Teacher As Researcher
Classroom-based research-- testing a pedagogical theory by observing real students in real classrooms-- is nothing new. To some extent, every good teacher informally observes whether a certain method of teaching is actually working with his or her students. But in the past decade, as the effort to professionalize teachers has gained momentum, the concept of teacher as researcher has taken new shape.
Across the country, teachers are asking questions about teaching and learning, and they are looking to their own students for answers. Their questions range from broad ("Under what conditions do recent immigrants from Vietnam learn to read?'') to specific ("What happens when I divide my students into ability groups for math?'').
Teacher-researchers are conducting research systematically-- by taking field notes, conducting surveys, interviewing students, observing their behavior, and analyzing their work. Some teachers set aside specific periods for formal data collection, while others are involved in a more constant, informal inquiry method. (Whole language advocates call this latter version "kidwatching.'')
Moreover, many teachers do not just "use'' students as subjects but involve them directly in the inquiry process. Again a spectrum of formality occurs. Some teachers ask students to keep track of their own performance and help them analyze it. Others conduct "on the spot'' interviews ("I noticed that at 10:00 we all got quiet. I wonder what happened?''). The teacher-researcher believes that children know a great deal about what they need to do in order to learn and that the best solutions arise from working with them.
How teachers get involved in research varies. Some cooperate with university researchers. Universities are beginning to offer graduate seminars to support teachers conducting independent research projects. But many individual teachers are also initiating their own studies--without the support of a university--for formal publication or for their own community of students, colleagues, and parents.
The teacher-as-researcher concept is most common among language arts teachers. In part, that's because the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English forged a partnership in the mid-1980s to support collaborations between university researchers and classroom teachers--and they are still at it. There is a broader conceptual reason, as well. Research evidence and classroom experience about language acquisition and learning shows that learners acquire knowledge effectively through active, collaborative inquiry. This simple, rather obvious insight applies to learners of all ages--including teachers. Thus, teachers who engage in such a learning process themselves are more likely to succeed at creating active, inquirybased classrooms.
Teachers now involved in research often say that their professional identity has changed. They feel empowered and more deeply connected to the larger educational community, as well as their own classrooms and students.