Students as Researchers

Students as researchers making a difference

Meaningful student involvement

A Partnership in Learning


Like McGregor (2004), I believe young people have changed in their identities and roles as communicators, consumers and citizens but schools are substantially the same and while curricula come and go, the deep structures of schooling remain essentially unchanged. Student-voice-approaches offer a practical agenda for change in education. Students are experts in schooling (although that expertise may be turned to avoidance of learning if not engaged productively) and they have knowledge of the school that adults do not. McGregor discusses students as researchers as a radical approach where adults actively listen to students’ views and support student-led research.

Student voices are often muted through being tested, surveyed, observed and interviewed rather than being viewed as active agents in the research process. Students should be working alongside teachers to generate knowledge and so improve teaching and learning as suggested by Leitch et al.(2007). Studies illustrate constructive ways in which students are being actively engaged in school and support classroom inquiries for change. It is important that non-participating students are not pressurised, excluded from their classroom learning experiences or made to feel awkward as a result.

Empowering students and giving them freedom to document and record what they see as important builds a more open and trusting relationship base for research where we can gain a sense of what seems important to students. This type of research creates situations whereby students are actively involved in the research development and practices – engaged as co-researchers in the data gathering process and as contributors to interpretations by co-analysing aspects of the data and adding value to the project in terms of the quality of the data and the depth of its outcomes. It also benefits the student experience by increasing motivation, centralising their views and contributing to their feelings of involvement and ownership.

The more students are involved as researchers the more they become agents for change - they become producers of knowledge. Marginalised students begin to understand that they are not always at fault, incapable, or inappropriate, that many of the problems they have in school result from macro-forces of power interacting with the specificities of their everyday lives (Steinberg & Kincheloe 1998).

Bland & Atweh (2007) discuss how the lack of opportunity students have to participate actively in their own education can be linked to consequent low levels of engagement and high rates of drop-out. They argue that the practice of students as researchers offers one way to create opportunities for engagement so that students whose voices may have been silenced or devalued within traditional schooling systems can be heard. Involving students more closely in educational decision-making and listening seriously to their stories of experience as learners are essential first steps which in turn will reinforce students’ commitment and academic progress.

As discussed by Kellogg (1998) using students as researchers as a pedagogically pro-active teaching approach may be easily promoted; the average student and many teachers may not readily embrace this perception or share in this perceived need to motivate students to action. In fact many teachers feel that it is their responsibility to remain politically and ideologically neutral within the classroom. However like Kellogg, I believe neutrality is greatly overrated. From a critical position, power relations are nearly always unequal; thus, claiming a position of neutrality is to accept the status quo with all the inequities that this entails and to surrender one’s own ability to act. Students in particular, may be readily aware of this inconsistency, particularly with respect to a teacher who talks about empowerment and liberating others yet fails to relinquish many of the trappings of authority. Research which engages students to ask questions about their own lives and in which they decide which concerns are most pertinent is destined to encourage exploration and reflection. Kellogg believes that such reflection can lead to positive change when students come to accept and understand that any choice they make involves the privileging of certain values.
Fielding (2001) presents a range of levels of student involvement in school self review and improvement:
· Students as a Data Source
· Students as Active Respondents
· Students as Co-Researchers
· Students as Researchers
I hope to use students as co-researchers in my own research as an approach involving myself as the classroom teacher and engaging students as partners in learning in order to deepen understanding and learning.

Bland, D & Atweh, B 2007, 'Students as researchers: engaging students' voices in PAR', Educational Action Research, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 337 - 49.
Fielding, M 2001, 'Students as radical agents of change', Journal of Educational Change, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 123 - 41.
Kellogg, DJ 1998, 'Exploring Critical Distance in Science Education: Students Researching the Implications of Technological Embeddedness', in SR Steinberg & JL Kincheloe (eds), Students as researchers : creating classrooms that matter, Falmer Press, London ; Bristol, PA, pp. 212-25.
Leitch, R, Gardner, J, Mitchell, S, Lundy, L, Odena, O, Galanouli, D & Clough, P 2007, 'Consulting pupils in Assessment for Learning classrooms: the twists and turns of working with students as co-researchers', Educational Action Research, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 459 - 78.
McGregor, J 2004, Development and Enquiry Programmes Teacher Research: Students as Researchers, National College for School Leadership, retrieved retrieved 15th July 2008 <>.
Steinberg, SR & Kincheloe, JL 1998, 'Students as researchers: creating classrooms that matter', in, pp. 1 - 253.