As an education professional, how can you be sure which teaching methods work or which problems you need solutions for? Which procedures should you be using, and are you documenting your findings? How do you implement changes based on your findings?
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), "Teacher research is intentional, systematic inquiry by teachers with the goals of gaining insights into teaching and learning, becoming more reflective practitioners, effecting changes in the classroom or school, and improving the lives of children."
The first component in teacher research is conceptualization -- to identify a significant problem or interest and determine the relevant research questions. Second is implementation, which is collecting and analyzing data. And third is interpretation, which is extracting meaning from the findings and taking appropriate actions.
Some teacher researchers who investigate and share their findings with peers in order to enrich teaching skills consider this "action research." In an article on the NEA website, technology research teacher Diane DeMott Painter says that teacher researchers are both participants and observers in their own classrooms. Their first step is to "develop research questions based on their own curiosity about teaching and learning in their classrooms." Collecting this data, analyzing and interpreting the findings, sharing findings with students, colleagues, and members of the educational community, and working on implementing changes based on the findings forms the basis of action research.
Expected Results of Teacher Research
In addition to changing a teacher's practice, teacher research can also contribute to the development of priorities for schoolwide planning and assessment efforts. Findings often result in enhanced communication between teachers and students, improved performance of students, and increased sharing and collaboration across departments, disciplines, and grade levels, to name a few.
Research Leads to Professional Development
Teachers interested in driving curriculum and being innovators and agents of school change become directors of their own professional development when they become teacher researchers, according to one middle school director in an article on Teacher as Researcher. Dr. Dorothy Suskind says that the attitude of teacher researchers should be to walk into their classrooms every morning and ask, "What will my students teach me today?" The three primary tools she uses to answer that question are a notebook, where she jots notes, recording insights and observations; a smartphone, which she uses to take pictures and videos of students' writing samples and engineering feats; and her diverse teacher research team who help serve as a sounding board and support network.
A recent study looked at supporting teachers to become empowered to participate in classroom-based research as part of professional development. "The study yielded three major themes that are significant in the consideration of classroom-based research: (1) increased understanding of classroom dynamics; (2) shared ownership and involvement; and (3) reflective practice to connect and resolve ideas against prior beliefs."
Becoming a Teacher Researcher
Teachers are natural researchers and collect vast amounts of data every day, but what they need to become good at is doing something formal with this data. It's important to learn how to take the overwhelming flow of data they receive and use it to inform practice and improve student performance.
Part of the curriculum in the LSUS online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy program is dedicated to teacher research. Teachers interested in conducting research in their classrooms will explore quantitative and qualitative methods of designing and conducting research and evaluation in classroom settings. Through the Foundations of Educational Research course, they will examine and interpret literature in the field. The curriculum also includes the course Utilizing Data for School Improvement.
Learn more about the LSUS online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy program.
Sources:Taylor Francis Online: Becoming Teacher Researchers: A Study
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