Teacher Action Research in Teacher Education

By Souto-Manning, Mariana | Childhood Education, January-February 2012 | Go to article overview

Teacher Action Research in Teacher Education


Souto-Manning, Mariana, Childhood Education


As an early childhood teacher-researcher, I sought to improve my practice by documenting the learning that was happening in my classroom and by posing and pursuing questions that would lead to positive pedagogical transformations. As Allen, Michalove, and Shockley (1993) wrote:

   When you teach ... and half the
   class gives you a blank look, you ask
   yourself, "How else can I teach this
   concept?" That's research. You observe,
   and respond to what you observed.
   You begin to be aware of the intricate
   teaching and learning dance with your
   students. (p. 33)

So, it was only natural to me that as a teacher educator, I would engage in systematically researching my own practice in order to improve it--focusing on and living the process as part of my pedagogy. After all, I felt that I could not ask preservice and inservice teachers to engage in teacher research in their own settings if I was not engaging in teacher research as I taught and learned with them. Over the years, I found that the message concerning the critical importance of teacher research to good and responsive teaching could not be delivered through mere talk, but instead should be co-constructed through engagement in living the process of problem posing in the teacher education classroom.

As a former primary grades teacher, I was too aware of the cynicism associated with "do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do" professional development practices (Souto-Manning, 2011). As a teacher, I sat through too many workshops that stood apart from, and failed to build on, the strengths of my practices and on the lives and experiences of my students. As a teacher educator, I decided that I would honor teachers' histories and pedagogies instead of embracing the "banking" system of education (Freire, 1970)--the prevalent institutional discourse of which I had been part as a primary grades teacher. Nevertheless, in three institutions of higher education, I have found that teacher education research is often an invisible practice and often not conceptualized as "real" research. A significant stigma remains attached to what some refer to as "little r" research, in contrast to the "big R" research (Hubbard & Power, 1993, p. xiv). Yet, I posit that this artificial separation between theory and practice is, at best, problematic. Teacher education research allows us to theorize from our own practices and, in turn, transform them.

Historically, "teacher action research" and "teacher research" have been terms mostly used at the PK-12 level. Yet, embracing it fully and visibly in the teacher education realm is important because it raises awareness of the critical and transformative aspects of teaching and learning. It allows teacher research to be made visible and validated beyond the PK-12 realm. Thus, by engaging in teacher education research, and by researching their own practices, teacher educators can become advocates for teacher research as a valid and viable line of research.

As a teacher researcher in the teacher education classroom, I constantly seek to blur the artificial boundaries of theory and practice. Thus, every time I teach a course, I engage in a learning journey and strive to make this journey visible to my students. I share my plans and explain how my observations and interpretations guide my pedagogical decisions. As I teach, I seek to pose questions that problematize normative definitions of teaching and that will inform and improve my pedagogy. To do so, I get to know my students as unique human beings and seek to create a community of learners. I build on their interests and experiences as I teach and learn.

Bissex and Bullock (1987) highlighted that teacher research is not bound by traditional paradigms--teachers (and teachers of teachers, also known as teacher educators) are invited to engage in research by identifying their questions, documenting their observations, analyzing and interpreting data in light of their theories, and sharing situated representations with the larger community, hopefully shedding light onto other contexts.

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