Teacher action research project summary report


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Summary of the STNE Teacher Action research scholarship programme.

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Teacher action research project summary report

  1. 1. Scottish Teachers for a New Era (STNE) is a collaborative six-year pilot project whichseeks to prepare ‘teachers for a new era’ able to face up to the challenges of knowledgeand learning in the twenty-first century. The programme’s aims include the creation ofan extended professional culture, the broadening of learning experiences, opportunities todevelop new and personal approaches to teaching and a broader conceptualisation ofpupil gains leading to improved teacher and pupil learning. STNE Teacher Action Research Scholarship Programme Findings from the analysis of the first year (2008-09) of implementation June 2010IntroductionThe STNE Teacher Action Research (TAR) Scholarship Programme was launched in the academic year2008-08 as a means to provide opportunities for teachers in STNE partner authorities to undertake action-research in their own classroom/school contexts. The module had the specific objectives of giving teachersthe opportunity to undertake research by drawing on their own knowledge and experience, learn form theprocess and make a contribution to the collective exploration of the notion of pupil gains.This approach was in line with current interest in action-research as a form of self-directed professionaldevelopment (Sachs, 1999; Ponte, 2005) which enhances personal reflection and collective practice. Action-research was thus adopted as a methodology for inquiring into the practice of teaching as well asresearching pupils’ learning in different teaching and learning conditions. It was hoped that this form ofnested research could provide insights into the interface between teaching and research which sits at thecore of the STNE project and the current policy agenda.This report describes the module, the methodology and findings from research conducted with the firstcohort of teacher researchers registered on the TAR Programme.
  2. 2. STNE Teacher Action Research Scholarship ProgrammeMethodThe Scholarship programmeThe TAR Scholarship Programme was set up as a postgraduate study module included in the suite ofNegotiated Independent Study modular courses offered by the School of Education. The tutor/mentor teamconsisted of five members of staff involved in research activities associated with the STNE project. TheTAR Scholarship Programme was advertised on the web-site of the School of Education; custom-madeflyers and posters were distributed through the national network of Continuous Professional Developmentcoordinators and at special events attracting audiences with an interest in education (i.e. GTCS conference;University open day; Chartered Teacher events).The scholarship would cover the fees with an additional £250 to be used for travel expenses or otherexpenditure related to the project (i.e. equipment or consumables). Because of the focus of STNE projecton school teacher education, only school teachers were considered eligible for a scholarship, althoughapplications from other professionals were considered. Each teacher was assigned a university-basedmentor; whenever possible, teachers from neighbouring areas were clustered together and assigned to thesame mentor. Alternatively, students were assigned to mentors with a particular topic of interest. No settopics were given but teachers were encouraged to investigate an area of their own choice and relevant totheir personal practice. This approach led to a variety of project areas, which were all relevant and wellrecognised themes in schools.The Research: Action-Research about the ProgrammeAction-research has been undertaken by the STNE mentors-researchers to explore the impact of the TARProgramme. The implementation of the TAR initiative was a vehicle for researching at three different, butinterconnected levels: a. teachers’ learning about their practice through action research; b. pupils’ learning through the changed practices of teachers in action-research; c. STNE researchers’ learning about the impact of action research on teachers professionalism and developmentThis report refers to level a, which included the experience of the first cohort of teachers, six from theSecondary sector and seven from the Primary sector. One source of data consisted of the research reportswritten by the teacher action researchers in which they detailed their rationale for practice, theirconceptions of pupil learning attributes and their overall reflections of the process of undertaking action-research. The learning attributes were categorised in line with the four key capacities which underpinScotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (SEED, 2004) in order to evidence continuity of critical dialoguewith policy. Data about teachers’ learning and pedagogical choices was extracted from the reports andrecorded on a structured template, followed by a meta-analysis focussed on the epistemological features ofthe teachers’ projects.In addition, semi-structured interviews with individual teacher action researchers were conducted by acolleague external to the STNE mentor team, six months after completion of the projects. The interviewquestions concerned the nature of professional learning and development, understanding of pupil learning;relationships and communities; and support.
  3. 3. STNE Teacher Action Research Scholarship ProgrammeEnter Report Title hereResultsFindings from the first cohort of teachers indicated that the program had a positive impact on the teachers’learning. They appreciated the value of action-research to develop praxis – defined as educational practicerooted in pedagogical and personal values. Teachers pointed to personal engagement, thinking hard aboutone’s own practice and developing a sense of participation and ownership in the learning process.In examining the reasons that led participants to engage with the programme we found considerable evidenceof their thinking already being influenced by theoretical ideas along with policy influences. Upon joining theprogramme the teachers, without exception, had identified an area which they wished to explore that wasbased on a conceptual idea that arose from outside their own practical experience. Whilst, in the main, theteachers had not, at this stage, read extensively around the subject in the way that an academic might, theyhad drawn ideas from previous CPD, from their ideas of child development, from research driven policies andfrom teacher education courses they had attended. This suggests, that there can be considerable interplaybetween the theoretical and the practical knowledge of teachers in the development of their practice, and thatif divisions do exist between different types of knowledge they may be permeable.The expectation that the teacher action researchers would draw on literature to inform their work was helpfulin contextualising their work, and it can be argued that it contributed to fundamental shifts in the teacher’sthinking. However, we feel that encouraging the use of academic sources could also inadvertently act as adisincentive to further research in the longer term. It is an unfortunate feature of the divide between universitydepartments of education and the schools, with which they collaborate, that only registered members of theuniversity have access to library materials.Analyses revealed significant interplay between the personal, professional and political dimensions of action-research in line with the dimensions proposed by Noffke (2009), and also the way in which action-researchenriches teachers own embodied knowledge (Lam, 2000) and contributes to community embeddedknowledge. A reflection on the ideas of research that we hold is required to engage with different types ofknowledge and modes of knowledge production, with relevance for, and impact on the professional andpersonal development of teachers.In examining impact, we found considerable evidence of professional development. Our findings confirmthose of Ponte (2005) and Ben-Peretz (2001) pointing to teachers becoming more skilled at reflecting on andevaluating the consequences of their practice for the children. Again, for the teacher action researchers,reflection was by no means a new idea; most identified themselves as ‘reflective practitioners’ from theoutset. By engaging with action-research, however, they developed more systematic approaches, and,critically, they appreciated the value of seeking the perspectives of other stakeholders, most notably thechildren.Confirming the findings of Bustingorry (2008) the incorporation of the research process into normalclassroom activities was seen to be important; it lent it a ‘naturalness’ in which it was integral to practice,rather than sitting outside of what normally happens. Thus it was seen as an improvement on usual ways ofreflecting, rather than a new and alien concept. The findings also pointed to the multi-faceted nature andflexibility of teachers’ knowledge; it is personal, social and contextual knowledge, not only based on practicebut rooted in values and norms and as such, it can underpin transformative practice.
  4. 4. STNE Teacher Action Research Scholarship ProgrammeEnter Report Title hereDiscussion/ConclusionAn important theme emerging was ‘empowerment’ of teachers associated with the learning process.Teachers’ learning was not conceived so much as a process of accumulation of theoretical knowledge but asa journey towards improving the level of awareness of the nature and coherence of their own practice. Fromthis we can argue that while action-research is portrayed by policy-makers as a means for generating‘evidence’ of practice and its impacts on outcomes, for some of the teachers involved in the study themodule was mainly an opportunity for opening up dialogue between the teacher and the pupils and amongstcolleagues about learning and its purposes.Discussion of the findings points to the difficulty of reaching out to teachers and the need to strengthenpartnership with local authorities and schools, centring dialogue on concrete aspects of teachers’ practiceand school development, which might benefit from action-research initiatives.The researchers’ reflection on research concerned the notion of ‘participatory action research’ and how thiscan be linked to pedagogy within the new Curriculum for Excellence. Further understanding of this conceptcan have implications for the design of undergraduate courses; for mentoring training for supporter teachersas well as continuous professional development opportunities.Action-research proved to be a means to bridge accountability with shared responsibility.ReferencesBen-Peretz, M. (2001) The Impossible Role of Teacher Educators in a Changing World. Journal of Teacher Education, 52, 48-56.Bustingorry, S. O. (2008) Towards teachers’ professional autonomy through action research, educational Action Research, 16 (3), 407-420.Lam, A. (2000) Tacit knowledge, organisational learning and societal institutions – an integrated framework, Organisational Studies, 21(3), 487-513Noffke, S. (2009) Revisiting the Professional, Personal and Political Dimensions of Action research, in: S. Noffke & B. Somekh (Eds) The SAGE Handbook of Educational Action research (London, Sage Publications).Ponte, P. (2005) A Critically Constructed Concept of Action Research as a Tool for the Professional Development of Teachers. Journal of In-service Education, 31 (2), 273-296.Sachs, J. (1999) Using teacher research as a basis for professional renewal, Professional development in Education, 25, (1), 39-53.Scottish Executive Education Department (2004) A Curriculum for Excellence. http://www.acurriculumforexcellencescotland.gov.uk/