Developing professional practice with childminders using action research and crystallization

PIF 28th February 2019

Kay Aaronricks is the Deputy Head of School for Education in Chelmsford, and presented on her doctoral research developing professional practice with childminders using an action research model and engaging in crystallization as an approach to data analysis. Most research into childminding has been done on rather than with childminders and tends to be quantitative demographics, rather than qualitative experiences. To date there has been limited research carried out by a childminder – as Kay has been – with implicit knowledge and understanding. This posed an ethical challenge in terms of having a very strong personal view of what childminding is, what happens on a day to day basis, and what the challenges are. The involvement of other childminders in the research process was one way to overcome this.

The action research model involved cycles of planning, action, observation, and reflection, however there were two parts to this:

  1. Thesis action research – This was undertaken by Kay and did not involve the childminders e.g. in reading the literature, developing the research question, writing papers, and conducting a survey to gage the views of other childminders around what is important – this led to a focus on training as a mode of continual professional development.
  2. Core action research – Childminders were involved in deciding what it was they wanted to explore around training. They identified the current challenges and discussed how they might engage in a more appropriate model of training. They engaged in a series of sessions over a period of 10 months, forming 3 cycles of core action research and reflecting on the implementation of the training using creative approaches such as photos and observations. Collective reflection sessions enabled them to share and discuss good practice as well as working together to explore how they felt about the research process.

This two tier approach of core action research within thesis action research drew on Zuber-Skerritt and Perry (2002), and was successful in terms of engaging the participants within doctoral research. They valued the learning experience and wanted to continue particularly for the relationships and network they had built, as childminding can be a very isolated job.

However the researcher had a very complex role, with similar experiences but no longer being one of the childminders, whilst also acting as a facilitator and trainer at different times. Data analysis was another challenge; there was a wealth of data from photos and other materials used to reflect and evaluate, as well as from various activities that were completed in the sessions. Innovative approaches to analysing the data were sought in order to promote an authentic representation of voice.

Data analysis through crystallization

Crystallization offered a useful way of analysing and interpreting the data whilst acknowledging multiple ways of knowing. Essentially, the data is presented in a multitude of ways, utilising various genres of presentation. Through this analytical process of immersion and layered accounts, the data is portrayed in a variety of ways therefore allowing it to be viewed in differing ways. The analogy of a crystal portrays the data entering the crystal then exiting through different facets. For Kay, this creative analytic practice included turning her data into a magazine, a poster, presenting it at conferences, writing it as a story, delivering it as a three minute thesis, and so on. Childminders were involved to some extent in this, and their reflections focused mostly on the emotional affect of the CPD, how they feel about childminding and who they’ve met and built relationships with through the research.Crystal 2

The emphasis of crystallization is on multiple ways of knowing and the authenticity of voice. Through the data analysis process the key themes emerge consistently; whilst it also allows the recognition of the quieter voices which may not have been as visible. For example, one of the strongest themes was around the continuing opportunity to meet up with likeminded childminders, and in a space in which the delivery of the training is complimented with implicit experience of childminding rather than more generally of the broader early childhood sector. More information on crystallization can be found in the book by Ellingson (2009) entitled ‘Engaging Crystallization in Qualitative Research’.

Kay discussed a number of challenges in using crystallization, including where her approach fits in as she is using some more traditional qualitative and even quantitative methods, but also some more artistic and impressionist elements. There are issues around current generic data analysis practices and norms, and this is a key consideration of whose voices are coming through in the data. And finally, in writing the thesis as the product of the process within an action research model where process is important: how can everything be captured on paper?

Author: annadadswell

As a Research Fellow in Social Work and Social Policy at Anglia Ruskin University, I manage the Participatory Research Blog. Please feel free to contact me with questions and suggestions at

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