Teachers are always looking for better ways to run their classrooms, teach lessons, or communicate with students, and teacher research provides a vehicle for that change. For me, teacher research provides a formal articulation of the idea that good teachers should be constantly searching for better classroom practices. However, there is no set answer. The cycle of reflection and improvement can never stop.
I’m currently taking the capstone course in the Education Studies minor, EDUC 491, Teacher Research Practicum. Although I knew that teachers design their lessons, curriculum, and practices, I haven’t experienced (except lesson planning) such an intentionally active method for reflection and improvement. I’ve also never thought of how I would contribute to that knowledge, but now I find myself at the center of teacher-research. I think it’s important that it is teachers and educators who are creating, questioning, researching, and improving the foundation of knowledge around education, because they are the people with intimate understanding of what it means to teach. Another important part of teacher research is centering student experience. The goal is to make sure that students grasp the understanding, and that can’t happen without regard to their experiences.
I am excited to see teacher research concepts in action in a 7th grade Washington state history class at Giaudrone Middle School. I’m actually amazed by what my teacher, Mrs. C, already knows, how much investigation she has already done in her own classroom, and how much we don’t know about what she knows. Ms. C already has many extra-organizational strategies built into daily class, and it seems like she’s done much informal research-type reflection and has found good ongoing solutions to a lot of her practice. We observed how she was able to change her approach for her second class period based off of what happened in her first period class. This was another way I noticed her engaging in informal, research-like reflection. The habit of research and reflection that she’s built into her personal pedagogy is really helpful as we dive into this year-long endeavor. As we go through each class period, Mrs. C articulates her thoughts to us as much as she can to keep us all on the same page about the issues she experiences.
As we work toward developing research questions for this year, two areas of teacher practice stand out to me. First is class discussions. Friday’s discussion was supposed to be mostly student-centered. However, the students really struggled. Mrs. C is trying to figure out how to respond. We could interview students about their willingness and ability to participate in discussions, as well as observe and take notes about discussions. I’m also thinking about the side conversations that students have. In our course text, Living the Questions, the authors describe side conversations that kindergarteners have and how they are usually on-task and relevant to classwork. While we are in a seventh-grade classroom, I still think that this area is relevant for teacher inquiry. Mrs. C said that she allows students to have side conversations to an extent because that is what is developmentally normal, so I think she has interest in this area as well.
Looking over these two ideas, I see a common factor. Both deal with student communication, which is not a research topic I anticipated before generating possible research questions. After reflecting, I think that the topic of communication is fascinating when applied to middle school students.
Shagoury, R. and Miller Power, B. (2012). Living the Questions: A Guide for Teacher-Researchers. Stenhouse Publishers.
Isabella Locklear is majoring in English and is an Education Studies minor. She is currently volunteering in a 7th grade WA state history class as she studies teacher research.