Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Highlighting the Place of Community in Classroom Action Research - Vicki Stieha

Last week Dusty was sharing her reflections on educators conducting action research and likened it to the “collective centering, pulling, and shaping of clay” and I love that image. It led me to think about the word “collective” in her phrase.

A friend of mine, an educational researcher, told me that she began conducting classroom action research long before she knew what action research was. In fact, many educators continually cycle through questions that are important to their practice, collect data (students’ reactions to material, their class work, etc), and analyze that data reflecting back on the practice and considering changes to their teaching. For many, it is part of their natural teaching process.

An online article about classroom action research (CAR) recently caught my eye. It is a brief and clear picture of the way one writer, Susan Carter, weaves classroom action research into her practice. And I am not saying that CAR cannot be woven seamlessly into a teacher’s practice, but today I am thinking deeply about the “collective” or the essential communal aspect of action research—even when it is conducted in the classroom. I love Carter’s passion for CAR, but I want her to talk more about the importance of sharing questions and reflections throughout this process with others.

In my own research, I have found that keeping our inquiry within our own practice is far less intimidating than sharing it outside of our classrooms. It is fascinating to me that, as much as we know that our students learn well through collaboration, constructing meaning with and from one another, we so often isolate ourselves and our own learning as adults. I would argue (as would Kegan and Lahey, 2001) that adults benefit as much or more from learning in community as children do. In fact, this is what Kern and Levin (2009) have found in North Carolina in their work with practicing teachers who were in the process of renewing their National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification. The authors found that the teachers in their Teacher Action Research Academy (TARA) Project supported one another in this online learning community as they moved through this demanding certification process, conducting classroom action research of their own. Their stories of interacting and sharing throughout their inquiry revealed that the community played a key role in supporting their learning.

Along with Miriam Raider-Roth, I am learning a great deal about the importance of community in adults’ learning in professional development in our own inquiry research. We are seeing how the process of asking questions about our practice, engaging in inquiry into those questions, and reflecting on the learning produced through that inquiry is enriched through a learning community. We are also learning a great deal about the necessary qualities of that learning community and the ways that the contexts for the learning play into the learning that happens. Our inquiry is ongoing, although we hope to have an article out soon to share with you.

In the meantime, I hope some of you will find this blog a friendly place to share your questions around inquiry into your teaching practice with us. Among other things, this blog can serve as a way that educators can share their thinking, action, and reflection with others to create a

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