My experiments with Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) Technique

Written by Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University. (15th February, 2016)Sam C

My research interests are music education, the performing arts, creativity, creative partnerships and teacher identity. The working title of my PhD thesis is ‘Defining the X Factors: Enablers and Inhibitors of effective music teaching’.

What is a Repertory Grid?

The type of repertory grid used in my study is an adapted one, where the participant identifies their own elements and is then supplied with a limited choice of suggested constructs from which to select. In a ‘true’ repertory grid the participant would elicit both their own elements and their own constructs. The constructs presented to the control group for their selection were examples of Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP). Participants were required to choose only constructs (MTP) with which they have experience.


Elicitation of the Elements

The elements for each participant were the codes which were generated through their map making activity. Poles of the elements were elicited by the participant to represent the element and its opposite, or contrast (where more appropriate). Young et al (2005) explain that it is sometimes better to ask participants to generate a contrast rather than simply use a literal opposite because it provides more information about how they perceive it in regards to the stimulus.

Selection of Constructs

The MTP with which participants were presented for selection were divided into two categories, initially entitled:

  1. Professional skills level – related to the participant’s musical abilities
  2. Pedagogical skills level – related to the participant’s teaching abilities

Critical Reflection

The questions; ‘What is ‘ability’?’, and ‘Aren’t skills just knowledge in action?’ have long been the subjects of debate amongst educationists. Schulman (1986) and his colleagues in the ‘Knowledge Growth in Teaching Project’ built a model of pedagogical reasoning and action, and a professional knowledge base for teaching that clearly places the emphasis on the intellectual basis for teaching and on the transformation of subject matter knowledge by teachers. They proposed a model of the components of the professional knowledge base for teaching that includes three major categories of content knowledge: subject matter content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and curricular knowledge. A key component of the knowledge base for teaching that gives it its special identity according to Shulman and his colleagues, is pedagogical content knowledge, and this component laid the groundwork for the evolving categories of constructs in this current study.


Within pedagogical content knowledge Shulman includes ‘demonstrations, examples, illustrations, explanations, analogies’, and ‘the most useful forms of representation of these ideas’. In my current study, ‘demonstrations, examples, illustrations’ could relate to constructs around the Musical and the Professional. ‘Illustrations, explanations, analogies and representations’ could relate to constructs around the Pedagogical. What is being measured through my repertory grids is how participants’ aptitude for these constructs is related to their elements.

I consequently revised the construct categories to become:

  • Musical and Professional Aptitudes
  • Pedagogical Aptitudes

The Musical and Professional Aptitudes were selected and then adapted (for appropriate relevance to themselves) by each participant. The source for these constructs was a model of outcomes of music education introduced by David Hargreaves (2007). The Pedagogical Aptitudes were selected by each participant from requirements listed within the programmes of study of the 2013 National Curriculum for Music for Key Stages 1 and 2.


Each participant completed their repertory grid, rating their elements (X Factors) against their constructs (Music Teaching Phenomena). The elements were rated from 1 to 9 where 1 represents concordance with the element and 9 represents concordance with its contrast.

Critical Reflection

I observed that the success of the repertory grid activity was dependent to a degree on the rapport developed between myself as the researcher, and the participant. The importance of a careful management of my own subjectivity became apparent, particularly following the repertory grid activity undertaken with participant 1. Peshkin (1988) claims that to identify one’s own subjectivity the researcher must undertake self-monitoring to note and address areas of concern. Peshkin’s own self-monitoring involved identifying six discretely characterized ‘I’s’ which were aspects of the whole that constitutes him (the researcher) in his particular research context. I therefore began to consider the ‘Situational I’s’ present in the context of this pilot of method.


Following the completion of the repertory grid with the first control group participant, the following principles were applied to the subsequent repertory grid activities with the remainder of the control group: In relation to the ‘Justice-seeking I’ any musical and life events in the participants’ pasts which have had a positive or negative impact upon them cannot be met with judgement (either of the participant or any other individuals involved). The aim of these exercises is not to ‘fix’ the past. In relation to the ‘Non-human research I’, self-monitoring is necessary to ensure that whilst a good rapport is established whilst the appropriate boundaries are observed. The use of ‘leading questions’, or intentionally driving the activity towards the pursuit of rich data must be avoided.


My rationale for the planned method centred on the idea of utilising research exercises which were situated within the participant’s life, rather than the participant being situated within the research project, in order to create a non-agenda-biased context where rich data was elicited on the participant’s terms. Initially that was a failed rationale, as the first version of the mapping exercise failed to elicit any rich data at all. Critical reflection revealed a fundamental flaw in approach; there were barriers to successful execution in terms of the practical aspects of making the map (for example drawing, space awareness, ’thinking in layers’) and a lack of opportunity for participants to reflect, revise and return to their maps in an on-going way. The evolution of this activity to experiment with fantasy gaming software to create ‘virtual worlds’ not only intrigued and engaged the participants and researcher with the possibilities, but ultimately removed the barriers obstructing their success with the task.

The second round of reflection and evolution emphasised to me the importance of using discriminate terminology related to method. Shulman’s (1986) ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ offered a lens through which I could closely analyse ‘abilities’, ‘skills’ and ‘knowledge’ and re-interpret these for greater meaning in my study.

Finally I reflected upon the importance of monitoring my ‘researcher subjectivity’ in the early stages of Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) interviews. With help from Peshkin (1988), I identified my own ‘Situational I’s’ resonating with this method monitored my own subjectivity during ARG interviews with subsequent participants.

Undertaking the pilot study enabled me to test my method through a three stage process; of implementation, critical reflection, and evolution. The experience provided significant ‘prior preparation to entering the field’ (Sampson, 2004) and the outcome is an ‘evolved method’ which has grown to become a more effective, reliable and valid version of itself.

Thanks for reading! I hope it’s been interesting (if a little long..) I’ll send an update hopefully with some findings, post baby!


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