Teachers as Researchers: What Makes You Wonder?
Over a century ago, American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey stated, "We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience."He emphasized the importance of educators pausing to reflect on their practice, asking questions about practices that were most impactful for their students, and using these "findings" to inform their planning and instruction. He believed the answers to what was best for students could and should come from teachers.
At the CLE, we also believe that teachers possess incredible pedagogical insights and knowledge. With time to reflect and question, they also have the power to teach in ways that help students build lives of decency and dignity. We believe that teachers are researchers. They gather data (e.g. formal and informal assessments; formative and summative assessments; conversations; student work), analyze their data, and use their findings to inform planning and instruction.
As with any researcher, teachers often hone in on what Beverly Falk and Megan Blumenreich call "wonderings" in their book The Power of Questions: A Guide to Teacher and Student Research. There is no doubt that teachers have many wonderings and go about answering them in various ways. Falk and Blumenreich suggest that one way to answer or address a wondering is through action research– systematically focusing on a question or dilemma and intentionally gathering and analyzing data to improve their practice and maximize student learning. So what might this look like?
Thinking about action research as a yearlong project can feel overwhelming! A great deal of research begins with a pilot project, similar to a practice project, to work out the kinks. This is the perfect place to start. Consider a wondering that relates directly to what you are seeing each day. For example, one teacher we worked with felt that her students were not getting along well and this was impacting their classroom culture. There were daily squabbles and pushing and what she felt was a lack of empathy. To address this dilemma in a productive, positive and literacy-focused way, we identified picture books that focused on social-emotional development and bullying, particularly books by Trudy Ludwig. She engaged students in interactive read alouds, facilitated discussions, and had a student write in their reader response journals. She videotaped their class discussions, analyzed their writing for evidence of increased empathy, and observed their interactions. Students showed tremendous growth not only in their ability to solve problems but in their writing and ability to listen to one another. Most significantly, the best outcome was a safer and more caring learning environment.
Action research is a powerful way to pause and reflect, address wonderings, and improve teaching for more student learning. After all, as Dewey said, "We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience."
Ernest and Jodene Morrell
For additional reading:
Falk, B. & Blumenreich, M. (2005). The power of questions: A guide to teacher and student research. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.