Karolia, Mohammed (2022) A study into the use of metaphors, the narratives they represent, and the application of the Clean Language questioning model as a method of reflection within an HE context. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis explores the relevance and significance of the metaphors used to convey a story and the broader narratives these metaphors represent, specifically within the context of reflective practice in higher education (HE). By situating the research in relation to traditional educative cyclical process models of reflective practice, this study identifies how alternative models of engagement could be used to promote academics’ reflective practice, and how the metaphors employed to tell a story can give insights and inform narratives of teaching practice.

The study employed the Clean Language questioning model (Lawley & Tompkins, 2000; Sullivan & Rees, 2008) to encourage participants to recount their stories of teaching and elicit the metaphors representative of their teaching practice. The effectiveness as a research tool of the Clean Language questioning model, traditionally used in therapeutic contexts, was also evaluated as part of this study, given an emerging trend utilising Clean Language within research interviews. Eleven academics from different schools within a northern English university were interviewed to encourage stories of their teaching experiences. Furthermore, a participant questionnaire and a focus group discussion were used alongside the interview data to interrogate and substantiate the research conclusions.

The three strands of the study – metaphors, narratives and Clean Language questions – were synthesised via a conceptual framework, which informed the research’s approach to analysis and findings. More specifically, content analysis coding of the interview transcripts was carried out to identify participants’ metaphors against Kövecses (2010) list of source and target domains and evaluate the use of the Clean Language questions within the interviews. Thematic analysis of the data was also employed to gain an understanding of the broader narratives the conceptual metaphors might represent via frames of reference corresponding Tompkins & Lawley’s (2006), to the Problem, Remedy and Outcomes (PRO) model and at a deeper level with McAdams and McLean’s (2013) Narrative Identity Constructs and Schwartz’s (2012) Universal Values Theory.

Findings established two dominant conceptual metaphors symbolic of HE academics’ perception of their teaching practice: ‘teaching is a journey’ and ‘teaching is a performance’. Participants corroborated the relevance and significance of these conceptual metaphors as representative of their focus on issues linked to learning and progression, and associated with aspirations to teach well and improve aspects of their pedagogy. Additionally, the two key dominant conceptual metaphors espoused narratives representing exploratory narrative processing, agency and redemptive stories in relation to McAdams and McLean’s (2013) Narrative Identity Constructs and embraced values of self-direction, stimulation and achievement when analysed for significance against Schwartz’s (2012) Universal Values Theory.

The study’s findings also determined the value of adopting a conversational storytelling approach to reflective practice, as opposed to cyclical process-driven models of reflection. More specifically, the value of identifying the dominant metaphors referred to by academics to reflect on their teaching practice was evident in giving insights into participants’ pedagogical understanding of their teaching practice.

From a research methodological viewpoint, the positive potential of the Clean Language questions to elicit metaphors and encourage reflection emerged. Furthermore, the findings suggest that a limited range of Clean Language questions, in conjunction with reflective summaries and probing questions, could be used to promote effective reflective practice within HE.

From a theoretical perspective, the study suggested how the conceptual framework had relevance in synergising the study’s three strands (metaphors, narratives and the Clean Language questioning model). More specifically, the findings also identified how an emphasis on exploring metaphors and analysing conceptual metaphors could assist in ascertaining broader narratives that might inform academics’ pedagogy, especially within the environment of HE.

Practically, the outcome of the findings indicated an alternative approach and model to promote reflective practice. This model of reflective practice amalgamates and utilises a focus on exploring metaphors through a limited range of Clean Language questions to identify frames of reference and raise awareness of the broader narratives representing academics’ approaches towards their teaching practice and pedagogy.

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