GUEST POST: Teaching Teachers That Research Matters
By Amber Walraven
Dr. Amber Walraven, @amberwalraven, is an assistant professor at the Radboud Graduate School of Education (Radboud Docenten Academie). As an assistant professor at the Radboud Docenten Academie, she lectures on Personal Professional Development (especially aimed at conducting practice based research), general didactics, and teaching methodology (with special focus on ict in education). Amber conducts research on professional development of teachers.
“At the moment, a lot of research is very distant from the classroom, it’s done by people who don’t understand children, it’s done by people who have never taught. I want teachers to engage more with good research and drive future research.” – Tom Bennett, @tombennett71
A quote I wholeheartedly support. And yes, I am a researcher and a teacher educator, and no, I’m not a teacher….
Does every teacher need to become a researcher? No.
Does every teacher need to have an inquiry stance when it comes to teaching, learning and education? Yes.
In this post I want to share two ways I am currently engaged in stimulating (pre-service) teachers to become research-literate and conduct practice-based research.
Design & Research
At the Radboud Teachers Academy (Radboud Docenten Academie) pre-service teachers conduct research in their own classrooms and school. In this course, students create an educational design and they conduct research on one or more specific parts of their design in their own teaching practice. In this course students show that they can view the design and implementation of their practice from a research point of view and that they can draw conclusions from their research that are relevant to their own practice. The research and design should be relevant to their personal educational practice.
We ask our students explicitly to examine the context and the questions that are raised in their school. So, they design and research something that is useful for themselves and their school. But above all we want them to develop the skills to conduct research later on in their practice. Maybe not as extensive, and not every week. But when the school or their lessons need it. We want them to have the confidence and knowledge to be able to conduct research then.
The way we currently approach this is having students (pre-service teachers) think about the first half of their teacher training. What would they like to know more about? What tickles and triggers them? What do they want to change in their practice, or what do they want to achieve with their pupils? What learning goals do they have? Students form groups (mostly groups of two) and discuss, read, question, sketch, ask etc, about the topic, current research, possible designs and so on. They write a research plan and present this to peers and supervisors. After feedback, they develop, implement and carry out the research. During the course they have 8 lectures in which I try to provide room to share their thoughts and processes, provide some theoretical background (for instance, on qualitative research), provide feedback, and help them out.
Results and reactions are mixed. Some students do not like this course and see it as a burden. They would rather spend more time practicing classroom management or didactics. Other students value the freedom and insights this course offers them. To some, it is the course that gives them the opportunity to really find out what they want to know.
My own feelings are mixed as well. I struggle with the balance between helping and guiding the teacher trainees to conduct practice-based research on the topic they are most interested in on the one hand, and providing them with more broad methodological knowledge and research literacy. In my opinion teachers should know how to conduct practice-based research and read research papers, but I don’t know whether completing their own research in such a short amount of time is the way to go.
Professional Learning Communities
In our research project TALENTontwikkeling, we work together with a primary school in Lent, near Nijmegen. In four professional learning communities (every teacher of the school is participating, 44 teachers!) we conduct four practice-based study rounds. In the first round, the study is coordinated by the researchers that coach the learning communities. In the fourth and final round, teachers will conduct a study on their own and researchers will step in when asked by the teachers. The goal of our TALENTontwikkeling project is testing our model on guiding learning communities and developing teachers’ research skills and inquiry stance.
We recently finished our first round and I am very excited about our achievements. In a very short period (2 ½ months!) we conducted 4 studies with teachers. The studies were on pupil autonomy, the link between vision and the classroom interior and way the classrooms are equipped, motivation and peer feedback - with some interesting results.
In the first round of the research, we try to model the research process and make it explicit. Teachers are not silent apprentices watching their masters, but are actively involved. We want the studies to be their studies, and keep them motivated and engaged. They decide the topic, develop instruments, collect and analyze the data. However, researchers guide them and sometimes make suggestions and do a lot of preliminary searches for instruments and set up a data file, for instance.
Teachers were motivated, learned research skills, and provided feedback that indeed it was still their study, they were glad they did not have the overall responsibility, and they admired how we coached them. In the next round (with a little less guidance) researchers, according to the teachers, should still help with keeping the study small and achievable, the research question, and the data analysis.
I see some teachers really willing to go through the entire research cycle, learn about data analysis and statistics and wanting to become more of a researcher. On the other hand, some teachers feel more comfortable with deciding on the research topic and implementing new materials. They are more interested in practice than research. They acknowledge the benefits of research and are open to research-informed practice, but do not want to be researchers. But they do feel that being a part of these learning communities is stimulating, rewarding, and helps their teaching.
Research – be it conducting it or reading about it – is important for teachers. Not all teachers will become researchers. But I hope all teachers will be aware of and a part of research in one way or the other. I also think schools should work on a research community within the school. Research seminars, a research group, providing researchers with a place to collect data, etc. Make sure teachers are aware of research and give them all the support when they want to conduct their own.
How does your school approach research? We'd love to hear from you!
This blog post originally appeared on Amber Walraven’s Research and Teaching Blog