Teachers as researchers

iStock_000016934184XSmallAmong educators at all levels, there is a growing consensus that classroom teachers need to become more involved in educational research on effective teaching. Teachers, after all, are the most directly involved and have the greatest stake in improving classroom teaching and learning.

The fact remains, however, that research on teaching has been carried out almost exclusively by researchers at the university level, usually with little input from teachers themselves. Only in the last few years have educational researchers begun to realize that teachers are in the best position to provide the field with certain kinds of knowledge.

Reconciling theory with practice

M. Cochran-Smith and S.L. Lytle, of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, report that research carried out by teachers in their own classrooms can provide educators with the kind of knowledge which can only be gained by observing students daily over a long period of time in a variety of academic and social situations.

Cochran-Smith and Lytle point out that teacher research has more in common with the interpretive or qualitative research carried out by anthropologists and sociologists than with the systematically controlled projects typical of university educational research. Teacher researchers make field notes, collect samples and conduct interviews. They often keep extensive journals, video and audiotapes. And they use these information sources to question, reflect, draw tentative conclusions, and test theories on an ongoing basis.

Teacher research has generally tried to reconcile theory with practice and to resolve discrepancies between what is intended and what actually occurs in the classroom.

Citing Goswami & Stillman’s Reclaiming the Classroom: Teacher Research as an Agency for Change, (1987), to support their thesis, Cochran-Smith and Lytle agree that teacher researchers:

1. Transform their teaching as they become articulate about their research and how it connects to their teaching.

2. Form networks to exchange information and become professionally more active.

3. Become rich resources who can provide the profession with information it lacks otherwise.

4. Become critical readers and users of current research, less likely to uncritically accept theories and less vulnerable to fads.

5. Study learning and report their findings without spending large sums of money.

6. Collaborate with their students to answer questions important to both, and, in doing so, change the nature of their classrooms, often providing students with intrinsic motivation for learning.

Obviously, such research requires a considerable effort from teachers who must find the time and energy to collect and evaluate data while continuing their teaching and meeting other school responsibilities. Because of this additional workload, Cochran-Smith and Lytle urge administrators and communities to be supportive of teacher research.

They suggest that by offering incentives, creating support networks and redesigning overly rigid organizational patterns, schools can help teachers become a vital source of information on effective teaching.

Cochran-Smith and Lytle report that direct funding support for teacher research is available through The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI).

“Research on Teaching and Teacher Research: The Issues That Divide” Educational Researcher, March 1990, Volume 19, Number 2 p. 2-11.

Published in ERN November/December 1990 Volume 3 Number 5

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