CfEM blog: motivation and engagement action research with Weston College

Blog by Katheryn Cockerton, Research and Coach at Weston College for the Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme.

The Weston College Action Research Group (ARG) chose the CfEM theme ‘motivation and engagement’ because we believed that a grade 3 learner, when motivated and engaged could achieve a grade 4. We therefore set an aim to change the way learners think in order to have an impact on their self-efficiency and agency to learn.

The Weston College ARG is formed by six colleges that are our network partners. This includes South Devon College, South Gloucestershire & Stroud College, Yeovil College, Hartpury College, Heart of Worcester College and Weston College. We spent 3 days of CPD by Lou Mycroft on ‘the thinking environment’, from September to November, learning how to use thinking dialogue, thinking pairs, thinking rounds, councils and incisive questions.

We then decided on a research question; “how do learners respond to incisive questions in the thinking environment?”

The CPD session created a feeling of empowerment for the ARG. The teachers were actively involved with how we would use ‘the thinking environment’ in the classroom. We had so much to choose from but decided to use a fixed set of incisive questions. We used the questions three times in Spring term and followed each one up a few weeks later with a questionnaire form, to find out if learner had worked on their targets. These are examples of some of the questions that we used: “What is most stopping you from achieving your goal?” and “do you think this assumption is limiting you?”. The results were that 78% said that they had worked on their targets and of those 80% felt they had improved. This was however self-reported. We were able to gather responses and observations about what the learners said, which gave us a rich set of qualitative data which we decoded.

We found that using incisive questions in the classroom gave the learners “attention” which allowed learner to feel heard. Matthews (2006) argues that education should broaden to incorporate “attention” to the emotional factors of the “whole learner” to make education more transformative. The data allowed us to conclude that attention leads to emotional literacy that enables learners to articulate their feelings and therefore enabling them to identify their own barriers and finding solutions.

Negative responses highlighted the vulnerable learners who were unable to articulate themselves and laid bare their inability to help themselves. Some resistant learners felt uncomfortable about repeating the process as they knew already that they had not dismantled their denial, although having admitted their own limitations.

The overall experience from the teachers was very positive and all felt they had benefited from the CPD and are enthusiastic to developing the AR further.

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