Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Implementing a Critically Quasi-Ethnographic Approach

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Implementing a Critically Quasi-Ethnographic Approach

Article excerpt

This paper provides an account of the methodological approach of a study designed to address some fundamental questions relating to formative assessment. The paper reports on the use of a critically quasi-ethnographic approach and describes the practicalities of adopting such an approach. The validity of the study is also considered, reflecting on Tricoglus' (2001) protocol for practitioner research in education. Key Words: Qualitative Research, Ethnography, Critical Research, Research as Praxis


Having co-ordinated assessment across a primary school for two years, I became (and still am) fascinated by the concept of "assessment for learning". Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, and Wiliam (2003) claim that the first priority of assessment for learning is to serve the purpose of promoting students' learning. It is usually embedded in all aspects of teaching and learning, conducted by teachers as part of their own diverse and individual teaching styles. Furthermore, it is seen as important by teachers as it is at the core of the teaching and learning processes, serving to identify the next learning steps for individuals (Allal & Ducrey, 2000). In much literature, assessment for learning is perceived as synonymous with formative assessment (see, for example, Weeden, Winter, & Broadfoot, 2002). However, Wiliam conceptualises assessment for learning as the purpose, and formative assessment as the function. In other words, formative assessment is the tool by which assessment for learning can take place.

Formative assessment is of mutual benefit for both learning and teaching. It impacts learning through the provision of feedback to learners by teachers and by students in assessing themselves. In terms of providing a working definition for formative assessment, Black and Wiliam (1998) conclude that it can be described as, "... all those activities undertaken by teachers and/or students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged" (p. 7).

My fascination with assessment for learning led to a commitment to add to the body of knowledge regarding formative assessment through educational research, and to a heightened interest in methodological approaches. In particular, I was keen to develop my understanding of, and ability to, undertake more extensive qualitative research. My experiences in this field had been limited to personal classroom-based research that largely involved evaluation of my own practice.

This study was conducted to address three main research questions:

* What formative assessment strategies do teachers use in their day-to-day teaching?

* What has been the impact of a top-down approach to the teaching of literacy on teachers' approaches to formative assessment?

* Is there a relationship between teachers' personal and professional biographies and their approaches to formative assessment?

This paper discusses the methodological approach of the study, including practicalities in terms of both study design and validity. The intention of this is to highlight what makes a critically quasi-ethnographic approach unique, and to provide potential help, support, and motivation to other researchers considering adopting such an approach.

A Critically Quasi-Ethnographic Approach

In seeking a description of the methodological approach of the study, I feel that it is appropriate to describe it as "critically quasi-ethnographic". The principal characteristic that leads me to describe it as such is its ethnographic stance. The term "quasi" is attributed to the timescale of the study and frequency of visits to the sites of data collection, and the term "critical" refers to the notion of adopting strategic and collaborative elements to the study.

Ethnography is the organised study of other groups of people and is commonly associated with anthropological studies of other cultures. …

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