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465637QRJ0010.

1177/1468794112465637Qualitative ResearchPinter and Zandian


2012

Article Q
‘I thought it would be tiny R
little one phrase that we said, Qualitative Research

in a huge big pile of papers’: 2015, Vol. 15(2) 235­–250


© The Author(s) 2012
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DOI: 10.1177/1468794112465637
involvement in participatory qrj.sagepub.com

research

Annamaria Pinter
University of Warwick, UK

Samaneh Zandian
University of Warwick, UK

Abstract
In this article, we report on a follow-up session that was organised to share findings with children about
a participatory research project they had been involved in a few months earlier. This was motivated
by the ethical concern that it is the children’s right to be informed about the results of the research.
In the process of reflecting on the research project, however, the children diverted the researcher’s
focus onto aspects of the research that mattered to them. Rather than discussing the results and
the benefits of the research, the children were keen to discuss issues of representation, questioning
the researcher about pseudonyms, transcribing and their role and presence in the dissertation. The
follow-up session opened up a transformational space where both the child participants and the adult
researchers gained new understandings about research processes and relationships. We argue that
such retrospective reflection can be a beneficial tool to explore children’s post hoc interpretations
about the research, while developing researcher reflexivity.

Keywords
children, ethics, participatory research, representation, voices

Introduction
Much attention in the educational literature has been devoted to children’s roles in
research that concerns their lives (e.g. James et al., 1998; Kellett and Ding, 2004; O’Kane,

Corresponding author:
Annamaria Pinter, Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AY, UK.
Email: Annamaria.Pinter@warwick.ac.uk

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236 Qualitative Research 15(2)

2008; Westcott and Littleton, 2005), and, in particular, participatory and interactive
methods have been endorsed as effective ways of involving children more actively, more
responsibly and more ethically. Such participation, however, often ends abruptly once
the project is completed, since the writing-up stages are almost exclusively claimed by
adult stakeholders. Dissemination of the research findings happens through specialist
research conferences and by publishing in academic journals, both exclusively targeted
at specialist adult audiences. How the participant children come to view and make sense
retrospectively of their participation in such research is, however, not known. In this
article, we report on a follow-up session with children several months after a short, inten-
sive participatory project (on a master’s programme) was conducted. We argue that the
follow-up session provided a dynamic space where the children commented on the
research approach and tools, and shared their reflections about the findings, but more
remarkably, initiated discussions on aspects of the research process that were uniquely
interesting to them. Their willingness to take control of the agenda and use the researcher
as a source of knowledge resulted in changes in their understanding about research in
general and their own role in it.

Background
Researchers embracing the principles advocated by the ‘New Sociology of Childhood’
have pointed to the various benefits of shifting from adult-dominated to child-focussed
research (e.g. Christensen and James, 2000; Christensen and Prout, 2002). The underly-
ing argument in support of putting children in more active roles in research maintains
that children’s views about aspects of childhood are inherently different from adult
views, and children’s own perspectives are essential in helping us understand childhood
with its unique messages and perspectives (Alderson, 2000). In fact, children’s views and
opinions, when taken seriously, have been shown to challenge traditional adult perspec-
tives (e.g. Coppock, 2010; Johnson, 2008). Taking control of all these stages of research
would be characterised as research conducted entirely by children (Kellett, 2010a).
Realistically, however, such a complete role reversal is not feasible in most contexts, and
therefore, many researchers have been promoting research with children, where adult
facilitators work alongside children or in collaboration with them. In addition to ethno-
graphic methods (e.g. James, 2007; Levine, 2007), one such popular approach is based
on using participatory techniques (e.g. O’Kane, 2008, 2003; Punch, 2002; Tisdall et al.,
2006). Participatory approaches have their roots in the work of Freire (1972), who
believed that valid knowledge was constructed in collaboration and action, in a process
that attempts to be genuinely democratic and empowering. This type of research can
involve the use of a range of different tools (drama, stories, visual art and music), which
have the potential to accommodate the emergence of children’s views in natural and
meaningful ways. In participatory activities, children have some opportunities to shape
the research agenda (e.g. Alderson, 1995; Hart and Tyrer, 2006; Johnson, 1996;
Nieuwenhuys, 1996; Veale, 2005), and as O’Kane (2000) notes, ‘participatory approaches
provide space for the research participants to establish their own analytical framework,
and their own interpretation of reality’ (p. 129). An additional bonus is that younger, less
proficient, less talkative, disabled or otherwise marginalised children can also fully

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Pinter and Zandian 237

participate through their preferred modes of communication without the need to rely on
oral or written verbal accounts (e.g. Thomson, 2008).
Some have argued that participatory techniques lead to ‘better research’ with chil-
dren (e.g. Smith et al., 2002), although Holland et al. (2010) point out that this has not
actually been systematically evidenced. Much participatory research happens on the
‘surface’ of children’s lives, for example, in school contexts where the social order of
adult control makes genuine participation difficult to achieve. As Holland et al. (2010)
point out, a great deal of criticism about participation is ‘much more about methodo-
logical understandings of research than about specific techniques’ (p. 362). Accordingly,
the debate about children’s participation is ongoing, addressing a range of important
factors that impact upon it, such as the power gap between children and adults, partici-
pants’ interpretations about the research, the extent to which reflexivity in the ongoing
dialogue can be built between adult facilitators and children and ethical conundrums
(e.g. Westcott and Littleton, 2005) specific to individual contexts. Gallacher and
Gallagher (2008) suggest that, ultimately, participatory research with children is still
adult dominated, as adults initiate the projects, analyse and interpret the data and write
up conclusions from their point of view.
It is noticeable overall that very few studies include the children at the data analysis
and dissemination stages, even though ethical guidelines almost always refer to these
stages explicitly (e.g. Morrow and Richards, 1996). Alderson (2000) reviews a handful of
studies where children, but mainly those in the higher age range (young people between
12 and 16 years of age), were actively involved in the dissemination of research findings,
even though Morrow (2005) suggests that when research results are fed back to children,
they do respond well and ask pertinent questions. Grover (2004) notes that even older
children, those between the ages of 16 and 18 years, rarely have the opportunity of ‘pro-
viding data regarding personal reflections on the topic studied or their experience as
research participants’ (p. 82), despite the fact that it is considered the research participants’
inherent right to contribute their unique views about issues such as ‘the formulation of the
research problem and their experience of the research processes’ (p. 82). In their summary
of key questions for research with children, Christensen and Prout (2002) also discuss
‘dissemination’ and ‘impact’ as key aspects of conducting ethical research with children,
but they make similar comments as above that research with children has mainly addressed
the formal requirements of access, recruiting informants, obtaining consent and handling
anonymity and confidentiality, and it has paid much less attention to the ‘broader aspects
of the research process’ (pp. 490–491). These neglected broader aspects include involve-
ment and participation in the research process and its design, the interpretation of the data,
the later dissemination of results and consideration of the potential benefits and other
effects on the children. Alderson (2000) argues that this may be the case because ‘research
in schools and universities, which mainly aims to add knowledge, tends to concentrate on
the middle stages of projects: collecting and analysing data and writing reports’ (p. 279),
rather than disseminating the results or consulting the children about their thoughts and
reflections afterwards. Wellard et al. (1997) point out that the stages after the research is
written up are often not funded. As a result, as Willow (1997) notes, many young research-
ers report being disillusioned because after their involvement, the findings are simply
ignored or forgotten instead of being implemented.

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238 Qualitative Research 15(2)

The Master of Arts (MA) project and the follow-up stage


Two adult researchers (a postgraduate (PG) student (S.Z.) and her supervisor (A.P.))
initiated this project as part of the requirement of completing a dissertation for a mas-
ter’s degree. The topic of the research was children’s experience and perception of
adaptation and intercultural encounters. The participating children were based at a
local state primary school that received many international children due to its proxim-
ity to a large international university in the United Kingdom. While there is a great deal
of research with adults, especially international students, regarding patterns and
aspects of intercultural adaptation (e.g. Cortazzi and Jin, 1997; Kennedy, 1999;
Spencer-Oatey and Xiong, 2006; Ward and Kennedy, 1993), much less interest has
targeted international children in primary schools, except for international schools
(e.g. Grimshaw and Sears, 2008), complementary schools (e.g. Creese and Martin,
2003) and long-term child immigrants (e.g. Miller, 2003; Warriner, 2007). There is
also a dearth of research looking at local/host children’s understanding of intercultural
issues (although see Kirova and Emme, 2008), and it is this gap in particular that the
PG student was keen to fill by investigating local children’s perceptions and views
about intercultural issues.
As part of a 1-year master’s programme, the project was carried out in the summer
term of 2010/2011 with the follow-up phase in the autumn term of 2011/2012. First, a
short questionnaire was designed that was given to a whole class of 10- to 11-year-
olds. In order to complement and elaborate these initial views and gain further insights,
a participatory group interview was designed. Four children were invited to participate
at this stage. The children (two boys and two girls) in the participatory activity were all
close friends as they had been at school together since age 5. They were all relatively
high achievers, motivated and talkative. They were comfortable together, and they
were eager to help the PG student researcher with her dissertation. The session was
organised in a familiar home context where access was easier and less complicated
than at school (Baker and Weller, 2003). The topic was particularly interesting for the
children not just because of the international sojourner children in their school but also
because being year 6 children (final year of primary aged 11) in the summer term, they
were all apprehensive about school transition from primary to secondary (from one
local culture to another).
Within the group interview, two participatory activities were used. In the ‘Diamond
Ranking Activity’ (which was adopted and adapted from O’Kane, 2000), the children
were asked: ‘What would be most helpful to you if you had to live in a new country for
a year? The four children were split into two pairs, and they were given a large diamond
shaped cardboard and 10 statements on small cards. They were asked to discuss and
organise the 10 ideas by ranking them according to their perceived importance. Once
finished with this task in pairs, they were invited to share their diamond with one another
noticing and discussing differences. The second activity, ‘Suggestions for Newcomers’,
was also designed for group work. In this activity, the two groups were asked to think of
five things for newcomers to do and not to do in order to fit more easily in a new educa-
tional environment. After the groups finished this task, they were encouraged to com-
ment on each others’ recommendation, and also justify their own decisions. These two

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Pinter and Zandian 239

participatory activities elicited useful insights from the children about their understand-
ing of intercultural encounters, and some aspects of the cultural adaptation process, such
as positive and negative transitional experiences (Zandian, 2011).
Once the data from the participatory activity were collected and analysed, the PG
student was able to write her MA dissertation, and in a conventional sense, this was the
end of the research process. We recognised, however, that the one-off participatory con-
tact with the children only offered a snapshot of their views despite their active participa-
tion (Darbyshire et al., 2005). We wanted to have another chance to meet the children, so
we decided to share the findings of the project with them several months after the partici-
patory phase. Our other concern was ethical, in the sense that we felt it was ethically
appropriate to communicate the findings of the project to them. To this end, the PG
researcher decided to show the children her completed MA dissertation. At the same
time, anticipating that the adult product may not be interesting for them, she also pro-
vided the children with a short, 11-page version of the dissertation (a mini version of the
dissertation) and a large poster, which illustrated how she matched the children’s data
extracts to ideas in the wider literature about intercultural adaptation. The same children
were gathered together again in the same home environment, and the following reflec-
tion questions were prepared by the researcher to guide the discussion:

• How did you like the research tools (i.e. the questionnaire and participatory inter-
view)? What changes would you recommend to the tools?
• Looking at these findings, who do you think should read/know about this MA
dissertation?
• How do you think you benefited from participating in this research?

While the actual MA dissertation was left on the table to pick up, browse and consult,
the PG student asked the children to read through, taking turns, both the mini dissertation
and the extracts in the poster.

Children’s voices in interviews with adults


Discussions of children’s voices (e.g. Komulainen, 2007; Lundy, 2007; Morris, 1999)
frequently highlight the fact that during any actual encounter with the adult, a child’s
utterance is only partially his or hers (Bakhtin, 1986: 94) because it relates to what pre-
ceded it and to what is anticipated to follow. A dialogical relationship exists between the
child’s own voice and all the other voices that have been appropriated from discourses
and social practices accessible to that child. This is particularly relevant here since chil-
dren are asked to respond to pre-set questions while consulting/reading the mini disserta-
tion and the poster that the researcher prepared. It can be argued that many of the
responses are likely to echo the content they had just been presented with, and their
voices are filtered through the adult conceptions of reflecting on the project, that is, the
pre-set questions. Moreover, when responding to adult-initiated questions, their responses
might be coloured by what they think the adult is expecting to hear.
In contrast, some researchers have drawn our attention to the fact that resistance or
deviation from the ‘expected’ adult focus reflect children’s authentic choices and

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240 Qualitative Research 15(2)

preferences and thus must be recognised and unpacked in the research process rather than
ignored as mere distraction. In fact, according to Grover (2004), it is good practice for
researchers to permit children to deviate from the pre-set questions. Recently, for exam-
ple, Alerby and Kostenius (2011) explored the unofficial outcomes of a questionnaire
study where they took a closer look at unanswered questions and notes on the margins to
enhance their own understanding of the children’s messages. Kellett (2010a) also makes
the general point that it is important ‘to listen to children and not just hear what they have
to say’ (p. 197), in other words, listen to their unsolicited comments with as much atten-
tion, if not more, than those that were elicited.
We argue that in our data, the PG researcher was able to notice and respond flexibly
to the children’s unexpected, unsolicited comments within the multiplicity of voices that
emerged during the discussion. These individual unsolicited comments were raw and
highly emotional, and they stood out as different from the structured answers to adult
questions. In the discussion that follows, we present these unsolicited comments as they
emerged while the children were engaging with the researcher’s pre-set questions, the
mini dissertation and the poster. Interestingly, all the spontaneous comments and ques-
tions were connected to issues of representation, that is, how the children saw themselves
and their roles in the study.

Pseudonyms and transcribed talk


The researcher begins by thanking the children for coming along, and she shows them
the MA dissertation, the mini dissertation and the poster. Then she invites them to evalu-
ate the research tools. Many suggestions are offered. Amy recommends, for example,
that a new question could be included in the questionnaire to help children think about
the similarities and differences between their own and other cultures:

Amy: I’d write like ... First thing that one thing that you would miss some similari-
ties between your new country Acabaloo and wherever you came from, and
sort of put, put like put some sentences down about how the similarities and
the differences are, and what you can do to make yourself better ...

Amy also compares the different research tools and expresses a clear preference for the
participatory group activities where thoughts and ideas were readily shared. This is con-
trasted with the solitary activity of completing a questionnaire on one’s own where there
is no scope for changing your mind. She adds that in group discussions, you get to know
others’ ideas, and this helps you shape your own thoughts:

Amy: I prefer talking like that, because the discussion between people is better
cause you get to tell your ideas whereas in the questionnaire you don’t know
other people’s ideas and you m-might change your own or what you think
about.

Building on Amy’s ideas, Tim also comments that when you talk together, you can pro-
vide more detail and explain why you have a particular opinion.

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Pinter and Zandian 241

Tim: Well, while talking you can ... em. you can bring- you can explain things more
in detail rather than in the questionnaire it’s just ..., like for example in that
question, ‘who would you rather sit next to?’ ... emm this way you can say
why and all the things like that.

Here, the children are staying focussed on the researcher’s question and are building on
each other’s ideas as they brainstorm suggestions and reflect on the advantages of the
participatory activities. The PG researcher takes note of these helpful responses regard-
ing her question, and she is just about ready to ask the next set of questions, when one of
the children, Tina, looking at the dissertation left open on the table, suddenly asks a ques-
tion: ‘Who is Sally?’

Tina: Who is Sally?


Researcher: Aha, the thing is that I changed the name because we mentioned that
you are going to be anonymous, so no one is going to know your
names so I changed you names, so that no one can realise that who is
saying ... what, so the names are not real. So that you will be: ... anony-
mous and no one realize your name but you can
Tina: I think Ben is Lennin.
Researcher: (laughter) So yeah, we changed the names, I-I changed the names but,
probably you can realise who is who.
Tina: I think I am Sally.
(laughter)
[ ... ]
Tim: It sounds like me, saying, ... oh, making friends and things like that ...
Researcher: hmm.
Amy: That was definitely me, ... Ellen.
Researcher: Okay ... So, you remember what you were talking about last time.
Good!
Tina: That’s probably me.
Amy: That sounds like me anyway. That’s definitely you, Tim!
Tina: Yeah, that’s you::!! (laughter)
Researcher: But no one would realize that who is saying ... what because people
who are reading this book ... em … they don’t know each, either of
you
Amy: Yeah.
Researcher: So you can recognize yourself sometimes but no one else can do that
... That’s why we changed the names so that you feel free to say what-
ever you like.

This extract is full of outbursts of emotion and laughter (Grover, 2004) as the children are
suddenly eager to identify themselves in the dissertation. They turn the pages and look for
extracts that they recognise as their own, and this search continues until everyone is satis-
fied that they know their own pseudonyms. The spontaneous question coming from the
children gives the researcher the unexpected opportunity to explain the rationale behind

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242 Qualitative Research 15(2)

protecting people’s identities, that is, revisiting an important issue in research that was
discussed at the beginning of the project, but suddenly seeing the extracts in print serves
as a good ‘physical demonstration’ to show what pseudonyms actually are.
After this detour, the researcher asks the children to get back to looking at the mini
dissertation, when one of the children makes another unsolicited comment, this time
about the appearance of their talk on the page. Tim suggests that the broken sentences,
fragments and fillers make the talk look messy and hard to follow. He is a bit embar-
rassed about it (‘I am doing it now’) and perhaps surprised at being faced with how he
comes across in speech. The implication is that perhaps this messiness needs changing
and correcting, possibly by an adult, before presentation:

Tim: well, sometimes, because of the way we are talking it is sometimes


quite hard to tell, some ... I am doing it now, sometimes it is quite hard
to tell what you actually mean because there is a lot of ‘like this’, ‘like
that’, and a lot of pauses and a lot of ‘like’ (laughter)
Researcher: you know, ... first of all, it should be exactly as you say it, it should not
be changed.
All: Yeah?
Researcher: Because if I change it, I change it not correctly, I misunderstand you,
but when I listen to the tape ...
All: Hhmm, yeah.
Tim: ... I was just a bit surprised to see how many times, not not like to
change it, I was just a bit surprised to see how many times like lots of
pauses, and starting a sentence in the middle of a sentence, and like
this like that.
Researcher: Normal talk is always like that, even adults, ... everyone is like that, they
call this transcribing, listen to the tape and write down exactly what you
hear. I understood it very well when I was listening to your parts.

The researcher here takes the opportunity to engage with the children about the conventions
she was using and she introduces the technical term ‘transcribing’. The children not only
become acquainted with the natural features of their talk, but they acquire some technical
research know-how, and perhaps even more importantly, realise that what was assumed to
be messy and untidy can at the same time be positioned as technically ‘correct’. This messi-
ness can be redefined as valuable and authentic from the researcher’s point of view.

Voice and perceived role in research


As the children continue to work through the mini dissertation, another spontaneous
comment is raised when they realise that their own quotations dominate the findings
chapter. Tina here comments that she did not expect to see her own ideas in their original
shape but instead as reformulated by the adult researcher. Amy also agrees.

Researcher: Yes, quite a lot of quotes. So did you not expect it to become like this
when you were talking in the research?

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Pinter and Zandian 243

All: No.
Researcher: No? What were you expecting it to be like?
Tina: Eem ... I don’t know, I just thought you would put it in your own words ...
Amy: Yes, me too.

The suggestion that the researcher would represent their ideas and thoughts in her own
words rather than use their direct quotations indicates that the children assumed that the
researcher would have full ownership of their data and the right to represent and reformu-
late their ideas according to her own perspectives. It is clear that even though in the brief-
ing session at the beginning of the research it had been emphasised that their views and
opinions mattered and the researcher was keen to represent their own ‘voices’, the chil-
dren did not really know what this meant in practice. By observing the direct quotations
in print, they suddenly realise how pervasive their own words actually were in the dis-
sertation. This underlines the argument that initial understandings of the research, despite
the adult’s best intentions, may remain partial and heavily influenced by the prevailing
social practices of adults, such as parents and teachers, who would normally rephrase and
reformulate children’s voices to ‘correct’ them. These children assume that the research-
er’s interpretations of their own words would automatically override what they had to say
and how they said it. This signals an assumed lack of authority and expectation to hand
over power and responsibility to the knowledgeable and competent adult. In fact, the view
that only one phrase, or ‘a tiny part’, would be theirs in the dissertation signals that their
original conceptions about their representation are challenged in the follow-up session:

Tim: I thought it would be kind of, part of, part of that like the big thing that was
written, all about it, I thought it would be like tiny little like one phrase that
we said, like in a huge big pile of papers, it is like one phrase that we said, or
something
Amy: Basically we would not imagine that we would be quite so much ...

When reading the extracts on the poster, where the PG researcher integrated the chil-
dren’s ideas with the literature on cultural adaptation, the children also comment on their
own role and significance in the research project. They find the idea of comparing what
they said and what other researchers had found surprising, and it is clear that when they
understand that their contributions are as useful and important as those in the wider lit-
erature, they feel valued and proud. Tina uses the word ‘amazing’ to indicate her surprise
and contentment.

Tim: I am quite interested in how you are commenting on our comments.


Tina: ... it is amazing how, how the things we said lots of other researchers have
found out as well. So like ... lots of people’s opinions are the same so, if they
do do something about helping a problem like the newcomers it will be prob-
ably OK.

Here, the children gain a further insight about doing research, that is, they realise the
importance of making links between new knowledge, new data and findings from other

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244 Qualitative Research 15(2)

people’s work. Tina feels particularly proud to discover that her ideas were confirmed in
other studies. Understanding their own contribution gives these children confidence and
a positive self-image, that is, affective benefits, often quoted in studies where children
are active participants (e.g. Coppock, 2010).

Changes in understanding
When responding to the second set questions, regarding benefits of the research, the
children start by readily brainstorming ideas according to the researcher’s intended
focus, building on each other’s thoughts.

Researcher: Any other people, anyone else who could benefit?


Tim: There could be like clubs or stuff, outside of, outside of like school and
stuff, but like, um, ... yes, where, if they are taking part in anything,
anything really, then it could help to know this.
Researcher: Samaneh: Hmmm, hmm
Amy: I like, other people, not only people in ... but in the in the community,
wherever they live, it could help the family, by sort of reading that and
understanding how it feels to be the newcomer, looking at it from their
perspective instead of looking at it from a different angle.
Ok, yeah
Tim: Could be like parents of the, the children ... in the schools to help them
which is kind of (inaudible) the other children’s parents, they could
know a bit about it.

The children recommend that people like parents, club leaders and teachers should all
read this piece of research. There is an emphasis on the fact that the community out-
side the school should also know about international children’s situation and their
needs, including local parents. Next, the researcher asks them how this research pro-
ject helped them personally. Tina, as expected, comments that now she can better
appreciate the problems of those newcomers who do not have friends in the primary
school:

Tina: I think it helped, probably helped all of us that did it because we never knew
this research because not many people do it so, when we had new people we
did not know how to make them feel at home, well, in a new home, and then
like those people in our school our school girls and boys are form different
countries because of the university, like there are loads of problems with them
because they have no one to play with, and so it helps us like, helps us ... just
as it helped them.

Tim also explains that they are able to interpret the project not just in terms of their inter-
national friends’ needs but also in terms of their own lived experiences. Tim comments
here that making friends in a new school is very similar to making friends in a new
culture:

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Pinter and Zandian 245

Tim: Because we did this kind of towards the end of year 6, um, basically, like all
that making friends and stuff em kind of applied to like when we were moving
up to our new school and so probably, probably without knowing, probably
helped when making friends and stuff in the new school.

Having covered all the pre-set reflection questions, the PG researcher wants to move on
to wrapping up the discussion, and she asks the children whether they have any further
comments, that is, anything that perhaps surprised them about this project. The children
all say that this whole project was a surprise, and this is not at all what they expected. In
fact, in the following Tina explains that she was expecting something completely differ-
ent, and she spontaneously declares that she has just understood, here, in the follow-up
session, what this research was all about:

Researcher: Is this not what you were expecting? Were you expecting it to be
something like that? ... when you were doing it?
All: No
Amy: I expected to be like ... something like a classics, something you’re
writing down in a notebook more like with YEARS and more like that.
Researcher: Okey, w-what were you expecting it to be?
Tina: emm like I didn’t I didn’t think it would turn out like how it was. Like
I didn’t actually fully understand like what you were doing for your
research but now I do, because you shared what your results came up
with and like ... just like whatever what you did, I didn’t expect it.

Tina explicitly says that it was through this chance to reflect on the research and sharing
ideas about the whole process with the researcher that she finally ‘fully understood’ what
the research they participated in a few months back was all about. Even though in the first
phase, they all understood at some level what this research was about and they all agreed
to participate and gave their consent, it is clear that here they are gaining a deeper under-
standing. This opportunity to deepen their understandings about research, we would
argue, may be particularly important in brief, intensive research projects where sustained
engagement with the children is not possible. Like Spyrou (2011) who points out that
research with children is ‘a time-consuming enterprise’ (p. 18), and, thus, ideally, research-
ers need to engage with children over time to access their deeper, multilayered and often
messy and inconsistent understandings. However, when such longitudinal opportunity is
denied to the researcher, it may be the case that follow-up reflection sessions such as the
one we presented here may help to access some of these layers of understanding. These
deeper layers may not necessarily be more ‘authentic’ views, but they do help to show
how degrees of understanding can grow and take on new aspects in time.

Discussion
As has been noted (e.g. Harwood, 2010: 5), research work involving children that is car-
ried out for PG research, such as MA dissertations, may bring with it restrictions because
of its strong ‘orientation towards the final product’. In this case, the PG researcher was

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246 Qualitative Research 15(2)

not able, for example, to meet the children as many times as she wanted to, work with
them for a sustained period of time or observe them at school because of practical and
time constraints. Building sustained relationships in longitudinal ethnographic studies
may naturally lead to opportunities to reflect on aspects of the research project together
on repeated occasions, but in short, focussed studies, such as an MA dissertation, the
researcher faces many compromises. We argue that the follow-up can potentially address
some of the compromises researchers face when engaged with children in such shorter
studies. In our follow-up session, a space for transforming possibilities (Farrell, 2005:
177) opened up for both the child participants and the adult researcher.
Overall, there is evidence here that having been presented with the dissertation, the
mini dissertation and the poster, the children understood more fully what the whole pro-
ject had been about. They gained greater awareness of their own circumstances, an
appreciation of how we seek to understand the world and represent that understanding
and insights into the nature of research relationships and technicalities. They learnt about
stages of the research, and they saw how – as part of her work – the researcher compared
insights gained from research participants with insights from the literature. They gained
a deeper understanding of how and why pseudonyms were used, how their voices were
represented and how and why their speech was transcribed. The children also developed
their own way of participating here, by diverting attention from the set questions pre-
sented by the researcher. They were noticing what was interesting to them, and this
echoes the idea that what matters is what is ‘real’ to research subjects (Komulainen,
2007: 11 citing Smith, 2002). ‘Real’ questions and comments initiated spontaneously are
often ‘raw, highly informative and socially significant’ (Grover, 2004: 84). As Hunleth
(2011: 17) argues, we need to assess the ways in which children find methods useful and
employ these methods towards their own means. In the follow-up session, the children
made it very clear what aspects of the study were of interest to them, and they focussed
the adult’s attention on just those. The dual attention to both adult and child participant
agendas meant that it was possible to ‘merge academic with local knowledge’ and focus
on the participants as sense makers (Nind, 2011: 359).
The follow-up session also led to researcher transformation in that it increased our
awareness about children’s developing views regarding the research process. Having
helped the PG researcher with the questionnaires and the two participatory activities,
the children expected that their voices would be represented only minimally as ‘tiny
little phrases’ in ‘a huge big pile of papers’. This suggests that their automatic assump-
tion is that the adult representations must be more valid and important, and they clearly
considered themselves objects of research rather than active subjects despite what had
been intended by the researcher. The follow-up session allowed the researcher to have
a more nuanced appreciation of the children’s voices and understandings. If child voice
is conceptualised within a meaningful engagement between a researcher and children,
children should be encouraged to express their views and these views need to be taken
seriously (Lundy, 2007). We feel that this is exactly what happened when the researcher
took note of and engaged with the children’s spontaneous observations and comments
about voice, representation, transcribing and incorporating new data with old. Even
though individual voices are never neutral but layered with other people’s voices and
the social practices and contexts they invoke (Maybin, 2006), insights and questions

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Pinter and Zandian 247

that emerge unsolicited and unrelated to intended research questions deserve to be care-
fully noted and engaged with, even more than those that more closely chime with previ-
ous discussions, the discourse used in the previous participatory activity itself or the
talk reminiscent of school discussion.
Insights from a post hoc reflection session are valuable in that they can encourage
researchers to revisit small-scale research projects and reinterpret their initial research
findings. Such a retrospective angle can thus contribute to enhancing the quality of our
work with children. For PG researchers with varying degrees of experience of undertak-
ing research with children, such follow-up work may highlight limitations of previous
research endeavours (Barker and Weller, 2003: 223) and thus help develop researcher
reflexivity.
‘A genuine barrier to children engaging in research is their lack of research knowl-
edge and skills’ (Kellett, 2010a: 197). Kellett (2010b) also argues that in order to involve
children in research as active participants, co-researchers or peer-researchers, it is impor-
tant to give them some research training so that they can be equipped with the necessary
tools to do research. Whatever shape or form this may take, effective research training
must avoid a top–down approach and must build on what is known, what is noticed and
questioned from the children’s point of view. Here the original intention was not to pro-
vide a research training session, but it turned out that the children – through being
exposed to the data and the tools – spontaneously commented on some technical aspects
often covered by research training programmes. These spontaneous comments and ques-
tions from the children can serve as an effective basis for training.

Conclusion
In this study, children took a genuine interest in aspects of conducting and writing up
research, and thus, a spontaneous ‘research training session’ was incorporated into the
reflection session. This retrospective angle helped us to shape our interpretation of the
original research project carried out as part of the MA dissertation. If we are to fulfil our
ethical responsibilities to children, then we need to attempt to explore children’s own
interests and assumptions about research, such as what concepts like anonymity, confi-
dentiality and representation actually mean to them. The more we understand about how
child participants see research and their place in it, the more effectively we can design
our research methods in subsequent studies.

Funding
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or
not-for-profit sectors.

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Author biographies
Annamaria Pinter is Associate Professor of ELT/Applied Linguistics at the Centre for Applied
Linguistics at the University of Warwick, UK. She is programme leader for the MA in Teaching
English to Young Learners. Her interests include learning second languages in childhood, innova-
tive research methods with children and teacher education.

Samaneh Zandian is a PhD student at the Centre for Applied Linguistics at the University of
Warwick, UK. Her research interests include the social construction of childhood, intercultural
adaptation for short-term child sojourners and intercultural education.

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