Professional consultation with pupils through teaching about learning : educational psychologists working with pupils to explore their understanding of themselves as learners as they move from primary to secondary school
Accessing and presenting the views of children and young people is considered one of the key roles of educational psychologists, however professional experience and a wide range of research has suggested the general absence of the pupil voice within education (Fielding, 2001). Critical examination of the way in which pupils and learning are constructed within education highlighted how current preferred constructions place pupils in a passive role and how this inhibits active pupil participation and therefore genuine professional consultation. This research set out to examine whether the use of teaching might be an effective way for educational psychologists to genuinely consult with pupils about their understanding of their own learning and their experience of school. Building on previous work which explored a number of different models of pupil participation, I selected teaching as a different way of consulting with pupils as teaching is a way of both drawing on and embedding professional consultation within everyday classroom practice. The process, based on an action research method, was to consult with pupils about their understanding of learning in their last year at primary school and at the time of the transition between primary and secondary school. I worked with three year 6 classes in three primary schools and followed them through to their secondary school during their first term in year 7. As a way of undertaking a dialogue about learning in school, I offered the pupils psychological information about a range of learning strategies, which they could consider and develop for themselves over a series of four sessions within the spring and summer term at primary school. I revisited the pupils' understandings of these learning strategies,their own learning and their experience of moving from primary to secondary school through three focus group sessions with the pupils in their first term at secondary school. The analysis of the research material arising from the work with pupils focused on the pupils' own words or records as a way of making their voice more audible. This analysis, using grounded theory, led to a number of emerging theories about pupils' understanding of their learning within school and their experience of transition between primary and secondary school. These theories suggested that the pupils were unused to any active consideration of learning and that their overriding view of school was one of resignation to `schoolwork'. The most important feature of school for the pupils was that of relationships and networks of support. I examined whether teaching was a useful process for professional consultation with pupils in relation to previously considered models of pupil participation. In so doing I suggested there is a mismatch between models of pupil participation and the reality of pupils' everyday experience of learning in school. I suggested, from the research, that pupils were afforded little opportunity to actively participate within school. I drew on activity theory (Engestrom, 1999) as a useful framework for analysing these mismatches. This framework suggested that the predominant construction was of pupils as passive recipients of learning and that the focus on learning outcomes actively inhibited the development of pupil participation. As educational psychologists, we were caught in these constructions. I went on to suggest that much of the psychological theory and models of practice, both professionally and research based, upon which educational psychologists draw or are expected to draw, could be seen as similarly limiting pupil participation. In conclusion I considered the implications of this research for the professional practice of educational psychologists in developing effective ways of genuinely consulting with children and young people. I suggested that educational psychologists needed to bring their own constructions of pupils and learning to the forefront of their practice. I proposed a model for professional consultation with pupils. This model of pupil participation and pupil empowerment is based on `activity theory' and suggests that genuine professional consultation with pupils requires an examination of how pupils and learning are constructed within the educational setting alongside consideration of appropriate tools and techniques of consultation. These tools and techniques might usefully include teaching, providing this was coupled with a careful consideration of the subsystems influencing pupil participation.