13NCGE NEWS Winter 2011Post PrimaryAction Research - Why Bother?'In their daily work guidance counsellors find themselves dealing with a myriad of issues encapsulating the personal, vocational and educational aspects of students' lives. This broad exposure and involvement places guidance professionals and their expertise in a unique position where they are involved in a spectrum of activities and tasks such as:. Counselling and supporting students. Conducting career interviews. Facilitating subject choice and change of subjects. Guidance classes. Organising and bringing students to career events. Liaising with staff, management and parents. Learning support for students. The provision of pastoral care. Organising work experience. Assessment and aptitude testsIf in all of this activity, you as a guidance counsellor have at times paused and asked 'What am I doing and I wonder if I could do it better?' then action research is a methodology which will help you to not only answer this question but in so doing will help to improve your practice. Let me try to explain using an example.Action research addresses a concern you may have so let's say you have previously taken students to careers exhibitions or open days and you now wonder or question if there are ways in which the experience might be improved upon so as to maximise the benefit or learning students obtain from attending these events. Posing such a question is in essence asking a research question and is the start of action research. The next step is to find out your students' views on the events to see if they correspond to yours and if they have any suggestions as to how to improve the experience. This could be done by either directly asking students or giving them a short questionnaire. On the basis of these findings you might decide to change what you have been doing in the past; you might give or amend a worksheet for students to complete, spend more or less time at the event, help them to prepare in a more focused manner or ask them to convey back to their classmates what they learned from the event.The very title and the words 'action research' may already be enough to have you skipping to the next piece or page of NCGE News thinking why bother reading this but if you have persisted this far then Peter Hyde encourages you to read a little further. Try not to be dissuaded by any less-than-positive connotations you may have around the words 'action research', 'whole-school' and 'guidance planning'. As a guidance counsellor his practice has benefited from understanding and using action research. In this article, he contends that not only is action research of practical use but also affords a way of strengthening the professionalism, contribution and expertise of guidance counsellors.
14If having implemented some changes students report back greater benefits from attending the event then what you have done is to have changed your practice, increased learning for students and completed one cycle of action research. Even if any changes do not result in positive benefits, you will have attempted to improve your practice, learned something about it and still completed a cycle of action research! The above is just one example to illustrate the usefulness of action research but there are many areas to which it could be applied in the realms of personal, educational and vocational guidance. An example of using an action research model from my own practice is one that involves TYs deciding what subjects to pick for Leaving Certificate: . What was my concern? - Students were picking subjects without a realistic appreciation of what the subject involved.. Why was I concerned? - Poor subject choice resulted in students not enjoying the subject and wanting to change to other subjects which sometimes was not possible.Post PrimaryAction Research - Why Bother? continuedNCGE NEWS Winter 2011. What could I do? - I asked students what I might do differently to help ensure they had sufficient knowledge of subjects when selecting them for Leaving Certificate. . What did I do? - I decided it might be helpful if Sixth Year students gave a brief presentation to TYs on what the subject entailed, asking subject teachers to select and guide the students who would give the presentation ensuring that it was an honest appraisal of the subject.. What happened? - TY students reported back that they found the presentations very beneficial and the opportunity allowed them to ask the Sixth Year student questions about the subject. The following September/October fewer students wanted to change subjects. . What difference did this make to my practice? - I now know that the students' presentations assist and benefit TYs in their subject choice so each year presentations are made. This shows I have changed and improved my practice and I can give reasons or present evidence to back up this claim. I also have shared this knowledge, and am doing so now, with other guidance counsellors.