The Essential Question for this week is “What is classroom research and how can it improve teaching and learning in my classroom?”
I think of classroom research as an inherent aspect of being a teacher; I realize that this statement oversimplifies the term but I think of classroom research as good professional practice. The business of being a teacher must include classroom research in order for a teacher to be effective, relevant, and an agent of change in education. When I think back to my teacher education courses, the research skills that were taught, focused on researching for instruction and to establish a content and pedagogical foundation. Back then, it was implied that teachers continually improve and build on their knowledge and skills but it wasn’t explicitly explained to me that directing my own professional development could and should be an integral part of my practice.
Classroom research is an intentional undertaking by a teacher or group of teachers to examine an issue in the classroom and develop a plan to study the issue over a period and report on the findings. It assumes or rather acknowledges that the teacher conducting the research believes that there is always room for growth and improvement in his or her practice. In reading the articles this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I have developed that belief or understanding of my approach to my work, and to what degree I conduct research in my programs (classroom).
Most recently, I facilitated a Career Exploration Program for high school girls in San Francisco for a local non-profit organization (www.sfoasis.org). Working for non-profits has helped me gain valuable experience in action research, as we are always examining our work, making changes, and reporting to funders. Working for a small non-profit organization (there were only three staff including the Executive Director), meant that I was directly involved in data collection, program evaluations, and writing reports to funders. The experience I gained in advocacy and fundraising also taught me how to communicate with external stakeholders (parents, funders, partner agencies) about the research and participant outcomes from my program.
I spent the last two years participating in a peer learning community (PLC) comprised of other non-profit program coordinators from various organizations in San Francisco. As grantees of public funding from the SF Department of Children, Youth, and their Families, we had been invited to participate in the PLC led by an outside consultant who facilitated our meetings and guided us in developing quality improvement plans in our respective programs. Developing a quality improvement plan was a somewhat painstaking but a necessary experience of examining my program and determining areas of research. Without support from funders and our Executive Director, it would have been very difficult for me to make time for programmatic research and implementing a quality improvement plan. In the non-profit world, reporting on difficulties, issues, and areas of growth can be problematic because you are competing with other organizations for funding. I believe it is a vital role of the non-profit organization to educate funders and other stakeholders in the value of internal program research because it is informed by direct work, in much the same way that teachers reporting on their classroom research can inform other educators.
For my action research project I have two (2) ideas that keep coming up when I brainstorm possible topics. I also have the dilemma of not currently working in a classroom or program, so I’d like to focus on a group that I will interact with this semester. Here are my ideas:
Topic 1: Examine how 6th -12th grade students build their online identities in an Online Learning Community or Open Online Community through gaming, specifically MinecraftEdu.
Last semester, I worked on the Givercraft project through the EDET 693 Course on Gaming and Open Education; for the experience, we established a Community Agreement to guide behavior, participation, and interactions between participants. However, we did not consider how the role of an online identity would impact student behavior, participation, and interactions and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether students where “in character” and what behaviors needed to be moderated vs. letting the students “play.” Because I will be involved in Survivalcraft for EDET 637 and 674, I’d like to design a research project to help the participating teachers understand how their students are developing an online identity during the experience, and how to appropriately moderate student behavior and interactions to ensure meaningful learning.
Topic 2: Examine best practices for integrating Common Core Standards in program curriculum at Oasis For Girls.
I have been asked by my previous non-profit organization that I worked for, to help them evaluate the current program curriculums and recommend or work with program coordinators to demonstrate alignment with CCSS while still accomplishing program goals and fulfilling funding expectations. In this project I am less a teacher and more of a consultant, but I’d still like to approach this task with an action research project.
In summary, I agree with Vetter’s (2012) summary of “Teacher Change and Positioning Theory” (p. 30), that individuals become identified as teachers by participating in a process of constant learning as professionals, improving as individuals, and contributing to the greater community of teachers and educators. In much the same way that teachers are guiding students to identify as learners, teachers themselves must model what a learner’s responsibilities are in building skills, gaining knowledge, and sharing in experiences. Teachers improve their professional practice when they take ownership over their professional development and become agents of change in their practice or field.
Vetter, A. (2012). Teachers as Architects of Transformation: The Change Process of an Elementary-School Teacher in a Practitioner Research Group. Teacher Education Quarterly, p. 27-49. Retrieved from: http://drannejonesuas.learningspaces.alaska.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2013/10/teachers-as-architects-orf-tranformation.pdf