Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preservice Teachers Becoming Gents of Change Pedagogical Implications for Action Research

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preservice Teachers Becoming Gents of Change Pedagogical Implications for Action Research

Article excerpt

Action research implies change. It requires the researcher to be an agent of change. But the concepts of change and change agency are often left unexamined in the literature. In fact, the widespread use of the terms teacher research or classroom research as more context and role-specific versions of action research have the effect of muting the change component even further. The image of teacher as change agent is displaced by the less activist image of a traditional researcher. Although these terms are often used interchangeably in the literature, (1) they also signal different histories, commitments, and intellectual traditions (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1990; Noffke, 1997). We consciously use the term action research in our teaching and scholarship to forefront our interest in social and political change derived from critical traditions as well as in individual change. The standard definitions of teacher research as "research that is initiated and carried out by teachers in their classrooms and schools" (Hubbard & Power, 1999, p. 2) and classroom research as "an act undertaken by teachers, to enhance their own or a colleague's teaching" (Hopkins, 1993, p. 1) do not convey that intent; neither do teacher or classroom research projects that emerge from these traditions.

Although action research has become prominent in teacher education programs (CochranSmith & Lytle, 1990; Noffke, 1997) and is touted as a tool to engender reflective practice, little has been written about what happens to preservice teachers as they begin to think about themselves and act as agents of change (see e.g., Beyer, 1996; Bissex & Bullock, 1987; Goswami & Stillman, 1987; Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995; Hopkins, 1985). And yet, the idea of being a change agent is clearly problematic for preservice students. Not only are they in relatively powerless positions to effect change within their school contexts, but as novices, they often have difficulty even thinking of themselves as teachers, much less as change agents. These difficulties are compounded by not knowing what kind of change action research is supposed to promote. Should it "be geared toward changing and improving the teacher's style," as one of our teacher candidates asked, "or toward changing the students?" Or could the focus and purpose of change be something else entirely?

The answers to these questions are not obvious to those who undertake an action research project for the first time. And they should not be, given the multiple forms and purposes action research can assume. Because of these persistent issues, we became curious as teacher educators who teach action research courses about notions of change and change agency within the literature and our own teaching. What meanings are embedded in the literature? What meanings of change and change agency do we construct with our teacher candidates in our semester-long courses? And most pressing for us, what are the pedagogical implications of teaching about and for change in preservice action research courses?

CONCEPTIONS OF CHANGE

How does the action research literature conceptualize change, and what does it tell us about engaging preservice teachers in a change process? Several aspects of change are dealt with, at least implicitly. Although language and categories differ somewhat from author to author, the main ideas deal with the focus, or purpose, of change and the conditions under which change occurs. Although not all of the literature specifically deals with the preservice preparation of teachers, implications can be drawn.

Focus and Purpose of Change

Most academic writing about action research addresses the various arenas, or "sites of struggle," in which action research can bring about change. Where does it happen, and what is its focus? Zeichner (1993) and Noffke (1997) offered two useful typologies. For Zeichner, action research has the potential to effect change in (a) individual teacher development and the quality of teaching, (b) the control of teaching knowledge, (c) the institutional context, and (d) the broader social context. …

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