force the children to speak
and did not criticise those who chose not to speak. I waited my turn to take part and
tried to be as non-judgemental as possible, in that I tried not to infer from my body
language or facial expression that I favoured one child’s contribution over another. But
until I identified my standards of judgement, it took me several more years before I
could explicitly recognise that some values were embodied in my practice even then.
Third, when I asked myself ‘what did I learn by looking at that data excerpt?’ and ‘how
can I improve future practice by examining that data?’, I felt during those first two
years, that I did not learn much more than the evident aspects of my practice. I saw, for
example, that the children were adept at providing reasons for their answers. I saw that
there was evidence of moral and critical reasoning in that discussion and in other
discussions. It was evident too, that while some of the children had a grasp of what
friendship involved, others had little understanding of the concept. They showed that
they understood how friendship can be put at risk by ‘bossiness’, and by
misunderstanding. However, while my learning from the dialogue was significant for
my practice, it did not build much onto what I had already learned during my MA
I failed to see many of the significant aspects of my practice with those Junior Infants,
including the fact that they were four and a half years old, yet were able confidently to
create knowledge and meaning together. They were active participants in dialogue,
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learning to listen as well as to speak. In my diary I noted that ‘A has a theory about
catching robbers;’ that ‘K’s first words were in a Thinking Time session one day for the
first time after seven months of elective mutism;’ that K R’s granddad in Bangalore was
being sent transcripts of the dialogues by KR’s Mum and that he was charmed that I had
described his granddaughter as ‘very lyrical in her language’ without realising that her
grandfather was a poet; that C had impressed her father with her calm reasoning skills
and her use of ‘I disagree, Dad because…’; that R requested that we do a Thinking
Time about bread because it was ‘so interesting’. My data archive contains many
instances of such remarkable occurrences.
I am also aware now, but took for granted at the time, that I did not tell the children
what to think or try to influence what they said. My influence was in encouraging them
to think for themselves by critiquing the story of the Little Red Hen and by providing a
context within the school day for doing so. Despite my focus on classroom organisation
and my uncertain identity, I see now that I was actually embodying some of my values
in my practice, as demonstrated in the following journal excerpt about a discussion on
rainbows (25-05-02).
When I later typed up the transcript of this discussion and reflected on what had
transpired I began to wonder about what the children said, not just in this discussion but
in all our discussions. For instance this excerpt from a discussion on rainbows:
A: A rainbow’s got only happy colours.
C: I know the answer to D’s question! It’s an upside down smile. And I
know that you can see it the right way up in Australia because my auntie
lives there. I think the sky is smiling because the rain is gone. And I
think clouds hate being grey because it’s boring.
B: I disagree. Clouds and the sky don’t feel. I think it’s just because the
rain has washed the sky and the sun lets us see lots of bright colours.
(RD 25-05-02)
When I looked at my learning from that episode I saw some of its potential implications
for future action. I wrote:
C is, as usual, quite dogmatic; B seems to have the beginnings of
scientific thinking that sunlight and rain are both involved in making
rainbows. I have a better idea of what kind of a thinker B is. I can use
that knowledge to try to make science more interesting for her. I need to
encourage C to be more diplomatic – useful for SPHE …
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I have a germ of an idea about how Thinking Time can support the
curriculum rather than be an ‘add-on.’ (25-05-02)
That ‘germ of an idea’ later translated into the notes for a week-long summer in-service
course for teachers (see Appendix A.8.). I also began to recognise the significance of
the episodes for my own learning. For example, reflecting in 2004 on my journal entries
from this first cycle of the study I wrote:
Reflections 1
Where do these ideas originate I wonder? Did I influence them? Did I
communicate them to the children? No, I just provide a context in which
to voice their ideas. I don’t tell them what to say or what to think. These
ideas are all their own: they came to this knowledge themselves.
All I’ve done is to open up a space to let them tell each other their stories
and display their knowledge and make new knowledge together. …they
seem to build on what each other say and learn together: that bears out
Vygotsky’s (1962) idea of the social construction of knowledge and his
theory of the ‘zone of proximal development’ in that the articulate
children seem to scaffold the less able children who learn from them and
acknowledge that they share a similar thought without having to
articulate it by saying ‘Yeah’ or ‘I agree’. (RD 06-09-04)
However, I did not immediately see the significance in the words ‘All I’ve done is to
open up a space to let them tell each other their stories and display their knowledge and
make new knowledge together’ for my own practice, as well as its potential for wider
educational practice and even for the greater social good of having children think for
themselves and generate their own knowledge. It also took some time for my
realisation that ‘Thinking Time could support the curriculum rather than be an add-on
discrete area’ to filter through my consciousness. This in fact would later become a key
aspect of my living theory of practice.
A critical episode
A transcript on beauty encouraged further reflection on how classroom discussion can
open up opportunities for developing the affective domain of learning.
M: I think I know what beauty means … maybe it means things that
look nice.
A: Beautiful is when something smells really good. Grass smells
beautiful when it’s all crinkled up.
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S: My golf set is my favourite thing in the whole world – it is so
beautiful. (His Mum later told me it was an old broken toy ‘in flitters’
but that he did love it).
C: Teacher, I actually know what the most beautiful sound in the world
is. (Excerpt from ‘Beauty’ transcript RD 11-02-02)
C’s statement ‘I actually know what the most beautiful sound in the world is’ has
presented many learning opportunities for me. I explained earlier about how I had
trusted my innate judgement, against advice from colleagues at times, and allowed C to
walk about, from an intuition that he was not being wilful or naughty, and would
eventually settle down. During the course of the discussion on beauty he was as usual
walking around, but then he suddenly came into the circle to his vacant chair, sat down
and said:
I actually know what the most beautiful sound in the world is: it’s when
‘you’re all alone in the deep dark forest and there’s all noises around and
suddenly you hear a voice saying “C: it’s Mummy: I’m over
here”….That’s the most beautiful sound in the world!’ (RD 19-12-01).
When I met C’s eyes I felt responsiveness such as Levinas (1989) spoke about in his
work on caring responsibility.
In the words of Van Manen (2000),
[H]ere is this child in front of me, and I look this child in the face. Before I can
even think about it, I already have experienced my responsiveness. I ‘know’
this child calls upon me. It is undeniable: I have experienced the appeal. And
this experience is a form of knowing. I am called. I am being addressed – or to
use a Levinassian phrase: ‘I am the one who is charged with responsibility.’
(Van Manen 2000, cited in Carr 2005 p.224)
I have tried to write about the incident with C many times and always ended up
floundering in words and unable to describe the intensity of the emotion I felt at the
time. I believe that the incident was one of the most profound and moving experiences
of my entire teaching career, yet for a long time I failed to find adequate ways of
theorising it. When I read Van Manen’s (op cit) comment, I felt a sense of recognition.
He goes on to say:
The point is that in everyday life the experience of the call of the other … is
always contingent and particular. It can happen to anyone of us, anywhere,
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anytime. Every situation like that is always contingent. I can only be here and
now. In this home. In this classroom. In this street. Thus it is the singularity of
this person, this child who addresses me in my singularity.
(Van Manen 2000, cited in Carr 2005 p.227)
Reflecting on this incident for almost five years I realised C had addressed me in his
singularity: he had ‘burst on my world’ and I had felt the response of which Levinas
and Van Manen spoke. He had made a claim on me: I had experienced an emotional
response to the child’s gaze that manifested itself in a concrete physical way. Tears
came into my eyes as I looked into his. Without the practice of classroom discussion, C
might not have felt free enough to speak like this and I would not have had what I now
believe was what Buber (1965) referred to as encounter.
Buber defined relationships in terms of ‘I/Thou’ and ‘I/it’. His idea of ‘I/Thou’ was that
it signified a relationship of reciprocity and inclusion. ‘I/it’ indicated a relationship of
unequals, who are detached from each other. My ontological stance is that I am one
among other equal ‘I’s’, and this is why I feel obliged to do insider research. ‘I/it’ seems
to indicate that an outsider research stance would be acceptable. ‘I/Thou’ is a subject-tosubject
relationship whereas ‘I/it’ denotes more a subject-to-object relationship.
Encounter is an event or a situation in which relation occurs. We can only grow
and develop, according to Buber, once we have learned to live in relation with
others, to recognise the possibilities of the space between us. The fundamental
means is dialogue.
(Smith 1999 n/p)
Reflecting on the encounter with C was perhaps the moment when I realised that my
practice was grounded in an ethic of caring justice.
Had I been strict and authoritarian with this vulnerable child I might
have done irrevocable harm. Had I forced him to comply with classroom
‘norms’ I might have lost his respect and trust.
Something in his demeanour stopped me and encouraged me to let him
take his own time to settle down. When he finally joined in the
discussion circle I felt that my trust was vindicated and that our
relationship was on a new footing.
Since then I have confirmation from his parents and Grandmother that
he now felt secure and safe in school. I began to look at Thinking Time
with new eyes and recognised the power of dialogue for ‘encounter’
(Buber 1947). (RD 03-08-04)
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When I began to analyse my data and select what I wanted to use for this account, I
wrote to my supervisor regarding the incident with C. I explained that the episode had
made me reflect on how I felt that C was representative of all children who are forced to
conform to school norms. I wrote:
I recognise the potential for these discussions to affect our relationships
is tremendous. I genuinely feel that C is a metaphor for all those other
children whose behaviour does not ‘fit’ what society, the institution and
the curriculum seem to demand of four-year-olds.
I believe that this has profound implications for how I teach and how I
try to see the children as individual people with huge vulnerability in
relation to the power systems inherent within society, institution and
curriculum. (RD email to J 03-08-04)
My decision to allow C to wander around, while reflective of my values of care,
freedom and justice, was an unarticulated aspect of living my values in my practice.
Intuitively I knew that the child deserved space to come to demonstrate his capacity for
knowing and his intelligence in his own way.
Reflection 2
I see that I should have asked more critical questions about my practice. For
example, as well as asking ‘how can I do it better?’ I also need to ask questions of
the kind:
– What pedagogies can I develop to put more dialogical learning opportunities in
my classroom?
– How can I help students like C to feel free to express their singularity and
– How can I encourage all my students to express this uniqueness by thinking
more critically for themselves?
– Is simply supplying my students with a weekly discussion time enough?
– How did I act following reflections on my data?
– How is my research shaping me as a person, as a teacher and as a colleague?
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However, as I will show in Chapter 7, my learning from the incident would later
translate into a more examined and reflective response in relation to questioning my
pedagogical values for another child, Er, for whom sitting in the circle was also
Stopping in my tracks: A second critical episode
Sometimes I started classroom discussions with a poem or a picture; sometimes the
children suggested a topic and sometimes I chose a concept for discussion. In this way,
during their first year in school, my Junior Infant students and I discussed several
concepts including friendship, beauty, courage, loyalty and fear. I wrote in my diary:
The children amaze me with the variety of their responses and the
seriousness with which they address the questions. I was proud of doing
Thinking Time and I shared some anecdotes of what had happened in
some discussions with BL, a colleague from my study group. I expected
her to share my delight.
When I had finished my anecdote she said, ‘OK, I agree that what they
are saying is pretty amazing for four year olds: but I can’t help feeling
that it’s all a bit too serious for small kids. I mean, why are you doing
this? What are you teaching them this stuff for? Can’t it wait until they
are older? Why not just let them be kids?’
I was stopped in my tracks by this question. I respected B’s evaluation.
In my heart I felt I was doing something worthwhile, but now in the
light of her comments I was less sure. (RD 30-03-02)
B’s question took me by surprise. I reflected on it for days. I came up with answers such
as, ‘Because I believe it is a good thing for children to be given space for thinking and
talking;’ or ‘It will help their learning in other areas;’ or ‘The infant school day is so full
of my input – it balances out if I give the children some space to present their views.’
I can see now that my values about education are implicit in those
responses but I have not clearly articulated or tested them. Where should
I start? (RD 30-03-02)
I looked over some transcripts. I read:
KR – Colours dance when they are drawing a happy picture. They hop
around. (Colours 15-11-02)
H -You’re free when you lie in your bed and dream. You can think
whatever you like. (Freedom 16-12-02)
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Cn – I think the giant was right to be mad cos Jack robbed all his stuff
and he told lies and he ran off. That’s bold. I don’t think Jack should be
the hero. (Is Jack a hero? 27-03-03)
The colleague who had asked the question is not a teacher. I asked her had not her own
children been full of questions at that age; had she not been besieged with why’s and
what-if’s? She said, ‘Yes, but I waited for them to initiate it. I didn’t sit them down and
say, ‘OK It’s time to ask questions now’.
I began to think that perhaps my entire study somehow was dependent on my response
to the question, why are you doing this? Suddenly I understood that it was not enough
then, to reply that I believe I am teaching children to think for themselves and that it is a
good thing to do. This would be rather like saying, ‘I am teaching children how to do
addition sums because it is useful.’ Thinking and doing addition might be ends in
themselves, but as a teacher I am positioned as a person of influence in an institution
that has a certain purpose within a given society. I wrote in my diary:
Reflection 1
I need to look at what are the purposes of education in my society and
compare it with what I understand are my purposes of education. I need
to look at my Curriculum document and examine what purpose of
education is presented.
I need to look at the literatures and find out what other theorists consider
to be the purposes of education, and reflect on whether I agree or
disagree with them.
The purpose of education in the current post-industrialised world
education seems to be focused on creating people who will be good
consumers and obedient servants.
Intuitively I feel that what I am doing has a greater social purpose. I
believe that the purpose of education is to help us make sense of our
lives and live them as best we can in ways that are life-affirming for
By encouraging my Junior Infants to think and talk and listen in a
democratic setting such as a circle, where all take their turn, including
me and where they are free to speak or not, I believe that what we are
doing is almost like playing with the basic building blocks – the ABC –
of philosophising and thinking well together.
Dewey (1897) stated as part of his pedagogic creed that he believed that
education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living
and that education must be a continuous reconstruction of experience.
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What is ‘my pedagogic creed’? Why am I doing this research in my own
situation? What do I hope to achieve in practical terms, for children, for
colleagues, for wider systems? Why am I trying to influence colleagues?
I have a vision of what might be. But it’s a general philosophy of
education and what might be … I need to transform these general
philosophies into a practical philosophy of practice, to show how I am
working at the level of interactions and systemic communicative action.
(RD extract from some early writing 11-03-03)
I also wrote:
I need to examine what purpose I hope to achieve by encouraging
children to think critically.
Why do I feel compelled to provide space in my busy schedule for
Thinking Time?
B’s question rankles: Why not ‘just let them be kids’?
What does it mean – to let them be kids? What normative view is
implied here? RD 13-03-03
Reflection 2
This seems to be one of the first times I have asked what I now consider to be a
critical question. At the time I did not recognised the importance of this question
in terms of my own development as well as its importance for my study. I now
see that it was the kind of question that I needed to ask about my practice so that I
could begin to theorise what I was doing – that is to reflect on my practice and
then to provide explanations as well as descriptions for my actions.
When I questioned B as to what she had meant by saying ‘why not just let them be kids’
she said:
‘I don’t know exactly: I think it’s because I just feel that they’re too
young for all this thinking and maybe they need to just get on with
ordinary childish things like playing without being forced to do all this
thinking.’ (RD 30-03-02)
I decided to ask the children what they thought: I told them that I had a friend who
thought that they shouldn’t be doing Thinking Time at their age. I explained that she
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thought it was a bit too serious and that maybe they should wait until they were older.
My diary shows what happened:
C said, ‘But we like it and it’s not too hard.’
R said, ‘It’s not too hard for me.’ Several children agreed.
D (a very active and restless boy) said, ‘Well, anyway, sometimes it’s
boring, sometimes I don’t really like it at all.’
RW said, ‘I like Thinking Time but I don’t like waiting my turn because
sometimes I forget my thing … what I wanted to say.’ (RD 11-03-03)
Reflection 1
I had thought that all children had seemed happy when I announced it
was Thinking Time – little sibilant ‘yessses’ could be heard. Now I see
that perhaps that I was choosing to ignore the dilemma posed by
admitting that some children dislike sitting in the circle. I am not sure
how to deal with this dilemma. (RD 11-03-03)
Reflection 2
I still did not begin to give serious consideration to the possibility that there could be
children like D in every class: I did not yet seem to feel that I would need to address the
fact that not all children will like doing Thinking Time. However, by the middle of
action reflection cycle two this issue rears its head again and will get a more measured
and appropriate reflection. (Chapter 7)
I can see now that in searching for ‘answers’ to B’s question, I began to fall into what I
now understand to be modernist ways of thinking. I wanted to eliminate doubt and
provide a perfect reason for why I was doing what I was doing. I felt that there was a
‘right’ answer and that if I could find it she would be satisfied with my explanation. I
was frustrated when instead of answers I seemed to come up with even more questions.
I also can see that I did not want to deal with any notion of the methodology not suiting
some children. In a sense I was still being didactic – ironically about a dialogic process.
I wanted ‘my’ classroom discussion methodology to be a perfect ‘one-size-fits-all’
instructional recipe (Reyes 1992).
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When writing this account later, it occurred to me that as I now retrospectively examine
the nature of what I was doing in those early years of my study, I understand now that I
am working with critical postmodernist ideas. I realise now that there is no right answer
to B’s question. My answer is that I hold values about care, freedom and justice and I
believe that I should hold myself accountable for my practice which should reflect my
values. I hold myself accountable by offering my theorisation of my practice up for
public scrutiny through this account. One way in which I can honour my values is to
provide my children with ways of being in class that provide them with space and
opportunity to think. I ask open-ended questions; I don’t always provide answers. I
encourage the children to provide possible answers and to ask more questions. They can
choose to speak or to be silent. As reported earlier silence in this context is not
synonymous with ‘not-knowing’. In traditional didactic classroom settings when a
teacher asks a question and a child responds with silence, the assumption made could be
that the child does not know. In our discussion circle, it means, ‘I’m still thinking’ or
‘I’m listening.’ My practice of respecting talk and silence equally as elements of
dialogue, seems to be an exception to general practice in classrooms which demands
silence as teachers talk at students.
Through reflection with my data and engagement with literatures around dialogue, I
began to see some of the potential significance of my practice. Burbules (1993) for
example, suggests that dialogue, ‘unfortunately, comes to be seen as an extraordinary
and fortuitous exception to the rule’ (p.150) and adds:
One of the most striking facts about schools is that even as educators hold forth
models of dialogue …we tolerate institutional structures and routine practices
that make dialogue unlikely for most teachers and most students most of the
(Burbules 1993 p.151)
Likewise, Richard Bernstein (1983) asks ‘what is to be done when we realize how
much of humanity has been systematically excluded and prevented from participating in
dialogical communities?’ (p.226).
As I have stated, during this first action reflection phase I was initially concerned with
procedural and operational matters: what the children did and said, how frequently they
spoke or did not speak, how well the discussion worked or did not work, and my
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reflections on these. Although I clearly had values about teaching children in a way that
respected them as knowers and that encouraged them to think and talk, I had not
adequately articulated the reasons and purposes for the study to myself nor had I
examined my ontological stance in relation to doing the research. Although I was
beginning to see the potential relevance of my work, I saw it from the vantage point of
standing outside the action, looking on.
Writing this account is part of the enquiry process in that the meta-reflection of which I
spoke earlier now affords me the opportunities to see my practice with the benefit of
hindsight and an increased critical awareness. I realise that I needed to ask further
questions of the practice of Thinking Time such as:
• How do I live to my values of care and justice regarding children like D who
don’t like doing Thinking Time? Do I insist they participate? What if I don’t?
(in Chapter 7)
• How do I live to my values of care and freedom and justice to include children
in dialogue who are challenged cognitively or linguistically e.g. children whose
first language is not English? (in Chapter 8)
I now turn to a consideration of the action and reflection of Action Reflection Cycle 2,
where I began to develop new insights and new practices.
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Chapter 7
Action Reflection Cycle 2
This chapter relates to the school year 2003-2004. During this period, my enquiry
moved into a more hermeneutic framework as I began to problematise my practice to a
greater extent than before, in order to establish whether or not my practice reflected my
The chapter is in two sections. First, I examine my work in relation to encouraging a
senior infant class of twenty-seven children to think critically. In the process these
children educated me about many things, among them the importance of ‘ordinary
conversation’ (Noddings 2002 p.146). They helped me to examine my practice in
relation to Thinking Time in a more explanatory way, as well as open up my practice
into a more emancipatory and democratic form. In this chapter I show the emergence of
my living educational theory as I interrogated my ontological and epistemological
perspectives in a more explanatory manner.
Second, I look at how presenting my work publicly to teachers led to a new dimension
in my understanding of the purpose of my research. I show some episodes of learning,
from my classroom practice and my more public practice, and how reflection on these
episodes translated into evolving pedagogical values that informed my emerging living
educational theory and, in turn, transformed into improved practice.
I also reflect on the difference between my practice with the two previous junior infant
classes and this senior infants group, and I present extracts from my journal as evidence
for my claim that I now began to question my values about using the specific
methodology of Thinking Time as a context for critical enquiry, and wondered if the
process supported or denied my values of care, freedom and justice. I show how I even
considered jettisoning Thinking Time in favour of teaching the skills of ‘critical
thinking’, and my journal extracts show some of the reflections involved.
However, from the data, it will be clear that my understanding of ‘critical thinking’ still
remained at a predominately conceptual level, because I had not fully problematised the
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idea of doing insider research. I still did not fully understand the intertwining of
ontology, epistemology and methodology.
Part 1
Cats, spiders and commoners: Thinking Time with Senior Infants.
Kincheloe and Berry (2004) explore how the idea of researching things-in-themselves,
abstracted from the complexity of life, is a reductionist view. The things-in-themselves,
for me during 2003–2004, were ‘Thinking Time’ and ‘critical thinking.’
As reductionists abstract such phenomena from the contexts and process that
give them life and meaning, they destroy them … entities are not simply
things-in-themselves. They are embedded in the world, existing in multiple
horizons, in multiple, parallel, and intersecting universes.
(Kincheloe and Berry 2004 p.xi)
They suggest that researchers need to explore the ontological view of ‘being-in-theworld’
both for themselves, others and the phenomena they set out to study. In 2003, I
had not yet made this conceptual leap for myself and I still perceived Thinking Time to
be a ‘thing’ that enabled me to do the ‘thing’ called ‘critical thinking’.
When I look at the journal data from this particular year, I see that my interrogation of
data begins to differ from earlier data examination. During the first two years, I had
focussed almost exclusively on my students, and had interrogated my own actions only
insofar as they related to organisational issues. I had risked destroying what was
probably most precious about my practice, as Kincheloe and Berry (2004 p.xi) say
above. In continuing to look at the procedures of classroom discussion, I failed to see
that I was still doing outsider research, even though I do seem to have become more
aware of my practice.
Gradually, I began to embrace a more critical relational ontology and moved from the
‘some-thing’ of substance to the ‘no-thing’ of relationship (Kincheloe and Berry 2004,
p.xi). I started examining and explaining my own actions more critically. This third year
of research, then, represents a watershed of sorts, as I gradually moved into a
perspective more compatible with my ontological values.
For Kincheloe and Berry (2004), an ontological concept is a ‘pragmatic scholarly
assertion that holds the power to change the way we research and perceive both
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ourselves and the world around us’ (p.xi). Viewed from a living theory perspective, this
makes sense to me, grounded, as a living theory approach is, in a critical relational
ontology, but I also recognise that, during the first two years of my study, I did not seem
to have made this connection. By this time I was fairly sure that the weekly practice of
Thinking Time allowed me to live more closely to my values of care, freedom and
justice, but I still had not yet identified my practice as a form of theory, or my theory as
a form of practice.
By ‘practice as a form of theory and theory as a form of practice’ I am referring to the
distinct feature of a living form of educational theory in which I test my claim to
knowledge against my identified values as they emerge through my practice. I still had
not reached the stage where I could demonstrate how my embodied values compelled
me to engage in social and educational practices that encouraged children to think
critically. I had identified my values and articulated how I wanted to live these in my
practice. I had not, however, explained (even to myself) how I transformed these values
into the living critical standards of judgement by which I wish my work to be evaluated,
but I believe that in this middle year of my study some explicit sense of the intertwined
nature of the ontological, epistemological and methodological processes involved in
creating a living theory of practice began to surface.
I am aware also, that, by June 2004, I felt more secure in my identity as a teacherresearcher.
This confidence empowered me to take some risks and begin to articulate
the distinctive contributions of my practice. I also began disseminating my work in the
wider educational domain.
During this school year, I began also to do some professional tinkering (Huberman
1992). I began adapting Donnelly’s (1994) methodology of Thinking Time to suit my
values of critical engagement, because I found that the discussion frequently seemed to
lose momentum. My ‘tweaking’ consisted initially of speaking out of turn from time to
time, to keep the children on track and to encourage them to be more critically engaged.
As an example I have selected the transcript of a discussion on ‘Is Jack a hero? (RD 11-
02-04; and Shermis 1992). Data excerpts show how I intervened whenever I perceived
that the children were getting side-tracked and the discussion became anecdotal:
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Em: Yeah, I think that Jack is a hero because he was very brave at
fighting the giant …and … because he went off up to the giant’s place
all by himself.
JM: But he didn’t actually fight with the giant! He ran away from him
and that means he’s not brave…!
Sh: He might be a hero …cos in the end he got loads of money for his
E: Do you know what I’d do if that was me? I’d buy a million sweets if I
got that much money!
J: If you ate a million sweets you’d get sick and your teeth would get
bad. That’s what happened my cousin.
M: Teacher, guess what? There’s about a million ladybirds in my garden
and you can smell them under the hedge.
Me: Hang on a moment … we’re getting sidetracked now – let’s go back
to Jack … how do we know if someone is a hero? (RD 12-11-03)
I began to feel that the children might become more critical if I pushed them to what I
considered to be higher-order thinking, in this case, a conceptual analysis of what
constitutes heroism. However, I was reluctant to change the procedure I had been
following for so long. In my diary I mused on the various pros and cons of deviating
from my normal routine:
But what about my sense of responsibility to encourage the children to
stretch their thinking into higher-order levels: does that negate or
support my pedagogical values? What do I want from doing Thinking
Time? Why am I teaching children to do critical thinking?
My educational aims are to help my students to think for themselves in
the interests of a better social order. How does interrupting their
discussion support or negate that aim? If I try as far as possible to allow
the discussion to flow, and only interrupt when absolutely necessary, am
I not still living to the values I have outlined? Am I not also going some
way towards achieving my aims? (RD 16-10- 03)
I believe that the reflection above constitutes a change from the kind of reflection I did
during Action Reflection Cycle 1. Here I seem to be looking for a more explanatory
perspective. I seem to be less concerned with what the children are doing and more
concerned with what I am doing in relation to improving my practice. However, it
would also appear that I still continued to reify Thinking Time and ‘critical thinking’ as
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Prior to this I rarely spoke out of turn, because I felt it important to devolve the power
of keeping the dialogue alive to the children, and so I often ‘passed’ when it was my
turn. It was this democratic feature of Thinking Time that had attracted me from the
beginning. I wondered now if I threatened that feature by interrupting.
In an examination of the exercise of power in children’s experience of school, Devine
(2000a) suggests that adults ‘exercise considerable control over both the definition and
experience of childhood, establishing boundaries over children’s time and space…’
(p.189). Drawing on Giddens’ (1984) account of the structuration of social systems and
the authoritative resources involved in such systems, Devine (op cit) focused on three
main areas of adult power in schools:
• Control over children’s time and space through pedagogy and curriculum
• Control over children’s interaction through social relations
• Control over children’s life chances through evaluation (p.191)
I was conscious that in Thinking Time sessions I had sought to avoid these and other
possible scenarios of teacher power. I had genuinely attempted to create an equitable
relationship with my students, and a safe and caring environment in which we could
develop as thinkers together and individually. I agree with Burbules (1993), who
suggests that
We engage in dialogical approaches not because they are methods guaranteed
to succeed, but fundamentally because we are drawn to the spirit of equality,
mutuality, and cooperation that animates them.
(Burbules 1993 p.143)
By appearing to step back into ‘teacher’ mode, I felt that I might jeopardise what had
been achieved up to now. I was mistaken. I should have had more trust in my
relationship and in the children themselves.
In an effort to be just, I had been endeavouring to give the children freedom over the
direction of the discussion. Until now I had considered the Thinking Time methodology
suitable for my purposes, due to the low profile role of the teacher in the discussions.
Now, after a lot of deliberation, I decided to go with the idea of a limited number of
interruptions, as and when necessary. My decision came from my pedagogical
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commitments to try to encourage the children to be aware of their thinking and to learn
the habits of active listening, critical thinking and active participation in dialogue. This
still did not mean that I would continuously interrupt in the way that Lipman’s teachers
were encouraged to do (see BBC video 1990). Donnelly’s (1994) Thinking Time
methodology was developed to avoid just such a scenario. I now realised that the
Thinking Time format needed tweaking to fit with my values. Some teacher
intervention was needed, sometimes, I believed.
To return to the data extract: despite my interruption, the discussion about whether or
not Jack was a hero did not seem to me to develop into higher-order thinking. J’s idea
of ‘a million sweets’ (and M’s subsequent assertion that his garden harboured a million
smelly ladybirds) seemed to have fed the children’s imagination in a different way to
what I had hoped. The fact that the children did not seem to take any notice of my
suggestion that we get back to examining if Jack were really a hero, is not unusual in
Thinking Time. Colleagues at postgraduate level who have studied Donnelly’s (1994)
programme testify that children often seem to ignore any input by the teacher, in their
eagerness to present their own arguments (Campbell 2001, J. Russell 2005).
Quite frequently the children completely disregarded my contributions –
even when I presented them as questions. They didn’t seem to notice
that I was trying to lead them in a different direction, or if they did, they
ignored me. (RD: conversation with JR 07-07-03)
They often don’t seem to notice what I say; if someone does, it’s rarely
the child next after me – it could be a child who is four or five speakers
after me who picks up on what I said … then again I have had episodes
where nobody at all picked up on what I said. (RD conversation with
EC. 26-02-05)
In the case of ‘Is Jack a hero?’ the children seemed reluctant to develop the discussion
into any analysis of concepts such as bravery, courage or ‘reality.’
Me: Let’s go back to Jack…how would we know if someone is a hero?
R: I’m not really sure …
JM: Eh…come back to me later, I’m not ready.
K: Well … anyway, I think he was great at escaping. The giant had big
long legs and big huge feet but he never caught him.
C: I think Jack was clever for getting the gold for his Mum.
Me: But is he a hero? What do you think makes somebody a hero?
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E: I dunno.
M: I can’t figure out how come the giant didn’t fall through the clouds
when he was running after Jack.
K: Yeah, he’s really heavy.
Em: Maybe it’s because it’s only in a story. It’s not real.
Me: What do you mean by ‘not real’?
Em: It’s … makey uppy stuff, it didn’t really happen. (RD 12-11-03)
When I looked again at this transcript I saw something else that I had missed: initially I
had felt frustrated that I did not seem to be able to bring the children to a deeper
conceptual analysis of what constituted heroism. I now realise that in focussing on what
I thought the children weren’t saying, I failed to see the wonder in what they actually
were saying; and that they were comfortably and effortlessly taking part in a discussion
on their terms, not mine. I had been guilty of trying to ‘force’ some kind of maturity on
them and, while I was honouring my value of freedom in the sense that I was providing
Thinking Time as a vehicle for free discussion, I was simultaneously acting as a living
contradiction, and denying another aspect of my value of democratic freedom, of
allowing the children to think for themselves without any leading or coercion from me.
For a time at least, I appeared unable to relax and have faith in my students. Like
Lipman, whose P4C methodology I have earlier critiqued, I appeared to be trying to
lead the children toward a product called ‘better thinking’ rather than focussing on the
dialogue as evidence of my students and me entering into a reciprocal, caring, trusting
I can see now that I was back to where I had been in my very first Thinking Time
discussion, as I described in Chapter 3. I ‘knew’ what I ‘wanted the children to say’,
and because they didn’t ‘oblige’ I felt that the discussion (and, by default my practice)
were lacking in some way. In retrospect, perhaps conscious of doing ‘good’ research, as
well as conscious of the need for ‘good’ thinking, I see that I was looking for ‘good
data’, for evidence of causality, that my practice of doing weekly discussions was
‘resulting in’ higher-order thinking.
I certainly did not appear to focus on my ontological commitment of valuing each child
as a unique knower in his or her own right. I assumed that, as ‘teacher’, I was the main
knower in the room, with responsibility for producing a product called ‘critical
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thinking’ from the discussion. I did not see that, as with my methodology, the living
process of discussion was the important factor. As human beings enquiring together, my
students and I were engaging in conversation and coming to know at our own pace, and
in our own unique ways. This was only the children’s’ second year of school. It took
some time for me to realise that, in becoming used to the idea of discussion, to engaging
in active and respectful listening, to learning to ask interesting and critical questions of
me and of each other, they demonstrated that they were a critical ‘community of
enquiry’ (Lipman et al. 1980 p.45).
The notion of community of enquiry is widely used in Lipman’s Philosophy for
Children movement and originates in the work of C.S. Peirce (1955). The term
‘community of enquiry’ is located in the idea that people are participants, not spectators
in knowledge making. This idea was also developed by Dewey (1934), who believed in
problem solving through cooperation. Throughout his work, Dewey suggested that
schools could become democratic and participatory communities, wherein all members
could learn and develop. The practice of collaborative enquiry resonates also with the
underpinning principles of action research (see McNiff 1988, McNiff with Whitehead
2002, McNiff et al. 2003, McNiff and Whitehead 2005, 2006). Furthermore, Haynes
perceived collaborative enquiry as grounded in critical theory:
In the practice of collaborative enquiry we can also detect traces of critical
theory, with its emphasis on the desirability of social transformation,
reconstruction and the need for students to acquire critical languages and
frameworks to analyse a wide variety of issues and to challenge existing power
(Haynes 2002 p.46)
In trying to establish a community of enquiry in my classroom, I believe I am also
fulfilling some of the ideals of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, in which
there is now a legal impetus to the notion of increasing participation by children in a
wide variety of decision-making processes. I have involved my students in negotiations
in a range of decisions, such as the way we do classroom dialogue, and the rules of
Thinking Time. Haynes (2002) suggests that children should be encouraged to
participate in society from an early age, in ‘contexts that are meaningful to them such as
families, schools and other settings where they have a stake’ (p.46).
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The aims and purposes of education in a democracy are not only to provide
training in basic skills to assure economic wealth for society but equally to
address the problems and needs of daily life, in public and private domains.
(Haynes 2002 pp.46-7)
Through introducing my Junior and Senior Infant students to the process of critically
engaging with ‘ordinary’ stories, they have actively discussed topics as diverse as the
soul, time, space, animals’ rights, animals’ ability to think, concepts such as beauty,
peace, courage, friendship, honesty and what would the world be like ‘if there were no
adults/rules/schools/manners/trees etc’?
Noddings (2002, 2006) argues the case for educating students to think critically about
what is involved in living an ordinary life, creating a home, learning how to learn, and
learning how to be happy. She emphasises (2006) that students should be provided with
opportunities to ask critical questions concerning their own lives:
The neglect of topics that call forth critical and reflective thinking pervades our
system of education … why do we not teach critical lessons …? One answer to
this question is ignorance. People who never explored these topics are unlikely
to provide opportunities for others to do so: the notion never arises.
(Noddings 2006 pp.2–3)
Through the practice of discussing topics that catch their imagination from Junior
Infants onwards, my students might well debate critical questions such as Noddings
(2006) suggests, before they leave primary school. However, in seeking to establish a
context for critical questioning in my classroom I was initially so caught up in the idea
of making the dialogue as perfect as possible, that I felt disappointed when my children
behaved just like the five-year-old children they were. Like Burbules (1993), Wood et
al. (1993) discuss this failure of communication in traditional didactic classroom
The manner in which the teacher chooses to constrain and limit students’
participation in discussion influences their opportunities and willingness to talk
about their own thinking … It is the communicative qualities in the dialogue
between teacher and students that influence the nature of the interaction that
(Wood et al. 1993 p.59)
In my haste to encourage my students to be rational and critical thinkers, I neglected to
see the importance of first providing a safe and comfortable environment where we
could create caring relationships, and where the children would have space to take
delight in language, and in their wonder in the world. I possibly risked denying my
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students the opportunity to take pleasure in active communication with each other and
with me, and to be reasonable and respectful, in favour of being rational.
Bruner (1996) argued that a curriculum is at its most effective when it is participatory,
proactive, and communal, and given over to constructing meanings rather than
receiving them.
The possibility of nurturing the ‘respectable person’ lies at the heart of
education in a liberal democracy. Reasonableness is more than rationality.
Being reasonable is neither simple nor constant.
(Bruner 1996 p.78)
In focusing initially on trying to encourage a form of critical rationality in my students,
I possibly neglected the quality of being reasonable that Bruner considered important. I
realised now that I also needed to learn how to become more reasonable. It is an
interesting paradox that, as a teacher endeavouring to honour my values of care,
freedom and justice, I was in danger of simultaneously destroying the very means of
living to those values, through being more concerned with the end point of critical
engagement, and therefore not fully understanding my commitment of being in relation
with the children. The fact that as I write this document, and provide meta-reflection on
my practice and show that I can now recognise my initial lack of understanding, in itself
provides strong evidence for my claim to have developed my own critical capacities.
However, back in December 2003, the transcripts of our conversations made me despair
of the children ever reaching any kind of critical thinking on their own, and I began
wondering whether I ought to focus regularly on teaching critical thinking through
strategies advocated by, for example, De Bono (1985).
I don’t think Thinking Time is enough. I can’t see where it’s going …
the same old procedure every week … surely there needs to be more
than this?
There’s a lot of talking going on; there’s evidence of some critical
thinking, but I still think I need to do more … more what, though? (RD
Briefly during December 2003 and January 2004, I lost faith in the methodology. I
looked forward to our weekly discussions and the children appeared to, also, but I
began to feel that the process wasn’t ‘academic enough’ for my study. I felt I needed to
do something more related to the subject ‘critical thinking’. It is interesting to reflect
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now that I seemed to ignore the fact that my children were alert, active and questioning
throughout the school day, as demonstrated in these comments.
Do cats know that they’re cats and that we’re people or do they think
we’re kind of different cats? (RD 17-10-03)
Teacher, you know green? Well, who gave green the name? Who gave
all the colours names? Who gave everything in the world names? (RD
Is a million billion zillion the biggest number? (RD 21-01-04)
When there were no people, did God know that he was called God? (RD
Is every single person in the world really different? Are there a few the
same anywhere? (RD 25-03-04)
I failed to appreciate that I had enabled my children to question and engage in dialogue
with me and with each other regularly throughout the day. I needed it to be pointed out
to me by several visitors to my classroom: for example by a learning support teacher, by
a special needs assistant in my class, and also by my principal:
The children have fantastic opportunities to speak up and interrupt and
challenge you. (RD comment made by learning support teacher DOS 21-
The children feel free to question and discuss existence and life and God
knows what else. (RD comment made by special needs assistant YOF
I have never seen anyone with so much patience – talking to H,
explaining things, encouraging him to talk … (RD comment made by
MOC 12-02-04)
I had not recognised this aspect of my practice as being anything special. As I examined
my data and reflected on diary entries, I now felt that I needed to develop this feature of
my practice. However, rather than perceiving this as an opportunity to include Thinking
Time into a broader palette of dialogical pedagogies, I saw it initially as either choosing
to do Thinking Time or else developing a more dialogical practice in general – a
perception that once again displays my lapses into propositional form of logic.
I explained to my students that I felt we were getting rather stuck in Thinking Time and
perhaps we should try something different. Some of the children were upset: ‘Ah no
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Teacher, we like Thinking Time’ (RD comment by Eo 27-02-04). Some were
determined to be helpful:
Em: Teacher why don’t we keep doing Thinking Times and maybe we
could help you to try new ways as well?
Sh: Well what about this: keep our big Thinking Time and do loads of
tiny ones as well, everyday?
JM: You’re right, Teacher, we probably do need to get a bit more time
for thinking out stuff.
I was really pleased to hear the children seemed to have always enjoyed
the classroom discussions: I was charmed by their willingness to help
and encouraged by their reluctance to part with our weekly practice (RD
I was struck by Sh’s idea of ‘keeping our big Thinking Time’ as was, but also ‘doing
loads of tiny ones everyday’ and felt that in his suggestion lay the germ of better
pedagogical practice for me. I decided to test this methodology out: to continue with the
weekly discussion time but to develop additional dialogical pedagogies so as to allow
for more open-ended questioning and discussion. I saw that I needed to incorporate
more questioning, more dialogue and more time for thinking and ‘thinking out stuff’ in
my daily practice.
The fact that I accepted the children’s suggestions and saw opportunities for developing
my practice through reflecting on their ideas is significant. It has relevance for both my
methodological values as well as for my pedagogical values. It shows that my students
are active in the process of helping me to become a better practitioner as well as active
co-researchers in their own right. The idea of consultations with students is developed
in the work of Flutter and Ruddock (2004) who highlight the importance of such
consultation and the change in role and status that it can bring about:
Consultation offers a means by which the young learners can be invited into a
conversation about teaching and learning so that their role changes from being
an “object” of research attention to one of active participation.
(Flutter and Ruddock 2004 p.20)
The fact that I did consult my students and ask their advice shows that I valued the
children as co-researchers and engaged with them in creating relational knowledge.
This aspect of my study is of considerable importance for me. It emphasises the way in
which the creation of my living theory of practice is drawn from reflections on my
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practice, and also from talking with the children. I created a dialectic between my
students and myself, between my pedagogical practice and their ideas, and we
succeeded in creating relational ways of knowing together.
For the rest of that year, as well as providing as many opportunities as I could
throughout the school day for questioning and discussion, I also made space for small
group discussions, and peer-to peer dialogue. I began to notice that there seemed to be
much more participation in discussion in general outside of Thinking Time, especially
at story time.
It is going to take ages to read Charlotte’s Web at the rate we’re going!
The children keep interrupting and discussing various bits of it. In an
hour today I only got through a paragraph because there was a big
debate as to why Fern’s father felt it was OK to kill the runt of the litter
and ‘he’s actually a kind man.’ (RD 12-03-04)
I also noticed evidence of the children becoming more critical:
Sh: I think I know two more different ways of doing that! (Maths lesson
Is: I can think of about twenty more things that Charlotte could have
done to help Wilbur! (Story time 27-03-04)
Cl: I disagree, Teacher, how do you know that’s what the wolf was
thinking? (Story time 04-05-04)
Eo: What so good about straight lines anyway? (Fire drill 04-03-04)
Eo: Who invented uniforms? (SPHE lesson on I am special: I am me.
Ao: And if you go home with a question and you get an answer to the
question you can always question the answer! (after Thinking Time 27-
My evolving pedagogical values appeared to be transforming into living practice. I
noted also that the children seemed to take the discussions more seriously.
The discussions recently seem to have taken on a new intensity.
Nobody ‘passed’; the children listened really attentively; they often ask
afterwards ‘Do you think that was a good one, Teacher?’
The children seem to be taking their role as co-researchers very
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Eo came up to me today in the yard following a discussion on the story
of The Three Bears and said ‘I’ve been thinking: remember when S said
that Goldilocks was right to go into the bear’s house because the door
was open? Well, I don’t think so, and maybe we should have talked a bit
more about private property!’
Amazingly I had never valued this kind of informal comment as relevant
for either my study or my pedagogy. (RD 12-03-04)
Several colleagues who observed my classroom practice wrote evaluations:
… the children share their views … rather than being simply told by the
teacher. (written comment by LH 23-02-05)
There was no rigid structure and children are allowed to participate in
‘free thinking’ … the children were not under pressure to give a right
answer and they were very at ease. The child’s opinion on a topic was
given equal status to that of the teacher and any other adult. They are not
being taught to think in a certain way. (written comment by JM 24-02-
05, Appendix B.1. a.)
A young colleague remarked after doing some classroom observation in my room:
You teach in a different way: you’re just talking with the children …
rather than actually teaching them stuff off the board. (RD comment by
OD 14-06-05)
You really enjoy teaching, don’t you? (RD comment by DQ 22-11-05)
A learning support colleague remarked following a Maths lesson:
There’s great energy in your Maths lessons. Its fun, they’re working
away and involved. And they’re learning so much more than Maths. I
loved the way you got all the children from the different nationalities to
tell each other what the word for ‘nothing’ was in different languages,
and then you gave them the Irish word ‘faic’: so they’re playing with
language. That’s the kind of nice stuff you remember from your
childhood. (RD comment by DQ 22-11-05)
These data support my claim to have begun the process of transforming my pedagogical
values into practice, and into my evolving living educational theory. I am not just
validating my beliefs from my own internal processes of critical reflection (Whitehead
and McNiff 2006 p.103), ‘as an individual claiming originality and exercising my own
judgement with universal intent’ (Polanyi 1958). I have also provided triangulated
critique to test the validity of what I am claiming, several of which are in Appendices
B.- H.)
© Mary Roche 2007
19 8
Creating an authentic space for dissent
To return to the class debate about whether to continue with the weekly discussions: the
only child to demur on that day was Er who said, ‘I hate Thinking Time. I don’t want to
do it no more!’ This had happened also with another child, D, in Junior Infants, but I
had been unwilling or unable then to problematise the dilemma it posited for my claim
to live to my values. Now I saw that I needed to transform my values into action.
I spoke with Er during lunch time and am convinced that he is genuinely
not happy in the circle. When pressed for a reason he replied, ‘I hate it,
just sitting there and talking, Teacher: it’s so boring!’ (RD: 27-02-04)
Reflection 1
Er’s needs must be addressed: I can’t continue to assume for example,
that ‘all children will enjoy classroom discussion’.
What should I do? How do I best honour my values in this area? What
is the most caring and fairest thing to do here? Should I arrange for him
to be out of the room during discussion? Should I let him do something
else and keep his chair ready in the circle as I did for C in Junior Infants?
The first action will be to present this as a research dilemma to the
children and to Er himself. They are, after all, my research collaborators
and need to be involved in my actions. (RD: 27-02-04)
This episode and my reflections on it demonstrate a clear move towards living my
educational theory in my values. It is the first time I have made the link explicit, I
believe. This data extract can be seen as evidence for my respect for the collaborative
nature of the methodology of action research, for my students as co-participants in
decision-making processes regarding improving my practice, and for giving the
children a democratic voice. Although I had involved the children in discussions about
whether to keep Thinking Time as a weekly practice, I still did not appear to have made
the link between values and practice myself and focussed more on what I did as a result
of the discussion, rather than on the discussion itself as a form of living values in action.
The reflection on what to do about Er’s dilemma translated into action and into
awareness of creating my own educational theory. I thought about the episode for some
weeks and then I decided to ask Er what he thought we might do to try to solve his
problem, and then to open up the discussion to the class:
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I invited Er to discuss with the class what he wanted to do and ask for
possible alternatives:
Me: Well if the others are doing Thinking Time, what could you do
instead so that maybe you could still kind of take part by hearing what
other people say?
Er: I’d rather be doing stuff … playing with the blocks or the Márla
Me: (addressing the group) OK, I think we can arrange that, but my
worry is that if I let Er play, then lots more children might think that
they should play too and that would mean that our Thinking Times
might have to stop.
Eo: Well not me anyway, I’d rather Thinking Time … but why don’t we
try it and see?
JM: Me too, I like … the circle and talking. I love it.
Sh: Teacher, you know that I just love Thinking Time: it’s my favourite
thing but supposing I had the chickenpox or something. Then maybe I’d
like to just play too.
Ja: Me too … how about if Er takes turns doing it? That’d be a bit fairer.
I: That’s a good idea!
Other children agreed: some passed.
K: Yeah, but what about if he makes loads of noise? I think he shouldn’t
get toys, he should do work.
Er: I won’t make noise.
Me: Er, do you think that’s a good solution – to do some art, and maybe
listen in as well to the discussion?
Er: OK – nods and smiles. (RD 01-04-04)
The extract above shows that in involving Er in the negotiations, as well as presenting
my dilemma to the class for discussion, I was transforming my values of a relational
ontology and my values of respect for the capacity of the children to solve their own
problems in their own way into pedagogical practice.
Er was already receiving learning support. The learning support teacher and I were
concerned about his capacity for concentration: he also suffered from allergies that
possibly made it difficult to relax. I understood how sitting quietly in a circle could have
been difficult for him. Professionally, I had to balance my compassion against
appearing to condone non-participation in a classroom event in which I fully believed.
As in the case of C in a previous class (see Chapter 5), my decision to allow him to
© Mary Roche 2007
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choose whether to participate ‘worked’ and he had eventually joined in the discussions.
However, apart from one or two sessions, for example in a discussion on animals
following the reading of the story ‘Dear Greenpeace’ (James 1992) (below) in which he
was particularly participative, and despite the fact that his chair was always kept ready
for him in the circle, Er did not often elect to participate. I worried whether I had made
a right decision, and offered the episode for critique to colleagues from my study group.
M: I think you’re making the fairest possible judgement: you didn’t
impose your will, you allowed the child himself some autonomy and
gave all the children some say in it.
C: I think it demonstrates you live your values in your practice –
certainly in relation to giving the children a voice.
P: Absolutely! The fact that you gave all the children a voice in the
decision process demonstrates to me that you have an inclusional and
democratic practice.
B: It was a risk though. Supposing they all decided to play with the toys
– what would you have done?
Me: I don’t know … I had a feeling that most of the children would still
opt for Thinking Time to continue. I suppose there’s no right answer to
your question. All I can say is ‘it didn’t happen’ … luckily!
BL: … it was a very fair process, and very caring … I can’t imagine
any of my teachers doing that when I was in school. (RD discussion with
critical friends 11-05-04)
Despite my colleagues’ responses, I still had misgivings. I needed to examine what I
could learn from my intervention. I asked myself whether allowing Er to opt out of
classroom discussion constituted good ‘teaching’.
Noddings (2004, in Dunne and Hogan 2004) reflects on what good teaching involves,
examining Dewey’s (1934) ideas, among others, that unless a student has learned, a
teacher cannot be said to have taught.
Teaching may be compared to selling commodities. No one can sell unless
someone buys … there is the same exact equation between teaching and
learning that there is between selling and buying.
(Dewey 1934 p.35)
Noddings (2004) suggests that such a view reduces the act of teaching to an
uncomplicated means/end activity. She argues that a conception of teaching as an
activity geared towards effecting already specified learning outcomes fails to
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understand the complexity of what is at stake in a good education. I agree. Several
complex issues were involved in my decision to allow Er to opt out of the discussion,
involving values of care, practical judgement, my own critical awareness, and possibly
many others. Noddings (2006 p.113) refers to ‘the four major components of moral
education: modelling, dialogue, practice and confirmation’. In my attempt to provide Er
with the best solution to his (and my) dilemma, I hope I modelled fairness and kindness,
engaged in dialogue with the child and with his peers, and confirmed him as a person
whom I respected and trusted to think for himself.
… when we confirm someone we attribute to a questionable act the best
possible motive consonant with reality. To do this, we must have sufficient
knowledge of the other to make it plausible that this better motive was actually
operating. Miscreants of all ages – but especially children and teenagers – often
react with relief and gratitude: Here is someone who sees my better self! The
better self, perceived through receptive listening is thus encouraged.
(Noddings 2006 pp.113-4)
I wondered if Er’s ‘better self’ would have been better served by being made to
conform in a situation in which he was miserable, or by being allowed space to be
creative while, possibly, listening to the discussion. He was, after all, only five and a
half years old. According to my colleagues’ feedback, in responding to his needs I
appeared to be living consistently with my values of care, freedom and justice. There
were still some critical pedagogy issues to be considered, however.
In terms of Gardner’s (1983) theory of multiple intelligences, Er demonstrated a high
degree of artistic ability and a lesser verbal-linguistic ability. He appeared to learn by
doing than by talking and listening. To be allowed to be creative on his terms was, I felt,
a more humanising pedagogy (Bartolomé 1992) than compelling him to sit still in a
circle, and in which he did not want to participate. I refused to impose my values on
him. This I believe is commensurable with Bartolomé’s (1992) critique (in Darder et al.
2003) of what she calls a ‘one-size-fits-all’ instructional or ‘methods fetish’ (Darder et
al. 2003 pp.408-9). Bartolomé’s argument influenced me deeply. It resonated with my
epistemological values on relational knowledge and with my ontological values on
seeing the child as a significant and real other rather than an amorphous or anonymous
‘pupil’. I had pondered her paper for a long time and returned to read it several times
and it influenced my pedagogical values. She argues for a ‘humanising pedagogy’ that
recognises difference in students’ learning styles, suggesting that educators need to seek
© Mary Roche 2007
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a balance between the interactional rights of teachers and students, so that the children
can participate in ways that are comfortable for them.
The teacher who was willing to negotiate with students either the topic of
discussion or the appropriate participation structure was better able to
implement her lesson. Conversely, the teacher who attempted to impose both
topic of discussion and appropriate interactional rules, was frequently diverted
because of conflict with students over one or the other.
(Bartolomé 1992, in Darder et al. 2003 p.420)
From Bartolomé’s perspective, I feel that my decision makes sound moral pedagogical
I now question where my intervention on Er’s behalf becomes significant, and how this
episode contributes to my theory of practice of teaching children to be critical thinkers.
By not forcing him to take part, and encouraging him to exercise his particular talent, I
believe I acted in a way that was just and I also believe that Er possibly felt cared for
and free, which may have given him opportunities to think, and in allowing him that
space I modelled a caring pedagogy to the other children. For the rest of the school year,
I compensated as much as possible for his non-participation in the circle by inviting Er
to speak often and encouraging him to ask questions. In the discussion on ‘Dear
Greenpeace’ (below), for example, he took an active part (see Appendix C.4. where
Er’s contributions are marked with asterisks).
I believe that the incident is representative of how I arrived at professional decisions
from a ‘relational and critical ontology’ (Kincheloe and Berry 2004 p.xi). It also
provides evidence for my claim to live my values in my practice. In trying to deal with
the ethical and pedagogical dilemmas involved, I demonstrated that my practice is
grounded in my embodied values of care, freedom and justice. Many more examples
are available, but this vignette acts as indicative of my practice. In providing
explanations as well as descriptions of the episode I have theorised my practice in
relation to this one child.
As I looked at my transcript data from the first part of Action Reflection Cycle 2, I
realised that Noddings’ (2002) ideas about conversation also resonated with my
practice. As I revisited the transcript from ‘Is Jack a hero?’ I wrote:
© Mary Roche 2007
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I’ve stopped looking for nuggets of ‘brilliance’ in what the children were
saying because I suddenly saw this transcript as ‘a conversation’. In fact
until I reflected on the dialogue transcripts as ‘ordinary conversation’
(Noddings 2002 p142) I did not see the value of my practice of allowing
the children the space to sit and think and talk. (RD 15-01-04)
Gutmann (1987) also suggests that the cultivation of the knowledge, skills and virtues
necessary for political participation is more important morally than any other purpose of
public education in a democracy (p.287). I can see now that what the children say is
sometimes of less importance than the fact that they speak respectfully and listen calmly
to each other and to me. I appreciate now that I was opening up spaces for the seeds of
democratic habits.
As already stated in Chapter 1, I resist the propositional overtones of analysing and
labelling dialogue into categories. However, I find some relevance in Noddings’ (2002)
identification of three main types of conversation:
• Formal conversation, as in Habermas’s (1983/1990) ‘practical discourse’(p.117)
• Immortal conversations’, dealing with existential questions (p.122)
• The ‘very heart of moral education – the quality of ordinary conversation’
Discrete classroom discussion times such as Thinking Time can be seen then as a
construct for initiating both practical discourse and immortal conversations and for
synthesising several aspects of dialogue. Some of these ideas informed a presentation in
June 2003 (Roche 2003e) in which I showed a video clip where my students suggested
the topics they would like to discuss:
M: How do trolls get under bridges … because they’re as big as a giant?
C: Why do fish live in water?
CD: How do … teeth get made …’cos if God’s magic … how (why)
can’t he magic the teeth in?
E: We could talk about princesses in a castle.
Ch: What do live and what don’t live? (RD 02-05-03 and video link
‘interesting questions’ Chapter 1)
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I felt (wrongly as it turned out) that the question ‘what lives and what doesn’t live’ was
not one the children would necessarily find intriguing or select for discussion. The
video clip, however, shows that R immediately said, ‘That’s a good question!’ and J
followed with ‘That’s a [sic] interesting question by Ch’.
The conversation then continued:
Me: Well what do you think Ch’s question means? Why are we alive, I
A: Maybe it’s cos our mammy wanted a new baby. My mammy told me
she was very lonely until I came along.
Me: Do you know anything that’s not alive?
J: Well … slugs maybe?
C: No – they’re alive! They slither along and they eat cabbage! They’re
alive because you can kill them.
Me: Well …I’ve just thought of something else – is the cabbage alive
too, I wonder?
M: It’s alive cos it’s growing, and it’s not alive cos it doesn’t make any
noises or move around. (RD excerpt from conversation 02-05-03)
To me, this conversation represented more than an exchange of views: it involved
thinking about existential questions as to what constitutes being ‘alive’. It was a real
‘ordinary conversation’ in Noddings’ (2002) terms: a frank and open dialogue in which
I was as intrigued by what ‘being alive’ meant as the children were. In my presentation
I suggested that
Many children lack opportunities to engage in real conversation with adults,
where all parties listen and respond to one another. Ordinary conversation
between adults and children require the adults involved to display qualities of
‘open-mindedness, whole-heartedness’ (Dewey 1910), and encountering the
child as a person.
(see Roche 2003e n/p)
As the adult involved I neither coerced nor patronised the children: I simply responded
to what was said and contributed my thoughts and questions as just another member of
the group. It wasn’t a teaching situation in the traditional didactic sense, although I do
believe we all learned from it in terms of raising our critical awareness and contributing
to a more critical engagement of existential matters. Habermas (1983) however suggests
that people must possess special qualities to participate in ‘formal conversation’. They
have to be ‘capable of logical reasoning, and they must be reflective enough to reject
© Mary Roche 2007
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conversational moves to destroy the process’ (Habermas 1983 pp.118–119). My
students were perhaps too young to have these ideal qualities of logical reasoning yet
they seemed to be able to partake in formal conversation on their own terms. My
abundant transcript data shows evidence of formal and ordinary conversation.
Englund (2006) states that Habermas’ idea of an ideal conversation and its validity
claims of truthfulness, rightness, appropriateness and comprehensibility ought to be
seen as goals to strive for, but not necessarily as elements built into every conversation.
Englund (op cit) also suggests that teachers should be ready to participate in ordinary
conversation, such as, perhaps, in my data excerpt about what being alive means, and in
further data extracts below.
Throughout this action reflection cycle, I appear to demonstrate a more critical and
confident researcher voice than I did during the first Cycle. I was now offering my own
reasons and explanations, and beginning to grow into my identity as a researcherpractitioner.
Ordinary conversation about cats, commoners and spiders
As reported earlier (see Chapter 1) I believe that it would be a display of a technical
rational form of logic to try to analyse classroom discussion episodes by separating
them into various components and say this is discussion, this is dialogue and this is
ordinary conversation. An overall ‘spirit of dialogue’ (Bohm 1998 p.2) is what’s
important, I believe. However, from my reading of Noddings 2002) I have learned to
value the informal ‘ordinary conversation’ that often happens spontaneously. In the
following interaction between C and R, two five year olds, during a discussion on
whether the children thought animals have feelings, it can be seen, I think, that the
children’s ordinary conversation incorporates elements of formal conversation:
D: I think that animals have no feelings
Chorus of ‘I disagree, D, they do!’
A: Well, I know if I kicked an animal, they’d scream.
R: I was actually just thinking the same thing as A!
D: Well … OK … but they only have little feelings!
C: I disagree, D. Animals have very big feelings to protect their babies.
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R: I agree [think] that C is really good at talking and listening … and I
think that actually, C, you actually know everything…
C: Yes, I do…. Thank you, R, for saying that.
R: Don’t even mention it. (RD 30-04-03; Appendix D.3.)
Informal ordinary conversation appears to play as significant a role in enabling children
to think critically as does the more formal setting of discrete classroom discussion.
Within the context of ordinary conversational exchanges, the relationship between my
students and me, and between my students and each other, is enhanced through the
development of trust and the existence of a spirit of dialogue (Bohm 1998). The
children also appear to be developing communicative competence (Dillon 1994) which
improving our expressiveness, learning various rules of discourse and
acquiring complex abilities of interaction. We learn to talk better. … We learn
the intellectual, procedural and social rules and conventions … we develop in
the moral culture of discussion … we experience personal growth, considered
apart from academic learning … in discussion our personal involvement is
deeper and more significant to us.
(Dillon 1994 p.109)
Dillon (1994) suggests that when young children are paired in conversations with a
teacher, the quality of responses is enhanced:
The children … spoke longer and showed more elaboration, contributions,
ideas and questions when the teacher stopped questioning them and substituted
instead declarative statements and phatics [such as] “I like going to the park
too”: “that must have been awful.”
(Dillon 1994 p.99)
My data show that my students regularly engaged in such conversation with me. During
preparation for going home one day J leaned against my chair and said:
JM: Teacher, do you know that some spiders actually eat their webs?
Me: Do they? I didn’t know that!
JM: … apparently the webs have some bit of nutritional value.
Me: That’s very interesting! Now I’ve learned something new today.
Did you?
JM: Not really. (RD 20-10-03)
A context for peer-to-peer tutoring was encouraged in the classroom, and, despite being
the youngest student, JM soon emerged as a natural ‘tutor’:
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Eo: JM do you know what you were saying about ants and greenflies? Is
that true?
JM: Yes. The ants act like shepherds with the greenflies as their sheep.
They need the sticky stuff that the greenflies produce: it’s really quite
fascinating. Actually, I have it on a video. I’ll bring it in. (RD 08-03-04)
To me this is an example of a child scaffolding another child’s development and
learning. Vygotsky (1962) hypothesised that a distance exists between what a learner
can do unaided and what he or she can achieve with support. This space he called ‘the
zone of proximal development’ (ZPD). In classroom discussions, some children, like
JM, operate at the upper level of their ZPD, so in the discussion circle situation a child
like JM whose excellent communicative competence could be seen as supporting other
children’s ability to participate, sometimes above their actual ability. Morehouse
(1999) also asserts that more articulate children act as scaffolds (Bruner 1960) for less
articulate children in the circle (see Roche 2000b p.20).
Campbell (2001) asserts that in Thinking Time discussions
… even children who exhibit a restricted linguistic code can portray an urgency
and a potency which honours the quality of their thoughts, their thinking
resonates with a sense of seeking, with mutual scaffolding and empathy, and
frequently with refreshing subversiveness.
(Campbell 2001 p.81)
Rogoff (1990) drawing on Vygotsky’s (1962) theory of social communication and
learning suggests that children’s participation in communicative processes is the
foundation on which they build understanding:
As children listen to the views and understanding of others, and stretch their
concepts to find a common ground; as they collaborate and argue with others,
consider new alternatives, and recast their ideas to communicate or to
convince, they advance their ideas in the process of participation. It is a matter
of social engagement that leaves the individual changed.
(Rogoff 1990 p.195)
By the middle of the second term 2004, the children appeared to be confident in their
relationship with me and often came to me informally for a chat. These episodes
afforded opportunities to further develop a caring relationship, particularly with
children like Eo, a nervous child yet a creative thinker, adept at verbal reasoning. I gave
these conversations high priority for enabling the children to develop their critical
thinking and celebrate their natural curiosity about the world. Extracts from these
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conversations demonstrate the transformation of my values into pedagogical practices,
whose quality can be judged by my values as living critical standards of judgement.
Eo: Teacher, I’d say my cat can definitely think.
Me: Really? How did you find that out?
Eo: See, I watch her all the time – when she’s not looking. I’d say she
thinks about loads of things.
Me: That’s interesting … like what, for example?
Eo: Well … anything really, like catching mice or butterflies and
playing and getting food off me.
Me: Wow. She sounds really clever. I used to have a cat too.
Eo: Did you? Do you still have her?
Me: No, she ran away one night and we never saw her again. Your cat
sounds like she’s very smart, though. (RD 02-02-04)
Cadwell (1997) says that language links us to the world and to others and that, through
dialogue, shared meanings are shaped and our singular perspectives are enriched (p.62).
My ‘singular perspective’ was enriched by this child’s passionate belief in his cat’s
ability to think. From this conversation a topic emerged later that week, about whether
animals could think, and a significant discussion ensued (‘Dear Greenpeace’ below).
Oakeshott (1959) suggests that conversation participants are not engaged in inquiry or
debate. He considers conversation as ‘an unrehearsed intellectual adventure’ in which
the responsibility of educators is to provide contexts for such intellectual adventures.
Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of
this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the
proper occasions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and
moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which, in
the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance.
(Oakeshott 1959 p.198)
Oakeshott (op cit) also argues that both poetic and practical language is found in
varying proportions at all stages of development of children. The desire to communicate
leads towards ‘getting things done in the world’ (ibid) and the delight in utterance
represents talk as pleasurable. This was frequently manifested in our conversations, as
Sh: Teacher, will I tell you a very, very sad story that my auntie told me?
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Me: Sure!
Sh: D’you know down in West Cork … there’s a big sort of house …
and a kind of white stone on the side of the road?
Me: Er, yes…kind of…
Sh: Well that’s where the sad thing happened: See there was this really
rich man and he had one beautiful daughter and guess what? She fell in
love with a commoner and her Dad didn’t want her to marry a
commoner so he said No and he locked her up and she died. Of a broken
heart. That’s what my auntie said. Teacher, isn’t that just so, so sad?
Me: Yes it really is very sad; but what’s a commoner?
Sh: I’m not totally sure; I’d say he’s a kind of servant.
Me: I wonder why her Dad would not want his daughter to marry a
Sh: Maybe he only had one or two and he needed them … to do the
Sh’s face, as he told me this story was bright and animated. He loved
being able to ‘explain’ something to me – ‘commoners’ was not a word I
expected to hear from a five-year-old (RD: 03-03-04)
Besides the utter pleasure of the conversation, it also demonstrated to me the high level
of thinking on Sh’s part that sees him drawing on his prior knowledge to make sense of
a new word. Like his friend Eo, Sh fares badly in standardised reading and Maths tests,
yet excels in verbal reasoning and thinking. The episode is another example of why I
feel that a didactic pedagogical manner and whole class formal instruction can often be
unjust, in that it can serve to deny the intelligence of children like Eo and Sh, who need
a more dialogical engagement with knowledge, and time to come to know on their own
terms rather than terms dictated by strict adherence to subject coverage. Didacticism
excludes children from being seen as significant and unique. It places children in the
category of Other (that is, different from me) whereas my theory is premised upon my
ontological values that see children as others (that is, like me but different in their
uniqueness). Thus my learning from such ordinary conversation has now come to
inform my developing living educational theory.
Moral outrage
I have so far offered reflections about the actions I took to encourage critical practices
in myself and my children. I now wish to reflect on the growth of my own critical
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I have said that I read widely about philosophy with children and radical pedagogies,
and I was aware of their increasing influence in my own thinking. I initially experienced
a sense of moral outrage (Purpel 1999) about a range of issues: that I had been teaching
for so long and yet remained unaware of the injustices inherent in the form of logic
underpinning much of what is taught in schools; about the manner in which people are
often ‘mis-educated’ by the hegemony of dominant ideologies (Chomsky 2000).
Chomsky argues throughout his political work that formal education systems work to
impose ideas. Like Bourdieu, Chomsky sees such imposition as a powerful cultural
means of social reproduction. McNiff (2002) also suggests that
How people come to know through conventional teaching methodologies is
lasting: they effectively learn not to question. Education is used as a means of
controlling the thinking of consumers.
(McNiff 2002 p.65)
I felt passionate about the need for students to build critical self-defences against what I
saw as neo-liberal consumerist agendas and the potential exploitation of young people
through advertising. In my early draft writing I wrote furiously about these issues,
bombarding my supervisor with my angst, and was justifiably critiqued for my
It is clear from your writing that you are very angry, and this shows
through in the polemical style. (E mail correspondence from J 05-06-05)
My increasing critical awareness however, seems to have influenced my practice, and
the anger gave way to more disciplined critique, as in the next excerpt.
We had a fire drill today. Silence and straight lines were demanded.
Suddenly Eo who was just five asked anxiously ‘well, what’s so good
about straight lines anyway?’ I saw that he was very frightened by the
general air of tension. I explained that teachers needed to make certain
that all the children in each class were safe if ever a real fire happened;
that children had to hear the roll-call; and that it was much faster to
count people if they weren’t all moving around. Eo said, ‘Oh, OK, I get
it now.’
I found Eo’s question stayed with me, and asked myself, What is so
good about straight lines? Why are uniformity and compliance to rules
so synonymous with schooling? Suddenly I found myself questioning
many of the norms upon which primary education is frequently
premised. (RD 04-03-04)
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This led me to research and write about my new understanding of how technical
rationality frequently manifests in a managerial and corporate approach to education in
many post-industrial contexts. I understood now why Polanyi (1958) urged people to
think in ways that would enable them to strip away ‘the crippling mutilations imposed
by an objectivist framework’ (p.381) and to seek to understand the world from their
own original perspective.
Other ideas resonated with me, including Feyerabend’s (1995) critique of scientism and
his passion to deconstruct
the tyranny of philosophical obfuscators and abstract concepts such as “truth”,
“reality” or “objectivity”, which narrow people’s vision and ways of being in
the world.
(Feyerabend 1995 p.179)
He criticised the ways in which children are taught to think in ways that shut down
opportunities for critical engagement.
What is excluded is the use of institutionalized values for the condemnation, or
perhaps even the elimination, of those who prefer to arrange their lives
(Feyerabend 1970 in Lakatos and Musgrave 1970 p.210)
He laments the lack of critical thinking:
What is excluded is the attempt to “educate” children in a manner that that
makes them lose their manifold talents so that they become restricted to a
narrow domain of thought, action, emotion. (ibid)
I gave further critical reflection to how authoritarian decisions are often made by adults
in school contexts, without consideration of children’s reactions, and I was aware of
how such ‘antidialogical actions’ (Burbules 1993, Freire 1972) are premised upon an
ontological stance that sees children as ‘Other’.
Bruner (1996) suggested that schools are valuable and extraordinary places ‘for getting
a sense of how to use the mind, how to deal with authority, how to treat others’ (p. 78).
In light of Eo’s question, I began to reflect that straight lines and uniforms have
overtones of behaviourism and teach us, perhaps, that in dealing with authority it is
often safest to obey uncritically and become part of what Russell (1932) calls an
obedient herd. I felt that being ordered to stay silent demonstrates the frequent
inequality of power relationships between teachers and children, and are discourses of
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repression and control. I was concerned that my children might learn that authority is
automatically entitled to obedience. Such practices aim at colonising thinking, and their
underpinning logics frequently transform into a technology of control:
… how people are actively prevented from thinking for themselves through the
body of official knowledge, and then how that knowledge is pedagogised into
specific ways of teaching and learning, and institutionalised into specific
technicist epistemologies. We know what happens when people are prevented
from exercising their capacity to question, the gradual loss of excitement and
the quietude of acceptance.
(Whitehead and McNiff 2006 p.45)
I see my students as significant and unique human beings who share with me a capacity
to question and enjoy active participation in their school experience. In light of
Kristeva’s (2002) idea of each person’s right ‘to become as singular as possible’ (in
Lechte and Margaroni 2004 p.162), there is frequent ambivalence about what is
expected of children, especially since many of our institutions valorise uniformity. An
insistence on conformity denies my ontological values. My pedagogies aim to
encourage relational ways of knowing, that celebrate the uniqueness and diversity of the
individuals in my classroom.
During this third year, therefore, as I grew in confidence within my institution and
began to develop my researcher voice alongside my practitioner voice, I began to
realise that I have to model these values throughout my institutional life.
The children discussed Gandhi’s decision to wear only the plain cotton
clothes which he had woven.
They debated his decision and C said:
C: Well, if everybody dressed in simple white clothes then no-one would
be able to decide if people belonged to the rich group or the poor group.
How could you be an ‘untouchable’ if you were dressed exactly like a
rich person? That’s what’s good about our uniforms too. It’s more equal
that way. (RD 13-10-06)
Reflection 1
I realised that inherent in this child’s statement there was a lesson for
me: I saw that during my study I had gone from an initial uncritical
acceptance of uniformity to an equally uncritical rejection of uniformity.
Earlier in my studies it had ‘suited’ my research purposes to decry the
wearing of uniforms as evidencing control and oppression.
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Now I thought: maybe the uniform is not a symbol of oppression unless
I attribute such qualities to it? I need to do some more thinking about
this. As my students frequently say, ‘I’m beginning to disagree with
myself a little bit!’ (RD 13-10-06)
My ontological values were informing my ideas: these values were transforming into
practical commitments in the world through my practice. Following Eo’s critical
question, I began to examine issues of technical rationality in relation to educational
policies and practices in the post-industrial western model. I learned to value my
practice of encouraging freedom to think and speak, as I recognised its potential for a
more open society and a good social order. When I explained this new
conceptualisation of my practice to colleagues at a study group seminar in February
2003, I was encouraged by my supervisor to read Popper (1966, 1972), Russell (1932)
and Said (1983).
From Popper (1966) I learned the importance of being open to criticism. He advocated
the testing of (scientific) ideas through criticism rather than replication. However, he
disappointed me by considering dialectical thinking to be ‘loose and woolly thinking’
(1966 p.316). To me dialectical knowing and thinking are essential for the generation
of creative and relational ways of knowing. Russell’s (1932) ideas about citizenship
encouraged me to consider the potentials of my study in relation to the responsibility of
citizens to challenge and critique the state. Said (1983) also speaks about the importance
of critique:
Criticism must think of itself as life-enhancing and constitutively opposed to
every form of tyranny, domination, and abuse; its social goals are noncoercive
knowledge produced in the interest of human freedom.
(Said 1983 p.29)
Two discussions in particular from this phase of my research were influential for my
developing living theory of practice. One was ‘Rainbows and Reality, following which
Ao made her startling critical pronouncement about questioning answers (Appendix C.
5.); the other was ‘Dear Greenpeace’ which I will now discuss.
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Dear Greenpeace
A significant example of my children thinking for themselves occurred in the discussion
that followed reading aloud the story ‘Dear Greenpeace’ (James 1992) (See Appendix
C. 4.).
I consider it to be one of the best discussions I have participated in, and
one of the longest. Er joined in to talk about his dog. A came in for the
Spanish lesson but when he saw the children so rapt and engaged he
simply sat into the circle.
Y observed and took notes.
Y and A gave me written evaluations later: they were both hugely
impressed. (RD 06-02-04; full transcript in Appendices H. 5. and H. 6.)
The children began by discussing pets and Eo suggested that his dog made plans to
catch his cat.
Me: I’d like to go back to something Eo said earlier about dogs making
plans. I think that’s very interesting. Can dogs make plans? Can dogs
M: Well I think they think about loving their owners and stuff.
Cl: I don’t think they can think. You need language to think.
Me: I wonder about that … about whether or not you need language to
think? Can babies think?
M: I don’t think so, I think they do a lot of feeling and dreaming but as
they grow they learn more stuff and then they can think.
Er: Well my dog is always thinking about me!
Sh: If we put Er’s brain in Cl’s head, who’d be doing the thinking – Er
or Cl?
K: We think with our brain so Cl would have Er’s thoughts and
memories and dreams.
I: I don’t think so. I think that for a little time it would be mostly Er’s
thoughts but then it would start to be Cl’s thoughts.
Er: I think every bit of us can think, even our skin, because our skin gets
itchy even when we’re asleep.
Mr: Yeah cos if our skin didn’t think, we wouldn’t be able to turn in the
bed at night.
The discussion engaged all of the children for over an hour and a half.
© Mary Roche 2007
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Y subsequently wrote:
[this] was the most amazing conversation I ever heard in a group of
children in all my years caring for children … it was the most thoughtprovoking
morning …
… they started talking about their pets and whether they could think …
this led on to a conversation about human thoughts and brains … they
discussed if their brain slept or not …
A … felt the same as I did … amazed that children of such a young age
could have so much knowledge in their heads (RD excerpts from Y’s
evaluation 08-02-04)
A wrote:
The teacher had also a very important role … [She] had to listen very
carefully without speaking for a very long time. This is a very difficult
skill for a teacher to learn because normally a teacher is one who does
most of the talking in a classroom.
In Thinking Time the teacher must use her power wisely and discreetly
so that the children have control of the discussion. (RD excerpt from A’s
evaluation 10-02-04, Appendix H.6.)
These data, I suggest, constitute evidence for how I make space for my children to think
for themselves without imposing my views on them (a demonstration of my value of
freedom). I listen carefully and attentively (my value of care) and I only interrupt when
necessary (my value of justice). I have learned to respect the children as knowers who
can learn in their own way (my ontological and epistemological values). I claim
therefore that I am showing how I transform these values into pedagogical standards of
judgement within my claim that my articulated values have emerged and transformed
into my living standards of judgement about the quality of my research.
Encountering resistance to my ideas
It has to be said that not everything was comfortable and not everyone agreed with me.
I doubt if you can undertake an AR [action research] Expedition that involves
living the values that carry hope for the future of humanity, without
experiencing some painful (and creative) tensions of encounters with other
individuals and groups in a network of power relations that act to deny these
(Whitehead 2004b n/p)
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I encountered resistance to my ideas when I presented a week-long professional
development summer in-service course entitled ‘Thinking Time and the Revised
Curriculum’ (Roche 2004a). I explained how classroom dialogue could support the
whole curriculum, but only if teachers were willing to be critical thinkers themselves
and ground their practice in a relational and humanising pedagogy. Although this idea
had been growing steadily for the last three years, I was articulating it here publicly for
the first time.
On the first day of the course I articulated my educational values and explained how I
had come to the point where I now believed that learning to think for oneself was
probably the most important aspect of education. I presented an overview of the idea of
philosophising with children and showed some video excerpts of children engaged in
lively discussion. I then asked the teachers present to respond to what they had heard
and seen: I was aghast when one teacher said:
That is the greatest load of rubbish I have ever heard or seen. The idea of
letting children talk like that … that’s very dangerous! You’ll have them
all in mental homes when they’re older! (RD 01-07-04)
No one else present agreed: in fact, this teacher’s response acted as a catalyst in
provoking discussion. When all the teachers who wished to, had responded, I thanked
the first speaker for her courage in taking a stand that went against the grain and
expressed a hope that perhaps by the end of the week-long course, she would come to
appreciate that what I was hoping to achieve was a caring and just form of practice. She
remained unconvinced and at the end of the course she said:
Children come to school to learn; they are told what to do. That’s the
teacher’s job: that’s what we’re paid for – to teach, to give information
to the children, to help them learn. Children can’t do this! This is highly
dangerous! (RD excerpt from conversation with AC 05-07-04)
In this response the teacher is echoing what perhaps many conservative educationalists
feel in relation to giving students too much of a voice. Fullan (1991) for example points
out the rarity of children being asked for their opinions within education contexts and
What would happen if we treated the student as someone whose opinion
(Fullan 1991 p.170)
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I have referred already to Noddings’ (2006) summary that critical topics are not
presented in educational contexts largely because of ignorance – ‘the notion never
arises’ (p. 3). Now, like Noddings, I saw that fear too plays a dominant role:
But fear may be an even greater impediment. What harm might we do to our
students if we encourage them to think critically and reflectively? It is not only
fictional characters like … Dickens’s Gradgrind who fear that real harm might
be done to individuals or to the social fabric by promoting critical thinking. …
Burke and Galston feared that the social order itself might suffer if citizens
were to exercise critical thinking.
(Noddings 2006 p.3)
The teacher who protested against the idea of teaching children to think for themselves
spoke from her own ontological stance. I do not think that her values about education
allow her to support the notion of a free-thinking and dialogical environment. Her
epistemological values may be fixed in a propositional form of logic that views
knowledge as a commodity to be deposited into students. Her idea of the value of
didacticism appears to be grounded in conventional logics of control and oppression
(Marcuse 1964).
Marcuse (op cit) argues that propositional thinking forms the basis for a social
technology of control and that the idea of citizens thinking for themselves would
represent a huge threat to such forms of thinking. He speaks about the ways in which an
‘advanced industrial society’ creates sophisticated, scientific forms of management and
In this process, the ‘inner’ dimension of the mind in which opposition to the
status quo can take root is whittled down. The loss of this dimension, in which
the power of negative thinking – the critical power of Reason – is at home, is
the ideological counterpart to the very material process in which advanced
industrial society silences and reconciles the opposition.
(Marcuse 1964 p.10)
The teacher in question appears to be displaying a fear of loss of control. Perhaps
ignorance and fear are two sides of the same coin that militates against critical thinking.
I have explained how throughout my life I have been schooled, and told what to think. I
have only now begun to educate myself. I have come to see how didacticism is
something we do ‘to’ others. Education, I believe, is something we do ‘for’ ourselves
and ‘with’ others. The former is grounded in a logic of repression and control and in
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ideas of difference and ‘Other’: the latter is based on a critical relational ontology of
being one-in-relation-with-others and on values of ‘I-Thou’ forms of encounter (Buber
1965). Drawing on the ideas of McNiff et al. (1992), I claim that I have come to realise
the generative transformational potentials of my practice to influence the learning of
I have explained how I have come to know my own educational development in a more
hermeneutic way. I have shown how my living educational theory is developing from
an ontological ‘outsider’ perspective to a more inclusional ‘insider’ one.
In my next chapter I consider how I have reached the point of realising my own
capacity for critical engagement with my own critical thinking, and also how I have
enabled my children to do the same. This, I feel, is a most significant aspect of my
practice, and can stand as an original contribution from my research to knowledge of
my field of education.
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Chapter 8
Action reflection cycle 3
Developing as a critical thinker: working with 8 and 9 year old children in 3rd
This third action-reflection cycle largely encompasses the period from September 2004
to the present (March 2007). During this time, I moved into a more critical phase, and I
began actively to articulate my values as my living standards of judgement against
which to test my claims to knowledge. In this chapter I explain how I now feel justified
in claiming that I have developed a greater understanding of my engagement in a living
form of action research (Whitehead and McNiff 2006).
I am claiming that I have exercised my educative influence to encourage others to
become creatively critical in their thinking. By this I mean that through developing
dialogical pedagogies and through living out my ontological value of seeing myself in
relationship with, and recognising the worth and dignity of, others as uniquely creative
thinkers, I try to act towards my students and others in a way that honours their
originality of mind and capacity for critical engagement. I do not impose my ideas on
them but help them to come to discern what is appropriate for them. Like McNiff (op
cit) I, too, endeavour to hold myself accountable for my practice because
I believe that it is the moral, social and epistemological duty of those who are
positioned as knowledge workers, to account for ourselves as we go about our
work, in order to ensure that the nature of our influence is educational.
(McNiff 2005b p.1)
McNiff further suggests that holding oneself accountable is a matter of one’s own
ontological wellbeing. According to Raz (2001), she says, ‘we are defined in terms of
our attachments to others, specifically in terms of the duties we have to them’ (McNiff
op cit). I care about my students and want them to have an equitable and just
educational experience in which they are free to explore their critical capacities. I have
highlighted my value of care within my practice because I concur with McNiff’s view
that ‘my ontological wellbeing, as a committed educator, is inextricably bound to my
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duties to those for whom I care and for much of whose academic support within an
organisational context I am responsible’ (McNiff 2005b p.1).
Working with 3rd classes from September 2004 to the present (March 2007) has
allowed me to develop my practice and my living educational theory to the point where
I can now begin to see my theory as a viable one that resonates with my values and
allows me to act with integrity. In this chapter, I will show how I began to relax into my
identity both as a researcher and as a teacher and how, towards the last years of my
research phase, as I began to reconceptualise my practice and my identity, I gradually
recognised that as well as establishing for myself the importance of providing discrete
time for classroom discussion, I could, by changing the form of logics upon which my
ideas about my practice were based, situate my discrete discussion sessions within
existing curricular and organisational frameworks, work at providing a broad array of
dialogical pedagogies and still stay close to my values. Gradually I came to value my
practice more, as the relevance and significance of doing discrete critical classroom
dialogue, within a broader dialogical form of pedagogy, became clearer to me.
What does my practice look like?
I need now to give a flavour of what my practice actually looked like.
As my practice evolved during my study, I began to take it for granted. I thought that I
‘did’ very little that was different from regular classroom practice, and I thought my
classroom was much like any good teacher’s classroom. Then a critical friend who had
watched some of my videos said in an email:
What you are doing is important. I don’t know any other teacher who
engages children in thinking and talking as much as you do. I really have
never seen children so actively engaged in thinking critically and so
involved in listening and building on each other’s ideas as these
children. Your classroom discussion videos are inspirational. (Email
from M. 10-11-05)
In a recent conversation with my supervisor and a critical friend, my
supervisor asked me to explain my role within classroom discussions.
‘What is it that you actually do within your practice that encourages
critical thinking?’ she asked. I thought for a moment and then answered
‘I don’t think it’s really about what I actually do; it’s probably more
about how I am, and about what I don’t do.’ (RD extract from
conversation with J and C 12-11-06)
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By this I meant that I now understand that my practice is often as much about how I am
in relation to my students and therefore what I refrain from doing. For example, my
ontological values influence my educational values so that I try not to impose my own
thinking on the children, or ask predominately closed questions; neither do I treat the
children in a patronising or superior way. I engage the children in ‘ordinary
conversation’, and automatically I now make time available for discussion during every
lesson. I automatically use appropriately ‘sophisticated’ language (a critical friend who
watched my videos commented, ‘I notice you don’t talk down to the children; you use
quite sophisticated language’ (RD 26-10-05)). I have taken care to ensure that my
students never feel prohibited from interrupting with questions or offering their
thoughts. In this I believe I am demonstrating care for my students as people and
respect for their integrity as learners while encouraging their capacity to be critical
thinkers. At the beginning of my studies, as I consciously transformed my pedagogies,
these were deliberate acts. They have now become ‘automatic’, that is, they have
become ‘how I am’, or a way of being in relation with my students.
However, my supervisor’s question made me think. Perhaps I had underestimated my
own role. So in this chapter I will explain what I do to facilitate a form of dialogical
pedagogy that encourages people to be critical. What was interesting to me a few weeks
after the conversation with my supervisor, as I began writing this chapter, was that I
realised I had not immediately considered all the dialogical practices I use, as I have
now described throughout. Perhaps I took my pedagogical values for granted. I
considered that I only did what seemed the sensible thing to do at the time. I invited
parents into my classroom as knitting partners, and as listeners as children read. Parents
who have an interesting occupation or come from another country were invited to speak
with the children. I invited elderly people in to talk about their lives as children and I
encouraged my students through the ‘working as a historian’ strand of the History
syllabus to work on projects that involved them interviewing their grandparents. I
encourage the children to think critically about their history lessons and to ask, ‘whose
voice is being heard and whose voice is absent in this account?’ We now regularly
discuss history lessons critically and the children have begun to show evidence of being
extremely critically aware (see ‘St Bridget’: Figure 8.3 p.235 below). My students
correspond with children in the USA and have had interesting learning experiences
from this practice (Chapter 9). I organised African drumming workshops for the
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children, which was then expanded to take in the whole school. I invited singers to
come in to teach them songs from other countries and incorporated the songs into a
school-wide Intercultural Celebration Day that I organised. I take my students out on
field trips, on charity work expeditions, such as carol singing, to the theatre, to other
schools, to the cinema (It must be noted here, however, that institutionally such
practices are encouraged and supported). I accompanied my students to galleries to
share in the aesthetic experience of others’ artwork and to respond by drawing from
observation. I provided opportunities for my children to respond creatively to artwork
through their English writing syllabus (see Appendix E) and invited visual artists to my
classroom to share their love of their craft with the children. The children have
responded by engaging these visitors in dialogue. I feel that all these events provide
learning of a kind that makes the children critically aware of the multiple perspectives
and realities of their world (Figures 8.1, 8.2, below and other pictures throughout).
Figure 8-1: Photos of my students going carol singing and browsing at a book fair
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Figure 8-2: Video still of my students researching together and photo of students presenting
findings of their research
I will now focus my reflections on how my practice is beginning to influence wider
institutional practices and cultures.
Influence on institutional practices
During the third Action Reflection phase of my studies I worked with groups of
approximately thirty children aged eight to ten years in three Third classes. At about
this point, I also began to reconceptualise my understanding of what I was doing in my
practice in relation to influence wider school practices. I will develop this theme in
Chapter 9, but will say here briefly that by September 2004 when action-reflection
cycle 3 began, all classes in the school were now doing some form of weekly Thinking
Time discussions. At the request of our principal, colleagues and I developed an openended
evaluation sheet which enables us to assess and monitor our practice in relation
to classroom discussion (Appendices D.1. to D.5.): and I also set up a process of
ongoing professional development for staff members because our school was growing
rapidly and new staff needed support in learning about Thinking Time. This support
took several forms, including the following:
• regular invitations to colleagues to observe and critically respond to my weekly
discussions (2004–2006)
• input at staff meetings about topics that worked well in my classroom and an
invitation to colleagues to share in these practices (2004-2006)
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• on school policy planning days I organised group sessions whereby teachers
who were gaining confidence in doing classroom discussion were invited to
provide practical guidelines for other less confident staff members (2004–2006)
• through a mentoring programme already in place in the school I set up a forum
whereby new teachers who wanted further support would come and observe my
classroom practice (RD 2005-2006)
• I developed a ‘Thinking Time’ folder for each teacher with explanations, ideas,
sample topics and some references to literatures. I did this from my own
experience of feeling inadequate and lacking support when setting out to do
classroom discussion ten years ago (2003–2006).
• My principal continued to be enthusiastic about Thinking Time and had put an
empty classroom at our disposal as a discussion room. This meant that children
and teachers did not have to spend time rearranging their own classrooms to
make a discussion circle.
I also continued having weekly discussions with my children while developing my
evolving dialogical practice. My students were getting more and more frequently
involved in discussion during each day. When this happened initially, I was perplexed
at being unable to teach a lesson didactically and worried about letting go of my lesson
plans, and I will shortly explain what I learned from a particular incident.
Remaining with my theme that I could articulate more clearly how I was able to make
informed decisions about the quality of my work, I can say that, alongside the
development of what I believe to be critical awareness in my students, I too began to
ask more critical questions of my practice and my thinking as I increasingly challenged
problematic issues. I problematised and refined my understanding of the terms
‘discussion’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘critical thinking’. From an initial concern that my
children and I could not always claim to be in dialogue, because sometimes it seemed
to me that we were involved in discussion or in ‘informal conversation’ (Noddings
2002 p.142), I soon realised that being overly concerned with such labelling was
grounded in a propositional form of logic and that it did not matter whether we were
engaged in discussion, dialogue or conversation so long as I could claim to be living to
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my value of trying to transform my practice from less didactic to more dialogical and so
long as an overall spirit of dialogue (Bohm 1998) was present. I realised too, that were I
to try only to analyse into discrete categories what happens when my students and I are
talking and thinking together I would not be doing a self-study of my practice: I would
be moving into outsider interpretive research about my students and their utterances and
adopting a traditional social science methodology. As it is, I have learned the
importance of incorporating these moments of analysis into a holistic representation of
my research. I can appreciate now how discussion, as the sharing of opinion, often
segues into dialogue, as an engagement whereby each person enters into a closer and
more equitable relationship through sharing ideas, and can also transform into
conversation, a practice capable of encompassing both dialogue and discussion.
Gradually, the discussions with my students showed me that I needed to make myself
more aware of several issues and I was increasingly led by my students to a
problematisation of issues as diverse as the objectification of people; racism and
stereotyping; consumerism and advertising; globalisation, the MacDonaldization of
society, freedom, courage, and even classroom discussion itself.
Trying to become a better teacher
In trying to come to an improved understanding of my practice, in this last cycle of my
self-study research, I believe that I also refined my understanding of the affective and
relational aspect of my role as a teacher, so that I now accept that it is because of who I
am, and how I am, in my relationships with them that I am able to influence my
students to contribute critically to their own education. I now began to reconceptualise
my identity as a critically aware person and it is now very much part of ‘who I am’. I
had begun to see this in the previous two cycles but now I recognised more keenly that,
unless I could say that I was working in a way that promoted equitable, caring and fair
relationships with my students, I could not claim to be living to my pedagogical or
social values. Claiming to be engaging in democratic and inclusional practices meant
first recognising the equality of the mutual sense of uniqueness and importance that the
children and I held, and how this view carried implications for how we may wish to
influence our wider contexts. Whitehead and McNiff (2006) state that ‘if you perceive
yourself as in living interaction with the world, and also involved with others in
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processes of knowledge creation, you may come to see social purposes as finding ways
of improving both your own processes of interaction and knowledge creation’ (p.24).
I also began to appreciate that my aim of improving my practice, of being a ‘better’
teacher, implied that I needed to have a clear sense of what it means to be a ‘good’
teacher in the first place. To me, being a ‘good’ teacher involves taking my
responsibility seriously and holding myself accountable for my practice by constantly
testing it against my standards of judgement and against the literatures. Being a ‘good’
teacher for me is also closely linked with my relationships with my students, so the
quality of the relationships becomes a living standard of judgement.
McNess et al. (2003 p.245) suggest that what it means to be a ‘good’ teacher is not only
a mix of professional knowledge and skills, but also encompasses an ability to build
relationships with the learner. From the 1930s onwards, if not before, they state, many
researchers and writers have argued that the affective dimensions of teaching are central
to being a ‘good’ teacher. Waller (1932, in McNess et al. 2003 p.245) has also argued
that human relationships were vital in schools, saying, ‘the important things that happen
in schools result from the interaction of personalities.’ To me this view of teaching does
not go far enough. I agree that relationships matter, but good relationships may not
come about by accident. I would argue that an interrogation of one’s educational values,
so as to develop educative relationships that foster a spirit of dialogue, is essential. This
for me is key to understanding how I encourage my students and myself to be critical.
My awareness of my own understanding of what it means to be a good teacher further
influenced my ideas of what a good school means, and I brought these understandings
into my professional education work with colleagues as our school began to expand
(see Chapter 9).
I also began to look at my data and the form of representation I had chosen.
Forms of representation
I now recall an incident that occurred in the second year of this third Action Reflection
phase when I expressed my dismay to the children that a particularly lively discussion
had not been ‘witnessed’:
Me: I just wish that someone could have been here to witness that you
all said these wonderful things…
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Emily: Scuse me teacher…but we’re here. You have 29 witnesses…
Me: Oh! So I have! Of course! (RD excerpt from ‘Once upon an
ordinary school day’ 04-10-05; Appendix C.7.)
Along with the fact that the children could authenticate my claim to have acted in a
certain way, I also began to look anew at the form of representation of my data. For
example, following the episode regarding the discussion about ‘The Indian in the
Cupboard’ story outlined in a data excerpt below, I noted in my diary that I
… regretted that I was reduced to a lingusitic form of representation for
this episode and wished I had videoed it. (RD 25-02-05)
I began to wonder if I could present my practice in a more ‘living’ way when offering it
for public scrutiny were I to video more of it. This insight was central to my
subsequent decision to film as many of the discussions as a ‘visual narrative’ that would
make it possible ‘to capture the nature of reality in a way that verbal reports cannot’
(Whitehead and McNiff 2006 p.74-75). In an effort to be as fair as possible, I decided
to go with my decision to capture all subsequent discrete classroom discussions, the
good, the bad and the really awful, and where possible, to keep a visual narrative of a
sample of dialogical pedagogies as examples of practice. I did this also because when I
first learned about the practice of philosophy with children in 1996, I was shown only
videos of ‘successful’ discussions, and subsequently was dejected when my students
and I did not seem to utter philosophical ‘nuggets’. It would be important too for
practitioner researchers to see that research is not always tidy and that classroom
discussions do not ‘happen’ on demand.
Beginning work with 3rd class
Returning to that first year of Action Reflection cycle 3: in September 2004 our school
community moved into the permanent school building and I was allocated a 3rd class of
thirty-two eight to ten year old boys and girls. Throughout that school year, until June
2005, I held weekly discrete discussion sessions with them on a wide range of topics,
and during the first year of this phase of my study I initially relied mostly on
transcribing what the children said from audio tapes or by using my ‘shorthand’. The
discussion topics mostly arose as children critiqued from a resource of books
incorporating artwork, CDs, novels and picture books which had evolved into a
‘Thinking Library’.
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As already noted, there was also another resource made available in that an empty
classroom opposite mine had been designated the Thinking Time room by the principal.
However, after first welcoming this arrangement from a practical point of view, an
episode from my practice showed me that its existence was actually reinforcing the idea
that thinking critically was ‘different’ to ordinary classroom practice (see ‘data excerpt
3’ below). For example, in order for the spare room to be readily available for use by
fourteen teachers, its use had to be timetabled. To me this reinforced the divorce of
classroom discussion from that of an organic dynamic engendered within classroom
relationships between critically aware teachers and students, to something that was
artificial and separate from regular practice. This understanding developed as I began to
see that the teaching of critical thinking was not what I was about, and that my work
was about encouraging critical thinking as part of my everyday practice, with potential
for becoming part of institutional practices.
Episodes of learning from practice
Focussing on some discrete discussions however, I now draw on several data episodes
that I believe will demonstrate that, along with becoming a more critically aware
practitioner-researcher, my children also provide ample evidence of being critically
aware, and this capacity enables me to articulate clearly how I judge the quality of my
practice and my research.
Data excerpt 1: learning from ‘The Indian in the Cupboard’
The first episode occurred on 24-02-05 when the children and I discussed the novel The
Indian in the Cupboard (Reid Banks 1982). The novel explores many concepts, among
them the idea of the objectifying and using people for gratification – in this case as
children’s toys.
The children were seated in their circle in their own classroom, discussing what they
found interesting in the novel. Two teachers new to our staff were present as observers.
Neither of them had any previous experience of this kind of classroom discussion. Their
attendance had been negotiated with the children and their parents and was part of the
professional development programme in our school whereby teachers learn about
classroom discussions by actively observing and taking part. In keeping with my
democratic values, the teachers and I sat in the circle as equal participants with the
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children and only spoke when it was our turn to do so. I noted in my diary that ‘The
children’s questions quickly became deeper and more thought-provoking.’ (RD 24-02-
05). One of the children raised the idea that Omri, the principal child character in the
story, had become very mature as the story evolved. She said:
M: Well, I think Omri kind of grew up in the story because at the start he
was excited about having a real live Indian toy to play with and then
when the Indian chief died he began to see that you can’t use people as
toys or things. Then when Patrick wanted to get loads of cowboys and
Indians to come to life and make them fight, Omri was really terrified of
that idea.
S: Yeah, I agree with M: I actually think that this book is really kind of
important for making us think about the way people get used … like
soldiers get used and like we were saying before, beautiful girls …
models … they often get used for selling boats and cars and stuff. People
aren’t things; people shouldn’t be treated like objects.
One of the teachers later commented:
Those children made me think about issues that I’ve never thought of
before! … I’d be scared to teach that class – they know more than I do!
(RD 24-02-05, observed by LOS and MOM)
A second incident in the same discussion also provides evidence of deep and critical
thinking on a child’s part. One boy E struggled to articulate something that appeared to
mean a lot to him:
Well, what’s interesting for me is that Boone, the cowboy, is … like …
so kind of stuck … in the way he thinks about Little Bull. Like, he calls
him a ‘dirty stinking savage’, even though Little Bull is spotless –
always washing himself – and Boone hardly never wants to take a bath.
He won’t even take off his underwear when he’s washing himself! …
Is that how wars happen? Is it over the way that some people think other
people’s ways are different to their own ones and their ones are the right
ones? Boone seems to think like that: he seems to think he has to be
right because he’s a cowboy. And Little Bull is ‘only’ an Indian … Why
do wars happen anyway? Why can’t people just get along and live with
each other? (RD excerpt from discussion Indian in the Cupboard 24-02-
05, observed by LOS and MOM)
The observing teachers and I discussed the session afterwards. Both teachers
commented on the way that E’s entire demeanour had changed as he spoke. His voice
had gone from being quiet to impassioned and earnest; his face had expressed great
seriousness as he had struggled to articulate what he was thinking.
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This child had been so articulate and so deep-thinking in the discussion
circle that both teachers were surprised to learn later that he attends
learning support on the basis of his standardised test results. They had
never questioned the authenticity or necessity of standardised tests
before. Like I had done for many years, they saw such assessment
procedures as being valid ways of finding out what children knew. (RD
Apart from the importance of my deepening understanding of a child’s ability to think
for himself, I also saw what I had not seen before – the ‘person-ality’ of E who had
been largely silent and low-key in previous discussions. His values of justice and
fairness and freedom were suddenly evident to me. I saw his empathy and compassion
for the marginalised Little Bull and the purity of his sense of outrage at the bigotry and
prejudice of Boone. I saw his struggle to make sense of the non-sense of war. In
Chapter 4 I spoke about two children who, although articulate and clear thinking, could
not demonstrate their intelligence in the standardised tests. Here now was another child
for whom a standardised form of assessment is inadequate and unjust. It would appear
that his intelligence is not recognised or valued by such tests: in fact I believe it would
be fair to claim that the standardised pen and pencil based tests fail his intelligence
rather than his intelligence fails the test. Such tests offer a very impoverished view of a
child’s intelligence. In debating such matters, McNess et al. (2003) suggest that ‘the
affective’ domain of English classrooms has been overwhelmed by ‘the effective’– a
culture of managerialism which presents a pragmatic rather than a consensual approach
to education and which relies heavily on a technical rational form of logic, displaying:
… what Habermas has referred to as ‘instrumental rationality’. This ensures
that the criteria used to establish the best course of action are decided not by
reference to the best reasons, but with reference to the most efficient and
effective course to achieve desired ends. As a consequence the current
emphasis on a performance-oriented managerially effective model of teaching
had caused teachers in England to struggle to hold on to a commitment to the
pastoral and affective while trying to enable their pupils to achieve the ever
increasing academic targets being set for them in national testing.
(McNess et al. 2003 p.254)
Following this incident I reflected that Kincheloe’s (2004), Apple’s (1979) and Darder
et al.s’ (2003) critiques of the technicisation and standardisation of education now made
more sense to me. I saw how standardisation can be seen to negate the uniqueness and
individuality of learning styles and intelligence, and how it can stymie teachers from
teaching in creative ways. I saw how children are expected to be depositories of
knowledge in Freire’s (1972) ‘banking’ metaphor, and I could see also a link to
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Foucault’s (1980) idea of how people who do not ‘fit’ a predefined model are
pathologised and ‘othered’ as needing remediation. I realised that my efforts to provide
spaces for children to think ‘outside the box’ were a form of justice that somehow I
hoped would redress the unfairness of didactic pedagogies and prescriptive practices
based on propositional logics and technical rationality. These understandings led me to
conceptualise my values as the standards of judgement by which I was able to establish
the quality of what I was doing.
M and S and E, the children whose voices I have presented in the data excerpts above,
are ordinary eight and nine year old school children. They are not being ‘hot housed’
into thinking in a certain way. They ‘love doing Thinking Time’ (RD 26-01-05), and
are eager to discuss their ideas with peers. The choice between silence or speaking is
theirs to make. Those who choose to speak come to their thoughts themselves, through
sharing ideas and developing what others say. They have not been told what to think by
me; I encourage them to think for themselves, as my transcripts and videos demonstrate.
There is no pressure, other than they show respect while others are talking as can be
seen in the video links throughout this document.
I can now articulate that, from an early focus on teaching my children to think critically,
when I would have judged my practice in terms of whether or not they did, I now judge
the quality of my practice in terms of whether my students are able to use that capacity
for critique in creating their own contexts of care, freedom and justice. In this way, I
ground the manifestation of my own capacity for educational influence in how my
values are lived throughout my practice. I claim that my revised purpose is to examine
and explain what I do in my practice in relation to living more closely towards my
values of respecting children’s capacities to think critically for themselves, while also
tracing the development of my and their critical awareness, and how this is used with
social intent.
This growing awareness however led to further problematisation.
Data excerpt 2: beginning to change practice
In February 2006, while pondering the concept of freedom as I wrote this document, I
decided to ask my 8 and 9 year olds what they thought freedom meant. Their answers
led me to think again about whether my process of classroom discussion demonstrated
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freedom. Despite the fact that the excerpt shows that the children were actively
involved in the process of being thinkers rather than displaying acquired ‘skills’, I
began to question again the idea of setting aside discrete time for discussion and
reverting to largely didactic practices for the rest of the week. It was then that I began to
reconceptualise my practice and see that I needed to locate my discussions in a broader
dialogical framework as discussed earlier. Here is the excerpt from the discussion and
my initial reflections on it.
T: Well, yeah, maybe … I think doing whatever you want is freedom –
even doing bad stuff except it’s not good to do bad. But you’re free to
do it. You have to choose. Freedom is choosing.
W: I think that maybe there’s … like … free freedom and sort of …
freedom that’s not free… like you know … you’re free to do good stuff
but there’s freedom to do bad stuff too, but you’re not really free to do
that, because if you get caught you get punished. But nothing happens
to you for using the good freedom.
Jr: I agree with T and with A too. You can think what you like but you
can’t always say what you think… freedom would be thinking and
saying what you like … Real freedom would mean being free to do
everything even if it is killing …
P: I disagree with some people and I agree with others who said that
freedom is doing whatever you want but only in a way…. (RD excerpt
from ‘Freedom’ 07-02-06)
Later, following transcribing the dialogue and marvelling at the richness of some of the
children’s contributions I wrote in my diary:
The children seemed to enjoy this topic: I sensed that it was stretching
them a little as thinkers and, as different thoughts were added to the
combined pool of thoughts, I had a sense too, of several children’s
thinking being expanded to include ideas from others.
The contributions from the children range from relatively simple
observations such as C’s: ‘I think freedom means that everyone is kind
to one another’ to more sophisticated thinking such as W’s and Jr’s and
on to the very thoughtful and critically aware suggestions such as T and
P made.
P’s remarks were built upon what he had heard others saying and his
reflections upon those ideas led to his sorting through each contribution
carefully – ‘I disagree with some people and I agree with others … but
only in a way.’
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P is very definitely thinking for himself here when he says ‘but only in a
To me, the transcript displays strong evidence of children ‘being
thinkers’ – actively voicing their thoughts and actively engaged in
critique, analysis and synthesis of each others’ input into the discussion.
They are not, I believe merely showing that they ‘have’ a set of skills
and can display them; instead they are engaged in the process of being
thinkers together, of collective participation and of delight in the
activity. I also posit that there is no evidence of them trying to ‘please’
me; neither is there evidence of me imposing my views on them. (RD
As the last stage of my research got underway I continued to reflect on what I was
doing and how I was going to write about it. I felt that I had moved on in my thinking
about my practice to a more critical phase but I still had the nagging voice urging me to
look again, to reflect more, to do something else. As I wrote my journal (17-02-05) I
posed a series of questions to try and come to some understanding as to why, despite all
I had done, I still felt a sense of dissatisfaction with my practice.
Reflection 2
I am claiming throughout this document that I value children’s capacity to think for
themselves. However, I am still somewhat limiting this to discrete discussion and as
shown in Chapter 7 to ‘informal conversation’ (Noddings 2002 p.148). Is this a just and
fair and caring practice really? Noddings (op cit p.144) argues that ‘conversations
reveal care, promote trust and invite remembrance’ but is it enough to say, ‘Well, look
at what I have achieved: I’ve adopted more dialogical pedagogies: I’ve set up weekly
discussions, I’ve provided space for ‘ordinary conversation’ – I really can’t see how I
can do any more than that. Why then do I still feel that something is missing from my
How do I improve further what I am doing so as to honour the values of freedom and
justice and care that I outlined in Chapter 1? Is doing Thinking Time and making more
space for informal conversation enough? Maybe these two changes to my practice are
but a beginning. I still need to do something more. Have I actually grasped the nettle of
living my values and my living theory of educational practice yet?
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Is there not a contradiction between claiming to value children as equal to me yet
holding control over when they do discussions and when they are free to speak?
This was the stage when I began to introduce an even wider dialogic array of
pedagogies into my practice such as have been outlined earlier. I also try to resolve that
dilemma by saying that although I claim to see the children as equal to me in their
human dignity and worth, I also recognise that the children and I are in an unequal
power context within the classroom, which is why I say that I ‘provide’ spaces and
opportunities for active engagement with knowledge generation. I need now to examine
what I do to see if, in order to try to achieve some balance of power in my classroom, I
try to use my power in a caring way (Noblit et al. 1995) so as to create the conditions
for a more dialogical form of practice than is the often the case in Irish classrooms. My
purpose now is to check whether the children are able to make judgements about what
they are doing. If they can do that, I will be content that I have managed to live in the
direction of my educational values to the extent that my children are able critically to
comment on my values themselves, and decide for themselves whether to live those
values in their practice, without coercion from me. I also now see that I can possibly use
existing curricular structures to do this.
Changing practice
I realised during 2004–2005 that my practice was changing when I found myself giving
more and more time to unplanned classroom discussion. Topics for discussion arose
spontaneously throughout the school day. A discussion arose one morning when a child
challenged one of the tenets of the Creed from the RE programme. He asked: ‘If there is
only one God and he became man in Jesus then how can Jesus be “seated at the right
hand of the Father”? Does that mean he is seated at the right hand of himself?’ (RD 02-
11-04). A PE class developed into a discussion about the importance of rules in play,
following a row where one child asked, ‘What’s the point of playing games if X keeps
on breaking the rules?’ (RD 27-01-05). The history programme led to discussions such
as: ‘How did Stone Age people know what foods to eat? Are we descended from the
ones who made the right choices about which mushrooms and berries were safe?’ (RD
09-02-05) or ‘Why do some countries want to fight and conquer more than others?’
(RD 22-03-05). Investigating Francisco Pizarro and the effect of his Conquistadors on
the Aztec civilisation using the data projector and the internet site
© Mary Roche 2007
23 5 led to the P’s question: ‘How come nobody
stopped Pizarro? To which CH replied ‘Well how come nobody stops George Bush?
Pizarro was after the Aztec’s gold. Bush is after oil. Same thing! It’s because he’s a
superpower like The Conquistadors!’(RD 10-03-05). A lesson on timelines evoked the
question, ‘Our universe is supposed to have started with a “big bang”, well, what did
the big bang happen in?’ (RD 28-04-05). Discussions also evolved around topics such
as conservation, ecology, gender and social issues sparked by questions arising from the
Social, Environmental and Scientific Education programme (SESE) and the Social and
Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme. Towards the end of the research cycle
my students and I had moved on to examining textbooks for examples of ‘woolly
thinking’. For example in February 2007 as my students and I read the History lesson
about St Bridget’s life, C suddenly had a critical epiphany of sorts:
Today C was reading aloud the story of St Bridget from the History
textbook and said ‘That’s a very woolly sentence there – ‘Bridget loved
the poor …what does that mean, ‘she loved the poor? That’s cracked!
Did she not love anyone else?’ RD 02-02-07
Later, that day as I corrected written work based on the lesson, I discovered that C’s
comments had contributed to the critical awareness of others (see Figure 8.3 below):
Figure 8-3: Scanned copies of Cn’s and En’s stories about St. Bridget
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En clearly learned from this exchange with C because on 06-02-07 he
wrote: ‘Bridget loved the rich, the poor and the people in the middle.’
Cn was similarly influenced. He wrote ‘Even as a child Bridget
respected the rich, poor and in between.’ (RD 01-02-07)
Data excerpt 3: Learning to ‘let go’ of lesson plans:
On 30-05-06 my students and I were involved in a Geography lesson about the rivers of
Ireland. Before we began I tried to honour my value of giving time to the children to
display their knowledge about rivers.
The children began to tell what they already knew about the longest
rivers and the widest rivers and the rivers with the greatest volume of
water and their experiences of rivers. The conversation was lively and
enjoyable. Then CM said
‘The Amazon has the most water but it’s being threatened by all the
trees getting cut down in the Rainforest’ (RD 30-05-06).
I wrote in my diary:
Several children wanted to give their views and demonstrate their
knowledge about that topic so I put aside my plans for the lesson on ‘the
rivers of Ireland’ and settled down to listen. I was amazed at the amount
of knowledge the children had about deforestation and the threat to the
ecological balance of the world.
Then JK said, ‘One of the main reasons why so many trees are being cut
down actually is because the people are really poor and McDonald’s
gives them money if they cut down trees and make more fields so that
loads of McDonald’s cattle can eat grass on their farms.’ The discussion
became heated. Many children had opinions about McDonald’s and
wanted to their voices to be heard. Several hands were waving madly. I
tried to let everyone who wanted to speak do so.
Suddenly CO said, ‘Teacher this is so, so important! We should be doing
a Thinking Time on this. I’ll check and see if Room 15 is free and
Teacher, get the camera out of the cupboard because it’s good for our
research too and good for our brains and our thinking and we should be
filming it.’
In a matter of minutes the children had formed a circle of their chairs in
Room 15; CO had set up the tripod and A was attaching the camera and
the external microphone. The discussion lasted over 90 minutes. The
children were initially extremely polemical about McDonald’s but they
became more reflective and critical as the time wore on. (RD 30-05-06)
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The episode showed me several things.
• First I saw that I had come a long way from being the kind of teacher who was
so concerned with sticking to my lesson plans that I would never had allowed
children to digress to this extent. Now I believe that by doing so, and giving the
children the floor, they were learning vital skills and making meaning for
themselves about something that was obviously very important to them. They
were actively engaged in critiquing consumerism and advertising – knowledge
that I would never have been able to deliver didactically.
• Second, they were demonstrating a critical capacity to say why this was
important and its potential significance. I realised that in interrupting the class
and making me aware of the importance of what was being discussed, CO
displayed greater critical awareness than I did. She saw that ‘this was so, so
important’ and that we should be recording the discussion. She also seems to
have recognised that the discussion in the classroom was not as fair as it should
be, and that the ‘hands up’ system was excluding some and favouring others, so
a circle would be fairer.
• Third the children appear relaxed in the circle and seem to engage with me at a
mature and equal level. At one point KL says that ‘in some countries
McDonald’s give toys and put in playgrounds to get the kids’ attention so they’ll
go there more often’. I interrupt and say, ‘But the kids don’t really have the
money, surely, it’s the Mums and Dads who decide,’ and KL says, in a relaxed
conversational way, ‘Yeah, but sometimes Moms and Dads could be really nice
and they just do whatever their kids tell them to do.’ (see below – Video link:
becoming more critical and confident) This point, I suggest, shows KL’s
awareness of what advertisers call the ‘pester power’ of children. My students
appeared to have had a grasp that children sometimes had power over adults.
Well, it’s not just kids … lots of Mums are glad to go in there
[McDonald’s’] too because there’s people to carry the tray for you and
there’s people who’ll mind the kids.
Well, I disagree with T because if they knocked down McDonald’s the
Mums and Dads would be upset too because the kids would be going
mad. (RD 30-05-06)
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Reflecting on how I ‘was’ in relation with my student in the excerpt, it struck me that
equity was evident in the manner with which KL and I spoke to each other, with no
sense of this as an unequal power relationship. The same kind of interaction can be seen
in several videos where there is sharing of ideas and turn-taking, with no hint of me
imposing my views on the children (Video Link: Sharing of ideas & turn taking).
As I watched the video, I was impressed with how the children seemed to have critical
awareness around consumerism, advertising, globalisation, and the hegemony of brand
driven culture. They also showed an awareness of inequities in the world. O spoke
about the way in which McDonald’s is perceived to be a ‘posh’ restaurant in Belarus
when she spoke about her aunt’s experience of being frowned upon for entering the
restaurant wearing casual clothes:
O: When my cousin went to Belarus and [she] went into McDonald’s
she had on just a tracksuit and a T shirt and when they went in everyone
was staring at them because the people thought that McDonald’s was a
posh place and they should’ve dressed up.
Cl also seemed to grasp the fact that ‘happy meals’ were a device to
attract children into the restaurant:
I think they’re tricking small little kids into buying Happy Meals …
they’re only buying them for the toys.
This was interesting for me because Cl is a timid girl who rarely ever
spoke in a discussion. (RD 30-05-06) (Video Link: Becoming more
critical & confident).
Reflection 2
This discussion seemed to provoke Cl into speaking, perhaps because she
considered it to be an important topic. H, who also rarely contributed to
discussions, also made several contributions to this discussion. The video shows
her blushing and fiddling with her shoe but determined to have her say. Perhaps it
was the relevance of the topic to their experience; perhaps it was the fact that it
was May and we were now comfortable together or that this discussion had been
the children’s own idea. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that for an hour and a
half my children and I were engaged in critiquing the dominance of a
multinational company that Kincheloe (in Steinberg and Kincheloe 1997) suggest
perceive children as ‘consumers in training’ (p. 255).
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23 9
I subsequently looked up the concept of pester power and was concerned when I read
… today’s average British child is familiar with as many as 400 brand names
by the age of ten. Researchers report that our children are more likely to
recognise Ronald McDonald and the Nike swoosh than a representation of
Jesus. One study found that 69% of all three-year-olds could identify the
McDonald’s golden arches – while half of all four-year-olds did not know their
own name.,14173,1600020,00.html
I saw that by encouraging and supporting my students to critique concepts such as the
globalisation and monopoly of fast food, I was living one of my values in practice – that
of contributing to an open society. McDonald’s in this case can be seen as a metaphor
for the increasing technicisation and rationalisation of society. According to Ritzer
(2004) Ray Kroc, the ‘founder’ of McDonald’s, spearheaded the principles of
rationalisation as he lectured franchisers of his business on the merits of a standardised
menu, one-size portions, ‘same prices, same quality in every store’ (p. 40). In 1958
according to Ritzer (2004) McDonald’s published a manual that ‘told operators exactly
how to draw milkshakes, grill hamburgers …fixed precise cooking times for all
products …fixed standard portions …. identified that french fries be cut at nine thirtyseconds
of an inch’ (Ritzer 2004 p.41, emphasis in original). Echoing Habermas (1987)
Ritzer (op cit) argues that McDonaldization did not occur in an historical vacuum, ‘the
assembly line, scientific management, and bureaucracy provided many of the basic
principles’ (p.41).
Reflecting later on the discussion with the children, I could see that my students’
thinking had provided me with food for thought: they had helped me to make critical
connections that I had not hitherto realised existed. For example, I could now see
parallels between the phenomenon of the technicised and globalised fast food industry
and the increasing technicising and bureaucratisation of society – including the current
corporatisation of education (see also Bonal 2003, Greene 1988, Kincheloe 2004,
Lynch 2006, McNess et al. 2003). My students demonstrate that they are now active
analytical critics who see clearly what advertisers and multi-national chains are trying to
achieve. Even more significant, they are able to comment on their own capacity for
critical engagement. By relaxing the ‘regular’ syllabus that day and agreeing with the
children that this topic was important, I demonstrated my faith in the children’s capacity
to recognise an important learning area. I was living to a value of encouraging children
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to exercise their capacity for thinking for themselves, and to explain that they were
capable of doing so. I did not tell these children what to think. Instead, I found myself
being influenced by what the children said.
CM displayed further critical awareness when she also critiqued the one-sidedness of
the topic:
The thing I’m wondering is why are we just talking about McDonald’s?
Because there’s Eddie Rocket’s, KFC’s and all those and all we’re
saying is McDonald’s, McDonald’s, McDonald’s! (RD 30-05-06)
And KL demonstrated her capacity for sound judgement when she said,
I disagree with what K and T said because if you just eat McDonald’s
every day you’ll get fat and … you’ll get very sick but its probably nice
if you eat in McDonald’s for a treat say once or twice every couple of
weeks. (RD 30-05-06)
I was provoked to think also when JK said
I think that there might be some relation with Disney and McDonald’s
because if you think about it, loads of the toys in Happy Meals are toys
from Disney films. (RD 30-05-06)
As the discussion progressed I found myself realising (particularly, when A. a child
from Lithuania who had only recently joined our school, spoke about the toys being
‘better’ in the Vilnius’ McDonald’s) that food, which is a distinguishing feature of
culture, is being homogenised by the hegemony of largely American fast food values. I
was also led to question my hitherto taken for granted assumptions about the recent
phenomenon of the immigrant labour situation in Irish society when CM said:
Yeah and something else … look … when you go into McDonald’s
they’re mostly all foreign – the people that work there …you’d think
that people come from other countries just to work in McDonald’s you’d
barely hear any English … you’ll hear the people behind the counter
speaking French, Spanish and all other languages and you’ll barely ever
hear English and you’ll wonder where did this come from and why did it
come? (RD 30-05-06)
I considered CM’s statement to be evidence of high critical awareness and an unusual
capacity for debating skills. This led me to some reflection:
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Reflection 2
I need to think this through: why do so many foreign workers get employment in
McDonald’s? Is it because of the low wages for which young Irish people are not
prepared to work and that therefore exploit the foreign workers? Or is it because
everything in McDonald’s is so standardised language is not essential – are the foods
available there so ubiquitous that they almost constitute a form of language in
themselves? CM’s questions led me to ask some critical questions.
This discussion led, in fact to me buying several books about the ‘MacDonaldization’ of
society, (Ritzer, 1998, 2004) and ‘Kinder-culture’ (Steinberg and Kincheloe 1997),
books which, when I read them, endorsed my admiration for my students’ keen
analytical skills and grasp of issues relating to child-targeted consumerism.
In other words, I now believe that, through thinking critically and thinking for
themselves about issues of globalisation, the children had influenced me to be more
critical also.
Reflecting on what I have written in this chapter, I am aware of how I have changed my
pedagogies from coercive controlling to invitational openness. I see how I am receptive
to the children’s thinking and the lessons I can learn from my students. I am now aware
that, despite nearly five years of study and more than ten years of doing philosophical
enquiry with children, I had been so used to imposing my views on children though
traditional instructional practices that I frequently failed to see how deeply ingrained
this didacticism was. I had also failed to see them as people, let alone the critically
analytical people they are capable of being.
I have now learned that I must be prepared to let go of my plans and to go with the
dynamic created by the children’s capacity for original thinking and critical
engagement. Often I do not get to present lessons in the way I expected to at all. Part of
the reason why I was so ready to ‘let go’ of my lesson plans on ‘the rivers of Ireland’
was because of a turning point in my practice that had occurred two months earlier, in
March 2006, when I attempted to ‘deliver’ a lesson from the Relationships and
Sexuality Education (RSE) syllabus.
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Data excerpt 4: Learning from failure
RSE is one of the core resources for the Social and Personal Health Education
curriculum. One of the lessons for third class which, in our school, is called the
‘sensitive content lesson’ and which involves notifying parents in advance so that they
can be prepared for further questions and exploration of the topic – contains information
about the growth of the foetus in the uterus and how babies are born. It necessitates the
use of the correct anatomical names for parts of the body and so, in an attempt to give
the topic the gravitas it deserved, I decided to take my students into the empty room
where we usually had our weekly Thinking Time session. The children automatically
sat in a circle and I began by reading the preliminary part of the lesson, a poem about
new life. I then tried to ‘deliver’ the rest of the lesson, but was confounded when the
children constantly interrupted and discussed babies and pre-natal care and
spontaneously shared their experiences of the births of new siblings or cousins.
My research journal notes for the day show how I became flustered and asked the
children to ‘please stop interrupting so that I could talk’:
Suddenly C, looking perplexed, asked,
But Teacher, I don’t get it, like … why did you bring us in here if you
don’t want us to talk?
I answered that I had to teach the lesson and that I had to stick closely to
the way it was presented in the teacher’s book.
C replied: Yeah, but why are we in here so? Why didn’t we stay in the
Heads nodded in assent and CF said:
Teacher, like, this is … like, our room for talking; and you’re … you’re
always saying you’re just one of us like, one of the listeners – in here,
Teacher. (RD 30-03-06)
Reflection 1
I realised then that I had expected to be able to teach didactically without
any challenges simply because ‘I had decided’. Suddenly for the very
first time I saw that years of experience of classroom dialogue in a circle
format meant that the introduction of a didactic practice in that format
now needed some preliminary explanation, if not an apology from me.
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Instead I had simply assumed an authoritarian role and excluded the
children – treated them as excluded ‘Others’ who must listen to me and
absorb information without thinking for themselves.
I saw that thinking critically is a feature of a holistic education practice,
not an add-on ‘bonus’ that I bestow at certain times. I saw that going
into a different room ‘for thinking’ reinforced the reification of critical
thinking as a ‘thing’ we do in Room 15, but not in our classroom, unless
I ‘allowed’ ‘it’. I saw that my value of freedom was still not
transforming into a lived democratic practice.
However, from an initial feeling of confusion and annoyance at the
children’s interruptions and their attempts to turn the session into a
discussion, I now felt a huge sense of achievement that I had brought
these children to a place where hitherto unquestioned norms of
didacticism were now being challenged. I thought of Neil Postman and
Charles Weingartner (1969) and felt I had turned my teaching into a
‘subversive’ activity unwittingly and I was very proud of it! (RD 30-
Back in the classroom later I discussed the episode with the children and told them how
I’d been taken aback by their involvement. I asked them what they thought would have
happened if I had ‘taught’ the lesson in our own classroom.
G: Well, we would like, probably have let you talk more, like for longer
I suppose.
C added, Yeah, but after like, a while, we’d still probably expect that we
could interrupt with questions and tell you stuff too. (RD 30-03-05)
I then saw that while I had achieved some small measure of progress, there was still a
long way to go. However, I now see that if I preface a lesson with an explanation of
why sometimes I need the cooperation of their silence so as to impart information and
assure them that I will then follow through with setting aside time for discussion, I can
achieve a far more democratic practice while still also honouring my contract with the
I realised too, following the episode described above, that my children were not simply
‘going though the motions’ of discussion: as far as they were concerned they were
taking part in real dialogue. This is different to what Elkind and Sweet (1997) referred
to as the way in which many students see classroom dialogue as ‘filling in the blanks’ –
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a process where, in ‘discussion’, children try to guess what the teacher wants and
supply ‘right’ answers. They cite their own experience as students and state:
Our teacher would start to lead a classroom ‘discussion’, but we had a sinking
suspicion that it was just a sham. All she wanted from the class was for us to
fill in the blanks of her pre-programmed curriculum. She would fish around
from student to student until she got the answer she was looking for. So we
kids had to make a choice between sincerely expressing our own thoughts on
the subject, at considerable risk to our grade, or simply giving the teacher what
she wanted to hear. The ‘smarter’ kids chose to play it safe. Their reward was
the teacher’s effusive praise for supplying the ‘right’ answer.
(Elkind and Sweet 1997 p.1)
Burbules (1993) also speaks about the irony of asking questions to which one already
knows the answer, which, he says, only happens in educational contexts (p.98). Holt
(1964) similarly showed that children use many strategies in order to provide ‘right’
answers, or to merely ‘survive’ in class by pleasing teachers. When I started out to
encourage children to be better critical and creative thinkers, I wanted to provide my
children with a more authentic experience, to engage them in what I understood by
genuine dialogue (see below). I wanted to encourage them to be thinkers rather than
teacher pleasers or providers of ‘right’ answers. I wanted them especially to begin to
realise that often there are no right answers, and that social problems can often arise
because of contesting rights. But I also wanted to be a ‘good’ teacher, to comply with
norms of what I felt ‘good’ teaching meant. I was caught between these duelling
identities for a long time with my living researcher voice, informed by a dialectical
form of logic, trying to be heard over the louder voice prompted by years of
propositional forms of logic. I believe that the episode above and several other episodes
cited in this thesis, show that I have come some way towards realising my goal and
hushing that didactic propositional voice.
My meta-reflections
Transforming my practice is a continuous process. I started by gradually
reconceptualising my teaching role and my identity. Over the period of this study,
through examining my ideas about knowledge and knowledge generation, I have
changed how I perceive myself as a teacher. For many years I looked on my role as
being one of mastery of many subject areas and whose job was to ensure that I
transmitted as much information as possible to my students. As I progressed through
this study, I began to change that conceptualisation. I now involve my students in
© Mary Roche 2007
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project work, enquiry learning, and in critique and I have made a conscious effort to ask
open-ended problematic questions that lead children to problematise issues for
themselves. I talk less and I encourage my students to take responsibility for their own
learning. Since 2001 I have been actively encouraging children to engage in discussion,
formally in their weekly Thinking Time sessions and now more informally, also, as I
have come to value my students as highly able critical thinkers. The transcripts of
discussions (Appendix C.) and the video links included herewith, show clearly that the
children display a facility in thinking and talking together.
The weekly discussions and my reflections on them have led me to question many
givens about education. I have come to see that education in many western postindustrial
contexts is premised on the idea of ‘having’ knowledge or skills or expertise.
My identity as deliverer of syllabi and curricula was also grounded in this idea of
‘having’ knowledge and passing ‘it’ on. I even began this study in ‘having’ mode, so as
to assist my children to ‘acquire’ higher-order thinking power. The reality of my
experience of discussions with children aged from four to ten years however has led me
to see that I can live more closely to my values if I to try to be a better critical thinker
myself, and use my critical capacity to provide contexts for my children also to be
critical thinkers. This involved a shift of logics and did not happen suddenly. There was
no point where I stopped being a propositional thinker and became a critical or
dialectical thinker. It was a gradual process with many regressions. But the reflections
on my practice over the initial three years of my study led me to see that there was no
other way to live to my values.
I value enquiry learning and have now gone some way towards establishing a critical
community of enquiry in my classroom. Throughout my teaching life, I have seen how
children’s burgeoning creativity and enquiry can be stultified by a system that relies on
didactic pedagogical practices. I have referred to the several accounts in studies of Irish
primary education that document this phenomenon (such as Conway 2000, Eivers et al.
2005, Government of Ireland 2005b, Hall 1995, Morgan 1998, Murphy 2004, Shiel et
al. 1996). Nor is it just an Irish phenomenon. The passivity and non-critical thinking of
students in the United States led Lipman (1988, 1991, 1993) to begin the movement
now known worldwide as Philosophy for Children (P4C). I challenge the normative
conditions that encourage dominant teacher talk and passive children. I realise that these
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didactic situations are premised on a propositional form of logic. Propositional
knowledge, with its emphasis on knowledge as a reified entity separate from the
knower, also seems to me to ‘Other’ children. I believe that teachers can ‘Other’
children by talking largely ‘at’ them. I prefer to find creative ways of developing a more
dialogic pedagogical style of talking ‘with’ and ‘to’ my students, a more dialectical
form of practice, premised on a view of the other-in-relation to me and other-inrelation-
with-others, and on a more relational epistemology (see McNiff 2000 and
Thayer-Bacon 1998, 2000). Fromm’s (1979) ideas about ‘having and being’ have
relevance for my practice. I seek to achieve a more inclusional and relational form of
practice, grounded in open-ended enquiry and resistance to closure or absolutes, so as to
live more closely to my ontological, epistemological and social values.
To test my claim that I am endeavouring to live in the direction of these values, I revisit
my values and examine my practice by posing critical questions for myself such as:
• In my educational practice, do I ensure that all pupils are treated in a just and
caring manner?
• Do I create the conditions necessary for a dialogical form of practice?
• Do I provide opportunities for talking and thinking in caring and just
• Do I encourage my students to be critical thinkers rather than acquire discrete
sets of skills?
• Do I resist imposing my thinking on my students?
In this chapter I have offered evidence of incidents that demonstrate my efforts to try to
transform my educational practice and that shows that I can answer in the affirmative to
the questions posed above. By providing myself with explanations for my practice
through a deeper reflection on episodes and events as they are recorded in my journal,
in transcripts and on video, I show how I have arrived at deeper understanding of the
living standards of judgement against which I test my claim to be presenting my
students with opportunities for thinking critically for themselves through an enquiry
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learning methodology involving a mixture of dialogue, discussion, and ‘ordinary
conversation’ (Noddings 2002 p.142).
Finally, I believe I have shown how I have transformed my own thinking, from the
outsider perspective of one ‘doing research on’ my students grounded in propositional
forms of logic as I ‘taught critical thinking,’ to a more inclusional and respectful insider
account of the dialectic practice of learning to be a critical thinker alongside my
These are significant insights for me. I now conclude my thesis by offering what I see
as the potential significance of my research for future practices and future research.
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Concluding chapter: The end is a new beginning
The next chapter, Chapter 9, concludes my research document. However, it is neither
the end of my story nor the end of my epistemological journey. In a sense when I end
this chapter I begin a new phase of my practice – that of living faithfully to my
articulated values and continuing to reflect on and improve what I do.
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Chapter 9
The potential significance of my research
In this final chapter I outline what I claim to have achieved, and what I know I have
learned. I also state what I believe is the significance of my practice, at a practical and a
theoretical level.
I am claiming to have achieved the following at a practical level:
• I have begun to live my values of care, freedom and justice more fully in my
• I have encouraged and supported my students to realise their capacity for
originality and critical engagement
• I have contributed to the improved subject knowledge of the children that I have
• I have contributed to the transformation of my institution through transforming
my practice
• I have attempted to realise some of the principles of the 1999 Curriculum in my
I know I have learned the following at a theoretical level:
• I have reconceptualised my own practice, and influenced others to
reconceptualise theirs
• I have developed my capacity to make judgements about the quality of what I
am doing as a practitioner and a researcher, and influenced others to do the same
• I have improved myself as a person: having begun to think about what ‘good’
means, I am now closer to realising the vision of the good teacher I wish to be.
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I now organise this chapter into two parts that deal with the two aspects of my claims to
Chapter 9 Part I
I am claiming that I have realised my educational values in my practice. For example I
developed dialogic pedagogies that contributed to the improved subject knowledge of
the children. As I have shown throughout this document, developing these pedagogies
meant, that as I supported and encouraged my students to think for themselves, I also
increased my own critical awareness as I engaged with ideas about knowledge and
critiqued the growing technicisation underpinning much of the rationalisation of the
school day .
Releasing the Imagination
Borrowing from Greene (1995), I am claiming that I have contributed to the children’s
content knowledge through releasing their imaginations. Like Greene (2001), I have
tried to ensure that my students experience an ‘aesthetic’ education, a mode of
education intended to make possible informed, aware participation in works of art. This
is not, Greene contends, ‘the kind of undertaking geared to the transmission of pieces of
knowledge or specific skills to passive learners’ (p.110). I claim that through thoughtful
and critical pedagogies I have opened doors for the children to learn from artists and
their work. By visiting galleries; listening to music and responding in pictures, dance,
drama, writing or verbally; by sitting outdoors to draw from observation the children
have unlocked new perspectives for themselves and identified new alternatives. I claim
that by employing dialogical pedagogies I relate to my students as thinking human
beings who can make meaning for themselves and engage in multiple vantage points.
By giving my children the space and opportunities to engage in silent dialogue with
themselves as they gaze at a piece of art or with others as they explore art together, I
embody my values of care, freedom and justice, and communicate those values through
my practice. I show the realisation of these values in the following photos. In Figure 9.1
the children are silent, but from the expressions on their faces it is clear that they are in
communion with themselves, and thinking deeply, while in Figures 9.2, 9.3 and 9.4
they are engaged with each other.
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Figure 9-1: Photo of students deep in thought in an art gallery
Figure 9-2: Photo of students engaged in dialogue planning an art topic
Figure 9-3: Photo of two children in one-to-one dialogue about art
I believe that in teaching the way I now do, I ‘hold open the world for a child’
(Macdonald 1995, cited in Whitehead and McNiff 2006 p.92). I have faith in my own
capacity to nurture dialogical ways of knowing that enable my students and myself to
be aware of how we learn to think for ourselves. I agree with Greene when she says:
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It may be our interest in imagination, as much as our interest in active learning,
which makes us so eager to encourage a sense of agency among those with
whom we work. By that I mean consciousness of the power to choose and to
act upon what is chosen … a willingness to take initiatives, to pose critical
questions, to play an authentic part in ongoing dialogues …
(Greene 2001 p.110)
The dialogic pedagogies that I have now put into place in my classroom find resonance
in Bakhtin’s ideas about the creation of knowledge. Holquist (2002) suggests that for
Bakhtin, nothing is in itself.
Existence [for Bakhtin] is sobytie sobytiya, the event of co-being; it is a vast
web of interconnections each and all of which are linked as participants in an
event whose totality is so immense that no one of us can ever know it. That
event manifests itself in the form of a constant, ceaseless creation and exchange
of meaning.
(Holquist 2002 p.41)
This idea makes sense to me. In relation to my students’ learning, and as Bakhtin
suggested, there was possibly ‘a constant ceaseless creation and exchange of meaning’
(Holquist 2002 p.41). When the children were busily researching information for their
projects, it seemed to me that they were engaged in the co-creation of knowledge in
dialogue with each other or with their own thoughts. What matters most is that, in all
these learning situations, the children have opportunities to think for themselves and are
not just relying on received wisdom from textbooks.
Figure 9-4: Photo of children in dialogue about sculptures in a gallery
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When a child is in dialogue with others in a knitting circle, (Video Link: dialogue and
knitting) or in conversation with a man who has come in to demonstrate his love for the
feel of wood under his hands, or who, having spent time engaging with works by
Picasso or Miro, has responded with a drawing of her own (Figures 9.5a, and 9.5b), she
has not been told what to say, do, or think. She relies instead on her own originality of
mind and capacity for critical engagement.
Figure 9-5a: Photo of students’ responses to Picasso
Figure 9-5b: Photos of students’ responses to Miro
Included also in my data is a video clip showing the children engaged in dialogue as
they collaborate on filling out some Halloween worksheets and worksheets based on the
human skeleton and another clip that follows, showing the children cooperating with
each other on a creative writing exercise based on Brueghel’s ‘Hunter in the snow’ and
‘Winter landscape’ (Video Link: worksheet collaborations and creative writing). In
Appendix E. there are also several examples of the high level of individual creative
responses of the children to the music and artwork of others. Several research reports
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into Irish classrooms decry the dominance of worksheets and workbooks (Greaney and
Close 1989, Government of Ireland 2005a, Murphy 2004).
The classroom approach and methodology appears to remain teacher-directed
and focused, with pupil activity consisting of the widespread use of worksheets
and textbooks … rather than on guided discovery, activity …
(Murphy 2004 p.256)
There is an understanding amongst such reports that workbooks and worksheets are
employed as passive and mindless drills. My video shows how even worksheets, if
employed dialogically with several children exploring together, can in fact be rich
opportunities for exploration and dialogue.
It mattered little to me that my students’ learning from their various dialogical
experiences was not quantifiable empirically as per my monthly progress reports (see
Chapter 5). What was significant, I felt, was that my students were learning in ways that
were life affirming, and the learning opportunities were appropriate to each child’s
unique way of knowing. I was delighted that the children learned that often situations
occur for which no right answers are to be found, and that learning needs to be
problematic. I felt that I had found pedagogies that encouraged them to problematise
content knowledge as well as their own learning processes. Thus their main subject
knowledge became knowledge of their own capacity to learn and to think critically.
The next episode demonstrates this clearly. It shows that the children learned to reflect
on their own thinking and evaluate it in the light of new thinking. On 22-11-05 I gave
them ‘booklets’ composed of the transcripts from four Thinking Times dating from
early September 2005 to the end of October 2005 to read and discuss. In my diary I
recorded that
The children were immediately engrossed and spent the first few
minutes quickly scanning the pages for their own contributions. When
they found their own name they read their own contributions several
times and eagerly showed them each other. Only then did they read
through the transcripts.
The children then evaluated their own thinking.
C: Actually it’s kind of good to read these again. I wouldn’t say what I
said there again now though, because when you read what other people
said you’d kind of get different feelings about what to say.
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K: I think the discussion on Yellow Bird was pretty good. I’m kind of
amazed at myself…at what I said. It’s actually quite sort of …
J: I remember after doing that Thinking Time I kept thinking about my
feelings and my mind and my soul and wondering about it and stuff. I
like what I said here. I’d still agree with it.
P: I still agree with what I said. It often strikes me when we’re on about
what the frog said and the toad said and the spider said and…look
they’re not human! Why are we getting so excited about them? –
They’re animals for God’s sake! …not even real animals…they’re made
up for a story!
J: Yeah but P… the point is what’s it about … what’s the author trying
to tell us? … We don’t believe the stories, we…think about what the
point is. (RD 22-11-05)
I believe the data clearly demonstrate that the children can be critical about their own
critical thinking. The data suggest that the children respect the discussions and take
them seriously. P’s contribution is very true to form: he regularly shows that he is one
of the deepest and most lateral thinkers in the class, and he often states after some time
in discussion that the suspension of belief he needed to go along with a fiction story has
just collapsed. For example: ‘I mean … he’s a toad! Why would he need a swimsuit?
Frogs don’t wear swimsuits!’ (Video Link: I mean… he’s a toad!). In the actual
transcript of the ‘Yellow Bird, Black Spider’ story (Archer and Archer 2004) he had
P: I don’t know why we’re all feeing so shocked about the bird eating
the spider. That’s what birds do…all the time! They eat spiders and
worms and cute things like ladybirds. So what’s so extraordinary about
eating a spider? I think it’s because we’re looking at that bird as if he’s
human. He’s a bird! (RD excerpt from transcript of Yellow Bird Black
Spider 12-10-05; Appendix C.9.)
P recognises that children’s fiction is steeped in anthropomorphic imagery. And he is
not a fan of the genre. However, J’s response to him, as they evaluated the transcripts,
shows that J has grasped that the exercise in discussing such stories is an exercise in
thinking critically.
Reflection 1
The episode shows me the significance of carrying out research in my
own context.
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As the teacher-researcher, I am in a position to evaluate what happens at
a different level to that of an outside researcher and can learn from it so
as to improve what I do in a caring and just way.
I know my children in a way that I doubt an outsider could. We share a
‘communicative past’ (Mercer 1995 p.61).
I ‘know’ their ‘communicative history’ as well as their ‘communicative
present’ (op cit).
I knew how P disliked fictional stories, and so in an effort to be caring
and just to him and to other children who did not engage with fictional
material well, I ensured that we also discussed scientific concepts and
history and mathematics – topics he chose and in which he engaged
deeply. (RD 22-11-05)
I offer the data above as evidence that the children have reached a high level of
metacognition as well as critical awareness. These data and my theorising of them also
contribute to my arguments about the power of teacher-practitioner self study as a
methodology for generating a living theory of practice (see Chapter 3).
The children also demonstrated critical awareness around day-to-day school issues: for
example, when the children’s creative writing ran overtime, or when they didn’t want to
stop researching because the clock said 10.30 a.m. and it was time for something else,
they were demonstrating critical engagement. They declined to interrupt the flow of
knowing of which Bohm (1998) spoke, or to break Bakhtin’s (1981) idea of the
‘wholeness’ of the learning situation. Through working with the children, I also came to
see my teaching as a holistic practice, and I linked this with my values of care, freedom
and justice. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) refers to the feeling of absorption in creativity as
‘flow’ while Pirsig (1974) calls it ‘wholeness’ and links it to care:
When you’re not dominated by feelings of separateness from what you’re
working on, then you can be said to ‘care’ about what you’re doing. That is
what caring really is: ‘a feeling of identification with what one’s doing.’
(Pirsig 1974 p.290)
The idea of wholeness also permeates the philosophy underpinning the living nature of
the theory I am generating. Bohm’s (2004) idea of the whole world as ‘shades merging
into one’ (p.10) also has resonance for my methodology, because a living form of
research involves a flow of inclusional and dialogical practices. Practitionerresearchers
like me can take a long time to realise that there is no template, no ‘set
© Mary Roche 2007
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menu’ for the methodology – in fact no reified ‘methodology’. They learn to go with
the flow of a living practice in relation with others.
In developing my living theory of practice, within the context of my institution, I had to
learn to allow dialogical practices and the technical rationality of my existing school
system to coexist. I had to learn to live with competing epistemological logics. I cannot,
and should not, change institutional structures overnight. For example, it is not within
my power to have an open-ended arrangement about using the computer lab or the PE
hall. These resources have to be fairly divided between classes. I have had to
incorporate the logistics of everyday school life into my practice, in the interests of a
caring and just level of access for all, to limited resources.
Neither can I adopt a maverick approach to when the learning support, language support
and resource teachers can work in my room with the students who need help. In terms
of assessing my practice for planning and progress reports, I also had to be resourceful
in developing inclusive ways of showing what I was doing, and hope that there would
be adequate evidence of learning taking place. I deliberately developed creative ways of
showing children involved in dialogical practices, by including CDs and photos of
different class-based activities with my progress reports to the principal.
My children and I learned much from the work of my colleagues in my university study
group. From M’s sharing of her work on ‘travel buddies’ and East-West projects (Glenn
2006) I got the idea of setting up pen pal activities for my students with children in two
schools in Arizona (2004/5; 2005/6), and in Portland Oregon (2006/7). Figure 9.6
provides a flavour of what happened when letters arrived.
Figure 9-6: Photos of students reading & sharing US pen pal letters
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A cheer goes up when the letters arrive. First the children are quiet as
they absorb their own letters, and then a buzz breaks out as they share
letters. (RD 16-10-04)
The pen pal project was a huge success. As well as the social learning involved in
communicating with each other and with children from other cultures, my children
learned about geography, through an investigation into the topography and climate of
Arizona, and, more critically, about the fact that their Irish reality was very different to
that of the children in Arizona. For example, my students wrote about Gaelic football
and hurling, assuming that their pen pals would know what they were talking about.
They also learned about the differences in language and meaning between American
English and Irish English:
S: My pen friend thought “hurling” meant being violently sick.
M: God! Look at this. She thinks we all live in cottages on a hillside!
CM: My pen pal asked me if I ever saw a leprechaun!
G: The Saguaro cactus flower is the national flower of Arizona: what’s
ours? (RD 16-10-04)
Likewise the children in the USA laughed at some of the assumptions my students
made about life in a desert region. When the American children told my students that
they were doing a ‘big project’ on early American elementary schooling (Figure 9.7),
my children were anxious to do a history project too, and they decided to do one that
would demonstrate the antiquity of Irish culture.
Figure 9-7: Photo of Arizona pen pals’ schooldays project
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We are about to wrap up the ‘Pioneer Schooldays’ experience and will
send a group picture in our pioneer clothes in front of the first territorial
governor’s “mansion”– a 3-room log cabin about 150 years old. That’s
ancient for us white folks out here! (RD email from teacher: P.ALaF 21-
My students linked their history project with the Religion programme and investigated
the effect of the arrival of Christianity on 5th Century pagan Celtic Ireland. As part of
this project E constructed a church (Figures 9.8). Her work was meticulous and led to a
significant learning episode for me and a challenging once again of how children are
often failed by an education system that does not recognise their multi faceted
intelligences (Gardner 1983). Other children then followed her example and
constructed a monastic Round Tower, some toilet roll Viking raiders, a Viking long
ship, a Norman castle and some Tudor toilet roll lords and ladies.
Figure 9-8: Photo of E’s church with ‘action man’ St Patrick
E paid incredible attention to interior detail and her finished church was a considerable
demonstration of her architectural, construction, and artistic skills. With her permission,
some children then decided to add electric lights to the church, which was inaccurate
chronologically and historically, but their efforts proved informative for me, as the next
excerpt shows:
© Mary Roche 2007
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A group of children who were good at physics asked E. if they could
‘electrify’ the church. They set to work with the electricity kit. They had
great fun stripping and cutting wires and arguing about what bulb and
battery should go where. But after half a day they were no nearer
providing light in the church although they had become expert wirestrippers.
I asked E to help them. After all it was her church. She was not strong at
physics but I knew she was a good manager of people, with excellent
organisational skills and tactful interpersonal intelligence. She allocated
tasks, organised the tidying up of the kit box, delegated a team to clear
the floor and work area, and within an hour the bulbs were lighting. (RD
E is a child who attained a low score in both English and Maths standardised tests.
According to the technical rational logics of the tests, she is a ‘slow’ learner. However,
by my criteria, grounded in my inclusional logics and based on my observation of her
real-life abilities, she is a superb artist, actor, dancer, architect, engineer, manager,
communicator and a sociable, popular student. I am not alone in recognising this. It
must be noted that E has been fortunate: her multiple intelligences (Gardner 1983) have
flourished throughout her career in our school. The kinds of pedagogies I was
developing were built on the recognition that children like E must have opportunities to
demonstrate their critical intellectual strengths. These pedagogies thereby contribute to
a more just and inclusional form of educational practice.
Two children (C in my class and V in Arizona) did a co-operative science experiment
comparing the quality of wild water and tap water in Cork with that in Arizona. The
experiment was entered in the Arizona State Science Fair.
V’s teacher here. We have just made a video of our class science fair
projects and we are so pleased with how V and C’s project has turned
out. What’s even better is that our principal — a former high school
science teacher — has told me it is one of the best projects he’s seen in
years. V made this great “stacking” graph showing the differences
between the tap water sources and the “wild” water sources for each
Looking at the graph, we see that the boys’ hypothesis was correct —
Arizona’s wild water sources are very different from what comes out of
the tap. Cork’s tap water — when taken as a whole — is very similar to its
wild water sources. We will be sending you all that V has written and
displayed and I will take pictures of his board and email them to you.
As a teacher, this kind of learning really is exciting! (RD email
correspondence from Arizona teacher P.ALaF 20-02-05)
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Considerable critical awareness was generated also when my students grappled with the
multicultural reality of why the American children said ‘Happy holidays’ instead of
‘Happy Christmas’ and why, despite their multi-ethnicity, they did not have to learn a
compulsory second language like Irish. The Arizona/Cork communication culminated
in the teacher of the 3rd grade class spending two days in my classroom sharing her
knowledge about life with scorpions, snakes and cacti in Arizona with the children.
I can be at your school on that Thursday or Friday. I am so very, very
excited. We are sending to you this week: a wooden model of a scorpion
for your class to put together, scorpion information handouts for all
students to read and color, and step-by-step directions for drawing an
accurate model of these creepy arachnids. Is that ok? I would be glad to
help students put together the model. (Extract from email
correspondence with P.ALaF 25-05-05)
Almost three years after the initial correspondence began some of the students are still
corresponding with their pen pals.
From C, a colleague involved in researching her practice with children who have
Specific Learning Disabilities (Dyslexia), I became aware of the possibilities of asking
children to become critical of their own learning (McDonagh 2000, 2002, 2007). This
resulted in several projects whereby I encouraged my students to present their learning
to others. On different occasions, they explained the principles behind the phenomenon
of ‘dancing raisins’ to an Infant class, discussed the possible existence of aliens, and
demonstrated butter making and magnetic car design. (Figures 9.9 to 9.12 below.)
Figure 9-9: Photos students presenting creative writing & science experiment
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Figure 9-10: Photos of bridges made by students during science
Figure 9-11: Photos of bridges demonstrated by students for science open day
The students also demonstrated their learning to their parents and to children from other
classes at a science open day as shown in the photos below: Figure 9.12.
Figure 9-12: Photos of students demonstrating butter making & magnetic cars
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These are some of the ways in which I have been able to contribute to the children’s
content knowledge. Significantly, they and I have come to an understanding that
content knowledge is related to individual processes of learning. Occasionally they are
able to articulate this, as in many of the excerpts I have included throughout. I have
definitely learned how to articulate this, and the importance of doing so. I am critically
aware of my own processes of learning, and I encourage my students to develop this
capacity also.
I am also claiming that I have enabled my students to exercise their capacity for
originality and critical engagement. As well as encouraging them to exercise critical
awareness in relation to the subject areas in the curriculum, I have, through focussing on
making time available for discrete classroom discussion, also encouraged them to be
aware of their capacity for originality and critical engagement, and to articulate this
My 3rd class and I had a discussion on animal rights on 27-02-06: I read
‘Oi! Get off our train’ (Burningham 1991) and ‘Zoo’ (Browne 1992) and
then asked the children to discuss their thoughts about animals’ rights.
Me: Should all animals have the same rights? For example should rats
and Labrador guide dogs deserve the same rights?
A: Well, the guide dog is doing a job and he’s useful so I’d put him in a
different group to the rat ’cos they are just troublesome and if you get a
bite of a lady rat you can die …
A: I think all animals should have the right to freedom, like us. They
shouldn’t have to stay in cages for their whole lives. At least we get left
out free at 18.
Sh: I’ve been thinking about rights and I don’t think that every single
animal should have rights. Some should have rights, not rats, snakes,
crocodiles, maybe not wasps. If you made a line you could put those on
one side, because they have sharp teeth and they can bite you. Then on
the other side you could put lions and tigers and cows and dogs and cats
and rabbits and bears. They deserve rights, they’re good. (RD 27-02-
06, Appendix C.2.)
Here are two excerpts: both following a reading of ‘The Story of Anne Frank’ with two
3rd classes
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B: I was thinking … well … the way we all think can’t be forced on us
… like we might think it’s right to be Catholics but we couldn’t make
someone be a Catholic, we could bring them to the church but we
couldn’t force them to believe. You have to be one to really believe …
and you can’t make anyone else be one unless … they believe … for
themselves (RD excerpt from transcript of Anne Frank 06-02-06 with
SB’s class, Appendix C.3.)
K: I agree with T that freedom would mean doing everything you want
even the bad. Well, do you know when you were reading the story
[Anne Frank]? Well, you said the Americans joined with Britain to help
them against the Germans. Well, in a certain way the Americans when
they joined in, they were helping England with freedom, but then that
means that they were … against … they were stopping Germany’s
freedom …if you take sides … it means that sometimes you are stopping
someone’s freedom … well … a bit …
P: I disagree with some people and I agree with others, who said that
freedom is doing whatever you want, but only in a way. You can only
have freedom if you’re alone. Because if you were really free to think
what you like and say what you like and do what you like it and there
were other people around, it could be the baddest thing ever for them
because you might want to do all bad things with your freedom …
Freedom could be sometimes good but sometimes it could be the
baddest thing ever. (RD: transcript of ‘freedom’ 07-02-06; Appendix
The children demonstrate here, I believe, that they have grasped fundamental aspects of
freedom, and they have begun to be aware of the development of their own ideas. Like
Berlin (2002), P has come to see for himself that total positive freedom could be ‘the
baddest thing ever’. The children recognise that freedom means having choices but that
one person’s freedom should not impinge or take from another’s, and they recognise
that freedom, like faith and critical thought, cannot be forced upon people.
I did not teach the children about freedom, nor did I teach them how to use their
capacity for originality and critical engagement. I read them an abridged version of the
story of Anne Frank and invited them to discuss the story. Their comments in the full
transcripts (Appendix C.3. and C.6.) show considerable diversity in sophistication. Here
I have chosen those that I felt were particularly striking in their simple and heartfelt
wisdom. The children involved are aged eight or nine years old. They arrived at these
explanations of what freedom means for themselves. The significance of my practice
here is that, by providing opportunities for critique, I believe I have created a critical
© Mary Roche 2007
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community of enquiry within a caring, free and just practice in my classroom, and that
this is evidenced by the children’s words.
My educational influence in my workplace and in the wider domain
I am claiming that I have contributed to the transformation of my institution through
transforming my practice. I did not set out to take this aspect as a core feature of my
research. It became a value-added aspect, in that through my educative influence, I
began to contribute to the education of my colleagues, and so came to contribute to the
transformation of my institution.
As reported earlier from my appointment in 2001 I was involved in providing in-house
professional development in the area of teaching for improved critical thinking in my
institution. I now expand on what I wrote earlier, about how I engaged colleagues in
informal conversation about my classroom discussions, and how my enthusiasm
seemed to have influenced others to try the practice for themselves. Thirteen out of
fourteen colleagues responded to me when I asked for evidence that I had been
invitational in my approach to helping them try classroom discussion for themselves.
Testimonies included the following:
Thinking Time has been a foundation stone for educational policy in our
school since 2001. Mary has changed my way of thinking as a teacher.
Thinking Time permeates the school day. It encourages children and
teachers to think, communicate and interact in a different way. (RD
Extract from letter from SO’L 28-02-05)
It is my belief that because of Mary’s educative influence on the
majority of the staff of fourteen teachers, they have been imbued with
enthusiasm for the spirit and culture of thinking time … I lecture parttime
in a third level institution … because of Mary’s influence I now
give two lectures out of a series of ten on critical questioning and
thinking. (RD extract from letter from MC dated 22-02-04)
You don’t push your views on anyone: you speak with obvious pleasure
and enthusiasm and share your delight in your children’s ideas. (RD
comment by DW 18-02-04 (see further examples in Appendices B.1. a. –
B.1. m.)
Gradually, as the school grew, I was obliged to put professional development in
Thinking Time on a more formal footing and I began to provide workshops and
presentations for colleagues in my own school and for a neighbouring school. My
approach was largely invitational, conversational and non-coercive (see evaluations
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below). I began by articulating my values about education and I showed videos of
discussions, and then spoke about my own experience in classroom practice. I read
simple stories such as ‘Something Else’ (Cave and Riddell 1995) and invited
comments. Colleagues who experienced this provided positive (and sometimes
poignant) feedback:
I wish I’d heard this long ago, when I could have done something about
it. (RD comment by BD during summer in-service course July 2004).
I have been teaching all my life: I am ready to retire. Why am I only
learning this now? This way of encouraging children – people!!! – to
think would have made such a difference to my teaching … it’s so
simple and so powerful. (RD extract from conversation with MR
following workshop Aug 2004)
On 16-11-02 I was invited by the local Education Support Centre to conduct a
workshop for teachers (Roche 2002d). I presented my ideas about Thinking Time in my
usual way, through video and participation in a thinking circle (using the story ‘Zoo’
Browne 1992). The participating teachers completed evaluation sheets in which one of
the questions was:
Q3. Which aspect of this workshop most appealed to you?
The answers I received included:
The practical experience of a thinking time was helped by the videos
which gave insight into the process. You have a lovely natural
communication style – you are concerned for your subject, the children,
and your audience of teachers who need your enthusiasm and support.
I like the idea of allowing the teacher to be at the child’s level in the
discussion and the idea of the teacher and all the pupils listening to one
child and that child isn’t wrong.
I loved the spirit of openness and willingness to participate which was
evident in the group. (RD 16-11-02; Appendices B.4.a. to B.4.c. and
B.5.a. to B.5.g.).
These responses were encouraging and affirming, and showed me that, like me, many
teachers seek ways to encourage children to be more participative in classrooms. The
evaluations in general show an awareness by teachers of different ages and levels of
experience of the need for more dialogue in school.
© Mary Roche 2007
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I also provided a workshop for colleagues from my PhD study group and members of
the University of Limerick Department of Education and Professional Studies (Roche
2002c). Colleagues agreed that the experience provided powerful learning:
I was amazed at how powerful an activity the thinking time circle is at
promoting a depth of engagement … I can only imagine the huge
potential within philosophising with children for children’s personal and
social development … I believe that the environment you create is
critical to the richness of thinking and engagement … I believe also that
you are, through your thinking time, a mediator and gateway to
children’s innate knowledge and understanding. (RD email from MG
I would have loved thinking time when I was a child: I was a non-sporty
child, always thinking and pondering. This would have been so
liberating and so wonderful for the ‘me’ I was back then: to have the
space to explore feelings, thoughts, ideas – but that need was not
appreciated at that time. (RD comment by TG, University staff member
The weekly practice of classroom discussion is now embedded in school policy.
Teachers joining our staff receive professional development in the form of being invited
to sit in on my classroom discussions and those of other teachers. I provide support in
the form of workshops, a file of ideas and a bank of resources of stories, poems, and
pictures. Teachers evaluate their discussions by keeping transcripts of what the children
say, and adding their own observations and/or learning from the discussion.
ML, a teaching colleague, organised her weekly Thinking Time discussion with her 4th
class around the topic ‘What did friendship week mean to you?’ on 16-02-07. She
knew I was finishing my thesis and offered me a copy of her evaluation from her
monthly progress records file, because she said ‘this activity was so significant for me
and I think the evaluation might be useful for you’ (RD 05-04-07). Her complete
document is included in Appendix D.2. as an example of how colleagues now use their
evaluations of Thinking Times as opportunities for reflective practice. Her actions
showed me that my studies are respected and are recognised as having relevance for
others in my institution. In her evaluation ML had written:
Very occasionally you experience a ‘moment’ in teaching that you know
you’ll always remember. This has got to be one of those times for me.
(RD 05-04-07 written evaluation by ML; Appendix D.2.)
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Evidence of my influence sometimes occurs when I least expect it. Corridor discussions
with colleagues have been a rich source of data and learning for me. I now concur with
Adger (2002) that ‘professional talk is not icing on the cake of professional
development. It is the cake.’ (p.28)
In the corridor today R said, ‘I ended up having a conversation about
feminism with Junior Infants! We started out talking about wearing
summer clothes … and next thing I knew we were into a discussion on
S. replied, ‘That’s what I don’t get: how do you know when to interrupt
the discussion … and go with the new idea?’
R. replied, ‘I don’t know really: I suppose from listening to Mary. I’ve
heard her say so many times: go with your hunches – you’ll recognise a
‘good topic’ when you hear it … … Mary often speaks about the need to
look beneath the surface and the givens …’ (RD 12-05-03)
Today MK gave me some transcripts from her eight year olds. I was
very struck and heartened by the examples in the transcript that show the
children recognising multiple viewpoints … (RD 15-01-04)
At a staff meeting today the principal spoke publicly about his delight in
reading Thinking Time transcripts from the teaching staff. He referred to
a teacher’s comment in her evaluation that ‘the discussion represented
one of those rare teaching moments that only happens once or twice in a
career.’ (RD 20-03-07; Appendix D.2.)
I outlined earlier how I have also presented my work to teachers from outside of my
own institution at workshops, in-service days and summer professional development
courses and how teachers have been encouraged to try Thinking Time in their own
contexts. A young trainee teacher recently spent some weeks in my classroom as part of
her teaching practice. During this time she participated in several classroom discussions
and was impressed with what she witnessed. She later wrote:
I have picked up loads of ideas during my teaching practice … I liked
your classroom discussions most of all though and I can’t wait to have a
class of my own to do that …
I like the way they listen so nicely to each other and the way they build
up on each other’s ideas … they don’t get upset at all when people
disagree with their ideas. They seem to sort of say, ‘Hmmm – she
disagrees with what I said … maybe she has a point.’ Or ‘He thinks that
and I think this … that’s interesting.’
© Mary Roche 2007
26 9
I also like the way that the teacher and the children are sort of on the
same level of importance in the discussion and there are no right
answers or wrong answers. It’s very fair, and very democratic … they
really are thinking in those discussions.
I’ve been amazed at some of the thoughts they’ve had and I found
myself thinking ‘that’s an interesting angle … I didn’t see that myself’.
(RD extract from transcript of conversation from SC RD 08-12-06;
Appendix B.1. j.).
In an email (received on 05-02-07) she subsequently wrote:
I am starting my last placement after midterm break …I am so looking
forward to trying out a thinking time with the class. I have even been
telling my own class in college of how well it works. Hopefully the
class teacher will be open to me trying it too. I’ll keep you informed
about how well it goes. (RD personal correspondence from SC 05-02-
The following is an extract from an evaluation written by a colleague who, some years
ago, was influenced by my practice to try Thinking Time in her own context in a school
that shared a campus with my former school. I had not known that I had influenced her
practice or that she had continued with the methodology of classroom discussion to
which I had introduced her, until she related an incident that occurred recently during
her new status as a postgraduate student. She subsequently agreed to write about the
incident and gave me permission to use it in my thesis:
I am currently studying for an M.Ed and was recently asked in a seminar
run by Dr — to describe a powerful learning experience. I immediately
thought of the first time I used Mary’s version of classroom discussion.
… I have used this format of classroom discussion since that first ‘tryout’
over ten years ago. I have found it to be an enriching and
empowering way of ‘being’ with my pupils and only wish I had known
of it much earlier in my teaching career.
This version of classroom discussion has, in my opinion, had a
significant, positive effect on the dynamics in my classroom. It fosters a
warm, respectful and supportive relationship between the children and
between the child and myself.
The children, I think, learn to think for themselves and blossom in a
classroom climate that encourages ‘free’ thinking and non-teacher-led
discussion. (RD excerpt from written evaluation by MO’S 02-10-06 full
evaluation in Appendix B.2.)
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27 0
The data presented here demonstrate that one teacher can have an influence for good in
the living practices of others. I can now claim, for instance, that my educative influence
has influenced the practice of MO’S (above) and that she is now educatively
influencing her students. Drawing on the work of Whitehead & McNiff (2006) I
believe that in sharing my enthusiasm for and belief in dialogical practices I have had
an educative influence in the learning of others. The others have not been coerced into
adopting ‘my’ practice. They have not ‘applied’ my practice to their contexts. They
have chosen to use the learning from my influence to create their own living practices in
ways that are appropriate for them.
Chapter 9 Part 2
My claims to knowledge at the level of theory
I am offering new understandings that will contribute to the development of educational
research and educational theory. I begin with explaining how I have reconceptualised
my practice, and enabled others to reconceptualise theirs. This capacity for
reconceptualisation has emerged through the process of doing my research and
generating my living theory of critical practice.
My reconceptualisation of practice has taken a range of forms.
Reconceptualising my relationship with my students
I now understand my relationships with my students to be grounded in our common
humanity. The relationships are dynamic and constantly evolving. I have no way of
knowing, when I sit into a circle for a discussion, how the conversation will evolve. I do
know that our interaction will be spontaneous, creative, and life-affirming for all
(Figure 9.13)
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27 1
Figure 9-13: Photos video still from discussions with 3rd classes
I have no planned responses when I talk with my students, other than to allow them to
critique and discuss whatever story, poem, picture or topic has been chosen. Our
interactions evolve dialogically in response to the ideas and the spontaneous
contributions of each member of the group. There is no seeking of closure or right
answers. I do know, however, that if I were to stand outside the group and direct or
control it from without, in an authoritarian manner, and seek a product called
‘knowledge’ which could then be turned into ‘activities’ that my children call ‘school
work’, it would not work. It ‘works’ because I am in the circle, as one-in-relation-withmy-
students, enjoying the exciting co-creation of ideas, sharing our knowledge with
each other, and just ‘thinking with one big head’ (Murris 2000 p.262).
Shor (1992) explains that traditionally, school knowledge is assumed to be produced
separate from students, who are asked only to memorise what the teacher orders.
Consequently, the act of knowing is often reduced into a transference of existing
knowledge, with the teacher as specialist in this transference. In this way the qualities of
critical reflection, problematising, and uncertainty, which are all qualities needed for
learning, are ignored in favour of absorbing others’ knowledge. I believe that I have
produced evidence to show that in my classroom knowledge is vibrant, organic and in
constant creation and re-creation and co-creation as my students dialogue with each
other and with me (see Figures 9.14 and 9.15 below).
© Mary Roche 2007
27 2
Figure 9-14: Photos of students in dialogue with each other
Figure 9-15: Video still of me in one-to-one discussion with a student
Like Noddings, I now see education in its widest sense as being central to the
cultivation of a caring society. Noddings (2002) defines education as ‘a constellation of
encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition
of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation’ (p.283). The orientation of
schooling systems in most advanced capitalist countries, Noddings argues, is a
functionalist one with an emphasis on skilling to fulfil the future needs of business and
the economy, whereas, she posits the view, as I do, that school needs to be about
learning to live in relationship with others. I share her concern and her commitments.
Relationships are what make life pleasurable or, if they are in turmoil, unbearable.
While some attention is paid in the Irish Primary Curriculum to personal, social and life
education (for example in the Social Personal and Health Education syllabus) it seems
inadequate when set against the demands of Noddings’ theory of care. She has argued
© Mary Roche 2007
27 3
that education from a care perspective has four key components: modelling, dialogue,
practice and confirmation. When I look at my evidence, I see that I am demonstrating
all four concepts in action.
My improved self-understanding
When I began problematising my practice during the early part of this study, I came to
realise that I was a living contradiction (Whitehead 1989a), in that I held values that
were systematically being denied by the structures of the institution I worked in. My
commitments were to a form of educational inclusion wherein I value each person as a
unique and ‘concrete other’ (Benhabib 1987) and wherein I see myself as one-inrelation
with others (Bateson 1972, McNiff and Whitehead 2006, Whitehead and
McNiff 2006). This meant that I felt uncomfortable with the idea of silent children
listening passively as I ‘delivered’ lessons and changed my pedagogy accordingly to fit
more closely with the values I held (see for example Figure 9.16 where children can be
seen collaborating with enjoyment as they complete an assignment).
Figure 9-16: Photo of a group in dialogue as they work in pairs on an assignment
I now believe that I understand my practice at a deeper level. I see the relationship
between my practice and the ‘creation of good social orders’ (McNiff and Whitehead
2006 p.255).
Drawing again on the work of Korczak, whose practice as an educator embodied his
deeply held humanitarian values, Efron (2005 p. 146) states that Korczak wrote
“Thanks to theory I know, thanks to practice I feel. Theory enriches the
intellect; practice colours feelings, trains the will” (Korczak 1924/2001 p. 47)
… Armed with knowledge of one’s own specific circumstances, the educator
picks and chooses the particular practice that is most appropriate. This is a
© Mary Roche 2007
27 4
personal and professional process, Korczak asserted, in which the practitioner
is distrustful of both others’ and his or her own opinion. “I don’t know, I
search, I ask questions … By deepening I complicate … Every ‘elsewise’ is a
new stimulus for the efforts of thought” (Korczak 1924/2001 p. 48).
(cited in Efron 2005 p.124)
Efron also suggests that Korczak’s work is relevant for current thinking about the role
of the practitioner researcher in current educational discourse:
In many ways, Korczak’s concept of the role of practice in forming a teacher’s
personal theory of teaching was a precursor to the current notion of teacher’s
knowledge … [he] valued teachers’ personal, experiential, situational, and
relational knowledge. His belief in the personal practical knowledge (see
Clandinin & Connelly, 1995) draws on the teacher’s “own knowledge, passion,
beliefs and in accordance to the specific contextual circumstances in which one
has to act” (Korczak, 1978, p. 305) and was the starting point for his
educational body of thought.
(Efron 2005 p. 147)
This has relevance for my work. By becoming critical enough to challenge uncritiqued
norms and to encourage others through my educative influence also to do so, I now see
that interrogating my practice so as to form a ‘personal theory of teaching’ (Efron op cit
p.147) influences what I do at the micro level of my practice, and also has potential for
influencing macro or global social order. I understand, as McNiff and Whitehead (2006)
point out that the future begins ‘here and now’ (p.255), and that, by living my values, I
am beginning to improve my classroom practice and institutional practices. I also
believe that I am influencing the education of others with whom I am in relation, just as
they are influencing me and others. I also understand more about my values and,
through trying to put them into practice, and justifying them to critical friends, I have
begun to reconceptualise both my practice and my understanding of the conceptual
frameworks of my study.
Self-understanding deepens when professional actions are articulated and
defended with colleagues and research participants.
(O’Hanlon 2003 p.99)
Reconceptualising my understanding of freedom
Rather than saying my students should be free to think for themselves I deliberately
frame the freedom involved as freedom from the constraints of not being afforded
opportunities to do so. I consider that there are issues of power and powerlessness
© Mary Roche 2007
27 5
involved in the frequent asymmetrical relationships between students and authority
I do not believe that I ‘confer’ freedom on my students. I do believe that unless I as a
teacher exercise care and justice in my relationships and refrain from restricting
opportunities for students to talk in classrooms, my children cannot exercise their
positive freedom in developing their capacities for thinking for themselves. Negative
freedom from restrictions to autonomous critical thinking precedes the positive freedom
to think for oneself. By deliberately developing dialogical pedagogies I have begun to
live those ideas in practice.
My living theory of practice has evolved to the point where I now have balance and
equilibrium between my authority role as teacher, my relational role as caring adult and
my democratic role as ‘just another person in the classroom’ (Figure 9.17).
Figure 9-17: Video still of a student & I relating to each other through dialogue
I used to see my role as deliverer of a curriculum, evaluator of how well I had delivered
it, and assessor of how well the children had received it. Because of the nature of the
syllabus and the number of children in the classroom, I saw myself as chief talker,
manager and authority figure. I saw my role as making children conform. I spent a lot
of time organising children and preparing worksheets. I was uncritical about what kind
of learning this would encourage and what sort of socialising was taking place.
My values of care and freedom and justice told me this was not a right way to teach, but
I had no strategies until I began to articulate my values take action. Winter (1998)
© Mary Roche 2007
27 6
suggests that action research is about seeking a voice ‘with which to speak one’s
experience and one’s ability to learn from that experience’ (p53). I have been
empowered through my research to reconceptualise my identity as a critical practitioner
and I have learned to speak with a confident voice. I have critiqued and problematised
my role and I have made changes to how I taught, giving rise to the kinds of dialogical
pedagogies described throughout.
This has involved reconceptualising my own philosophy of education, moving from a
focus on denial to enablement. This for me is good practice. I now understand that in
order to live a moral life I have to try to do whatever is possible to enable my students
to realise the greatest amount of freedom to exercise their capacity to think for
themselves. This is a just and democratic form of education, rooted in care for my
students. I have also had to look at whether there is incompatibility between my values
of freedom and justice. I have had to examine whether I am setting my students up for
tension with the Irish secondary system which, according to many commentators,
discourages critical engagement. I bear Holmquist’s (2006) warning in mind:
As … students this week dutifully regurgitate the information they have been
told to memorise, it may be a mistake to equate this with learning. Straying
from the point, asking too many questions and exploring alternative avenues of
thought aren’t rewarded with high points … what is rewarded is the ability to
do well in exams. There is a danger that by programming students with a
predetermined curriculum, students are learning how to parrot not to learn. This
makes them vulnerable to letting others tell them what to think on a whole
range of philosophical, moral and ethical questions.
(Holmquist, Irish Times 09-06-06 p.15)
Reconceptualising my ideas about care
I ask myself, am I exhibiting care for my students when I teach in a way that honours
their freedom to think for themselves? I believe I am. My data base contains evidence
that students who do a weekly discussion programme based on Thinking Time by and
large exhibit self-control and dignity, demonstrate critical awareness, show care and
respect for each other and for their teachers, and this has been validated by observers of
discussions and by parents. (Appendix B.)
© Mary Roche 2007
27 7
‘One of the things that amazed me [about the video] was the fact that
children I would have thought of as timid were actually well able to
speak their mind, but they did so with respect and kindness for each
other. All the children acted really responsibly towards each other, even
when they were disagreeing with others. And they disagreed so nicely
with you too and it didn’t sound cheeky!’ (RD excerpt from
conversation with H’s mother following Thinking Time video 06-06-06)
‘C watched as I put up a bathroom shelf. She said “Dad, that’s far too
high.” I said it was for medicines so it had to be high. She looked me
right in the eye and said very politely, “I disagree with you, Dad,
because it’s actually too high even for Mum.”’ … ‘I was amazed at a
four-year-old using this language and it didn’t sound rude or anything. I
wish I had learned to speak up for myself in school. In interviews I go
all embarrassed and clam up. If I’d been given the chance to speak like
C in school, who knows where I’d be now?’ (RD excerpt from
conversation with CD’s father during parent-teacher meeting February
Reconceptualising my practice as an exercise in justice
Without developing dialogical pedagogies, I would not have learned how intelligent E
was, how articulate A was and how sensitive C was. Children like Eo might never have
had the opportunity to challenge norms such as straight lines and Ao might never have
known that she was critically aware enough to ‘question the answer’. Children like R
might never have realised he loved music enough to dance and roar like a mountain
king; C would not have been exposed to the thrill of having his hypothesis about the
comparisons between Cork’s and Arizona’s water quality tested and submitted to the
Regional finals of the State Science Fairs. The children might never have looked
critically at their experiences of Irish sport and Irish Catholicism and questioned if the
reality of lived experience of children in other countries was similar. I am claiming that,
while I have not been directly responsible for these achievements, I have played a part
I have developed my capacity to make judgements about the quality of what I am doing
as a practitioner and a researcher, and enabled others to do the same.
This now brings me to speaking about my capacity for making judgements. If I am
making claims of the kind above, I need to demonstrate that I am capable of making
judgements, and to test these claims against identified standards of judgement which
inform my evidence base. This becomes the focus of the next section.
© Mary Roche 2007
27 8
Judging the quality of my practice and my research
In this section I show how I have learned to judge the quality of my practice and my
research, and I explain that I use the same standards of judgement for both domains
(Whitehead and Whitehead 2007).
Throughout, I have stated that my ontological values of care and regard for the other act
as my living standards of judgement. These are my values, that is, what I value, so I
regard them as good. I therefore judge my practice in terms of what I hold to be good,
because my values reflect my commitment to who I am and how I understand myself in
the world (see also Whitehead and McNiff 2006 p.82). One of the most profound
personal significances of my study has been in relation to how I now understand the
relationship between my practice and my values. I realise more clearly that I am in
relation with others, experiencing a sense of our common humanity and life on this
As I endeavour to make meaning of this relationship for myself, I try to hold myself
accountable for my actions. I try to ensure that my practice is informed by my moral
standards and by my values of care, freedom and justice.
Like Benhabib (1992), I believe that
… each [individual]is entitled to expect and to assume from the other forms of
behavior through which the other feels recognized and confirmed as a concrete,
individual being with specific needs, talents and capacities.
(Benhabib 1992 p.159)
I have come to a new understanding of my role in facilitating classroom discussion in
that I now see it as a moral undertaking that allows me to see my students as coparticipants,
co-researchers and the people with whom I work and share my classroom.
I believe that my early teaching practice was lacking in fulfilment of these values,
because I had not examined my practice reflectively, nor checked if I was living in a
way that was commensurate with my values. Once I did so, I came to see that I was
dominating my classroom with teacher-talk in an effort to deliver a content-based
syllabus to my students.
Through engaging with literatures of classroom interaction (Barnes 1992, Burns and
Myhill 2004, Haworth 2001, Mercer 1995, Norman 1992, Wells 1999, Wood 1992) I
© Mary Roche 2007
27 9
have learned that I was far from unusual in allowing my linguistic competence (Wood
1992) to occupy the space my students need to explore their own thinking through
dialogue so as ‘to impose their own relevance’ Haworth (2001 p. 382).
Because of the teacher’s claim to prior knowledge of the subject content, and
right to control the pacing and sequencing of its transmission, pupils rarely
managed to impose their own relevance outside the teachers’ frame of
reference … resulting in very low level of pupil questions … and pupil
(Haworth 2001 p.382)
I have reflected in this document on episodes of past practice that reveal my best
teaching self and I hope to project that self into future teaching situations (McDermott
and Richardson 2005 p.31). I have also reflected on episodes where I failed to live
towards my values or where I experienced myself as a living contradiction (Whitehead
1989a). Through reflection and meta-reflection I have come to see the learning
potential of such episodes for transforming into improved practice. I believe that I have
transformed my practice insofar as I now live more fully in a relational and dialogical
way. The evidence I have produced throughout this thesis supports this claim. I have
not taught my students what to think nor tried to change their thinking. I have not tried
to impose closure on their thinking or confine it to being a subject called ‘critical
thinking’. I have learned to ‘let the other be’ and explore how I can best provide
contexts where they can exercise their imaginative and creative abilities dialogically as
they learn to be critical thinkers, and make judgements on their own capacity for critical
engagement. The samples of children’s work in Appendix E and the samples of
transcripts in Appendix C show, by their variety and uniqueness, how my students
demonstrate a significant capacity for critical and creative thinking. The children’s
voices as they sit in their discussion circles provide, perhaps, the strongest evidence of
all (Video Link: the children’s voices). (Figures 9.18 to 9.20).
C: Yeah, maybe, cos like, if you’re always just following other people
like, without thinking for yourself, and just doing what they want you to
do… you could end up in trouble. (RD 12-10-05 from ‘Yellow Bird
Black Spider’ (Archer and Archer, 2004); Appendix C)
E: You need to think your own thoughts just like you need to be
yourself. You need to have fun too though. Thinking in a circle with
your friends is fun. It helps you to be better at thinking on your own
afterwards. (RD 12-10-05 Comment by E during conversation about
doing Thinking Time following ‘Yellow Bird, Black Spider’ discussion)
© Mary Roche 2007
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S: If you didn’t ever get to use your imagination then your life would be
so boring and sad. (RD 04-10-05 ‘Once upon an ordinary school day’
(McNaughton 2004); Appendix 3.7.)
Figure 9-18: Video still of a student enjoying herself as she voices her thoughts
Attentiveness in dialogue
As I have learned how to encourage children to think for themselves, I see that an
important practice is to be respectful and attentive to what my students are saying and to
develop a just and caring relationship with them. This has meant adopting an ethical
stance. Listening is itself an ethical stance toward the other, according to Bingham
(2006 p.337). Many data transcripts and videos throughout this document incorporate
evidence of my attentiveness to my students’ thoughts and voices. Observers of these
videos and discussions have attested to this aspect.
I was struck by the relationship you have with the children in the circle –
there’s no strong teacher role visible, no discipline or control. I mean
you are in control but it’s not obvious, it’s more like you’re friends
talking and listening to each other and enjoying the process into the
bargain! (RD 11-11-05 O’s comment following observing a discussion)
© Mary Roche 2007
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Figure 9-19: Video still of attentiveness in dialogue
Following the viewing of some Thinking Time videos by my students and their parents
on different occasions, several parents commented about my practice:
I don’t think a teacher ever really talked to me as a person when I was in
school. That’s one of the most surprising things that struck me about the
video – you’re really listening and talking to them. You’re not teaching
them … well, not like the teachers in our day! (RD extract from
conversation with TMcC 25-05-06)
I invited parents to write their evaluations of what they had experienced as they
watched their children take part in discussions. One parent wrote:
The videos of your classroom discussions were a revelation into the
mind of a child in today’s world …How much things have changed from
the formal ‘shut-up and listen, repeat after me’ process which was, as
often as not, followed by corporal punishment for failure to achieve. The
rigidity of my time in education in primary was one with some dour
teachers and iron discipline with little or no attention to life study
…features of your classroom discussions greatly impressed me: the
freedom of the children to behave as individuals, as equals, with you, in
a group discussion … the fact that the children were free to participate
in, to discuss and expound, to disagree with others (including teacher)
and even change their minds was fascinating to observe.
The democracy of the group discussion allowed opinions to be presented
without reserve or embarrassment which can only aid the children … I
feel that this concept should be broadly accepted in the primary
educational system and form a necessary part of the curriculum. (RD
correspondence from P.L 06-06-06; Appendix B. 7. b.)
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Parents who viewed videos of my children participating in discussions used words such
as ‘equality’, ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ (see Appendix B.7. a. – B.7. f.) and said that
these qualities were visible in our discussions in how the children behaved towards each
other (see Figure 9.20).
Figure 9-20: Video stills of students listening to peers
Their testimonies are evidence that the children and I are ‘concrete’ others to each other
in the discussions and treat each other with respectful attentiveness.
Developing my own critical awareness
From a position where I understood education, intelligence, learning and teaching in
propositional terms, I have come to view my practice as a dialogical engagement with
others, with knowledge, with the literatures, and with myself. I cannot disentangle who
I am from what I do, and I now understand that I cannot change others, nor do I want to
try. This was not always the case. I may have set out to improve my students. Gradually
I have come to realise that I can only change myself.
As I became familiar with the literatures of critical pedagogy I initially adopted a
polemical stance and rejected all technical rationality. Then I saw that this stance was
itself a form of closing down thinking. Through their articulation of their critical
awareness, my children helped me to see that I was adopting a too narrow perspective
and had to re-evaluate my stance. I now see that to be inclusive I need to incorporate all
forms in my thinking, though not necessarily in my practice.
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Beginning to realise the potential of my research as contributing to social
My early draft writing aimed to communicate how I influence children to think
critically in the interests of contributing to social betterment. In 2005, as I reflected on
my data, I saw my practice from a different angle. I began to see that what I wanted to
do was to contribute to social betterment, and one way to do that was through
encouraging children to think for themselves. I therefore had to establish the link
between what I was doing in class, and the social order. I reasoned that if I wished to
contribute to the development of a good social order, I needed to be clear myself about
my meaning of ‘good’, and ensure that my practice was good, on those terms.
I read the work of Russell, Popper and Alasdair McIntyre and saw how my work
resonated with some of their ideas. I recognised too, for the first time, how a living
theory of practice such as mine, as I hold myself accountable for my actions, could also
be seen as contributing to a more peaceful and productive world (Whitehead 2000). I
now recognised that my practice was about trying to ensure that any influence I
exercised in the lives of my students was educative, and that I should be able to offer
my account of how I exercised (and judged) that influence for public critique, to show
how I hold myself accountable. This for me was how I came to conceptualise my
‘good’. My practice could be deemed ‘good’ if I could show how I was living my
values of care, freedom and justice, and if I could make the account of practice
available for public critique. My practice could be understood as good if I showed how
I had struggled to improve it, and could now show how I had improved, bearing in mind
that I could improve even more if I tried (see also McNiff 2007). I have produced
evidence throughout to show this struggle, and I can show how this has enabled me to
influence my students so that they, too, cheerfully engage in their own struggle to be
My evidence resides in places where I have described the gradual development in
critical thinking of my students from discussing why Humpty Dumpty was sitting on a
wall, to the morality involved in Goldilocks’ actions, to whether or not Jack was a hero
and up to the point where Eo challenged school norms (Roche 2004a p.6). I have
subjected my ideas to the critical scrutiny of others, and received feedback of the
following kind:
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What Mary is doing here is exactly what Russell (1932) said was the work of
educators, that is, encouraging the development of thinking in young people,
the citizens of tomorrow, rather than producing passive, obedient followers.
(McNiff 2004 p.7)
I have been contacted by people from the west Coast of the USA and from Australia
who have read and been influenced by my MA dissertation:
On 17-08-06 RS wrote: Hi Mary! … Did you know that your
dissertation has been referenced on the P4C-list, the international
discussion group? Congratulations! I’m forwarding the original to you.
(RD email correspondence from RS 17-08-06).The forwarded original
had been sent on 16-08-06:
I am currently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of
Queensland. I want to train some teachers in Philosophy then track their
progress and any change in pedagogy over 12-18 months… So far I
have only been successful in uncovering three research projects looking
at change in pedagogy following implementation of Philosophy [One of
which is] Roche, M. (2000). How can I improve my practice so as to
help my students philosophise? Masters thesis University of West
England Bristol, available at 14/5/06 (extract from
email from RS 16-08-06)
DK wrote from Washington State USA: I am working on my doctoral
dissertation proposal on Inquiry Dialogue in the Kindergarten. I intend
to do action research this spring to investigate how I can best implement
a classroom context for inquiry dialogue with kindergartners … My
research will in some regards be a continuation of the work by Mary
Roche (2000). (RD email from J 31-01-05)
I offer these extracts as evidence for my claim to have influenced people in the wider
academic field.
My potential contributions to new forms of educational theory
Whitehead and McNiff (2006) say that ‘research is always undertaken with social
intent’ (p.45). When I began my studies, my ‘social intent’ was narrow and primarily
focussed on my own classroom. Through developing my ideas in practice and reflecting
on them, and engaging with literatures of critical and radical pedagogues, I have grown
into a more confident critical researcher voice. My diary records the moment when this
dawned on me:
© Mary Roche 2007
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Reflection 1
I read Marge Piercy’s (1971) poem ‘Unlearning to not speak’ last night,
and I recognised how all my life I have been a talker, but I’ve never
really understood until now, that I have a voice and perhaps I have never
really used my ‘I’ voice to try to make a difference in how education
might be a liberating and profoundly caring endeavour, instead of a
technical system for categorising people into discrete corrals. (RD 05-
I began to experience some satisfaction as evidence grew to show that my work had
begun to influence others institutionally and in the wider domain. Citing Polanyi (1958
p.381) who worked towards encouraging people to think in ways which centuries of
technical rational thinking had ‘taught them to distrust’ and who worked towards
understanding the world from his own point of view ‘as a person claiming originality
and exercising his judgement responsibly with universal intent’ (Polanyi 1958 p.327),
Whitehead and McNiff (2006) suggest that it is in learning to engage in lively dialogue
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the critical responses of others’ (pp.45-6) that researchers engage in the generation of
new knowledge, and can use their influence to challenge the repressive canon that often
transforms into a technology of control.
I believe that I have demonstrated that through ‘lively dialogue’ I have begun the
process of testing my own story as my living theory of education (see McNiff 2007). I
am showing through this account the live processes that have enabled me to generate
and test the validity of my own living educational theory of dialogical practice. I cannot
say my study is over, because in a sense I have only just begun the process of
examining my practice and my values through writing up this thesis. I believe that my
understanding of my practice will develop throughout my working life as I continue to
examine what I do, why I do it and how I can do it better.
Mary Roche
31st May 2007
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28 6
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© Mary Roche 2007
Appendix A: Ethics statement and letters of permission…………………………………….1
A.1. Ethics statement ……………………………………………………………………………..1
A.2. Letter to Chairperson of Board of management requesting permission to
carry out research……………………………………………………………………………2
A.3. Letter to principal requesting permission to carry out research……………..3
A.4. Letter to parents requesting co-operation, permission to carry out research
and to use recorded transcripts …………………………………………………………4
A.5. Letter to parents of Junior Infants (2002-2003) accompanying sample
transcript (original sample transcript consisted of several pages) ………….5
A.6. Sample letters to colleagues requesting co-operation and participation in
aspects of my research…………………………………………………………………….6
A.7. Letter to participants in workshop requesting permission to use
evaluations. ……………………………………………………………………………………7
A.8. Letter to participants on summer course requesting permission to use
their evaluations……………………………………………………………………………..8
A.9. Sample letter to parents requesting permission to include specific photos
in thesis document ………………………………………………………………………….8
A.10. Letters to principal (and reply) requesting permission to include specific
data in thesis document……………………………………………………………………9
A.11. Letter to parents inviting them to view filmed classroom Thinking Times
and requesting permission to use video clips in thesis ……………………….10
A.12. Letter to children & parents requesting permission to include samples
their work in my thesis ………………………………………………………………….11
Appendix B Validations and Evaluations …………………………………………………………1
B.1. Evaluations by teaching colleagues of my educative influence……………..1
a. Evaluation by teaching colleague JM………………………………………………..1
b. Evaluation by teaching colleague DOS ……………………………………………..1
c. Evaluation by teaching colleague LOS ……………………………………………..2
d. Extract from transcript of conversation with LOS ………………………………2
e. Evaluation by teaching colleague ML……………………………………………….2
f. Extract from transcript of conversation with ML………………………………..3
g. Evaluation by teaching colleague SB………………………………………………..3
h. Evaluation by teaching colleague SD………………………………………………..4
i. Emailed evaluation from teaching colleague RL ………………………………..4
j. Extract from transcript of conversation with SC…………………………………5
k. Evaluation from school principal MOC …………………………………………….5
l. Evaluation by deputy principal SOL …………………………………………………6
m. Evaluation by teaching colleague DOS regarding focus group……………..6
B.2. Evaluation by colleague from former school………………………………………8
B.3. Validations by critical friends in the PhD study group……………………….10
a. Emailed validation from BL…………………………………………………………..10
b. Request to CMD for critique and her reply ………………………………………11
c. Critique from BS following request letter as per B.2 …………………………12
d. Request to MG for critique and her reply…………………………………………13
e. Letter from BS 26 November 2004 …………………………………………………14
f. Emailed letter from CMD………………………………………………………………15
© Mary Roche 2007
g. Emailed letter from BL 27 November 2004…………………………………….15
h. Emailed letter from MG 28 November 2004…………………………………….16
B.4. Samples evaluations by teachers attending in-service July 2003 …………17
a. Teacher ‘1’…………………………………………………………………………………..17
b. Teacher ‘2’…………………………………………………………………………………..17
c. Teacher ‘3’…………………………………………………………………………………..17
B.5. Sample evaluations by teachers attending workshop November 2002….18
a. Teacher ‘1’…………………………………………………………………………………..18
b. Teacher ‘2’…………………………………………………………………………………..18
c. Teacher ‘3’…………………………………………………………………………………..19
d. Teacher ‘4’…………………………………………………………………………………..19
e. Teacher ‘5’…………………………………………………………………………………..20
f. Teacher ‘6’…………………………………………………………………………………..20
g. Teacher ‘7’…………………………………………………………………………………..20
B.6. Evaluations of Thinking Time transcripts by parents 2002-2003…………21
a. Letter from CR……………………………………………………………………………..21
b. Letter from SOB…………………………………………………………………………..21
B.7. Evaluations by parents following viewing Thinking Time videos 2004-
2005 ……………………………………………………………………………………………22
a. Letter from SB, W’s mother …………………………………………………………..22
b. Letter from P. L. K’s father ……………………………………………………………24
c. Letter from C.H. Kn’s mother ………………………………………………………..25
d. Letter from M.H. AH’s mother ………………………………………………………25
e. Letter from M.P. KP’s mother………………………………………………………..26
f. Letter from V.M. H.M.’s mother…………………………………………………….27
B.8. Samples of end of year letters …………………………………………………………28
a. Letter ‘A’ …………………………………………………………………………………….28
b. Letter ‘B’ …………………………………………………………………………………….28
c. Letter ‘C’ …………………………………………………………………………………….29
d. Letter ‘D’ …………………………………………………………………………………….29
e. Letter ‘F’……………………………………………………………………………………..30
Appendix C Selection of transcripts referred to in thesis ……………………………………1
C.1. Animals in Zoos 07 March 2005 ………………………………………………………1
C.2. Animal Rights 27 February 2006………………………………………………………3
C.3. Anne Frank’s story 06 February 2006 ……………………………………………….5
C.4. Dear Greenpeace (with Senior Infants) 06 February 2004 …………………..7
C.5. Rainbows and Reality 27 February 2004………………………………………….10
C.6. Freedom 07 February 2006…………………………………………………………….14
C.7. Once upon an ordinary school day 04 October 2005………………………….16
C.8. The Conquerors 21 November 2005………………………………………………..18
C.9. Yellow Bird, Black Spider 12 October 2005 …………………………………….21
Appendix D Examples of in-house evaluations of Thinking Times……………………..1
D.1. One of my evaluations from 3rd class ………………………………………………..1
D.2. Evaluation from ML ……………………………………………………………………….2
D.3. One of my evaluations from infant class 2002-2003……………………………3
D.4. Evaluation from DOS ……………………………………………………………………..4
D.5. Evaluation from RL ………………………………………………………………………..5
Appendix E Samples of children’s responses to music and art ……………………………1
E.1. Responses to Gasparyan ………………………………………………………………….1
E.2. Responses to Brueghel …………………………………………………………………….3
© Mary Roche 2007
E.3. Poetic responses to picture of sunset …………………………………………………5
E.4. Written responses to picture of trees and Vermeer ………………………………7
Appendix F Extract from RE teacher’s handbook……………………………………………..1
F.1. Extract from Alive O 5 Teachers’ Book (Irish Episcopal Commission on
Catechetics, 2001). …………………………………………………………………………1
Appendix G Emailed responses from educators to ‘a question about your
schooldays’ ………………………………………………………………………………………………….1
G.1. My email ……………………………………………………………………………………….1
G.2. Responses from PL …………………………………………………………………………2
G.3. Response from S. W. ………………………………………………………………………2
G.4. Response from PD ………………………………………………………………………….3
G.5. Response from P.A-LaF…………………………………………………………………..3
G.6. Response from P.M-M…………………………………………………………………….3
G.7. Response from B.S………………………………………………………………………….4
G.8. Response from B.L. ………………………………………………………………………..4
Appendix H Samples of reports by observers of Thinking Time …………………………1
H.1. My request to colleagues …………………………………………………………………1
H.2. Observation report by CO’C…………………………………………………………….1
H.3. Observation report by D.M. ……………………………………………………………..1
H.4. Observation report by S.D. ………………………………………………………………2
H.5. Observation report by YO’F …………………………………………………………….2
H.6. Observation report by A.T. ………………………………………………………………3
Appendix A 1
Appendix A: Ethics statement and letters of permission
A.1. Ethics statement
Appendix A 2
A.2. Letter to Chairperson of Board of management requesting permission
to carry out research
Appendix A 3
A.3. Letter to principal requesting permission to carry out research
Appendix A 4
A.4. Letter to parents requesting co-operation, permission to carry out
research and to use recorded transcripts
Appendix A 5
A.5. Letter to parents of Junior Infants (2002-2003) accompanying sample
transcript (original sample transcript consisted of several pages)
Appendix A 6
A.6. Sample letters to colleagues requesting co-operation and participation
in aspects of my research
Appendix A 7
A.7. Letter to participants in workshop requesting permission to use
Appendix A 8
A.8. Letter to participants on summer course requesting permission to use
their evaluations
A.9. Sample letter to parents requesting permission to include specific
photos in thesis document
Appendix A 9
A.10. Letters to principal (and reply) requesting permission to include
specific data in thesis document
Dear M _______
Please find attached herewith an excerpt from my draft thesis document outlining some
difficulties we mutually encountered when I was first putting my ideas into practice.
Please take time to read the account. I would be grateful if you would sign the
permission slip if you are happy to have the extract included as it stands. If you are not
happy to have it included, I will delete it.
[TO NOTE: The attached text in question was an extract from ‘Encountering
Dilemmas’ pp.163-166 of draft]
Appendix A 10
A.11. Letter to parents inviting them to view filmed classroom Thinking
Times and requesting permission to use video clips in thesis
Appendix A 11
A.12. Letter to children & parents requesting permission to include samples
their work in my thesis
Appendix B 1
Appendix B Validations and Evaluations
B.1. Evaluations by teaching colleagues of my educative influence
a. Evaluation by teaching colleague JM
b. Evaluation by teaching colleague DOS
I was born into a world and educated in a system where adults had a monopoly on
wisdom. Children were literally expected to be seen and not heard. It isn’t an
exaggeration to claim that children’s thinking, in that milieu, wasn’t so much
undervalued, as accorded no value. While always attempting to value children’s
opinion (and thinking) in my own teaching, it wasn’t until I came to work in Scoil N.,
where Thinking Time is a core value of the school, that I was exposed to an
educational setting where children’s thinking was accorded importance and value. I
have been most impressed, not only by this liberating approach towards pupil/teacher
interaction but also by the stress which is placed on the improvement of children’s
thought processes.
Mary Roche has always stressed the centrality of the guiding hand of the teacher in
the facilitation of Thinking Time. Thinking Time is not an open-ended, laissez faire
unstructured, directionless activity – but demands instead, a high degree of skilful
guidance from the teacher. This subtlety of approach is vital in that it facilitates the
pupil to improve the quality of their thinking, while still allowing them the ‘space’ to
actually think for themselves.
DO’S. 28 February 2005
Appendix B 2
c. Evaluation by teaching colleague LOS
When I was first introduced to Thinking Time I was really excited about trying it out.
I was very impressed with the reaction I received from the children, their enthusiasm
in voicing their opinions and their varied ideas. I had worked quite a lot on language
development in my previous school, and I encouraged my colleagues there to try this
approach. I was amazed at the language used by junior infants when speaking and also
the language gained from listening to other children.
LO’S 27 February 2005
d. Extract from transcript of conversation with LOS
e. Evaluation by teaching colleague ML
Mary has really influenced me as a teacher as regards approaching philosophy with
children. She encourages us to challenge the children (regardless of their age) with
what I would previously have regarded as ‘adult’ topics of conversation. It has been a
learning experience for me to discuss heaven and spirituality with an infant class. I
am amazed at the dept of thought children at age 5 and 6 can have!
The support given through workshops and our ‘ideas file’ have also been invaluable.
ML 01 March 2005
Appendix B 3
f. Extract from transcript of conversation with ML
g. Evaluation by teaching colleague SB
Thinking Time was a new idea to me as a teacher. There is a strong emphasis on the
oral section of the revised English curriculum on teaching children to speak, and
thinking has also been recognised as a priority. Thinking Time helps to develop
speaking and thinking skills in children as young as Junior Infants. Thinking Time
Appendix B 4
allows children explore ideas in a creative way affording them the chance to be
innovative. However, this was an area of my teaching that I feel was underdeveloped
and through Mary’s stewardship this is changing. The workshops are practical and
specific to the teachers on staff. But far more helpful is the fact that as Mary is a
teacher on staff, she is accessible (more or less) on a daily basis for questions or
direction. Thinking time makes a lot more sense the more you do! This year the file
with suggestions was particularly helpful.
SB 23 February 2005
h. Evaluation by teaching colleague SD
Since using Thinking Time I have stopped taking mundane things for granted and
now question more as to why things are the way they are. The experience of doing
weekly Thinking Time sessions has made me appreciate others’ point of view and
have pride in my own judgement. In my teaching it has encouraged me to step back
and give extra time for the class to express their opinion. The atmosphere in the room
is more accepting of different ideas and opinions. The benefits of our Thinking Time
sessions have enhanced the children’s skills in many aspects; verbal reasoning, critical
thinking, social skills, moral development etc.
My colleagues value the benefits of Thinking Time. It is a respected worthwhile
activity that is a priority in Scoil N. As a staff we pride ourselves in being progressive
and tapping into this fun activity that comes so naturally to the children. Mary you
been very encouraging and supportive and I am delighted you shared your knowledge
with us.
SD 01 March 2005
i. Emailed evaluation from teaching colleague RL
Appendix B 5
j. Extract from transcript of conversation with SC
k. Evaluation from school principal MOC
Appendix B 6
l. Evaluation by deputy principal SOL
m. Evaluation by teaching colleague DOS regarding focus group
As part of my research methodology while undertaking research for a Master’s
dissertation, I facilitated two separate Focus Group interview sessions. Each focus
group consisted of six, nine-year-old pupils from the two 3rd classes in our school.
Both interview sessions were of on hour duration (approx). Our topic for discussion
was the pupils’ experience with a digital media resource in the computer lab over five
I was very impressed with a number of factors during the focus group undertakings:
– The critical awareness of the children
– The willingness of each individual child to share their personal opinion
Appendix B 7
– The genuine manner in which all participants listened to the opinions of the other
members of the group
– The mature way in which disagreements of opinion were handled – the disagreement
was with the opinions of others and no personal dimension attached to the
– The manner in which individuals accepted that others would disagree with them
– The manner in which individual children gave the reason why they disagreed with
the opinions of others
– The manner in which individual children developed a point made by another pupil
with whom they were in agreement.
The manner in which the ‘cut and thrust’ of argument and of dialogue was handled
within the focus groups was most impressive in the context of the participants’ ages (9
years old). It was a display of maturity and genuine rapport not previously
encountered by this practitioner of thirty year’s experience.
I attribute the uncommon skill with which the children handled the demands of a
focus group setting to their experience of the dialogic process of their weekly
Thinking Time sessions in Scoil N.
D—– O’S———- 14 June 2006
Appendix B 8
B.2. Evaluation by colleague from former school
Appendix B 9
Appendix B 10
B.3. Validations by critical friends in the PhD study group
a. Emailed validation from BL
Appendix B 11
b. Request to CMD for critique and her reply
Appendix B 12
c. Critique from BS following request letter as per B.2
Appendix B 13
d. Request to MG for critique and her reply
Appendix B 14
e. Letter from BS 26 November 2004
Appendix B 15
f. Emailed letter from CMD
g. Emailed letter from BL 27 November 2004
Appendix B 16
h. Emailed letter from MG 28 November 2004
Appendix B 17
B.4. Samples evaluations by teachers attending in-service July 2003
a. Teacher ‘1’
b. Teacher ‘2’
c. Teacher ‘3’
Appendix B 18
B.5. Sample evaluations by teachers attending workshop November 2002
a. Teacher ‘1’
b. Teacher ‘2’
Appendix B 19
c. Teacher ‘3’
d. Teacher ‘4’
Appendix B 20
e. Teacher ‘5’
f. Teacher ‘6’
g. Teacher ‘7’
Appendix B 21
B.6. Evaluations of Thinking Time transcripts by parents 2002-2003
a. Letter from CR
b. Letter from SOB
Appendix B 22
B.7. Evaluations by parents following viewing Thinking Time videos 2004-
a. Letter from SB, W’s mother
Appendix B 23
Appendix B 24
b. Letter from P. L. K’s father
Appendix B 25
c. Letter from C.H. Kn’s mother
d. Letter from M.H. AH’s mother
Appendix B 26
e. Letter from M.P. KP’s mother
Appendix B 27
f. Letter from H.M. H.M.’s mother
Appendix B 28
B.8. Samples of end of year letters
a. Letter ‘A’
b. Letter ‘B’
Appendix B 29
c. Letter ‘C’
d. Letter ‘D’
Appendix B 30
e. Letter ‘F’
Appendix C 1
Appendix C Selection of transcripts referred to in thesis
C.1. Animals in Zoos 07 March 2005
Read story of ‘Zoo’. Had already read story of ‘Oi! Get off our Train!’.
– L: I think that actually the two books are related because they’re both about cruelty to
animals in a way except that in the Zoo book the Zoo is trying to protect the animals
and zoos are not really bad. They don’t try to do actually harm to the animals … I
mean, they try to keep them from getting extinct.
– P: I think they’re related, both stories. They both try to explain to some people that
animals are not actually safe at all. They’re not safe in zoos. They’re protected but
that’s not the same as saying they’re safe. People don’t treat them well. In the wild,
animals have everything they need to live. But when they’re in captivity, they can’t
get what they need because they can’t make themselves understood to humans.
Humans can’t understand what animals really need. Even parrots that are trained to
talk can’t tell people what they need. The only way that animals would be really safe
and protected is if humans became extinct.
– K: I didn’t find them related at first. I found that they both are trying to mention how
mean and cruel people are being. Maybe the authors are trying to get us to think so
that when we grow up we can stop what greedy people do to animals and we might
try to make people find other ways to get keys for their pianos and fur for their fur
– M: I thought, while I was listening to that story and looking at the pictures, that in
zoos it seems kind of cruel to animals that people are always looking at them and
mocking them.
– Ó: D’you know the person who wrote those books? Well I think they’re trying to tell
us that all the animals that are in the world are in danger from people. Its people
mostly that are killing them. People don’t have to use animals like that.
– C: Like P said: if people didn’t exist, some animals would be safe. There are other
natural enemies and dangers for animals like poison, plants, bigger animals that prey
on them and getting sick, but P is right: people are the worst enemy.
– Cn: We could try to keep animals as pets to mind them but they are even safe in our
houses either because they can run out and get killed on the road or they can die from
eating too much food. They can be abandoned and left to die on the side of the road
when people get tired of them … like snakes and things.
– W: I kind of agree with L. Zoos are not just there for protection of animals from
extinction. They’re also there for people, because people enjoy looking at the
– D: Those two people wrote those books to tell us that animals aren’t safe anywhere.
Not even like Cn said in our houses. They can escape. My friend’s snake escaped
and they can’t find him and they think he’s up in the attic eating mice.
– Ch: I think it’s better … like P said. If there’s no human being around ….animals
would be safe from human beings who love killing animals. We need animals but
animals need us to love them not kill them.
– Kn: I seriously agree with P. He is right. If we were extinct they’d be able to live.
The zoo is not really for looking after animals. If they were free to do whatever they
wanted that would be different but they’re not. We’re just using them….like objects.
– D: I agree with Kn and with P. If we were extinct we couldn’t cause any further harm
to animals … but I wonder what would happen then?
– Hi: Well I don’t agree with the idea of zoos like the one in that book. I don’t think its
right to have animals in zoos like that. In Africa we had places for keeping animals
but they were big parks; animals could roam around free and you had to go looking
Appendix C 2
for them because the parks are huge. There aren’t any cages and the animals juts
carry on doing what they normally do.
– Jr: I agree with P: animals aren’t very safe in our care. Once I was cleaning out my
fish’s bowl and changing his water and he jumped out of the bowl and I wonder if he
was trying to escape back to where he came from.
– Sa: In response to my question: ‘which do you think, Sa: would animals like to be
running free or in the zoo?’ Sa answered “they should be out running free”. ‘Why?’
“Because they’d be happier.”
– Cr: I agree with Hi: Wild life preserves are better than zoos. In the wild life
preserve, the animals can not only do whatever they want, and humans won’t destroy
them, but also if one of them gets sick there’s a vet or a team of animal doctors to
look after them. Also they’re kind of guarded so that animal trappers, who would try
to steal them, can’t get away with it because the wild life rangers are watching all the
time. People try to steal animals for their fur or their teeth and you can get up to
$5000 for them. Bad people take them and kill them and stuff them and paint them.
And that’s wrong. They should be left alone.
– A: I say animals like to be free. They don’t like to be in the zoo or the circus. If I am
an animal I don’t like to be in a zoo.
– Me: Do you think that they do not like the circus either?
– A: Of course not. Its bad for them
– Me: Do you like to go to the circus?
– A, smiling: well yes….
– Ce H: I think animals shouldn’t be in zoos because it’s not fair. Humans wouldn’t
like being in zoos so why do they expect animals to like it?
– Kn: I agree with Mo. Animals shouldn’t have to be in cages because its like they’re
on display and they probably hate all those people looking at them all the time.
– T: I agree with L a little bit and I disagree with him a little bit and I agree and
disagree with P too. Sometimes maybe zoos could be good. They can help some
animals to be safe. Like if there were little bunnies in the jungle tigers would eat
them. Zoos could help them get away from that kind of danger. But I also think that
it’s good to be out running free. I agree with P too, that people are the worst enemies
of some animals but I disagree with him because they’re also the best friends of other
– Dn: I disagree with P, Kn and D and I agree with T. If there were no people there
would be no food for some pets. Who would look after the dogs and the little
– Ce: I actually changed my mind about what I said before. Now I think that animals
should be free…well not the dangerous ones, only the nice ones.
– Jr: I think most animals would like to be free if we gave them a choice. When I look
out my back window I can see rabbits and birds. I bet they would rather take their
chances out there than be safe in a cage.
– Hi: I don’t think that people actually understood me properly. I wasn’t saying that in
Africa they capture animals and put them in the wild life parks: The animals that are
there already lived there…only animals from Zimbabwe live in the wild life parks in
– Me: Oh, so it’s not like Fota where there are giraffes and we all know that Cork has
no native giraffe population!
– Hi: Yes. They’re all native animals.
– Ó: I disagree with Ce. She said that the good animals should go free and the bad
animals should stay in the cages. I think that’s a bit harsh because no animal wants to
feel that they’re not free. And who decides what good is or what bad is?
– K: I have two reasons and they’re both completely different. One is if animals were
extinct then we couldn’t hurt them. The other is that I disagree with Ó that bad
animals aren’t really bad but some of them can look scary but it might just be the way
they look.
Appendix C 3
C.2. Animal Rights 27 February 2006
– AH: Yes, animals should have rights because some animals are in circuses and they’re
kind of lucky because they have fun and they jump through rings but in Zoos they could
be in cages for all of their lives.
– Me: should all animals have rights? Should they all have the same rights? For example
would you think that a rat and a Labrador guide dog deserve the same rights?
– AH: well the guide dog is doing a job and he’s useful so I’d put him in a different group
to the rat cos they are just troublesome and if you get a bite of a woman rat I mean a
lady rat you can die.
– De: I think all animals should have the same rights. Like if you put kids into cages and
then you said to half of them ‘ye can go out and be free and the rest of ye have to stay’
that wouldn’t be fair. So it’s not fair either for animals.
– Cn: Zoos and circuses are kind of good for animals, they get exercise and have fun and
get good food. Wild animals get killed.
– Hh: Every animal ought to have the right to have freedom. Like if a zebra is captured
and put into a zoo and if her baby is born in the zoo, then that baby won’t ever be able
to leave because he wouldn’t know what to do in the jungle. He’d find it scary and he
wouldn’t probably survive very long.
– Am: I think all animals should have the right to freedom, like us. They shouldn’t have to
stay in their cages for their whole lives. At least we get left out free at 18.
– Me: Should all captive animals be given the chance of freedom, all cows, chickens, pigs?
– Am: Yes
– D: I think some animals might like being in a zoo and some might hate it but say if the
animal is endangered like the polar bear in that story…well if they met someone who
would hurt them and then if they got the choice to live in a safe zoo, you’d find that
they’d probably pick the zoo. Then some animals would rather have the chance to be
wild. I’ve been to America and we went to a place called Sea World and they have those
dangerous electric eels there but they coat them in oil so that they’re not stinging and
you can pet them and I think that’s wrong. I think it’s really cruel to put oil on them.
And about the cows and chickens, well there are so many of them because they have vets
to look after them if they sick whereas wild animals just die more often because they
have no chance to get a vet.
– Ds: If we gave all of them freedom it could be bad, cows could be getting into fights all
over the place.
– Se: I disagree with Cn: no way should animals be in circuses or zoos. Some animals are
very dangerous and they have to be trained but say they got angry or fed up and decided
to attack that would be natural for them but what do you think would happen? They’d
get whipped to make them behave. Why should we whip animals just for doing what
they’re naturally inclined to do? Why should they be in cages to amuse people and do
tricks? We judge some animals by their appearance and say ‘oh that’s only a rat or that’s
only a snake; they’re bad’ But that’s like judging a book by its cover. In a contest
between a worm and a bunny, people look at the bunny and see cute and cuddly so they
give more rights to the bunny. That is not fair on the worm. Or they say another animal
is dangerous and he shouldn’t have rights so they kill it.
– Me: I agree with Se – all animals should have the right to live. Just because a lion is
dangerous to humans doesn’t mean we should kill it. If a person is training animals and
the animal doesn’t do what the person says then he shouldn’t be allowed to whip the
animal for not doing the tricks and what the human says. They use electric things and
hurt them for not doing the tricks. That’s not right! What did the animals ever do to us?
– Me: But if your Mum and Dad and you went to the circus and paid 5 euro each and then
the animals just sat there doing nothing you’d feel swindled, wouldn’t you? So maybe
the circus trainers have to resort to using electric shocks and whips to make them do
their tricks for you?
Appendix C 4
– Me: well, maybe we would… but I don’t still think that it’s right to beat them and hurt
them to make them do their tricks.
– Ag: I agree with Se. All animals should have the right to do what they want. They
shouldn’t be shocked: they should all run away or break out. It’s not fair to them that we
have the right to hurt them but they don’t have the right to hurt us back. Circus animals
are easily hurt and I think its abuse of animals to make them stay in cages and go in
lorries all over the world.
– Me: There’s something I want to ask, do you think that we humans make a kind of
distinction between the animal that we like and the ones we don’t, and that we kind of
give more rights to those we like?
– Sh: I’ve been thinking about rights and I don’t think that every single animal should
have rights. Like some should have rights OK. But not rats, snakes, crocodiles,
alligators, maybe wasps. So if you made a line you could put all them on one side,
because they have sharp teeth and they can bite you. Then on the other side you could
put lions and tigers and cows and dogs and cats and rabbits and bears. They should have
rights. They’re the good animals.
– Me: but don’t they have sharp teeth too? Couldn’t some of them kill you too?
– Sh: well some of them are different though.
– Srh: I disagree with Sh – you can’t have a ‘bad side’ and a ‘good side’ for animals. Who
would decide? You can’t decide to kill some because they’re less cute and allow some to
live because they more cuddly. Anyway some people have snakes for pets and they
probably think they are cuddly.
– Ax: I think every animal should have rights. If you put a puppy in a stable he’d be
delighted but if you put a horse in a kennel he’d be miserable. Animals are in a hierarchy
except not for reasons you think. Dogs and cats can go in a garden but not horses; they
destroy it but not on purpose. They have a hierarchy and they all belong in a certain
– Ey: I sort of disagree with Sh: If you had all the cute and cuddly on one side and all the
rats on the other and if you killed all the rats then they’d be extinct and then cats and
foxes that eat rats would die and soon all the cuddly side would die because they’re all
linked together and depend on each other in a way.
– A D:: I would give every cuddly animal more rights
– Ke: I think it’s cruel to put animals in cages. They could be in there for ages and then
they might get angry and want freedom and they might bite someone
– En: I agree with D that some animals should be in a zoo because they are endangered.
– Pr: I think we should all be vegetarians, that way we wouldn’t be killing animals.
– AC : I was wondering if there was a bird in the zoo and it was the last one left on Earth,
and if there was loads of monkeys would we treat the bird better than the monkeys.
– M Mc: Well…I was thinking about fish, I don’t think they feel any feelings. After they lay
eggs thousands and thousands and they don’t wait to see if they live or die and
sometimes people catch them but there are loads left. So I don’t think they could have
any feelings about so many eggs.
– Ay: I was thinking that if a bunny was dangerous and could bite and if an alligator was
cute and cuddly we would treat the alligator nicer than the bunny. We treat animals
differently according to how we feel about them.
– B: I disagree with Sh because we should not have a hierarchy of animals none is more
important than the other. And I disagree with M Mc I think fish have feelings but no
voices. And I agree with Pr that we should be vegetarians but it is really hard to be one.
I’ll tell you a funny story my Mum told me about when she was small on my Grandad’s
farm. She got to look after the new born lambs sometimes if their moms had died and
she kept them alive and gave them names but she was saving up for a saddle for her
pony and she kept asking Granddad when could she kill the lambs and sell them.
– D: I actually really do think that we do the line thing with good animals on one side and
bad ones on the other. There’s no such thing as bad animals really, but we see it like
Appendix C 5
C.3. Anne Frank’s story 06 February 2006
A: I think it was very cruel what they did. If someone was treating a child badly on
the street just because the child was a Jew and if people were afraid to help the child
because they’d get beaten too… that is awful… I think the people should have still
interfered, they are adults, they’ve had a chance to grow up…the child hadn’t, so they
should have tried to stop the soldiers even though they might get killed themselves.
Sh: It’s not fair: it’s cruel. People should not do things like that to 9 and 10 year old
children, make them hide in a room like that with no fresh air. When I was in France
on holidays we went to a place and there was still blood on the walls since the war.
Ey: Say if a child grew up in a country like that, it would be awful; no one could have
an opinion or anything.
A: I agree with Ey. It is very important for people to have their opinions. That’s the
only way to get rid of guys like Hitler, all the other countries should have joined up
and helped….who was he fighting? Anne and her family were Germans….was he
fighting his own country, I don’t get it…
H: I was thinking there could be war here, loads of wars start with the tiniest thing.
Anything can lead to hatred and hatred leads to war. People make comments about
other people and calling them names leads to hatred.
Mn: The people who helped the soldiers do bad things to Anne’s family were just as
bad as Hitler. I don’t know how Anne must have felt when her friends started calling
her names and saying they wouldn’t play with her because she was Jewish, it must
have been really sad and miserable for her.
Ay: I was wondering….was Hitler a very stupid man? Cos you said in the story that
Germany was losing the war, so why was he killing so many of his own people?
What’s the point of killing all the Jewish people and the gypsies and all the others?
He needs his own people! They might not all be on his side now, in that war, but
maybe in the next war they might.
Mre: You know the way…?….I agree with Mn…I wonder how Anne felt when all
the people started talking about her.
Se: I was thinking that it takes very little to start a war. Remember a while back we
were talking about stereotyping? Well I’d say wars can start from stereotyping people.
because that can lead to hatred and hatred can lead to war. It’s like judging a book by
its cover and not looking inside….some people think all Irish people are lazy and
drunk and always fighting, and we know they’re not…people get a bad name…like if
our Junior Infants were out somewhere and they were messing and they had their
uniform on and then people might say…’oh, that’s Scoil N, that’s a very bad
school’…well they shouldn’t: They should check it out for themselves. Hitler
persuaded all the people to go against the Jews. The people should have asked,
‘where’s the proof that the Jews are all bad’?
Sh: I agree with Ay. I think Hitler was very stupid.
B: People should have stood up to him. He was just a bully. Bullies always act
tough but they’re not so tough if you stand up to them
AB: I agree with Se and Ay. On one hand, like Ay said he was stupid to kill so many
of his own people, that was a big mistake….maybe some of those people would have
been on his side…and I agree with Se that the people were stupid to believe him
without proof.
Appendix C 6
Mn: I agree with Ay as well…Hitler was very stupid…what’s the point of killing
people over them being the wrong colour or the wrong religion?…people are
people…what’s the point?
A H: I don’t know why either.
Cr: I think Se is right about stereotypes…but how come people who are stereotyped
don’t stereotype back?
Ds: But when they were hiding up in the attic, it was other Germans betrayed
L: I’ve been thinking about Anne in school when the other kids turned against her.
They probably heard their Mums and Dads talking about the Jewish people in a bad
way and the parents gave bad example to them and that’s why they did it to her.
Ke: I was thinking why Anne Frank’s family went to Amsterdam…why didn’t they
go to Brazil or somewhere but I suppose the Germans would go there then.
AD: I agree with Ke…it would just have spread the war to Brazil.
En: Anne Frank had a very cruel life. Even before she had to hide in the attic, she
was sad in school. She was real popular and then they all went against her and that
must have been …not good and….then her whole life changed.
Dn: The Germans were already losing the war when the Americans joined in.
V: I was wondering, right? Say now she was one year old and people were going
against the Jews…would they have hurt her even though she was only one? Would
no one have said ‘Stop’?
A C: I don’t think anyone ever has a perfect life. Bits of it might be good but nearly
everyone has some trouble. I don’t know why some people have really bad ones but I
think everyone has some bad stuff.
Ag: How come the helper…Miep? How come she didn’t get caught?
AHy: Could a war start here? Like with the IRA or something?
Ae: You know Ag’s question? Maybe the helper hid too somewhere?
B: I was thinking….well ….the way we all think can’t be forced on us…like we
might think its right to be Catholics, but we couldn’t make someone be a Catholic, we
could bring them to the church but we couldn’t force them to believe. You have to be
one to really believe… and you can’t make anyone else be one unless …they …
em…believe …em … in it….for themselves.
Appendix C 7
C.4. Dear Greenpeace (with Senior Infants) 06 February 2004
The story ‘Dear Greenpeace’ (James 1991) is about a little girl called Emily who writes to
Greenpeace telling them about the blue whale called Arthur who has come to live in her
garden pond. (Er’s contributions marked with ***)
Me: What about that story? Who’d like to start?
Ie: In Spain, I have a friend called Emily the same as the girl in the story.
Ia: Pets kind of need to go to the vet to get injections in their bottoms.
Cn: (not in turn) yeah that’s so they can’t get babies.
Sh: I wonder why they don’t want pets to have babies. Baby animals are sooo cute!
D: My granny’s dog loves me so much when I do this (he nuzzles his shoulder with his nose)
he does it back to me.
JM I liked that story because Arthur returned to Emily.
E: One day when my brother was walking my dog M, she got knocked down and the people
in the car could not open the door to see if she was OK because her head was in the way,
blocking the door so they followed them home. M had to go into the hospital and get stitches.
She’s alright now, she’s fine again.
M: (new child in class, started yesterday): Well! In my old school my friend A had a pet
lizard. His name was Spike. He was called Spike because he had spikes all over his head and
his back. He was so cool. He could do this ….(flicks his tongue in and out).
F: Because there are really such things as whales I liked the story, but they are far too big to
live in a pond. That’s a bit ridiculous.
S: I got a dog called M and he always jumps on my back and I have to walk with him on my
Ce: My goldfish is getting bigger because I feed him every day. But I’m a bit worried
because his goldy bits are going white.
K: I have 2 fish, and a cat and when I was nearly asleep she jumped up and put her head in
the fishes bowl and she hurt my feelings because I thought she was going to kill them but I
woke up and scared her away.
H: My cousin’s cat Snowy died and they got a new one called Salem but then he had to be
selled away and she got two new ones and one died.
M: I like whales very much. I like the water coming out of them. I would not be scared of
them. They eat fish – not people. Sharks are scary. They can eat you.
Eo: I have two cats, one dog called Max…I mean two fish. My cat tried to eat the fish and
once …because we left the door open for the dog and he made a plan to catch the cat. Once a
long time ago the dog saw the cat trying to eat the fish and he tried to stop him and got
himself hurt. My dog loves to make plans and stuff.
Ca: I have two goldfish and when I got them the next day one died and the next day after that
the other one died and then my bird died.
Me: Oh dear. Were you sad?
Ca: I was crying for my bird but not for my fish, because they’re just fish. I loved the bird
more than the fish.
E: My nana has a dog: the first time I call him he doesn’t come and the second time he does.
Mh: My nana has about 9 or 10 cats in her back garden. Some of them are not hers but they
like to come for a visit. Well…there is one that is black and white, one that is grey and one is
all black. When my Aunty puts out food the grey one comes first and then the black and
white cat chases him away and takes the food.
Sh: (inaudible at beginning)….my Mum had to sleep with my Auntie last night because she’s
getting a baby and they heard lots of noises outside the window. They couldn’t get to sleep
because of all the yowling and screaming and fighting. My auntie thought they were children
– she really did! She said to my Mum ‘what time is it?’ and ‘what are they doing out so late?’
Because it was after 10 o’clock and they kept it up and up and they were on top of each
other’s backs and it was so noisy. And my Mum said to my auntie ‘for goodness sake its only
Appendix C 8
cats not children; they’ll soon go to sleep, ignore them’ but they kept on getting up on each
others’ backs and they were sounding so like children crying and fighting that my auntie and
my mum made a cup of tea and my mum opened the back door and said ‘scram’ to them.
***Er: My dog is called M. he caught a mouse yesterday in my house and he put it in his
basket and L took it out.
Sh: (interrupts) Who is L?
***Er: my Mum, that’s her name.
Cl: my goldfish died a long time ago and when I woke up and I looked in the kitchen and saw
him dead I did not feel good.
J: One day in B____n there was a ct looking at my dog B when my brother P took him for a
walk, the cat scrawled his nose for no reason and it was all bleeding. P came home and said
to my dad ‘look his nose is all bleeding’ but my dad said ‘he’ll lick it and it will be fine in a
day or two’ and I said ‘can I look’? and I saw it and it was all bleeding.
Several more stories about individual pets…
Ao: I saw dolphins once – they were playing in the water. I know they were playing because
they looked happy and they were smiling big big smiley smiles.
Me: I’d like to go back to something that Eo said about his dog making plans. I think that’s
very interesting. Can dogs think and make plans, I wonder?
Ie: No! I don’t think they can think. They don’t have a brain or anything like people.
Sh: I think they can. Well actually its very interesting because I can talk to them see I have a
book and I learned the language. And you would not understand it. You wouldn’t know what
I am saying but dogs do and that is how I know that dogs can think. I’d need my book here to
tell you so I can’t say the real words but it sounds louder than a killer whale’s splash, their
Me: (to class) That’s very interesting. What do you think dogs think about?
Mh: Well they like bones and walks and people to throw sticks and say ‘fetch’ so maybe they
think about that.
Ie: they might be thinking about loving their family and stuff like that.
Ia: I think they probably think about people and wonder what they’re saying to them.
Sh: They can think about most things like we do but in a slightly different way. We think in
mostly talk but they have a lot of …kind of …pictures ….like cartoons in their heads. Well
that’s what my dog has.
Cl: I disagree! Dogs don’t think, Sh. You need a real language to think. Words. Real words.
Ia: I think a mouse probably thinks about going round and round and getting some cheese.
K: Goldfish do not think. My sister’s friend E’s goldfish didn’t die and it got put down the
loo for biting her other fish and they wouldn’t do that if it could think about what was going
J: What about horses? Do they think? What would they be thinking?
Sh: (jumping up): They can think actually but I cannot talk to them. They have their own
language: horses talk to horses and dogs talk doggish ….to other dogs.
Me: I’m interested in what Ca said. She said you need a language to think. What about
babies? Can they think?
Mn: well, no. I don’t think babies can think. My sister H cannot think, cos she cannot talk.
When they grow bigger they learn the names for stuff and they learn to talk and then they can
Sh: I disagree with Mn. My baby sister can think very well. Look at all the stuff she can do.
She can cry when she wants my Mum to come, she can laugh when things are funny, she can
point to things when you ask her where’s the light? Or where’s the door or the window? That
means she’s remembering and you need thinking for remembering. Actually I was just
thinking that if you get a brain transplant you would be the same but you would know what
the other person knew because you would have their thoughts for while. Like if Er got Ce’s
brain he would know what Ce knows even though he would still be Er.
JM: Are you sure?
Sh: Of course! He would not know who he was but he would know lots of things because Ce
knows a lot of things.
Appendix C 9
Me: That’s quite fascinating. How do we know who we are?
S: My brain makes me who I am
F: My brain tells me in my mind who you are and who I am.
Mh: It’s your ears as well. When someone calls your name your ears hear it and your brain
knows that it’s your name.
Sh: No no! I disagree!. In the brain …your head is a boney shape. In there is your brain and
in there is your mind as well.
D: I agree but I don’t know why.
H: If you’re dead, your body goes in the earth and you might go to hell and be a devil, and if
you go to heaven you are an angel and your spirit comes out of your body and when a baby
comes out of someone you go into a different skin.
E: Do you know when we were talking about brains and minds – they’re not different things,
people just call them different names.
J: What H said is right. If your skin is red you are a devil and if your skin is white you are an
angel. Baddies have red skin, goodies have white skin
Me: If you’re a child who has brown skin and you’re good what colour would you be?
J: You’d still be white so long as you’re a goodie.
K: when you go to sleep your brain keeps on thinking. Your brain doesn’t go to sleep
***Er: No it’s not asleep. I agree with K. I think your brain thinks about dreams. Dreams
are not real. They come out of your thoughts in your brain.
Mh: You go to sleep and your brain never goes to sleep. Your brain dreams and you dream.
Ie: Sometimes I get different dreams. People get different dreams at different ages.
Sh: Er with Cl’s brain would get Cl’s dreams
Eo: Er would forget some of his dreams, Sh. It would be like him starting up his own dreams
again, age one, two, three, four…
Sh: You’re right Eo! We all have different dreams and like Er said your brain never sleeps.
***Er: your brain tells you your skin is itchy and you scratch it in your sleep and your brain
tells you to turn and you turn even though you’re asleep
Sh: well maybe then your skin is never asleep. Maybe its your skin that’s doing that
K: remember what J was saying about spirits? I saw the Haunted Mansion on the telly and
there was a spirit living there and the family saw the spirit.
Mh: You know about the brain given to Er? Well, Er would have his dreams but he might
have Cl’s dreams as well. He might have double dreams.
Sh: You do not give away your thoughts with your brain. You still have them even when you
are dead. But if you were giving away the brain the brain would have thoughts that were
alive and they would know that the brain was being given away.
C: I saw an ad on the telly and they had a brain and it was cut open and there was nothing
inside only a whole mess of blood and stuff. There wasn’t a mind in there.
Sh: Yeah, actually, (sighs) I saw that ad as well and I didn’t see any thoughts inside either.
Cn: Know what? Mouses are very clever. They can think a lot. They can get everywhere
they want. They make holes: they can think.
Ie: I always wanted a pet. Mum always says ‘ask your dad’ but he’s always away in _
making lots and lots of money so we can live a nice life.
F: We’re not rich at all. Our house is full of church mice. They’re everywhere.
Ca: I forgot to tell you about the two fish in S_____ playschool. We had a walk one day over
to the pet shop and we saw a fish with his brains on his head – outside.
S: I saw a little shark in the garden centre pet shop. You’d have to be careful what you put
intoi the tank with that.
K: I saw a big shark on the news paper.
Ao: I like thinking about thinking. It makes your head feel funny.
Ia: There’s a pet shop in town and the tanks are filthy. My mum said its cruel to the fish.
S: I know that one. I saw rabbits in there and there was a bad smell……(several pet shop
anecdotes follow)
Appendix C 10
C.5. Rainbows and Reality 27 February 2004
(Observers: YO’F – classroom assistant (also transcribing) and AT – Spanish teacher)
Ea: Well, a rainbow is … well … since the rain is very dark sometimes – the sky is very dark
and God decides after a whole lot of bad weather that the sun will come out and make lots of
Ag: First there’s some heavy rain and then the sun comes out and that makes a rainbow
Cl: I agree with Ag and Ea because I think too that he rainbow comes from the sun and the
rain together
Mn: The rain makes the rainbow. It always comes after the rain
S: The rainbow comes cos the sun has to dry up all the water
Ao: I know the all of … most of the colours of the rainbow. There’s purple, blue, yellow,
green, red, violet and em … I forget the rest
H: I agree with Ag, Ea and S – a rainbow is from sun and rain
Ia: I agree with Ao because I like the rainbows … all the colours of them
Ce: On the rainbow, some of the rain comes into the sparkly stuff and when it goes in, then it
comes back out sparkling and that’s how rainbows always become bright
Sh: Well actually, it really comes from God. God knows that bright colours are nice to look
at. It makes the world look nice and that’s why he does it. It makes us cheer up after the
dark, dark sky of the rain
Ca: First it rains, and then it’s sunny and then a rainbow comes out
Cn: When it’s really, really sunny after rain a rainbow comes
F: God gives gold and then gold gives a rainbow
Eo: When a rainbow is there it’s not really there. It’s just the sun reflecting the colours of the
Ie: I agree with Ao and Ea
Teacher: Why?
Ia: because I think they’re very, very good questions
Ce: I think the sun is blocking the rainbows sometimes … cos you can’t really see it during
the day because its out in space and the sun sometimes moves and then it comes out
D: I agree with F – he said the rainbow comes from gold
Mh: I think that when it rains and then the rain stops, then all the water evaporates into the
clouds and then its stays up there and then it comes back down as rain. Then the rainbow
comes into the sky … its made up out of a bendy thing and the sun shines on it and makes it
into all colours.
Teacher: has anybody got any questions about rainbows?
AT: Yes, me. I have a question. I want to know can you touch a rainbow.
F: You can’t touch it because it’s up in the sky
Ie: But if you were up in the sky then you could touch it
H: It’s not real … I think it’s not real
Sh: It is real! You can see it!
Eo: No it’s not real because you couldn’t touch it – you’d burn yourself! But it is real because
you see it
Sh: Yes, you’re right, cos the rainbow is really hot. The sun is behind it like Ce said – and the
rainbow blocks the sun – it’s a circle really and it’s up at the same height as the sun
Cn: In a forest somewhere there’s a pot of gold and the rainbow comes out of it and shines up
Ea: I’m answering your questions about how do rainbows get made first … well it takes very
heavy rain and very bright sunshine together and very bright colours to make a rainbow. It
comes after dark colours and it’s very, very bright
Sh: Yes well … but it is real though. You can touch it but you shouldn’t cos it might burn
you or it might break.
Appendix C 11
Teacher: I’m interested in that word ‘real’ … what do you mean when you say that something
is real. So think about that for a while but first perhaps you could tell me if you have any
ideas about why a rainbow is bent … why isn’t it a straight line, d’you think?
Ea: I think how the rainbow gets bent is cos it used to be a circle – a very coloured circle …
but bits got way too hot and way too old and those bits they broke off and went rotten
Mh: Do you know if it didn’t bend? Well it would try to land somewhere but it couldn’t ever,
ever land – cos it would be straight – so it would go on and on at both sides out into space, out
apast space out past that place and the next place and the next place and out of the universe
Sh: Yeah and then if you were climbing on it you would go out, out, out of the earth and
space and darkness and there wouldn’t be an end and it would go out and out and out and
never end ever and if you were climbing on it you’d never get down unless you got some kind
of a slide in space to slide back down to earth
Mh: You can’t climb on rainbows Sh…they’re not real … I mean they’re not things you can
climb on
H: I think rainbows come down from the sun when it shines and makes it hot after a rain
Teacher: I see that there are lots of people with their hands up who want to talk, so we will
break into small groups for a while and talk in the small groups and then come back into the
circle again after about ten minutes. Is that OK? Group indicates agreement.
[Class breaks into small groups. Teacher walks about and listens, Circle reconvenes after a
short ‘chatting’ time]
AT (Spanish Teacher): I have asked Sh this question: is there only one rainbow and if you see
that rainbow here, will my parents who are in Spain also see the same rainbow?
Sh: Yes that’s right and I said you’d see it if you are in the middle. But there’s loads and
loads of middles – everywhere has a middle and if you are facing to this side you see this bit
and if you are facing to that side you see that bit and if you are at the back you only see the
back of it and if you are at the front you see the front. But if you are in the middle you see the
whole lot of the rainbow but because the earth is turning all the time then there are loads and
loads of middles.
Jk: you know the way that Sh said that rainbows are in the middle of space. Well see the
world goes round, its not the rainbow that goes round … the world is moving all the time and
it only looks as if the rainbow is moving.
Ce: Maybe when the world goes around and if the rainbow comes out when it’s passing a
country then that country sees it.
Sh: You see … I didn’t say the rainbow is in the middle of the earth or in the middle of
space. I said the earth is down here and space is up there and the rainbow is in the middle, in
between, and so you will always see the rainbow no matter where you are on the earth
because there’s loads of middle. The middle is always changing, there’s always a different
middle because the earth is real and it’s moving but space isn’t.
Mh: You know Sh, when you say there’s only one rainbow … I would disagree with you
there, because each time there’s a brand new rainbow.
Sh: Well Mister! I meant if the sun was finished with it and they had enough of it they would
break it up and make a new one then
Teacher: Sh …. perhaps you could reply to Mh without saying Mister – I think we agreed
already as a group about things like this. Iit doesn’t sound respectful or nice – OK?
Sh: What? Oh … yes … OK … sorry Mh
Teacher: you said ‘they’ a minute ago – that ‘they’ would break it up … who are ‘they’?
Sh: The sun and God – they’re the ones that can make a rainbow
Mh: yes but Sh, the sun is not a person!
Eo: And I disagree with Sh and Ea about a rainbow breaking. I mean where would all the
cracked pieces of a broken rainbow go? I’ve never seen them. Where would they go? I have
never seen a rainbow die – ever!
Sh: I didn’t say it would die … it doesn’t die – just break up – maybe the pieces are sharp
enough to go in the earth!
Appendix C 12
Mh: Teacher … you know when Sh said that the sun and God make rainbows? Well I think
that yes, God makes rainbows … cos the sun, Sh – it isn’t alive. If the sun was alive, Sh
…you know … it would be spinning and the earth would be spinning and….
Teacher: and what might happen in that case?
Mh: Nothing … cos it couldn’t happen … cos the sun isn’t alive!
Cl: You know you were asking about the bend in the rainbow? Well maybe it isn’t bent …
maybe it just comes out like that. It sort of comes over like that and like that (motions an arc
with his arms)
Teacher: we’ve certainly heard a lot of really interesting stuff about rainbows today. Now has
anybody got any way of explaining what ‘real’ means? Lots of people have been trying to
answer that question for thousands of years. We heard a lot of talk earlier about whether a
rainbow was ‘real’ or not. What does ‘real’ mean?
Cn: In a forest there’s a real pot of gold and far away in another forest there’s another real pot
of gold and it … the rainbow reflects from them to each other.
Mh When you see a person doing something in real life … that’s real. Apples are real, trees
are real lots of things in school are real
Ea: Real means that something is there and you’re not joking and you make sure you’re not
sleeping and you’re really awake. A house is real. I know that this school is real because if
not then everyone wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be able to hear
each other and see each other and touch each other
Teacher: That’s really interesting – that you mentioned sleep, because I was just going to ask
you how do you know that we are all really here. How can I know that I’m not just having a
dream and you’re all in it?
Eo: Because simple! If you were dreaming Teacher, then surely sometime you would have to
wake up and if you were just dreaming us up then you wouldn’t know any of us when you
wake up
Ea: yes and you wouldn’t be able to hear us and we wouldn’t be able to hear you and we
wouldn’t be able to answer any of your questions!
Eo: Yeah! That’s a really, really good idea Ea!
Sh: Yes but Ea – what if all that was a dream too? What if you were listening in your dream
and talking in your dream and answering questions in your dream?
Ea: well you would know that you weren’t just hearing things in your head – you would
actually hear real words!
Eo: Hey! That’s a really good thought!
AT (Spanish teacher): Don’t you ever talk in your dreams Ea?
Ea thinks and smiles for a while and then she says
Ea: Yes but AT … when you hear something in your dreams – does your whole family hear
it too – when they’re sleeping in the same house as you I mean? I hear teacher and so can
everyone in the room hear her too!
Sh: But Ea, guess what I’m going to say next? What if they were all in the same dream as
[Pause while everyone laughs at the idea]
Mh: You know when you were talking there a minute ago about real and not real … well if
something’s real I think your eyes would be open and if they’re not – if you wake up and
open them then you know that it was a dream.
Sh: But Mh what if you were dreaming about opening them?
Cl: Ok if you feel something and it feels real … what about that?
Sh: (laughing) Cl and what about if that’s a dream – if you’re dreaming that you’re feeling
something (he chuckles with laughter at his new game)
Teacher: (holding up her pen): Is this pen real?
D: Yes if it writes … and if there’s stuff like oil in it and it works and you can see what
you’ve written
Sh: (Under his breath) … unless you’re dreaming about writing (giggles)
F: I think the pen is real. I think it is because I can see it and you’re writing with it so you
can feel it in your hand and you can see it.
Appendix C 13
Ce: Yes if you can see and feel something and touch it, then it’s real
(Sh: mutters ‘could still be a dream though’)
Eo: I have a question about real: I have a Jedi Knight at home – Obi Wan Kenobi and its real.
But actually there’s no such thing as a real Jedi Knight – they don’t exist – so how come
there’s a toy of them?
H: If the door wasn’t real when you would try to open it, it would tear like paper
Mh: I have 2 things to say … you know when you said … and I think it was D or F or the 2 of
them … said your pen was real, well if we were dreaming we wouldn’t be in school and we
wouldn’t be able to see that pen when you held it up
Sh: Unless we were dreaming about a pen!
Ea: First the person who uses his imagination tries to make something and he gets it wrong
and he tries again and he tries again and again until he gets it right – maybe that’s how Jedi
Knights came – out of someone’s imagination
Eo: Well I really don’t think there is such a thing as a real Jedi Knight … but then how come
they’re on TV and how come you can get their sabres in shops and there’s a video of them
and a computer game and toys and baddies of them and there’s even costumes of them – so
maybe they are real even though I don’t think so …
Cn: Maybe God made toy stuff first to practice and then they come – he made them come to
life and he sent them down to earth to be real. Yeah, out of his imagination – first he makes
them but they have to star off as babies and then grow and grow up
F: Well maybe in your dreams you can hear and see but you can’t touch stuff really
Eo: God, I am going home today with just so many questions in my head! Millions!
Teacher: well maybe that’s a good place to end. I think its great that you’re going home with
millions of questions – that’s what learning is all about asking lots of questions. I’m just
wondering though …. Do you think anybody knows all the answers?
Chorus of Noooos!
Teacher : No? Not even teachers?
Eo: No cos even they ask questions
Ea: Yeah teacher, you’re always asking us lots of questions!
Ao: And remember Eo, if you go home with a questions and you get an answer to it, you
could always question the answer.
Eo: What does that mean – question the answer? Ao I don’t get that …question the answer?
What do you mean????
Ao: It just means ask more questions
Eo: O God I have even more now!
Teacher: my goodness! We’ve got a lot to think about going home today! Thanks everybody.
Very well done!
Appendix C 14
C.6. Freedom 07 February 2006
Ky: People deserve freedom: everybody is human, so in that way everybody is the same. It’s
not fair if one person makes another person do something they don’t want to do. No one is
more important than anyone else. I think freedom means that people should be able to do
whatever they want, well, except bad things, of course.
Ce: I think freedom means that everyone is kind to one another.
M: Freedom is where you’re allowed to do what you want. You shouldn’t really want to do
bad things, but to do good.
Kn: Well, I kind of think that freedom means that no one can kill people. You can’t do bad
stuff but you’re free to do any kind of good stuff.
Jk: Freedom means that you can get away from your job for a while. Freedom means that
you wouldn’t be working all day you’d have some time. Freedom means do what you want
but don’t do anything bad: it wouldn’t be fair. Freedom is everyone being fair.
Ts: Well yeah, maybe…I think doing whatever you want is freedom – even doing bad stuff
except it’s not good to do bad. But you’re free to do it. You have to choose. Freedom is
W: Freedom is like…say ….if you wanted to go in a car, you can. I think that maybe there’s
like…free freedom and …sort of … freedom that’s not free, like know…you’re free to
do good stuff …but there’s freedom to do bad stuff too, but you’re not really free to do that,
because if you get caught you get punished. But nothing happens to you for using the good
Cn: Freedom would be like, say the government took money from you but then they should
give you back some to go on holidays, free, somewhere, very, em, very….exotic, like say
your mom and dad wanted to go on a nice honeymoon….to somewhere really nice but they
can’t cos it’s too dear. Well freedom would be if the government helped them. Freedom is
something anyone can give to anyone else.
Cc: Freedom means you get what you want. You don’t have to be able to do anything special
to deserve it.
Cm: Freedom for me means that there should be no slaves. People should be free to do
whatever they want to do.
Cr: I agree with Ts that freedom is being able to do whatever you want but you shouldn’t
have the freedom to kill anyone. Or you shouldn’t be able to take over the world and kill
people. If there are generals or governors killing other people, someone should be able to
stop them.
Jk: Teacher, I need to go next cos I’m bursting to speak! I think freedom isn’t something you
can give to someone. Even if you’re emmm…..a slave owner: cos that person …the
slave…might have freedom already inside themselves and ….you might be only giving them
…emmm …sort of …like… permission or something. Permission doesn’t really mean the
same thing as freedom. Like, say, if you gave us all the permission to jump up on the tables
and shout, we would still sort of have to decide what to do, cos like, you might be after going
nuts. (Laughter)
Hi: Yeah, I agree: freedom can be inside you. Freedom means you have to make your own
choices of doing stuff….not all the time: sometimes you have to do other stuff that you
mightn’t want like work or school. And I agree with Jk, you would have to decide whether to
do what the teacher said or not if it was something like jumping up on the tables, because that
might not be very safe and the principal certainly wouldn’t want it either.
Dn: I think freedom is something you need all the time but sometimes you need it more than
other times, like if someone dies and you’re very sad you need freedom to be alone, be
somewhere all by yourself, to do your own thinking about things, you need sort of …..a place
and …time and that’s freedom.
Appendix C 15
A: (English as second language) Free is…. I don’t know….. It’s maybe…you are free for to
think everything, but not free for …to do everything.
K: I agree with T that freedom would mean doing everything you want even the bad. Well,
do you know when you were reading the story [Anne Frank]? Well, you said the Americans
joined with Britain to help them against the Germans. Well, in a certain way the Americans
when they joined in, they were helping England with freedom, but then that means that they
were ….against….they were stopping Germany’s freedom…if you take sides you have to….
sometimes you are stopping someone’s freedom… well …a bit…
Jr: I agree with Ts and with A too. You can think what you like but you can’t always say
what you think….freedom would be thinking and saying what you like… Real freedom would
mean being free to do everything even if it is killing …but that might make people do bad as
well as good except…well… in a way there’s a way to stop people from killing and that’s
inside you, God put it there. You can be free and not free in lots of other ways too…like if
you’re a child you’re free to play on the grass but not on the road. So the road stops your
freedom if you’re a child. But a road can be a freedom to someone else …like if someone
was driving going away on their holidays…
Gn: I think freedom is to have our lives for ourselves, not to have anyone to own us. I agree
about the killing part. Its something inside us that tells us killing is bad and its called shame.
If we killed someone we couldn’t live with ourselves.
Dd: Freedom means everyone has choices. They can choose what they want and what they
don’t want. Most people don’t want to kill, it’s very unlikely anyway. Something inside us
stops us from killing others. We have that inside us all the time and it helps us to make
P: I disagree with some people and I agree with others who said that freedom is doing
whatever you want but only in a way. You can only have freedom if you’re alone. Because if
you were really free to think what you like and say what you like and do what you like it and
there were other people around, it could be the baddest thing ever for them because you might
want to do all bad things with your freedom… Freedom could be sometimes good but
sometimes it could be the baddest thing ever.
Mo: Freedom is joy and peace, peace to be whatever you want and joy to play outside.
L: I think that freedom is free will. I agree with Dd about choice. Everybody should have
choices. God gives us…allows us free will to do bad or good things. He gave us that choice
but something inside us tells us when something is bad. It’s the part of us that stops us from
doing bad things to each other.
Ca: Remember back there at the start you were asking what makes us free? Well I think I
know: it’s probably God. But I disagree with P who said that too much freedom is the
baddest thing. If God made it, then it can’t be bad. God wouldn’t make bad freedom!
Another thing…you know how we’re free here to speak? Well everyone should be free to
speak…. but not to talk when other people are speaking. But sometimes people give out to
people who give their opinion and that’s stopping freedom but….em… Say, em….if people
here didn’t listen, say they kept talking all the time….that wouldn’t really be like …freedom,
it would just be plain rudeness and bad manners and then you’d have to give out to them. But
that wouldn’t be stopping their freedom, it would be stopping their rudeness and it would be
helping other people’s freedom…the ones what wanted to keep speaking and giving their
Me: would the chatterboxes not have the freedom to be chatterboxes at all?
Ca: It’s not simple…I think you’d probably nearly need two rooms so: one for the talkers to
be free and one for the chatterboxes to be free. (Sighs)…freedom can get you in trouble!
Appendix C 16
C.7. Once upon an ordinary school day 04 October 2005
I read Once Upon an Ordinary School day (Colin McNaughton, Satoshi Kitamura)
Ey: I really liked this story. I think it was good for the boy to have some fun in his life. His
life was very boring and he needed some good plain fun.
Ay: I think it was quite a good story. Because first everything was ordinary and then it slowly
began to go up and up like steps, up, up, up. Then when you think it’s going to go down, it
doesn’t. That was really nice about it.
Va: I think Ey and Ay are right. Those things can happen, could happen, and did happen.
I’m not really sure if the boy is getting any happier or if his imagination is running away with
Ae: I think its sort of like his life started off so ordinary. Then suddenly he got a big shock
when the teacher burst into the classroom and then more and more amazing things started
happening by the minute.
Cr: I think it’s a very good story and I liked it because who knows maybe his future could
have changed because of that day.
AH: I agree with Cr. He might have had thoughts that opened his eyes. If I had a day like that
I’d have so many thoughts that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. They’d be bursting out of me and
I’d have bloodshot eyes next day from no sleep and thinking lots of stuff!
Br: I think it was a good story. It was a brilliant story with the dolphins and the flying.
Me: What bit did you like best of all, Br?
Br: I liked the dolphin bit best of all because he was going up and down like that with the
dolphin (demonstrates with his arms).
Se: I find it very interesting. Everything was so ….ordinary, boring, grey, no
changes…suddenly its all colour and everything changes and brightens up. That teacher
brightened up his life. I agree with Cr because his life might have gone on being so boring,
go to school then work, work, work for all of his life. It would have been really ordinary and
boring. But that teacher brightened it all up with imagination and music.
Sh: I really think…I agree with Se. That child had no imagination at all. His life was so
ordinary. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He should have one to the Zoo or
Pr: I think at the beginning it was all grey and sad and at the end it was colourful and happy.
De: I think when he started off using his imagination all different stuff began to happen.
Ds: what I think happened was at the start he never used his imagination, he didn’t even
think he had any and then when he did … it kind of livened up his life – his imagination did..
En: I think when that teacher came in it really made the boy’s imagination grow and grow.
L: Well I was wondering what wouldn’t…what would’ve happened if the same old boring
old teacher arrived back…
Sh: If you didn’t ever get to use your imagination then your life would be so boring and sad.
Mre: Everybody should get the chance to let their imagination go free…get the thoughts out
of your head instead of having them just stuck. When he did let o his thoughts look what
happened – all the whole thing looked different…all the colours, his life was brightened up.
The teacher brightened up the boy’s life by letting his thoughts go free…if you didn’t ever let
your thoughts out no-one would ever know what you had inside your head…
Ax: I agree with Se….what she was saying about working all his life and so boring and so
ordinary. Maybe it would have been so boring that he wouldn’t have even entered college.
That teacher was fun. Every child should have a teacher like that. That boy really needed to
have a teacher like that for at least one year of his life.
AD: I don’t really have anything to say.
Me: Did you hear what Ax said about the boy needing to have a teacher like that for at least
one year…do you think you’ll ever have a teacher like that?
AD: yes…I did already ….Miss O’B.
Appendix C 17
A H: well to me it seemed like magic…like the teacher was sent by the gods or something to
make the boy happy.
Dn: I think I liked the way the story just changed in the middle all of a sudden. At the start I
was like ‘Aw! Come ON’…I didn’t think it was very interesting with all those ‘ordinaries’ all
the time…then suddenly it went from being black and white to really colourful. I suppose
that was when he started using his imagination. He had to let it go sometime…he wouldn’t
have liked his life at all if he didn’t let his imagination go.
B: I think he did have an imagination all along. The teacher didn’t give him an imagination,
he just allowed him to use it by playing the exciting music…but like Dn said at first he wasn’t
good at it then… when he heard the music …and he flew …and he was cheerful and he
wasn’t bored any more.
Hh: I’ve been wondering that no one in all the people who spoke already thought how did he
[the teacher] disappear like that in a puff of smoke? And I agree with Cr about his future
being changed that day. His parents, we saw them at the start and they are just really, really
ordinary and maybe that teacher changed their future too… cos maybe that boy ran home and
he was all excited and he was saying ‘guess what we did in school today?’ and then when
they listened to him they might have brightened up and that’s what I mean about maybe it
changed their future too.
Cn: Well I’m glad…I’m very glad that that teacher came in when he did, cos with that teacher
the boy was changed. He could only see things black and white until that day and then that
teacher lightened up his life.
Mn: I think that your imagination is like water. It’s like water because it can be frozen and
the only time it freezes up is when it’s not running and being used. It freezes up if you don’t
use it.
Interruption (Sh?): yeah like if you always get wheeled around in a buggy your legs would
get very wobbly and weak.
Am: I think…I agree with Hh about the magic…he just went off in a cloud of dust. And also
if that teacher wasn’t there he would’ve stayed like that forever, like what Mn said about
water…he’d have been frozen up like that, never using his imagination forever.
Ke: I think the boy had a very good imagination all the time but he didn’t know he had. It
was there but he only discovered it that day.
Lh: I think the story was very exciting. It was the same as Ay said. It goes up in steps.
AC: I think that anyone and everyone has all different thoughts from each other…I agree with
Lh and Ay too about the steps.
Ag: Well I thought it was very sad, then happy, then exciting, then it did go up in steps like
Ay said and it kept on going…and everybody liked the boy after that teacher came in.
MC: I think the story was really good. It went from being sad and ordinary at the beginning
then bits of the picture got colourful and then the pictures in his head kept on going and going
and he dreamed a story.
Dn: If that story was a piece of music it would be like that (nods his head towards the one
note coming from tin whistles next door) – all one note at the start and then it would get like
all really exciting and the way the music in the book went.
Bh: I think he did have an imagination all along. The teacher didn’t give him an imagination,
he just allowed him to use it by playing the exciting music…but like Dn said at first he wasn’t
good at it then… when he heard the music …and he flew …and he was cheerful and he
wasn’t bored any more.
Ag: I think when the boy was thinking and when his imagination was running away with him
and he was running away with his imagination…that was really great.
Se: You know, Teacher, sometimes I start off with no ideas in my head when we begin our
talking, but afterwards I often have loads, because I hear all the different thoughts from all
different kids’
Me: well time’s up I’m sorry to say because I was really enjoying that conversation…I just
wish that someone could’ve been here to witness that you all said these wonderful things…
Ey: Scuse me teacher…but we’re here. You have 29 witnesses…
Me…Wow! so I have! Of course!
Appendix C 18
C.8. The Conquerors 21 November 2005
Observer/participant MOC – school principal
AH: That was a funny story. The general had conquered the whole world and he didn’t
really want anything else so why would he bother with the small country? His soldiers didn’t
hurt the people, they showed respect for them.
Ds: What I think is that he went to conquer a country that had no army. The people there
helped the general’s army to learn about them by just living with them without fighting. They
didn’t say ‘you better learn our songs and learn to cook like us or learn to wear our clothes’.
No they just went on doing their normal things and the soldiers began to imitate them after a
while without realising it because it was such a peaceful country. And the people were
teaching the army the nice things first – like jokes and songs…the easy, fun things.
Cr: If he didn’t…if the general didn’t conquer the others then they’d all be living different
lives…they were changed by meeting the soldiers and the soldiers were changed by meeting
them. They affected each other.
Hh: I think that the author was trying to make the point that you might think your country is
the best but the story is saying that no army is nice. Conquering is not how you should go
about your life. Let them live the way they want. Look how bad the earth is from people
wanting to conquer each other…all because either they think they’re the best or else the other
country has something they want.
AB: The General didn’t respect the little country. The only one he liked was his own and he
didn’t even respect his own people very much because he was always sending them off to
fight. They could get killed. The little country was wise not to have an army. If you have an
army you have to fight and they knew well they couldn’t win. He had the bomb. They didn’t.
Le: Well, I was thinking how that if the general conquered everywhere then all the countries
would begin to be the same. They would all have the same language and the same food and
the same shops and they would forget their own culture after a while and be just like pieces of
the General’s country. That would be so boring. He shouldn’t have done that to other
countries. He should have reasoned with them and said’ I need your gold or your oil’ ‘Do I
have anything ye want? And that would have been fairer. Cos like, when all their gold or
whatever is gone, he won’t want them anymore and they’ll just be wrecked after him and be
Am: I was thinking why did he conquer other countries? Did he not like them or something?
They’re allowed to be themselves. What makes him think he can just march in and take over?
They should all have got together and ganged up on him.
AD: I agree with Ae that he didn’t respect anyone.
Ag: I think that …you know the little country? Well they kind of conquered him…the
general…because he forgot his own songs!
Sh: Well I really actually agree with Ae. If you don’t respect other humans its not fair to
other humans.
Ke: I think that all the other countries want to be themselves and the general is stopping them
by conquering them. If the generals country was like Rome then soon all the other countries
would have to have leaning towers and other things like that. The general is changing their
history by conquering them.
Me: Is he changing their history or their future?
Ke: History
B: I think both. He’s changing their history for the people looking back and he’s changing
the future for them and for the people not born yet.
Lh: It’s a good story but I don’t understand why generals do that…march into other countries.
He has enough stuff, he has his own country. What does he need more for?
Bh: It’s a very good story but a few things puzzle me. I agree with Ae that he doesn’t show
respect for anyone. But he was foolish too: why did he go off and leave a bunch of soldiers
Appendix C 19
on their own. And it shows that good people can conquer by just doing good. They
conquered him!
AC: I was kind of wondering as well: why did he learn all those things when he didn’t really
like the little country?
Mn: I agree with Ae that its all about respect or not having respect.
Ay: Well I think that all the different countries have their own way of conquering and the
little country tricked him by having no army. The other day my Mum told me a story about
the Romans marching to Scotland …they thought ‘Here’s our chance! Boosh!’ That’s it,
you’re dead!’ Because they had the cannon gun…the little country didn’t. You can’t argue
with a cannon gun or a bomb.
V: I think that the point of the story was that you don’t have to have a cannon take over
another country. If you just learn their songs and stuff and enjoy their culture, you can be
taken over by them.
Pr: I think that General was a very bad man.
Dn: I think that if he had taken over them his life would be different. He could get rid of his
enemies very easily by liking them. The little country did that. They didn’t fight. The
influenced the general’s army and then the army went home and influenced the people and
then the people influenced the General.
En: I thought the point of the story was that you don’t have to be the best army or the
strongest country to take over another place…all you have to have is strong people. And
that’s what the little country had, strong people who didn’t fight.
MC: I think that story is a bit funny. The army go marching in and come out singing. Why?
They could have been all shot. The general had a bomb. That would keep them safe from
other countries.
Sh: I think it was funny at then end. He thought he conquered them but they conquered his
heart instead and he ended up singing their songs to his little boy.
Se: If he did conquer them it would be so boring. You would go to another country and they
would all be exactly the same. You would go over to Africa and you’d be expecting to hear
different music and different customs but everything would be just like your won place. Then
you’d stop going abroad. …there’d be no point! That would be so boring if all the world was
the same. Every country should be different. That general is silly trying to make them all like
his country. What’s he going to do when he has taken over the whole lot? He needed a little
fun in his life. That’s what he got from the little country. They did him a big favour by not
Mre: I think that the small country was right to welcome them in instead of fighting. That
way they won.
MOC: I have a question: Why did the big General want to conquer the small country?
An: I think it would be kind of silly if every country in the world was the same. It’s not
meant to be like that.
De: I think the general didn’t do any of the work. He made the soldiers do everything and he
took the best house for himself it said in the book.
Ey: I agree with De that the soldiers actually did do all the work but the general claimed all
the glory.
Ax: I think the general didn’t really think at all. Suppose someone in Japan thought they’d
like the Eiffel Tower and they took it. What use would it be there? People want to see it in
Cn: I don’t think he should have stayed there. He wanted to be better than every other
Se: Yeah…like he was saying to everybody…I can conquer the whole world. I’m the
greatest. Just watch me do it.
Pr: I think I can answer Mr O C’s question…I think he just wanted to be rich.
Bh: He wanted to take over the world. But other people were more powerful than he was
even without using an army. Peace is more powerful than war in the end.
Appendix C 20
Ay: Well I think that just going around conquering isn’t very useful and after a while when
he’s got everything he’ll just get bored and another thing is what good is the money? He
can’t used it if it’s from that little country. It won’t work in his country.
Sh: I know the answer too- he wanted to be richer and richer and richer.
Ag: I agree with Pr and Ay. He just wanted more stuff. That’s so stupid: If he had given the
other countries a chance who knows what he might have got? But no he just had to go in
…Bang! Bang! And he wrecked all those countries over being greedy.
Le: I think he was after their gold. I agree with Pr and I disagree with Ay. He wanted their
money or their gold and he could have converted it to his own money anytime he wanted.
Cn: That General was wasting his time. Eventually he’d have conquered everything all the
way to the North Pole. Then what’s he going to do?
Ey: I really disagree that anyone should go into a country without asking the people how they
felt about it and just took over…and all just for more richness. And then if the people say
‘no’ he says ‘I’m going to shoot you’. That’s bullying. If you want more land you should ask
and give them something instead.
De: That’s why I think the story is good because the little country ends up conquering the
general. And the general’s army are friendly to the little country now so they’re safe from
attack now.
An: Where would he have got the money from that he robbed from them…where?
Bh: I think I have an answer to Mr O C’s question; the general just wanted power. He just
wanted to be the best, the most powerful man in the world. I disagree with Ey: she said that
they should have asked and then the people would have said yes. I think that they’d have said
Ey: Well I think that instead of war and fighting the person who owned the land should be
asked first. He might say ‘That’s my land. You can’t have it. We’ve always lived here’ and
they should understand that. The general’s army were so used to people fighting them that
they never got to respect anyone’s country and culture before. So when the people were kind
to them they were kind back.
An: Why is everyone saying he took over the world? He didn’t he only took over a small
Hh: I sort of disagree with Bh and Ey because if they let the army in once they would always
keep coming back every time they wanted more land or more money.
Ag: I think that the conquerors were fair to the little country. But some kids reading that
story might think that that’s the right thing to do: to go around conquering.
Bh: The general was foolish. If he wanted everyone to be like him…then eventually
everyone would be a conqueror and end up killing him and taking over his country. They’d
always be waiting their chance.
Ax: I think people might have thought that the little country was foolish to let the general take
over so easily. But they well knew what they were doing. They knew they couldn’t conquer
the general and they were quite well informed about him because they were the last country
and they had seen what he always did to the countries that resisted so they taught him a lesson
without a cross word.
Ey: I agree with Ay that the money would be worthless in his country so its all about power
and like he’s saying ‘Right, I’m the general of the whole world. Give me everything you
Se: I actually think that the little country did teach him a lesson.
Am: Why did he want more land? What’s he planning to use it for?
Lh: Look at President Bush and hurricane Katrina, he didn’t really care even about his own
country and he’s always looking for more land too and he doesn’t mind the land he’s got.
Am: I disagree with AH because if they gave him 4 cans of oil he’d be back for more when
that’s gone.
Ey: I agree with Am: If the Iraqis gave President Bush some of their oil he’d soon come
back looking for the rest of it so the Iraqis said you can’t’ have any and then Boom! he starts a
Appendix C 21
C.9. Yellow Bird, Black Spider 12 October 2005
Ca: I think the story is about being yourself and not just following other people all
the time.
W: I agree with Ca. It’s important to do your own thing.
CF: Yeah, maybe, cos like, if you’re always just following other people like, without
thinking for yourself, and just doing what they want you to do… that could… you
could end up in trouble
O: Well ….I dunno…maybe…yeah …. but you need to decide whether what they
want you to do is Ok…like if your friends were all saying ‘come on lets do this’ and it
was smoking… that wouldn’t be good; but if it was like ‘come on lets all play a game
of chasing’ or something that would be different…you’re really going to have to make
up your own mind about what to do.
Jk: I kind of agree with O…I think the spider was being a bit too careful and a bit
annoying so the bird sort of was trying to shock him…maybe…he mightn’t really like
Ky: If you don’t be yourself, who would you be? You have to be yourself and you
might be a person that does things their own way or else you might be someone that
just copies other people but you’re always yourself. Your soul might be part of your
mind and some people say that your thoughts come from your soul sometimes or from
your heart and they could be from all of them and from your mind.
Jr: I liked the way the bird stood up for himself. I think your feelings might be in
your soul…but maybe your soul is in your feelings … oh I don’t know!
Crn: What’s the point of that book? I think its something like ‘make your own life,
don’t wait for other people to tell you stuff’. I like that bird a lot!
Kn: The bird is a bit too cool. If people did that other people would mock them. The
spider was just trying to make sure the bird didn’t get in trouble.
D: I think it could be about having your own personality. The spider is very nervous
– that’s his personality. The bird is kind of cheeky. That’s his personality. They
probably don’t get along with each other. Your personality might be part of your
Ca: The thing about that book that was good was the ending. You don’t expect that
ending…it kind of shocks you.
Kn: I agree with all the people who said that your soul could be in your feelings and
your mind and your feelings and your mind could be in your soul and I never knew
anything about that before but I knew that I agreed when I heard it
L: The bird is sooo cool. The spider is a bit boring. Like, if you’re like that spider
you’re always thinking should I do this? Should I do that? What will people say? The
bird kind of people say ‘hey, I don’t acre…this is what I like’…what’s wrong with
Cr: The best thing about the bird is his attitude. He’s very sort of relaxed. He likes
some things and he just goes and gets them. The spider would be scared or nervous to
try anything new.
Ja: I think it’s a really good story. The bird is really funny.
Cy: I like it because it has a surprise at the end. That spider was getting on my
nerves. He got …it was good enough for him to get eaten
Ra: It’s a good story. The end was sad for the spider.
Cc: It’s kind of like the bird is a human. He does things that ordinary birds don’t do.
He’s not scared of anything.
Appendix C 22
Gn: Well…that bird is like a pop star. He is so cool and he smiles his secret smile
and pop goes the spider!
Ce: the bird is trying to be different. He likes to show off. The spider is an ordinary
T: yeah but the spider is trying to make the bird do what he wants not what the bird
wants. He bugs him so much he ate him. He was tired of listening to him.
P: I don’t know why we’re all feeing so shocked about the bird eating the spider.
That’s what birds do…all the time they eat spiders and worms and cute things like
ladybirds. So what’s so extraordinary about eating a spider? I think it’s because
we’re looking at that bird as if he’s human. He’s a bird!
H: I agree with Gn…he likes to show off and I kind of agree with P too about us
thinking its amazing that he ate the spider.
Jk: well yes, ….if you think about it ….we eat cows, but you don’t see their legs
hanging out of our mouths like the spider in the last picture. That’s why it’s a shock
cos we’re juts getting used to the way the spider is going on at him…then …wham!
Ce: I think he’s very mean to the spider. He could have just hitten [sic] him a
whack…he shouldn’t of [sic] ate him.
L: If you nag someone as much as that spider you should expect to get eaten. Why
did he have to go ‘nah, nah, nah do this, don’t do that’… on and on? He should have
minden [sic] his own business and made a few webs and chilled out a bit.
H: I think it’s good to do what you want and it’s good to do what other people want
too. Both of them were right.
Crn: It’s only a story, right? I mean it’s just meant to make us think, it didn’t really
Me: Would you have thought, looking at that book for the first time, that we’d get so
much talking and thinking from it?
Ca: Definitely not! I was thinking at the start that we wouldn’t have a lot to say
about that because like T and was it M? … I thought it was kind of like a baby
book…but it’s really very good.
Appendix D 1
Appendix D Examples of in-house evaluations of Thinking
D.1. One of my evaluations from 3rd class
Appendix D 2
D.2. Evaluation from ML
Appendix D 3
D.3. One of my evaluations from infant class 2002-2003
Appendix D 4
D.4. Evaluation from DOS
Appendix D 5
D.5. Evaluation from RL
Appendix E 1
Appendix E Samples of children’s responses to music and art
E.1. Responses to Gasparyan
Appendix E 2
Appendix E 3
E.2. Responses to Brueghel
Appendix E 4
Appendix E 5
E.3. Poetic responses to picture of sunset
Appendix E 6
Appendix E 7
E.4. Written responses to picture of trees and Vermeer
Appendix E 8
Appendix E 9
Appendix F 1
Appendix F Extract from RE teacher’s handbook
F.1. Extract from Alive-O 5 Teachers’ Book (Irish Episcopal Commission
on Catechetics, 2001).
Appendix G 1
Appendix G Emailed responses from educators to ‘a question
about your schooldays’
G.1. My email
Subject: a question about your schooldays
Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2006 17:34:44 -0000
Hello everybody,
Mary Roche here. Most of you know me but some may need reminding. I am a
primary school teacher working in Cork. I am currently carrying out a study on
critical thinking with primary school children for a doctoral degree with the
University of Limerick. This study is following on from my MA in Education study
into Philosophy with Children.
In my report I have referred to a discussion I carried out with my third class primary
school students about ‘what is the purpose of school?’ I made the point that this topic
is one that I was never asked to consider during my schooldays. In fact, I don’t think I
engaged in any real discussion of this topic until I began my post graduate studies. It
was probably the theme of a lecture in training college (back in the 1970s) but there
was no discussion of the topic and I certainly did not critically engage with it then.
I am sending out this email to all of you who are involved in the business of education
at different levels: primary, post primary, and third level and I am going to ask you all
the same question I asked myself:
Were you ever given an opportunity to think about, discuss or engage critically
with the question ‘what is the purpose of school?’ when you were in school?
I appreciate the time you have taken to read this. If you choose to reply, may I have
your permission to use your reply as data for my research report? I guarantee
confidentiality: no names will be used.
with best regards
Appendix G 2
G.2. Responses from PL
Email received on 25-01-06 from PL – a critical pedagogue at third level college in
USA and author of several books on critical pedagogy.
I moved around a great deal as a kid because my father was a doctor setting up
programs for child abuse and for kids with disabilities. It wasn’t until I was a junior in
high school in Amherst Massachusetts, U.S. that I bumped into a cool teacher who
taught an alternative course on work, and a guidance counsellor who was an outcast
amongst faculty, and was encouraged to think about the purpose of schooling, about
labour stratification and cultural reproduction…about my place in the world.
Otherwise, schools played the typical role of reflecting the larger social order and
keeping youth on the line. Resisters were always punished in one form or another. It’s
no wonder
conservatives in the U.S. moved from wanting to dismantle the Department of
Education to taking it over — in order to make sure that they can control young minds
through the standardization of curricula and pedagogy in the name of No Child Left
Behind. So much for education for civic responsibility. Hard to have any substantive,
participatory democracy without the ability to make sense of the world around us. In
that sense, public schools are doing the exact job that they have been designed to do.
But like I did throughout my childhood, I’m using my energy as a professor in a
teacher education program to combat this type of domestication. All the best
G.3. Response from S. W.
Email received on 25-01-06 from SW (Canada), former elementary school teacher,
third level college of education professor and author of several books on teaching
Dear Mary:
Your question made me smile! When I went to elementary school (way back there in
the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth), we sat in straight rows, DID NOT
SPEAK, in fact, were penalized for talking. We sat and sat, waiting for the next
teacher directive. We never were allowed even to question, lest that be taken as an
affront to the teacher, the all knowing authority on everything. Children did not have
opinions, or points of view — so why on earth would anyone ask them?
So your question is easy to answer, although it is a sad commentary on what my
education was like.
Each of us works for change in his or her own way and we do so, inch by painful half
inch, across the years. And when we look back, some of us can actually see many
teachers who prize, value and respect kids, and whose classrooms are models of
humanity and regard, as well as educational excellence. Keep fighting the fight; it’s
worth it.
The orientation you have chosen for your doctoral work is, I believe, most difficult
and most rewarding. For teaching, after all, is an act of self discovery when it is done
Appendix G 3
well. And that is where so much of the gratification lies for such a difficult and
challenging work. Those discoveries, alas, are reserved for the few who would
undertake such rigorous self examinations — not for sissies. I am full of admiration for
your quest and am cheering you quietly onward, from this rainy loft in downtown
G.4. Response from PD
Email received on 26-01-06 from PD, former primary teacher, now college of
education lecturer in Ireland
Dear Mary,
No I never had an opportunity to discuss the purpose of school either at first or second
level and yes feel free to use this information. Not only did I not have an opportunity
to discuss it, I think any such question would have been viewed as disruptive by
teachers and possibly would even have been a punishable offence.
With best regards
G.5. Response from P.A-LaF.
Email received 29-01-06 from PA-LaF an elementary school teacher (USA)
The answer is no. We were told why we were in school, but never was it discussed as
an open question
And never in college classes was this discussed as a class:
G.6. Response from P.M-M
Email received on 26-01-06 from PMM, University lecturer and former secondary
school teacher (Ireland)
Hello Mary
As far as I remember I was never given the opportunity to discuss this nor was it ever
raised as a thinking point.
Best regards
Appendix G 4
G.7. Response from B.S.
Hi Mary,
I must admit that, like you, I was never asked to reflect on the question, ‘What is the
purpose of school?’ I think that, both from my own experience at school and from my
experience as a student at a teacher training college, I gained the impression that
school was a means of transferring as much knowledge as possible into the minds of
more, or less, willing pupils.
I only began to ask myself that question quite recently, when I became aware of the
inappropriate nature of the culturally specific education being offered to Traveller
children. It would not have occurred to me, therefore, that children should be asked,
or could answer, a question requiring such critical thinking. However, when I attended
‘Dáil na bPáistí’ with some of my Traveller pupils and heard one of them suggesting
that the Traveller language, Cant, should be taught in schools, I realised that children
are indeed capable of reflecting critically on questions such as ‘What is the purpose of
G.8. Response from B.L.
Email received on 29-01-06 from BL critical friend on PhD study programme
As to your question I never remember being asked that question while in school. Then
in the context of those times “where children were seen but not heard” the idea of
asking children their opinion on anything would not have been considered other than
as a joke. I don’t think anyone pondered that question children or parents, teachers
even because in some ways then the question seemed answered. The purpose of
school was to learn to read and write and other knowledge that would help you secure
a job. Where you finished in school determined your job. So for me even though I
never was asked the question I think I believed the purpose of school was to prepare
you for work.
Appendix H 1
Appendix H Samples of reports by observers of Thinking Time
H.1. My request to colleagues
H.2. Observation report by CO’C
Thinking Time gave all the children the equal chance to speak – there were no correct
or incorrect answers – so I think this helped each and every child to ‘shine’ – shine
There was great respect shown by everyone involved and this respect was shown to
each and every child and to the teachers. Their opinions were valued and the children
knew this.
I had to remind myself a number of times as to which class I was listening to. I tried
to think of another 3rd class that I have had experience of – I realised that the children
in Mary’s class really knew how to think and express themselves. I was also amazed
at their ability to remember what others had said and integrate this with their own
Mary I hope this makes sense. Thinking isn’t that easy – but your class made it look
very easy and, most of all, enjoyable.
COC 14 November 2005
H.3. Observation report by D.M.
Thinking Time provides a forum that allows less academic children to shine. The
children were very engaged and comfortable in the circle. It was a democratic setting
and the teacher’s role was not autocratic or managerial. Children were being given
opportunities in a fair way and the children seemed to feel safe and free in the setting
and they were able to contradict each others comfortably without confrontation. The
children’s ideas were very structured and surprising and not what I would have
expected to hear from young children. The dynamic of the circle was very inclusive.
I feel that the sessions are beneficial educationally for the children because listening
to and responding to points in turn and articulating your point of view logically
(however contradictory) without tension or aggression is of huge social importance.
DM 8 November 2005
Appendix H 2
H.4. Observation report by S.D.
I found the session very enjoyable. The children seemed very interested and at ease in
the group. They were attentive when others were speaking and used the ideas of
others to expand on their own thoughts.
Giving children the option to do a ‘hands up’ in the later part of the session is a very
good idea, in my opinion. Some children are more comfortable than others at
expressing an opinion or speaking to a group
SD 14 November 2005
H.5. Observation report by YO’F
Appendix H 3
H.6. Observation report by A.T.

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