A Discussion on the Strengths and Weaknesses of Using Participant Observations to Research Teacher Attitudes Towards Male and Female Pupils

Assess the strengths and weaknesses of using participant observations to research teacher attitudes towards male and female pupils Observations can be an effective method of studying teacher attitudes as the researcher can see firsthand how teachers interact with their pupils, producing valid data. Observations can be very structured. Which are preferred by positivists as they are more reliable. Or less structured, which interpretivists prefer since they allow them to find meanings behind behaviours and attitudes. Observations can also either be participant or non-participant.

A limitation of using participant observations to study teacher attitudes. Is that they don’t always produce valid data. A teacher may try to hide. Any negative attitudes or behaviours such as discrimination because. They don’t want to look bad, but this will mean that the results of the study aren’t a true reflection of that teacher’s attitudes. This problem can be overcome by conducting a covert observation; since the teacher doesn’t know they’re being observed, the Hawthorne effect will not occur.

However, it is unlikely that a researcher would be able to carry out an observation covertly in a school since they would stand out and there are limited roles they could take on. Also, the researcher would need to get permission to observe a class beforehand, since young people are vulnerable and can’t always give informed consent.

A practical problem with using participant observations to study teacher attitudes is that they are time-consuming to carry out, and they may take even more time than they usually would if the researcher has to get accustomed to the school. Also, school timetables and holidays restrict the times that researchers can carry out observations.

Delamont says that an ethical issue with observing teacher attitudes to male and female pupils is that the researcher may see something that could get a pupil or a teacher into trouble. Also, he says that care should be taken to protect pupils and teachers’ identities.

Participant observations are generally not very representative since there are so many schools in the UK and researchers can only carry out observations in a small number of them. Hammersley’s study of teachers did not obtain representative data as he mostly associated with one group of teachers who didn’t treat him with the suspicion as others did. Observing teacher attitudes may mean that the researcher doesn’t obtain a representative sample because schools may not allow them to observe ‘poor’ teachers who will give the school a negative image.

Another problem with conducting participant observations is that they’re not reliable. This is because they are very difficult to standardise and so hard to replicate. Also, teachers may react differently to different researchers due to their age, gender or ethnicity.

Teachers may not act genuinely around researchers conducting observations because they believe that they are superior to the researchers. Other problem with observing teachers is that they are used to being inspected by other teachers or Ofsted, and so they may change their behaviour or attitudes in order to impress the researcher.

In conclusion, participant observations may be a good method to study teachers’ attitudes to male and female pupils as they often produce valid data.

Interpretivist sociologists favour them for this reason. However, participant observations often lack reliability and representativeness, and it can be difficult to gain necessary access in schools. For this reason, positivists may find it more useful to use a more reliable method such as a structured interview.

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