The qualitative research

List the various approaches to qualitative research and give a brief description of each.

  • Ethnography is a qualitative research method used for gathering data on human societies and cultures through the use of interviews, questionnaires, observations and historical search. Ethnographic studies focus on the holistic aspect of the human being, that is, before the interpretation of the results, the researcher collects some personal details in order to understand the current situation of that individual in the best way possible. Such details include state of the person, location, occupation, level of education and socioeconomic status. The practice of ethnography usually involves the researcher living among the population being studied since they are the most knowledgeable source of information of that particular study. Furthermore ethnography can be problem and topic oriented and thus does not take account of the geographical situation. Ethnographic studies demand for accurate reflections on the participants' perspective and behaviour, inductive and interactive data collection. Through ethnography, new issues are discovered through the exploration, confirmation and innovation of relationship amongst the chosen variables. Ethnography contributes to issue amplification while suspending judgement till results are properly analysed in cultural, social, personal and historical context.
  • Life history is another technique for carrying out qualitative research. It mainly focuses on the physiology and behaviour of a person based on events that occur within his/her life cycle. Since it is a longitudinal study, the participant is examined in its various life stages such as at the age of weaning, childhood, adolescence and adult hood. As a result, a life history presents the overall picture of the participant's life and thus one will be able to find out what it is like to live the participant's life. This approach is generally carried out through open ended and unstructured questionnaires where the interviewee will have to give a detailed account on the chronological events of his/her life and not just a "yes" or "no" answer.
  • Action research is reflective approach to qualitative research as it is seen in the context of focused efforts in order to improve the quality of an organisation and its practices through superior ways of addressing issues and solving the problems. It is a systematic form of inquiry which is collective, colalborative, self reflective and critical and thus will lead to the development of principles of good practise. Action research has the potential to explore and test new ideas, methods and resources, to test how effective the approaches were and then share feedback on the outcomes. This type of methodology embraces action and research at the same time through the constant shifting between actions and critical thinking and by continuously refining methods and interpretations in relation to the understanding developed in previous studies and steps in the same research. Action research is seen as an emerging process especially when the level of knowledge and understanding increases and also as an iterative process which leads to a better improvement on what has just happened.
  • Case study is a common research methodology used for qualitative research which is based on an in-depth investigation carried out with an individual, a group of people or particular events in order to find more about certain actions and behaviours and identify underlying principles. Case studies are based on a longitudinal research and thus provide a systematic way of looking at data, its collection, anlayzing and reporting the results. As a result case studies avail themselves to both generating and testing hypothesis as through results the researcher might shed a light on some aspects and consequences which might need further research in the future. Case studies are empirical investigations that investigate an experience, event or fact within its real-life context. In such a methodology researchers do not focus on generalizable truth as conclusions are only about the particular participant at a particular time period, nor do they look for cause and effect relationship, but within case studies emphasis is placed on exploration and description.
  • Biography is a research method where the researcher uses a real story to understnad a particular social story, however, such story is not written or told by the person on whose biography is presented. It is a description of someone's life and his/her story while highlighting important events and incidents that happened within his/her life including intimate details of experiences and personality analysis. Such details include childhood, adolescence experiences, educational background, any achievements and professional life. A biography can be found in different mediums such as essays, documentaries and films.
  • Focus group is another form of qualitative research where a group of people are asked about their views, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards an issue, event or experience. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where all participants are free to talk with other group members. They have a high validity ration as ideas are easy to understand and results are reliable. Focus groups are of low cost and one can get results very quick and thus can increase sample size by forming a number of groups which can be interviewed at once. Focus groups can also occur through teleconferencing and online conversations.
  • Interview is a conversation between two or more people where interviewer asks questions to get answers from the interviewee. Interviews are generally used for meaningful and indepth information where participants are asked for detailed information and to suggest their ideas. Interview can be in the form of structured where the same close ended questions are asked to different people, semi structured where progression of the questions is randomly and unstructured where open ended questions take place more in the form of a conversation where participant is allowed to say everything s/he likes and needs to say. After each interview, it is the duty of the researcher to write a transcript of everything said during the interview and hand it back to the interviewee in order to verify or modify any data or misinterpretations.
  • Questionnaires are also a research instrument made up of a series of questions and other prompts targeted for gathering information from respondents. A questionnaire can be based upon closed ended questions, open ended questions or a mixture of both where respondent will either formulate his/her own answer or pick an answer from a given number of options. Questionnaires can be conducted either face-to-face, paper-pencil or computerized questionnaires.
  • Observation enables the researcher to gather live data from live situations. This enables the researcher to understand the context of programmes, to be open ended and inductive, to see things that might be unconsciuosly missed, to discover things that participarnts might not freely talk about in interview situations and to move beyond perception based data. Through observation the researcher can gather data on physical setting, human setting, interactional setting and programme setting. There are three types of observations available for the researcher to work on including highly structured, semi structed and unstructured where hypotheses are either generated or tested. The researcher can take a number of roles in observation ranging from complete participation to complete detachment. When analysing data obtained, it can be carried out either by event sampling, instantaneous sampling, interval recording or rating scales according to the research question posed. Apart from describing what the researcher obsered, s/he can also needs to interpret the ovservations through evaluation and judgement of observational variables, making assumptions and conclusions about what was observed.

Textual analysis

List the titles of dissertations, papers, and/or books to give one example of each of the different qualitative research approaches that can be used to investigate secondary schools in Malta.


Vanessa Gatt and Michelle Tonna (1998) Becoming boys: Gender identities in the primary school. B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.

Life history:

Audrey Dingli (1998) Hannah: The story of a Maltese secondary school teacher. Unpublished B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.

Action research:

Valerie Mizzi and Nadia Vassallo (2002) Changing tactics: A case study in action research. Unpublished B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.

Case study:

Anna Rita Grech (1987) Teaching English in Malta: A case study. XXX University of Malta, Malta.


Focus groups:

Ann-Marie Bonnici (2008) Healthy living! Developing and piloting a health education programme for year 6 students [digital dissertation]. XXX B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.


Christine Bugeja (2008) Teachers' decision-making in the teaching of foreign languages in the secondary classrooms. B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.


David Bartolo (1987) Attitude to Physics questionnaire. B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.


Bernardine Warrington (1991) An observationo f questionning techniques in secondary Maltese schools: Form 1 and 2. B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.

Textual analysis:

M'Louise Borg (1999) A content analysis of English reading texts for Year 5 or primary schools. B.Ed (Hons) dissertation. University of Malta, Malta.

Journal Entry 7

Write down a short critical account of a B.Ed dissertation of your choice that uses qualitative methods as its main mode of inquiry.

Audrey Dingli (1998) Hannah: The story of a Maltese Secondary school teacher. Unpublished B.Ed (Hons) dissertation.

The objectives of the study were to find out how educational pedagogy changed throughout the years including time of World War II, Hannah's childhood and adoloscence and when she was a teacher herself. This study is also intended to find out how social events such as marriage and parenthood and educational events such as compulsory primary education, experiences at secondary schools and college interfered and affected the career of the studied teacher. Another main objective made evident within the study was how professional self and subjective education theory originated and developed through the career of a teacher. Another objective was that through this study one would be know how to become a better and more effective teacher.

Through this biographic study, I think that the researcher managed to reach the objectives of the study effectively and in the clearest way possible by obtaining first hand information from the participant herself who was able to live back her days as a daughter, student, mother and teacher in order to give an overview of her personal and professional development. Through the reconstruction of the teacher's career, critical incidents are explored in detail and thus a clear view is shed upon the objectives . These objectives where also reached beacause the study tackled educational issues and events from the teacher's perspective and not from those who looked above the system and thus could have been biased. Furthermore the indicators for professional development were made clear through the narrative of a teacher's life history.

The researcher has been successful in many ways. First of all before writing a biography she read books about teacher's lives and careers while also researched the history of education in Malta using sources such as books and newspapers which serve as a background in order to achieve her objectives and to understand more when she interviews the informant about past events that occurred in the education system.

I think that such a study was very successful since readers were lead to understand a teacher's professional development by situating the experience in a broader context in order for readers to have a clear overview of both her personal and professional life and so get a better understanding of the development process. The researcher managed to give us a view on what this teacher passed through her career and this was done by purpose in order to encourage prospective and practising teachers to be enthusiastic about their work by exposing them through Hannah's difficulties and achievements. The researcher managed to capture Hannah's life at two levels which include her surface level which is at everyday life and routine and also her deepest level, that is, her feelings, thoughts and opinions. As a result, such details enable the study to be more realistic, reliable and applicable to everyday life and not just some superficial theory which a number of the readers cannot understand. The construction of the narrator's reality allowed the readers to see the individual studied in realtion to the history of her time, geographical positioning and sociocultural context. The quotes and commetary after each chapter enables the reader to find out more about what this teacher thought, felt and lived and thus some light is shed on the lives and conditions of teachers back in the years. The study was also successful as it gives clear and direct ideas of how a life of a teacher progresses while it gives suggestions on how to build relationship with pupils, be organized during lessons and assess pupils. The caption under the various pictures present in the dissertation enabled the readers to easily link the progression of Hannah's life and thus visualize growth. The rhetorical questions present within the biography enables the readers to reflect and think about the stituations and events Hannah passed through. Finally her greatest success in writing a biography of a Maltese teacher was shown by reaching her objectives through a long term interaction and conducting intense and frequent interviews about the brightest and darkest corners of Hannah's life. In addition to this the researcher also gathered and analysed several historical and personal documents that includes photos, letters and autobiographical writing produced in the course of everyday events. I think that the relationship the researcher managed to build with Hannah enabled a better quality study where she was exposed to a higher quality data and good interpersonal skills. Also due to the confidence built amongst them, the researcher was able to capture non-verbal signals and other body language projected by Hannah in order to produce a descriptive life history.

Journal Entry 8

Document Analysis: National Standards for child day care facilities (July 2006)

Collect an educational document and consider its significance in terms of the research question you are dealing with. The following are some enabling questions:

  1. What information does the document contain?
  2. The document deals with the national standards that should be implemented for child day care facilities. The document starts by giving a checklist on who is suitable to be a child carer and thus provide suitable characteristics where the staff at day care centres will have to be compared to. In this part of the document, emphasis on the qualities of the carers is given and it varies upon the qualifications, experience, personality and attitutes towards children. Furthermore the document discusses the importance and recommendations for the physical environment, premises and equipment present in a day care facility in order to ensure safety, cleanliness, secuirty and accessibiilty by all children. In addition to this, the doucment gives an overview of the management and organisation process in order to cater for the safety, wellbeing and care of the children in the premises with a good quality service. In this sub section of the document a list of policies and regulations are also listed for the staff and manager to become familiar to them. Another section within this document deals with the health and safety of the children in order to prevent and control the spread of infections. Further a list of safety measures, fire safety procedures and strict standards of hygiene is published for its implementation within the premises. The knowledge found in the section of 'Care, learning and play' is important to cater for the children' holistic development through the activities organized by the caregivers. Also a list of objectives for different age groups is given in order to be achieved duirng the activities for children to develop properly through different milestones of their childhood years. Another section deals with the involvement and participation of parents in the child care premises for the promotion of welfare and development of the children. A list of guidelines is provided to carers in order to encourage good practice when working with parents. A code of behaviour management is also found in this document as it promotes positive and acceptable discipline for improving the child's behaviour and thus the children will be protected against physical, verbal or emotional abuse. The document also contains information on child protection through the implementation of several child related policies and procedures mostly to protect the child against some type of abuse. Information of food and drinks within the care centres is also given in order to promote a healthy diet and to cater for children with special dietary requirements. Finally the document deals with equal opportunities for everyone including children with special needs through inclusive activities with no diveristy of race, culture, gender and religion. As part of the appendix of this document guidelines for different activities and different equipment according to age is given, accompanied by their objectives.

  3. What prompted the writer to issue this document? In what context was the document written?
  4. The writer was encouraged to issue this document to ensure an improved environment for the children to achieve a good holistic development. It was developed in consideration of day care and educational needs of children below three years of age. The writer could also have been prompted by the increase demand for child care centres due to both parents working long hours these days who may or may not have other relatives who are able to take care of the child.Therefore there is a need for quality day care to children which serves as an alternative to parents so it is important that standards of these facilities are kept high to maintain safety and well being of the child. Furthermore the writer could have published the doucment to facilitate work and family balance for families and to contribute to the promotion of social cohesion. I also think that the writer wanted a peace of mind for the parents who entrust their children in child day care by having qualified persons within the premises.

    The document is written in the twentieth first century in national context which is applicable to Malta. This document is intended to be applied to child day care services forming part of the public, private and voluntary sectors. This document is also applicable to home based facilities and centre based ones such as kinder gardens, nurseries and play schools.

  5. What was the purpose behind it?
  6. The aim of the document is to promote a new view of childhood which is an important phase in the life cycle and not just preparation to an adults life so children are allowed to enjoy their present and realise their potential rather than being imposed on the things they still have to do. This document will be the springboard for the improvement of the children's quality of life by ensuring a better, safer and healthier environment for them through improved children's service. Another aim of the document is to promote the emotional, social and educational development of the young ones and wellbeing of themselves and their families. This document is also intended to safeguard the wellbeing of the best interest of the child and promote social organization. It is also targeted to empower parents to have an active role in the education of their younger ones by monitoring the quality and appropriateness of the services offered to their children and therefore ensure that the utmost benefit is derived by children, parents and community in general. This document is also intended to serve as a reference by the child care providers who can easily find out what is expected of them in offering proper child day services. This document also serves as a monitoring tool for assessing the quality and outcomes of these services.

  7. Imagine a research question related to the issue discussed in the document you chose. What light does the document shed on the research question?
  8. A research question could be "How is the holistic development of a child catered in a child day care?" The document will be a perfect response for the research question since it gives an overview on what ought to be done in order to serve as scaffolding for children during their childhood years. A list of activities for appropriate ages is given and backed up by objectives related to each development stage of a child including emotional, social, physical and intellectual.

  9. What impact is it likely to have on my interpretation of the data?

It could have given me a clearer view of what a parent or guardian should expect as a service from the child day care facilities. I think that I could have been a bit biased since the document stated direct and straight forward objectives which could have been not practised in the child day care centres (where I could have positioned my study). The document surely left a positive influence since the message was clear and backed up by giving practical methods on how to improve the services and conditions which can be easily implemented in such premises.

Journal Entry 9

Present a descriptive write up of students playing during mid-day break.

On Wednesday 3rd March, I assigned some of my observation time in the school grounds during the midday break, which begins at noon and is about thirty minutes long, in order to get a feel on the activities that occur during this break. The main ground where most of the pupils position themselves is the largest one amongst the other four grounds present within the school. The ground is surrounded by three teaching blocks namely Block A, B and C, the Art block and Home-Economics block. Furthermore all the administration offices and some staffrooms overlook the same ground and thus a good amount of observation and discipline can easily be kept. Next to the main yard there is also an open picnic area with tables for short reprieve in the sun. The school tuck shop is just a stone's throw away from the mentioned ground which serves food items during mid-morning and mid-day breaks. Some cars were parked all along the perimeter of the ground with a number of students fiddling and modelling in front of their mirrors. This situation caused a hindrance to those pupils playing basketball who had to be extra vigilant not to cause any physical damage to the teacher's property. I also noticed several signs posted to the walls such as "No chewing gums allowed", "Walk, don't run" and "Use rubbish bins". A lot of graffiti were sketched along the ground and some walls which exposed various signs of rebellion, names and pet names.

The majority of the students were found in clusters of more than four pupils either of the same age group or circle of friends. However, there was also a number of pupils who were sitting solitary and several times they were even mocked by the larger crowd who passed by. Some older students were wandering in the school grounds, as pointed out by a teacher, searching for the appropriate opportunity to pick up a fight with generally the youngest pupils in the school. A Learning Support Assistant and a Mathematics teachers were in one of the ground corners trying to make a pupil with special needs understand some mathematics concepts. The student seemed to be interacting and participating all along the content which was being covered during that short period of time. Two other teachers were also on their daily supervision on the ground premises in order to keep some order and avoid truancies as much as possible. However, they looked very annoyed according to their body language and several times they pointed their fingers towards a number of pupils giving the impression that the conversation amongst them revolved around the mentioned pupils. Two, of what seemed behaviour challenging pupils were arguing with one of the teachers since, from what I got to know, they were supposed to be in detention during the whole week where instead they were enjoying their break as everybody else. Most of the pupils were eating their lunches, mostly readymade meals bought from the tuck shop since the food varied over crisps, chocolates and some pasties bought in the morning from outside the school premises. They were consuming their lunch on the ground floor and surprisingly enough after finishing their lunch most of the pupils licked their fingers, exposing bad hygiene practices to their peers. The remaining food and packaging were generally thrown on the ground nearby other students who were still eating. As a result the latter group passed rude comments to their action and most of the time slang words were heard in the conversation. In the last few minutes of the break one could see a number of pupils sunbathing with their heads resting on their friends' lap while gossiping and talking about issues which matter to them and cracking a number of jokes which resulted in shrieking laughter. Other pupils were lying on their tummy busily copying homework over somebody else's work or else scribbling on the ground. On one instance three blond girls started fighting over some issue and ended up in physical violence by pulling hair and kicking. As a result the Assistant Head aided by the two teachers present had to make its way amongst them and sent them to the Head's Office. The spectators ended up either laughing or passing their opinions loudly enough to be heard by other kids. A Form 5 group of pupils were practising a dance in the middle of the ground and some of their friends acted as supporters since they shouted and clapped constantly at them. As soon as the bell rang for the sixth lesson to begin, booing sounds and yawns of annoyment were highly visible with very little willingness to stand up from the floor.

Journal Entry 10

Interview The transition experiences of students from primary to secondary schools can be explored through the use of interviews. Imagine yourself interviewing a child to investigate his/her own experiences of such a transition.
  1. What are the ethical procedures that the researcher should follow in interviewing the child?
  2. The aim of the research must be a direct benefit to the child or adolescents in their community, if not, the researcher have to make it a point to alter the research question for the benefit of this vulnerable group of people. The researcher need to always put the best interest of the child first by promoting and protecting their well being. It is unethical to involve children in a research if no valid information results. Therefore s/he will have to make the best to foresee possible negative consequences and ensure that the research will not lead to any direct or indirect harm including physiologically, socially, emotionally and physically. As a result, primarily the researcher needs to obtain the consent from the Ethics committee especially when dealing with sensitive issues. After this approval, the consent of the legal guardians of the child is required since the research is carried out with a minor. Interviewer should provide the guardians with the information about the activity in a manner appropriate to their culture and education. The researcher also needs to make sure that such a research is culturally accepted by the participants and their families. After obtaining such a permission, the researcher has the responsibility to inform the child in a way that s/he can understand, which means that the information must be adapted and age appropriate for their participation to be voluntary and not based on incentives or any pressure. The researcher needs to explain to the child that the interview will be anonymous and beneficence in order to build a relationship based on honesty, trust and integrity. It is very important for the researcher to clearly indicate to the children and their guardians when and if the promise of confidentiality will be broken and to whom. The interview has to be catered for the child according to his/her age so that the children are provided with the opportunity to express themselves and make choices in a way that is corresponding to their understanding. The interviewer should make the child aware that s/he can stop and withdraw from the research at any time or else choose not to respond to certain questions and thus will be allowing the children to have a say on things which affect them directly in the lives. Researchers also need to be sensitive regarding non verbal behaviour especially from young children which indicate that they wish to end the interview. It would be ideal for the interview to be carried out in a visible place where participants cannot be overheard, unless there is the aim to hide the involvement of the child and thus need to be carried in private. Furthermore, careful planning is important in order for the researcher to become aware of the possible consequences obtained through the asked questions, both intentionally and unintentionally which can have a dreadful effect on the young people and their families. When instances occur where the child remembers painful incidents such as physical abuse, emotional abuse and feeling of isolation during the transition period, the researcher should make it a point to ask the child for permission to involve other people from inside or outside the school such as social workers or guidance teachers in order to help him/her get over the troublesome issues and stop the interview immediately. The researcher should make it a point to stop the research unless appropriate responses to potentially harmful consequences can be provided. Furthermore since children are continually developing holistically, it is important for the researcher to reflect on the whole research process and thus has to make adaptations and modifications accordingly, in the case where basic conditions were altered. Research should always be based on respect and confidentiality since when researching certain delicate topics the child need to even be protected from their parents or legal guardians because of the confidential information and any secrets the child felt to discuss with the interviewer. The researcher have to make it a point to "balance the need amongst maximizing the children's participation by hearing their own opinions on the issues affecting their lives with the need to minimize their exposure to harm" when gaining information on sensitive issues and thus minimize intrusion from the researcher's point of view. Interviewers should genuinely listen and respect the views of children while being sensitive to their reactions and not override their responses in order to complete the interview session. The researcher should never disrupt the education of the child by withdrawing her/him from the classroom during lesson time since it might put extra pressure on the interviewee to state due to labelling. It is also important for the interviewer not to raise expectations for the students by presenting the interview as some sort of therapy or discussion. The interviewer has to make it a point for children not to develop attachments with him/her since s/he is only available for a certain time period. As a result, it would be a good idea for the interviewer to link the participants to other outsiders who are well informed about the situation and is willing to provide support and assistance in order for pupils to have someone to look out for after the interviewer vanishes from the site. After the interview have taken place, it is important that the researcher reads the transcript to the child and explain clearly what had been written for the child to add or reduce the content according to what s/he thinks is the best. Also, it is important that the researcher provides the legal guardians of the child which full name and contact details to be available if a misunderstanding or query arises. During the write up it is the duty of the interviewer to keep the children's identity private and not traceable to protect them from harmful consequences such as stigmatization.

  3. Prepare questions for an unstructured interview with the child.
  • How and by whom where you prepared for secondary school?
  • What were the biggest worries you were not looking forward to move to secondary school? How worried did you feel?
  • What were the biggest hopes you were looking forward to move to the secondary school?
  • How do you feel in the new school?
  • What was the best thing about starting secondary school?
  • What did you find was the hardest thing to cope with when you began secondary school? How did you deal with that?
  • What helps you to do fine in secondary school?
  • What were the main differences that you found between primary and secondary school? How did you feel about these differences?
  • What might have helped you to feel less anxious about going to secondary school?



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