Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Transformation of Teacher Attitude and Approach to Math Instruction through Collaborative Action Research

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Transformation of Teacher Attitude and Approach to Math Instruction through Collaborative Action Research

Article excerpt

What causes a teacher to change and grow? What factors in professional development enable a teacher to apprehend new instructional approaches and new attitudes toward practice and toward students? As a university professor who has taught at the teacher education, masters, and doctoral levels, the life of teaching has been an enduring interest, particularly teaching that occurs in K-12 settings. From my own work as a K-12 teacher and administrator to my earliest studies of effective teaching and in my own university teaching, I have been interested in the complex practice of teaching and in how to make the practice more effective for student learning and more satisfying and fulfilling for the teacher.

During my K-12 teaching and administrative years, my experience with professional development was limited to what is commonly known as the "training model" (Sparks & Loucks-Horsley, 1990). Zeichner (2003) reports that the training model is the predominant professional development model in the U.S. and is usually a "one-shot, one day or even briefer experience" (p. 301) that is selected and planned by someone other than the individual teacher. It was not until I taught a master's level course, Research for Educators, that I became familiar with the professional development experience called action research. Because in this course I guided classroom teachers in action research projects, I perceived a need to experience the process more "first hand." Thus, I engaged in a yearlong action research project with a fifth-grade teacher who happened to be my daughter.

My objective was to better understand the action research process; I had not anticipated the multi-faceted results in terms of student benefits and my daughter's increased sense of self-efficacy and professionalism (Bonner & Bonner, 1996). I attributed the positive results of this endeavor to the objectivity that was inserted into a fairly common teacher activity, that is, identifying a problem and "trying out" a solution. However, such action does not routinely include the collecting of data to assess how an intervention is working (Richardson, 1994). In addition, I perceived that collaborative inquiry was also valuable to the process. By having another person (myself) involved with the classroom teacher throughout the year, the opportunity to jointly question what was happening, to make changes, and to assess those changes turned out to be very important in the overall results. Finally, the documentation, writing, and presenting of the results locally and at a state conference validated the contribution and professionalism of this classroom teacher.

As a result of that yearlong endeavor, the principal of my daughter's elementary school invited me to work as a consultant with any of his teachers who might elect to engage in an action research project with my guidance and support. This article describes my experience in working with two bilingual fifth grade teachers in such a process. The focus of the article is on the transformation of these experienced teachers and on factors in the process that I believe contributed most strongly to their professional growth. Not only was there development in their mathematics instructional approaches, but even more noteworthy, in their attitudes toward their students, toward math as a content area, and toward themselves as teachers of mathematics.


In the United States, where the call for educational reform is ongoing, there is a general recognition by educational leaders, government agencies, higher education professionals, and the public that the teacher is the key ingredient in student learning and in educational reform (California's Colleges and University Presidents and Chancellors, 2001; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Darling-Hammond, 2001; National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996). This is not a new nor recent acknowledgement, for as Stenhouse said in 1976 "It is teachers, who in the end, will change the world of the classroom by understanding it" (as cited in Al-Qura'n, 2001, p. …

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