San Jose State University
Traditional educational research has limited usefulness for classroom
teachers. It often requires the carrying out of specific research projects to the
exclusion of their teaching. When educators talk about teacher research, or
teaching as research they envision teachers extending their role to include
critical reflection upon their teaching. Some examples of teaching as research
include educators who wish to undertake research in their classrooms or
schools for the purpose of improving teaching, to test educational theory, or
to evaluate and implement an educational plan. Teacher researchers have
adopted the label "action research " to describe their particular approach to
Kurt Lewin (1946) has been credited with the development of the idea of
action research. The evolution of an action research agenda within education
has been influenced by people such as Kemmis (1983), Ebbutt (1985), Elliott
(1991), Hopkins (1985) and others. Hopkins (1985:pp 58-60) offers good advice
on teacher research when he advocates the development of teacher's
professional expertise and judgment. He provides a basis for the selection of
classroom research by teachers:
- the teacher's primary role is to teach and any research project must not
interfere with or disrupt this commitment;
- the method of data collection should not be too demanding on the
- the methodology used must be reliable enough to allow teachers to
formulate hypotheses confidently and develop strategies applicable to the
- the teacher should be committed to the research problem under study;
- teachers must follow ethical procedures when carrying out research; and
- classroom research where possible should adopt a perspective where all
members of a school community build and share a common vision.
Often the hardest part in classroom research is deciding on a focus. Teacher
research does not require a precise hypothesis. In fact you do not have to
begin with a problem. Hopkins (1985:pg 63) suggests that " All you need is a
general idea that something should be improved. Your general idea may stem
from a promising new idea or the recognition that existing practice falls short
of aspiration." Once the focus of the research has been decided, planning for
data collection, followed by actual data collection and analysis occurs.
How to Get Started on a Project
Borrowing heavily from
Hollingsworth (1994) and Hopkins (1985)
I offer the
following practical suggestions for the teacher research process:
- Decide on a focus
- Start with autobiographical data by locating your best professional self. Some questions you might ask - What are your broad interests in teaching and learning? What are your specific interests? What are manageable questions? Choose something you feel passionate about.
- Justify that the project is your best solution to the problem.
Develop a plan to gain insights
- Develop a time-line to gather evidence or data to examine what you are
trying to accomplish/resolve/do in light of "what you do not know yet".
- Decide what evidence you want to collect. Evidence includes such things
as questionnaires/surveys, observations (video or written notes),
collaborations ( i.e. video or audio tape of meetings, peer coaching)
interviews, tests and records, student work, video and audio tape
transcripts, personal journal, library readings, etc.
Analyze the data by looking for patterns, or themes across the evidence
- keep logs and journals, periodically read over the evidence, code data from
themes and patterns, draw or chart patterns, try to summarize what you
have learned as you go, by noting images, metaphors, and any new
- check out your understandings by triangulating evidence (same theme,
code, pattern appears in more than two types of data), and by talking to
peers, students, friends.
- Report on what you have learned
- to your colleagues, to parents, at conferences, in journals.
- summarize what you learned -- in an essay, narrative, poster, video, . . . poetry.
- tell how the problem changed, didn't change, or became worse because of changes in your practice.
A key component of Action Research is sharing what you have learned.
A number of techniques ranging from videos to formal presentations have
already been suggested, but consider the following as potential audiences as
Once teacher research is shared it allows for further action on the part of the
teacher, or the broader educational community to continue. The educational
community has become increasing supportive of teacher research. At a recent
meeting on science education in California that I attended Bob Polkinghorn,
the Director of the Statewide Subject Matter Projects in California called for
the documentation of evidence of change in practice at the classroom level by
teachers. If you have not undertaken teacher research in your classroom now
is the time to try!
- Colleagues at a staff development day
- Parents and students
- Email discussion groups (see On-line Resources)
- Publications from professional organizations
- Journals such as "Teacher Research: The Journal of Classroom Inquiry" - a journal by teachers, for teachers. Brenda Power
When two or more teachers are working together perhaps in partnership
with a university researcher, the issues of ownership of data gathered in a
school context, publication authorship, meeting presentation responsibilities,
and obtaining approval for case studies are best discussed early on. A clear
understanding of who has the final say about what happens in the classroom
should be established. Teachers need to be supported as researchers, but their
experiences, their students and district documents may also need protecting.
For instance, it may be difficult to hear "outside" collaborators talk or write
about you and/or your classroom, particularly if they retain authorship of the
paper. Even more complications arise if royalties are involved.
Examples of Action Research
The science standards have become a focus of reform for many science
teachers. Teachers who want to bring about such systemic reform in science
teaching are now engaging in research into their own practice and sharing the
outcomes with others. Two illustrations of on-going teacher research projects
where teachers are engaged in exploring ways to increase inquiry based
science instruction in the classroom come from CSP-SENA (California
Science Project - Science Education Network Academy):
Merle Boxill (Chemistry) and Sandy Waston (Biology) at Andrew Hill
High School, San Jose are exploring how to introduce open-ended inquiry
science into their teaching.
- Norma Rodriquez at San Antonio Elementary School, San Jose is
exploring ways to increase inquiry based science instruction at her school
site for all students (not just her own class).
- Carolyn Csongradi at Burlingame High School, Burlingame has explored
how to involve more writing and female participation in her chemistry
Such grass roots efforts are what are needed to bring about systemic reform in
The number of educators involved in Action Research/Teacher Research
Email Discussion Groups is growing rapidly. A site you might want to
visit to get an overview of the kind of activity associated with teacher
research is located here.
One on-going teacher research group
California Science Education Groups involved/interested in Action
About the Author
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