The UC Davis School of Education defines teacher research as “systematic investigations of how teaching influences student learning over time in a single classroom or learning community.” The teacher in his/her own classroom using his/her own students carries out these investigations. By understanding how certain practices impact student achievement, educators can increase efficiency. From how lessons are prepped out to how they are delivered, students can reap tremendous benefits when teachers turn a researcher’s eye toward themselves.
In “Developing a Definition of Teacher Research”, Marian M. Mohr outlines six pillars important to understanding what teacher research really is. It must be intentional in that is begins with a focus on a particular aspect of teaching, but can always change depending on the findings. It must be systematic by employing methods and strategies to collect data. It must be publicby being open to students and co-workers in an effort to “add to the body of knowledge about teaching and learning.” It must be voluntary on the part of the teacher due to the vulnerability of public examination. It must be ethicalsince the responsibility is to ensure the students benefit from the work. And it must be contextual by providing the context in which the research was conducted.
Mohr goes on to relate an experience that led to her being a teacher researcher in “The Teacher as Researcher.” She expressed concern that keeping up with research journals was too difficult and stood in the way of research. However, her daily journaling of her interactions with her students enabled her to make adjustments that she would not have found in a scholarly journal. Reflecting on how her students responded when she misspelled a word, or why they drummed on the desk while writing provided her with the chance to adjust instruction and classroom management to allow for a better chance of success for her students.
In “A Teacher-Research Group in Action” Sandra R. Schecter and Rafael Ramirez reveal how some teachers turned researchers viewed a two year long seminar. Schecter and Ramirez extoll the benefits of teacher research by indicating “that teachers involved in research become interested in and read the professional research literature, take leadership roles in their schools and influence decisions about school policy, contribute to professional knowledge on their own accord, become better classroom teachers.” They are also quick to point out that little exists in terms of data, so it’s possible one does not cause the other.
The seminar met biweekly for a two-year period, three hours each time. Meetings were broken into five segments with activities and plenty of time for discussion. Those taking part on the seminar represented all walks of life: “The group comprised nineteen kindergarten through college teachers representing a broad spectrum with many working in multi-ethnic classrooms and districts.” The variety of levels and backgrounds allowed for many different viewpoints and feedback on the research.
Response groups during the meetings were teacher-led and assigned, rather than allowing the participants to select on their own. Mike, the group facilitator stated his primary business as “guiding participants to an appreciation of the value of engaging in informed classroom observation and developing their thinking about their teaching practices by sharing their reflections with colleagues both orally and in writing.” It was clear that Mike wanted the participants to guide the meetings based on their interests and reflections, not to have it dictated to them. The sharing out of experiences was the important part. As Mike would remind the group “the process is more important than the product.”
The study found that providing open-ended type questions and not providing a syllabus had an unforeseen outcome: many participants expressed dislike for the “informal” nature of the meetings. They seemed to require more direction than what was provided. One participant even stated, “I have lots of questions and need some direction.” The facilitator’s intent to allow the participants’ experiences guide the discussion was not well received.
Overall, the participants reported positive outcomes of how the research affected both their views of classroom practice and themselves as professionals. One participant reported, “collecting data makes me ask good questions of kids who give me good answers, answers that help me improve as a teacher.” There is no data to support whether or not the participant improved at all based on how he/she altered questioning techniques, but a change did occur. It would be interesting to see a sampling of the questioning technique before and after the seminar.
Participants were unsure as to whether or not they were using rigorous methods to collect data as compared to university-based researchers. The authors point out that both groups conduct research using vastly different methods. University-based researchers must cite literature to prove they are contributing to a body of knowledge. The teacher researchers, on the other hand, use personal experiences to assert their claims. As such, reports generally took the form of a double narrative; one told the story of the research findings while the other told of the participant’s experience.
The three articles reviewed this week provided a clear definition of teacher research and provided examples of it in action. The investigations are important since the primary goal of teacher research is to help the teacher improve so that the needs of the students can be met. Who better to conduct such investigations than the teachers in the room?
1. Marian Mohr discovered she had misspelled a word only when a student brought it to her attention. How does student reluctance to speak up impact the dynamic in the classroom? Do most teachers view it as a learning experience or are they not as open to being corrected by students?
2. If the research points to teacher research being effective due to its voluntary nature, why do some districts require it as part of a teacher’s professional obligations?
3. What is your knowledge of professional development for teachers? If you had to provide an in service for a group of educators that will leave them “professionally developed”, would teacher research be a topic you would choose? Why or why not?