|Goals of this resource site|
We advocate teacher research out the belief that the "needs of students and the potential and limits for school change become more visible when teachers study education in the context in which they work." (IET, 1995). The practical knowledge teachers have about curriculum and pedagogy is conditioned on real children and actual limits and constraints. As teachers study these issues in their classrooms, they cannot escape the complexity and difficulty of real constraints.
Classroom research helps teachers focus on the strengths and needs of all children. Seeing their teachers struggle and learn empowers and encourages students, demystifying the learning process. Further, we have seen that as teachers develop curriculum and pedagogy to address issues in their classrooms, they believe the innovations will help children learn and work to make the innovations productive. Belief and enthusiasm are crucial ingredients to teaching and learning.
The nature of teacher research has been very extensively theorized by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999a, 1999b). Recognizing that the roots for the contemporary teacher research movement are diverse and in some cases mutually contradictory, they define teacher research as:
". . . all forms of practitioner inquiry that involve systematic, intentional, and self-critical inquiry about one's work in K-12, higher education, or continuing education classrooms, schools, programs, and other formal educational settings. This definition includes inquiries that others may refer to as action research, practitioner inquiry, teacher inquiry, teacher or educator self study, and so on, but does not necessarily include reflection or other terms that refer to being thoughtful about one's educational work in ways that are not necessarily systematic or intentional." (15)
It is generally accepted (Cochrane-Smith and Lytle, 1999; Fenstermacher 1994; MacLean and Mohr, 1999) that training in teacher research methodology prepares teachers to become researchers and problem-solvers in their classrooms, leading to a greater capacity to find, develop, and implement strategies that meet the learning needs of their students. Further, qualitative research supports that student learning improves when school contexts foster problem-solving research by teachers. This is most likely to occur where school administrators promote continuous learning for teachers through on-going professional development, making schools centers of inquiry.
At least one master's program for teachers has been developed around a core of teacher research. Initiatives in Educational Transformation (IET) at George Mason University has developed a School-Based Master's Program to promote norms of continuous improvement over a career of teaching (Sockett, 1993; Duke; Smyle). The master's program combines reflective practice (Schon; Yancey), work in school teams (Smith, 1994; Hafernik, Messerschmitt & Vandrick), commitment to innovation and development in curriculum and pedagogy (Rhine), and school-based inquiry (Smith and Knight, 1997). The master's program provides opportunities for teachers to learn and to create their own knowledge through classroom research and reflection. These opportunities are structured to support teachers as they go through the experiences of personal transformation. We believe these structured learning opportunities materially enhance the sustainability of teacher transformation (Rigsby and DeMulder, 1998; Wood, 1998).
In addition to more traditional programs of "in-service" learning where "outside experts" come into the school setting to conduct workshops on some new technique, teacher research encourages dialogue between university researchers and K-12 teachers as they collaborate to explore together the issues that are most troubling or puzzling from K-12 classrooms or schools. When groups of teachers work together to refine the problem(s) they seek solutions for, search for, devise, and implement problem-solving actions, and study the impact of these actions in their classrooms, they are empowered to become experts in their own right. The benefits of classroom based research are that teachers come to know the strengths and needs of the children they teach. Teachers who draw on disparate literature and their own experience to meet the learning needs of children have a stronger commitment to the pedagogies they devise. When they assess their pedagogies with assessment strategies they have had a hand in developing, they are likely to develop a better understanding of why and how children have learned or failed to learn. They have the tools to find or devise new strategies as the strengths or learning needs of their students change. Thus, teacher research often creates conditions of self-renewal and continuous learning.
a. Teacher research provides valuable knowledge for classroom practice (Cochran-Smith and Lytle; Fenstermacher)
b. Teacher research experience provides a context for transformation of practice (Cochran-Smith)
c. Teacher research is an important foundation on which to develop greater professionalism for teachers. (NBPTS; Sockett)
d. Teacher research is an important base for reflective practice (Deming; Cochran-Smith & Lytle)
Beyond the personal and individual benefits of teacher research, enhancing its visibility to other teachers provides scaffolding for the development of research based practice for teachers not currently involved. Despite its benefits for personal growth and enhancing student learning, many classroom teachers do not know about teacher research. One impediment to adopting a teacher researcher identity is the time constraints under which classroom teachers operate. In the absence of more personal knowledge of the benefits of teacher research its general inaccessibility assures it will remain mysterious and seem burdensome. Teachers need a reliable and swift way to access the work of fellow teacher-researchers if they are to see both how it is done and how other teachers have worked on similar issues.
Currently, much teacher research is difficult to access as it is often published and disseminated locally. Even in a school district that strongly supports teacher research such of Fairfax County, the booklets that contain the articles are of limited runs or are in the hands of members of the local research group. An archive that offers abstracts as well as full texts would make teacher research more efficient. Most teachers now have access to computers and the Internet either in school or at home or both. Searches for appropriate and useful materials from the Internet would be much easier for teachers than going to a University or school district library. The availability of an accessible and publicized archive of well-done teacher research will in itself promote the growth of teacher research.
The work of teachers is often isolated and isolating. Almost any pretext for giving teachers an opportunity to talk as professionals about their classroom work stimulates and transforms. Cochran-Smith and Lytle have documented the transformative effects of participation in teacher research. On the other hand, the experience of IET's master's program is that teachers come into the program without a clear idea about what teacher research is or why they might want to learn to do teacher research. They have no knowledge of how to conduct classroom research nor do they have models of what teacher research entails. Making teacher research easily available on topics that resonate with their interests will likely enable teachers to be more open to using and doing teacher research.
A number of Northern Virginia school divisions have begun to encourage teacher research networks of various kinds in order to make the methods and content of teacher research more readily available. In the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) what began as a support group for teacher leaders of teacher research groups in schools grew into a district wide network of representatives from the schools where such groups exist. This network, now a part of the Office of Staff Development, supports group leaders, helps new sites get started, sponsors an annual conference, organizes and gives presentations on teacher research to administrators, offers seminars on data analysis and publishing, and sponsors a page on the FCPS web site. Even such an established teacher research community, however, despite several efforts, has difficulty keeping an up-to-date record of the articles and books that are published in each local school.
One such effort, by FCPS teacher-researcher Marion MacLean, resulted in an annotated bibliography published by the school system for use in school libraries, but there was neither time nor funding to keep it updated. (MacLean's classification system for teacher research articles can be used by our archive project as a starting place.) In Prince William County, after several years of IET's Master's programs were completed, the teacher-researchers involved sought an ongoing network organization that could support them with efforts to publish and to continue their research. It lasted only a few years and the exchange of articles took place only within the cohorts as the teachers worked on their degrees.
In Arlington County, where the IET Master's Program has been active, there is also a teacher research program based in schools that is just beginning sponsored by the school system itself in connection with a professional Development Plan for teacher evaluation. The participants are just beginning to plan for wider distribution of teacher research articles and general information about teacher research. They will hold their first conference in the fall where teacher-researchers can present their work to their colleagues.
Neighboring Prince George's County schools in Maryland holds an annual teacher research conference, but does not have a ready way of providing access to articles written by teacher-researchers.
All of these efforts flounder, when they do, because they are largely run by teachers and time just runs out. Keeping an active accurate database of the articles is among the hardest tasks to fit into a teacher's schedule. It requires communication with many different people, persistence and accuracy about names, titles, and dates, regular updating, and many other time consuming yet necessary tasks. When attempts to do this kind of work have been made, they have been by teachers during July and August often on a volunteer basis. They have also been done by each district separately.
We envision establishing an editorial review function that would serve to assure the inclusion of competently done teacher research that reflects well on the profession and would serve the needs of teachers and teacher researchers. Focusing as it would on classroom and school practice, the research would contribute to the knowledge base of teaching, of teacher research, and of student learning. Our intention is to be inclusive of many different kinds of teacher research but representative of the range defined by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999). While inclusion in the archive would not constitute publication, we intend that such inclusion would promote publication. Our conception is that papers included in the archive would be working papers. We intend to promote journal or anthology publication through a web-site listing of publication opportunities. The details of whether we would always include full texts and abstracts or only one or the other is yet to be determined. One proposal is to include abstracts and full texts of unpublished work and abstracts of only of published work. The intention of this proposal is to have the archive include abstracts of as much teacher research as possible but to have the full text of reports that were not otherwise accessible.
We propose an on-going evaluation of the archive by users, through both a Web-based, self administered survey of users and an e-mail link. We intend to use the feedback to enhance the accessibility and usefulness of the archive. Particularly in the beginning we would survey and conduct focus groups among local teacher researchers about accessibility and usefulness.
Another natural activity of the archive would be to make available Web-based spaces for research consultation and discussions. One of the most powerful aspects of teacher research is the formation of research groups within which to share the on-going processes of research activity. In such groups teachers test and refine their interpretations of data, trouble shoot intervention strategies, seek alternative ideas for classroom practice, give support for the struggles of teaching and researching, and generally seek and provide support for the intellectual journeys of teacher research. We intend that the archive would be a vehicle to promote and support teacher research from conception through conducting to making public.
Because we believe in the importance and validity of the knowledge created through teacher research, we intend that the research in the archive would be available for use by staff developers, research groups, University classes and educational policy makers for whom access to classroom-based knowledge is useful. For example, we envision that school division staff developers planning workshops on reading and writing might turn to the archive for materials on these topics to use in their presentations. We intend the archive to provide a general site tying together all kinds of resources that would foster teacher research.
A number of different and unconnected efforts have been made to set up teacher researcher networks or journals or archives. These vary from a Web page on Action Research created by the Appalachian Educational Laboratory to the Fairfax County Public Schools Web site for the Teacher Research Network. In addition, there are electronic journals and hard copy journals that publish teacher research, both exclusively and in addition to more conventional research. Listed in the Appendix are the resources we have discovered to date. We intend to expand this listing with the hope of being exhaustive. These resources will be categorized and described (with links) for our Web page list of teacher researcher resources.
The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Web site for the Teacher Research Network exemplifies both the great strength and the limitations of local efforts to promote and disseminate teacher research. FCPS is perhaps the premier school division in the country in promoting teacher research. Its Office of Staff Development and Training supports the Teacher Researcher Network in a variety of ways. The Office maintains a Web page that includes an index of Fairfax County teacher researcher projects and a listing of teacher researchers with their research interests. This page is not easily accessible to researchers elsewhere and is difficult to keep updated because it depends on volunteer teacher-researchers' knowledge and time.
In a different vein, the master's program developed by IET gives new enrollees access to the research completed by previous classes, but changes in faculty diminishes the memory of the content and insights of particular reports. Faculty memories do not make a reliable database. We have put project titles (some 1200) completed in our program in a bibliographic database, but titles do not reveal the relevant information of reports. Graduates have begun to contact us about particular reports or reports on a particular topic. Teachers have a sense that the reports would be useful for their own research or for ideas for their classroom practice. Often research done by classroom teachers is more accessible to teachers than work done by University researchers. We believe the archive would prove useful both as models for research and as theory-based models for practice.
Arlington County Public Schools, under the leadership of Robert G. Smith, Superintendent, the Arlington County (VA) Public Schools, are implementing two programs that have the potential to dramatically change how teachers learn about, develop, and/or adopt innovations in pedagogy and content appropriate to their grade level. First, the Professional Development Cycle (PDC), "provides an opportunity to enhance professional growth by exploring and implementing innovative strategies to improve student achievement" (Arlington County Public Schools, 1997). Second, Teacher Study Teams are being organized to study problems growing out of classroom practice and out of dialogue among teachers. Teams will design, implement, and assess problem-solving actions (Smith, 1994; Smith and Knight, 199_).
Specific plans for an archive and resource center for teacher research [This is currently being planned and built...]
We envision an archive that can easily retrieve the full text and/or abstracts of completed research reports that have been deposited by contributing teacher researchers. In addition, the archive would survey published resources for teacher research; publish reviews of books and articles on doing teacher research; index completed teacher research by subject matter, grade level, and theoretical perspectives; and facilitate contacts among teacher researchers. We envision that the archive would contain both full text documents and abstracts indexed in a variety of ways. Users of the archive should be able to search the database for relevant materials, consult abstracts, and print copies of archived materials when authors have granted copying permission. We hope we could provide contact links to original authors and that the archive would have universal reprint rights to distribute the materials freely. The archive function would entail our developing a set of descriptors by which reports and abstracts could be classified to enhance their accessibility.