The diary writing as a teaching and learning method of research

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Joaquim Sá

Department of Integrated Science and Maternal Language

Child Studies Institute – University of Minho

Largo do Paço, 4709 Braga Codex


Fax: +351.253.601255
Paper presented at the Science Education: Research Teachers Practices Conference, University of Evora, Portugal


In this paper: a) the author relates the dilemma he faced on how to collect qualitative data in a teaching-learning process in a science teaching intervention in primary school classrooms: using video recording versus diary writing; b) he argues how his experience of action-research supports his decision to use the diary writing method; c) he presents a reflection on the potentialities and quality attributes of diary writing as a research method as well as the method of writing diaries; and d) he finishes with an illustrative example of a diary and its content analysis. The conclusion links the illustrative diary with the overall research conducted in the classroom.

An experimental teaching intervention, as part of an action-research, was carried out by the author (Sá 1996) in two primary school fourth-year classes (ages 9-10), during two subsequent years. This study intended to promote scientific thinking skills in primary school pupils (Sá and Valente 1998 a, b).

The intervention incorporates a) the social-constructivist paradigm of learning (Vygotsky 1962, 1978), b) the conceptual evolution perspective of learning science starting with children's intuitive ideas (Driver et al. 1985, Harlen 1992); and applies c) teaching thinking skills strategies (Valente et al. 1987, 1991, Maclure and Davies 1994, Fisher 1995) to science curriculum. According to Kuhn et al. (1988), the level of scientific thinking is a measure of the subject’s skills in co-ordinating personal theories with evidence.

During the intervention each class plan, elaborated by the researcher (Sá 1994), was analysed and discussed with the teacher before class. Since the classroom teacher assumed her lack of training in this teaching philosophy, it was agreed that the researcher would lead the intervention. The teacher then took on a supportive and collaborative role. The teacher made sure the pupils brought the required material, introduced some key questions included in the class plan, gave support to the different groups during the class, provided individual feedback to the pupils who required it, called the researcher's attention to relevant points in the pupil's work and often promoted discussions in the class in order to listen to the pupil's opinions. Each class was exposed to 54 hours training that spread throughout the year.

This action-research had a quasi-experimental component and combined both qualitative and quantitative methods: a) qualitative data were collected by participant observation in the classroom and by observing the children’s performance in a research task during individual interviews at the end of the year; b) the experimental classes were compared to two control classes in pre-tests and post-tests by using scientific process skills and logical-verbal reasoning instruments to measure the specific effect of the intervention on these variables.
1. The dilemma of how to collect qualitative data in the classroom

The question of how to collect qualitative data on the teaching and learning processes brought up a difficult dilemma: a) some papers as well as some colleagues’ points of view encouraged the author to produce video records in order to register qualitative data for subsequent analysis of the teaching and learning process; b) on the other hand, other researchers, whom the first co-author contacted, regard diary writing as a useful recording method; however, literature (Goetz and LeCompt 1988, Erickson 1989, Zabalza 1994), was not very convincing of its relevance as a tool in educational research. Under these circumstances, we decided to conciliate video recording with diary writing.

From the beginning of the intervention, the researcher clearly perceived that videotapes were not necessary for the investigation objectives. However it was admitted that this perception could be mistaken, and video recordings were continued. By the end of the first year, the author was able to conclude that:

- the simultaneous combination of both recording methods was too demanding considering the excessive complexity of the author’s roles in the classroom as teacher, cameraman and writer of critical incidents that would be used further in the diary redaction;

- the experience of watching and analysing videotapes showed no significant additional information to the one registered in the diary;

- video recording handled by the author was clearly detrimental to both the quality of his intervention as teaching and learning process supervisor and the quality of observation and respective written records done in the classroom;

- video-tape watching was very time consuming, taking precious time otherwise useful for reflection, evaluation and consequent modelling of teaching and learning objectives and strategies to be used subsequently;

- the use of a technician as a cameraman could be useful for other objectives rather than for that research: firstly, because the technician would not have the conceptual framework required to select the relevant events from the researcher’s point of view; secondly, because the researcher’s experience had demonstrated that the most relevant information had been collected in the class diary written by him.

Consequently, during the second year of intervention, the first co-author decided to give up the video recording as a method of collecting classroom observation data. A recent study (Silva 1997) also recounts the teacher-researcher dilemma of using classroom video recording or diary writing -- the latter option was adopted.
2. Diary writing in an interpretative research paradigm context

A classroom diary is a report, written immediately after each class, by a participant observer that includes a collection of qualitative data about the teaching-learning process.

Diary writing is a method of collecting data inherent to the interpretative research paradigm, chiefly when the researcher is a teacher-researcher (Sá 1996, Silva 1997, 1999). According to Erickson (1989) interpretative educational research regards the classroom as a social and cultural environment; teaching (teacher’s action) as one of several contributes to reflective learning; and the nature and contents of pupils’ and teachers’ meaning perspectives as intrinsic elements of the educational process. Teaching and learning are continuous interactive processes where the pre-definition of cause and effect does not exist, and important data sources are processes not observed directly, such as participants’ thoughts, attitudes, feelings and perceptions (Shulman 1989). The crucial concept of research on teaching and learning is the ‘meaning’ concept and the processes by which these meanings are generated and negotiated in a community, the classroom. In other words, plausible interpretations are preferable to causal explanations chiefly when, in seeking a causal explanation, the researcher transforms reality into something that is no longer representative of human life (Bruner 1990).

The research in which diary writing was used as a method of data collecting by the author assumes the following:

a) the teacher and pupils see and are aware that the researcher frequently writes field notes on a sheet of paper but do not have the feeling of being observed. The researcher and the teacher co-operate in a process of team-teaching; therefore, the researcher must conduct him/herself in a way so as to become a member of the classroom community. The observer is not an external observer and his/her observations are more reliable and valid;

b) appropriate observation must take into account the holistic nature of teaching and learning. Therefore, data collection is not a simple cumulative process of recording discrete events and incidents in the classroom;

c) extensive observation of too many subjects in a short amount of time distracts from the essential questions of teaching and learning. By contrast, an intensive follow up of small samples of subjects is a more fruitful approach to highlight the understanding of teaching and learning processes as well as its theory development;

d) a research approach that emphasises generalist processes of teaching and learning is superficial. In contrast, a deep awareness and understanding of the teaching and learning processes are content dependent. So our research is concerned with the specific meanings that subjects construct about the specific matter that is being taught.

  1. The diary writing potential

The author’s personal research experience as well as his experience in advising co-researchers (Sá et al. 1997, 1999), suggest that some training is necessary. The potentials of diary writing as a method for analysis and understanding the teaching and learning process become clear for a novice researcher using this methodology after acquiring some accumulative experience. In other words, it is the retrospective analysis of successive diaries that furnishes the outline and story of the teaching and learning process. Hence, when analysing diaries one can: a) distance oneself from one’s own practice and become aware of it; b) make them the object of analysis and reflection; and c) identify patterns and regularities. It is only then that a beginning diary writer attains the required insight on the richness of his/her own narratives.

An important argument that supports the relevance of diary writing emerges from the application of meta-cognitive theory to the interaction between thinking and writing. Written language is not only an instrument of thinking representation but also a factor of thinking development, such as: thinking skills in view of a given objective and skills to explore the unknown (reviewed by Salema 1987). Thus, keeping in mind that writing diaries helps develop the skills to think about described facts, the diaries provide strong potentialities for analysis and understanding of the social process that occurred in the classroom.

Furthermore, writing the diary immediately after the lesson is demanding of the researcher-teacher who must present a very active attitude during the lesson in terms of observation and intervention to find out significant incidents and meanings. This demand for a deep awareness of the observed and narrated facts improves the teaching and learning process itself, the understanding of how such process develops, and in particular the nature of pupils’ and researcher-teacher’s roles.
4. The diary writing method

The model of diary writing adopted by the author is a one of recording and storing observations based on the narrative system defined by Erickson (1989). In such a system: a) the recording of observation data is not subject to a set of previously defined categories; b) recorded observations are a result of the observer’s selection and have sampling characteristics of the teaching and learning process; c) records are written in everyday language. The objective of the narrative system is to obtain detailed descriptions of the phenomena observed, to explain the processes carried out, and to identify generic principles and action patterns in specific situations (Erickson 1989).

The quality of a diary depends largely on the researcher's memory. Some authors suggest registering in class strong inference critical incidents (Goetz and LeCompt 1988, Erickson 1989) as memory aids to be expanded later in diary form. We adopted this procedure using key words or short phrases. However our experience demonstrated that our memory was strongly enhanced by the class plan, in the form of a teacher's guide, which had been previously prepared for each lesson. Besides the learning objectives, the guide indicated the necessary didactic materials and instructions for the teaching-learning process (Sá 1994). The instructions for the teaching-learning process had the following structure: a) sub-titles emphasising the learning objectives as they should be approached in class; b) recommendations on how the researcher-teacher should act as well as on the role the pupils were expected to take in order to achieve such objectives. Of major importance in this set of recommendations to the teacher is an inventory of key-questions to stimulate thought and action.

A lesson plan with these characteristics, thought through by the researcher, made each pedagogical act very intentional and promoted an incisive focus on the observation of its effects. In this way, field notes and the class plan produce a memory synergetic effect allowing the reconstruction of a global view of the development of the lesson. The diary was written immediately after the lesson making the most of a fresh memory of the events. This task, after some training, required one and a half to two hours' work from the researcher.

5. Diary writing and research questions

A diary contains only a small part of the events that occurred within the classroom. Therefore, the researcher must be aware of what happens during the class and be able, at any moment, to focus his/her attention on events of special relevance. Relevance criteria are based on both the researcher’s conceptual framework and on questions whose answers are expected within the development of the research project.

Field notes in the classroom and subsequent diaries written for this research are concerned with the following research issues: a) the teacher’s or researcher’s role in promoting the pupil’s thinking and action; b) the pupils’ role in active learning and thinking; c) the ideas pupils verbalise on scientific problems and phenomena; d) the pupils’ use of process skills to test their ideas; e) the kind of verbal interactions that illustrate both thinking and learning as a social process; f) the feelings and attitudes demonstrated by the different actors.

The diaries also contain interpretative comments made in the classroom or during the writing process, as suggested by Goetz and LeCompt (1988).

It should be noted that at the beginning of the intervention, the researcher’s questions are, inevitably, vague and imprecise. This is demonstrated in initial diaries. Recorded information is too wide, diffused and, often, reveals hesitation and doubts about the actual study objectives. However, as time passes, the maturation process allows the researcher to clarify and focus progressively on his/her own questions, so that the information recorded in diaries assumes more and more the nature of content units according to research questions.

This is not a problem specific to an inexperienced researcher. On the contrary, even an experienced researcher in the methodology of participant observation and diary writing, in the beginning of a new research, will need some time in the field in order to develop a process of clarification of his/her own questions. Then the researcher will have more accurate relevance criteria to decide what should be specially observed and recorded.

  1. Quality attributes of diary writing

Validity and internal consistency are fundamental attributes of diary writing as a research method. Validity requires that the diary have relevant information which enlightens the questions the researcher is dealing with, and be representative of events related to the questions. In theory validity requires relevance of data collected in the diary and sampling quality of a diary in relation to the facts that occurred.

However, thinking about a single class lesson, the sampling objective may contradict the relevance and vice versa. Concern with a representative sample can encourage superficial reporting on extensive occurrences. On the contrary, the objective of relevance motivates the researcher to retain deeply and in detail on meaningful events. Therefore it is our contention that in each diary the relevance objective must prevail over sampling quality. The sampling quality should result from the diverse occurrences covered in a sequence of diaries. Validity must be seen as an attribute of the diary writing method as a whole rather than as an attribute of a single diary.

Internal consistency requires the diary to be a narrative in which facts, actions and actors are appropriately connected in their natural context in order to describe the teaching and learning flow as it happens. Internal consistency is a factor of credibility of the process described, which permits the reader to 'see' and 'feel' the classroom atmosphere and give him/her the possibility of independent analysis. In arguing an interpretative perspective for psychology and supporting the important role of narrative, Bruner says:

a narrative is composed of a unique sequence of events, mental states, and happenings, involving human beings as actors or personages. These are their components, but they haven’t a life or meaning by themselves. Their meaning comes out of the place in the general sequence configuration as a whole. (1990: 51).

Emerging from validity and internal consistency is interpretative power which, evidenced in a diary, is also an important attribute. Even when the diary gives the reader the opportunity for his/her own independent interpretation, the researcher’s interpretations occur frequently in the classroom or when he/she writes the diary. These occasional interpretations are flash insights that probably would not occur later. So they must stand close to the data because they will further support general patterns and regularities.

As a research method, diary writing must be the object of content analysis. An illustrative example of diary writing and respective content analysis is presented below.

7. Example of a class diary *

Lesson n 17; Condensation - water cycle; 23/3/94

Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes

Organisation: twenty-two, fourth-year pupils (ages 9-10) were organised in five groups of 4-5 pupils each.

Learning objectives

Pupils should:

· express and justify their ideas on the existence of water in the classroom air;

· produce condensation phenomena in different contexts and observe them;

· present and discuss ideas about the origin of water observed in several condensation phenomena;

· present and discuss theories explaining condensation phenomena;

· interpret observations, recognising condensation phenomena in different contexts;

· interpret observations, recognising regularities in different condensation contexts: a) air (which contains water vapour) in contact with a cold surface, and b) formation of water droplets;

· interpret observations, defining the condensation phenomenon in their own words;

· predict and suggest applications, identifying new situations where condensation phenomena might occur;

· interpret information and observations, recognising the reversibility of evaporation and condensation phenomena;

· observe and understand an experimental model of the water cycle, establishing analogies between a model and the natural water cycle.

Materials per group

  • 1 glass

  • ice cubes

  • 1 mirror per pupil


The teacher starts discussion with the following question: 'Is there water in the air in this classroom?' The discussion is addressed to the groups after children communicate the preliminary ideas. In the group close to me, I hear Inês saying, 'I think that there is because when I breathe into the mirror, it gets steamy'. 'Why does it get steamy'? I ask. Sofia answers, 'Because our body gives off water vapour in the expired air'. Inês adds, 'Then there is water vapour in the air because we breathe'. When I approach another group, Ana, the group speaker, says, 'When we exhale air, it spreads throughout the classroom and the water vapour does too'. In a different group someone says, "In the morning when we arrive and it is cold, we give off 'water vapour' that we can see. Here, in this classroom, there is some water vapour". I ask if we exhale water vapour into the classroom only when it is cold. Zé Pedro and others say that when it is not cold 'water vapour is there too, but we can’t see it'.

When groups report to the class, Ana clarifies her group's ideas, 'If ... when we breath out the mirror fogs up, then when we breath out without a mirror the water vapour spreads into the classroom'. Vítor says, 'The water evaporates and goes up to the sky and clouds, later it falls down in the rain and brings some water vapour. When it rains the classroom gets a little humid'. According to Zé Pedro, 'There is water vapour here, but we can’t prove it... there is always some evaporation'. Sofia replies, 'The wet windows are proof'. Then Filomeno says, 'There is vapour in the classroom when we arrive early in the morning and it is cold. We breathe some kind of smoke; it is water vapour'. The emphasis on 'cold' associated to the visible 'smoke' made Zé Pedro contradict, 'When we take a bath, it is not cold but hot'.

Given that the pupils were acknowledging the presence of water in the classroom only as a result of expiration, I ask, 'Does the water vapour from evaporation go immediately to the sky and clouds as you said'? Ana answers, 'The water vapour doesn’t go to the sky at once; otherwise, the clouds would be too heavy and it would rain all the time'. Tiago says, 'Heat is like a rope that pulls water. If the heat disappears, the water doesn’t go to the sky'. Vítor adds, 'Even when it is hot, water takes a long time to go up'. The idea that rising water vapour is inevitable seems to prevail, suggesting that the water vapour in the air around us is transient.

Just before the class break, two ice cubes were added to the water in each group's glass. After the break the different groups were asked to observe and comment on their glass. 'The glass is wet'. 'It’s wet and the ice melted'. The teacher asks the groups, 'What’s new on the glass'? A couple of responses are: 'There’s water vapour on the glass'; 'It is water, because our hands get wet". Some pupils sustain the idea that the humidity on the glass is water vapour. Some of them manifest great resistance in accepting the humidity in the glass as having the same nature as the water inside the glass. Eventually, they realise that the humidity in the exterior of the glass is only water because the droplets become bigger with time, and pupils get their hands wet when they touch the glass' exterior.

Pupils are asked to discuss in groups why water appears on the glass' exterior. I participate in the different groups' discussion. Filomeno says without great conviction, 'The ice made the water vapour come down'. The idea is brilliant but is put aside as soon as Tiago, recognised as a clever boy, disagrees, 'It was the mixture of solid water with liquid water that made the water go outside the glass'. I ask him if the water came from inside the glass. He replies, 'Yes, it came from the ice'. Then I ask him if the water went through the glass. He is perplexed and does not know how to explain it, but another child argues, 'Light also goes through glass'. That’s an interesting analogy. I leave this group at this inconclusive point in order to let them continue with their reflections.

When I get to Zé Pedro’s group, I am informed that the teacher has told them about the existence of air around the glass. With this help, Zé Pedro says, ‘The water vapour changes to droplets. The cold pulls the vapour and transforms it into droplets, so it proves that there is water vapour in this room'.

Then I move to Vítor’s group and listen to their ideas: 'The ice, while it melts, makes the droplets appear'. 'The intense cold makes the droplets pass through the glass'. 'The water came from the intense cold'. I ask where the droplets were before, and they answer 'in the ice'. In response to my questions, they insist on what they have said before. However, Filipa is thoughtful, apparently moving in contradictory ideas, and eventually says, 'There is air around the glass. The air stuck on to the glass and changed into droplets; the water vapour attached itself to the glass'.

In Ana’s group I hear, 'There is evaporated water dispersed in the room. With cold water, the evaporated water became trapped and remained in a liquid state'. Tiago changed his opinion and, when asked, explained that his initial idea was that 'the outside water came from the ice', but he couldn’t explain how it had occurred.

We introduced a new activity in order to challenge the pupils with a new evaporation context. Pupils breathe onto a mirror, and I ask them what they find identical to the previous glass experiment. 'A cold surface', says Tiago. Pupils understood that besides the cold surface, air containing water vapour comes into contact with a cold surface and that in both cases water droplets form.

As pupils understood from the previous lesson that in evaporation liquid water changes to vapour and that 'heating' is required for such phenomenon, they now understand that condensation is the reverse phenomenon: water vapour changes to a liquid state, and 'cooling' is required for this phenomenon.

Using the evaporation and condensation concepts, the notion of the water cycle is introduced, and the teacher draws a representative scheme on the blackboard. The following water cycle experimental model, used by the teacher, worked well: i) the water stream from water boiling in a kettle ii) collides with the surface of a metallic tray containing ice iii) where water droplets can be observed falling down onto soil in a cardboard box. Pupils very clearly establish appropriate analogies between the model and the natural water cycle: water kettle Vs. sea and rivers; flame Vs. sun; water stream Vs. clouds; cold tray Vs. cold atmospheric stratum; falling droplets Vs. rain; cardboard box with soil Vs. planet earth.

The teacher comments that she is very happy with the experimental model and some pupils say that the class activity had been 'spectacular'.

Final comment:

The debate was genuine and had much participation. Pupils showed intellectual pleasure in solving challenging questions. The group work dynamic seems to be strengthened with a regular and systematic shift between group work and class discussion. This is the last science lesson at the end of the second term. At this stage, I notice qualitative progress both in working methods and in pupil’s learning. The teacher tells me how happy she is with the science project and adds that Thursdays have allowed the shy children to blossom (Fernando, the twins, Ana, André, and Filipa).

8. Diary writing content analysis

The content analysis of a diary requires the creation of content areas in which similar content units can be grouped together. The interpretation of a sample of content units causes regularities and patterns to arise. The following content areas were created for the present diary: pupil’s ideas (non scientific ideas about water vapour; ideas about the existence of water vapour in the classroom; development of condensation notion), and processes to stimulate the improvement of ideas, thinking and action (teacher’s and pupils’ role). Diary content analysis was done as follows:

8.1. Pupils’ ideas

8.1.1. Non scientific ideas about water vapour

a) Water vapour can be seen.

b) Water vapour is a kind of smoke.

c) Clouds are composed of water vapour.

d) The humidity on the glass with ice is water vapour.

e) Water vapour is associated to 'cold'; water vapour is associated to 'heat'.
8.1.2. Ideas about the existence of water vapour in the classroom air

Idea a) There is water vapour in the classroom air because we exhale.

Inês: I think that there is water because the mirror gets steamy when I breath out on it...

Sofia: because our body spreads water vapour in the expired air.

Ana: When we breathe out without a mirror, water vapour spreads throughout the classroom.

Sofia: The humidity of the mirror is proof.
Idea b) There is water vapour in the classroom only when it rains.

Vítor: Water evaporates and goes up to the sky and clouds. Later it falls down in the rain and brings some water vapour. When it rains, the classroom gets water vapour.
Idea c) There is water vapour permanently in the classroom because there continuously is water evaporation.

Zé Pedro: There is water vapour here, but we can’t prove it. There is always some evaporation.
Idea a) suggests that the water vapour in the classroom air is originated exclusively from exhalation and is the most popular idea. Idea b) adds to the previous one that the evaporation phenomenon is also responsible for the existence of water vapour, though in an indirect way. Evaporation raises water up to the clouds which then 'falls down in the rain and brings some water vapour'. Idea c) is the most developed one. No pupil considers explicitly different sources of water vapour in the classroom. The researcher should have introduced this question for discussion.
8.1.3. Development of the condensation notion

The observations 'the glass is wet' and 'it is wet and the ice has melted' are the beginnings of the progress in children's understanding of the condensation phenomenon. From the general class discussion, it becomes clear that the formation of water droplets on the glass' exterior is associated to the presence of ice inside the glass. Two explanatory theories arise:

Theory a) The ice in the water has a special power to make the droplets go through the glass' interior to its exterior surface.

Tiago: It was the mixture of solid water with liquid water that made the water go outside the glass.

Vítor: The intense cold made the droplets pass to the outside; the water came from the intense cold.

Theory b) Water droplets on the exterior glass surface originated from the water vapour in the air in contact with the cold glass.

Zé Pedro: The cold pulls the vapour and transforms it into droplets.

Filipa: There is air around the glass. The air stuck on to the glass and changed into droplets; the water vapour attached itself to the glass.

Ana: There is evaporated water dispersed in the room. With cold water, the evaporated water was trapped and remained in a liquid state.
8.2. Processes that stimulate the improvement of ideas, thinking and action

8.2.1. Researcher’s or teacher’s role

a) Ask pupils to discuss in groups:

- the possibility of the existence of water in the classroom;

- the reason why water droplets appear on the exterior surface of a glass containing water and ice;

b) Follow and stimulate groups and class, by asking questions:

Do we exhale water vapour into the classroom only when it is cold?

Does the water vapour from evaporation go immediately to the sky and clouds?

c) Give experimental evidence and ask pupils to produce their own evidence and to observe (glass with ice; breath on the mirror)

d) Stimulate pupils’ reflection about their own theories by asking questions to promote a reinforced consideration of evidence:

Did the water come from inside the glass?

Did the external surface water go through the glass?

e) Stimulate pupils to relate observations on different condensation contexts.

What is identical between the formation of droplets on the surface of the glass with ice and the steamy mirror after breathing out on it?

f) Synthesise knowledge in terms of a relationship between evaporation and condensation and introduce the notion of the water cycle.

g) Present a dynamic model of the water cycle and stimulate pupils to make appropriate analogies with the natural water cycle.
8.2.2. Pupils’ role

a) Express initial ideas and discuss them among themselves, in groups or in class discussion:

  • the existence of water in the classroom;

  • the connection of water vapour with cold or heat;

  • the inevitability that water vapour goes to the sky;

b) Make observations and inferences on:

  • the vapour on the glass after the ice cubes melt;

  • the vapour turning into big droplets;

  • the fact that hands get wet when they touch the exterior glass;

  • the connection between the outside water and the ice cubes inside the glass;

  • the dynamic model of the water cycle and appropriate analogies with the natural water cycle.

c) Present and discuss own theories to explain evidences:

  • did the outside water come from the glass interior?

  • did the air around the glass change into water droplets?

  • did the water on the glass come from the water vapour in the air?

  • how important are the ice cubes in making water appear on the glass' exterior?

d) Think about their ideas in order to invent new theories that correspond with the evidence:

  • can the water inside the glass pass through the glass?

  • do the ice cubes have magical powers to make the glass permeable?

  • what about the water vapour in the air around the cold glass? Is it that changes into water droplets or does the air turn into water?

e) Relate observations in order to recognise the condensation phenomenon in different contexts:

- the glass and the mirror have in common the appearance of droplets, a cold surface and air containing water vapour.

8.3. Interpretative synthesis

Key to the development of understanding condensation were the observation that the glass with water and ice gets wet, and the consequent discussion and critical evaluation of explanatory theories against such observations. The condensation concept improves with the experiment of breathing on the mirror in which pupils concluded that there were similarities with the previous experiment: a) a cold surface in contact with air containing water vapour; and b) formation of water droplets on the cold surface.

9. Conclusion

The class diary presented coincides with a moment in the intervention when pupils already had had 43 hours of training in the learning to think processes in a free environment allowing both creativity and communication. In other words, the teaching-learning process described here is very different from what it was at the beginning of the intervention. It is clear that it can hardly be replicated as a single act in any other class with pupils of the same age.

The example illustrates an elevated stage in the pupil's cooperative thinking skills, which was gradually built in the classroom as a social context. It also illustrates how these thinking skills lead to high quality active learning: knowledge and comprehension. Eventually it proves the important role of the researcher-teacher in the stimulation of thinking and action in pupils.

What is the nature of such thinking skills and how can they be developed?

The diaries that relate and characterise all the intervention contribute to answer this question. Each new diary portrays a more mature stage of a growing process developing in the classroom. The analysis and interpretation of the diaries in their time sequence highlights how pupils' thinking skills are developed and how teaching to think strategies can also be developed.

For example, in the case of the author’s research in which this methodology was used (Sá 1996), the interpretative analysis of diaries made us conclude that the children's review of thinking schemes, constructed gradually with the help of questions, is very fruitful for the development of scientific thinking. This conclusion was confirmed at the end of the intervention when children were observed and scored in individual interviews in which they had to solve a problem that required to carry out an investigation (Sá & Valente 1998 b). The interpretative analysis of diaries also allowed us to identify several teacher’s skills such as using different categories of questions to improve inquiry competence (Sá 1996).

This method of data collection and analysis is part and parcel of a wider triangulation methodology. The validation of the overall research requires that the classroom diary method be combined with other ways of data collection during the intervention (pupils’ records and reports, achievement tests, interviews, free compositions) as well as with assessment instruments of the learning objectives at the end of the intervention.

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* This diary has been prepared specifically for publication and corresponds, in essence, to the original manuscript. However it must be noted that such careful redaction would be very time consuming in regular diary writing.

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