Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Opening Your Door to Research: Armed with Some Knowledge of How the Process Works, Teachers May Be More Willing to Welcome Researchers into Their Classrooms

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Opening Your Door to Research: Armed with Some Knowledge of How the Process Works, Teachers May Be More Willing to Welcome Researchers into Their Classrooms

Article excerpt

Whenever we read, "research says ...," we assume that what follows is synonymous with good instruction, assessment, or practice. However, given the differences among communities, schools, classrooms, and teachers, that same phrase can be used to turn those differences into deficits. For example, counting the number of words spoken to young children by their caregivers turned into the concept of "the word gap" (Hart & Risely, 1995). But now the word gap is used to blame young children growing up in poverty for entering school already behind their middle- and upper-class peers. The notion of grit, the personality characteristic that claims to help students tough out difficulty, is another example of research turning differences into deficit. Growth mindsets research from which grit comes is robust work (Dweck, 2007). But now children of color and children growing up in poverty who have difficulty in school are blamed for not having enough grit to succeed.

Teachers in classrooms often object when research labels their students or their teaching or when claims that "research says ..." actual lack any evidence of that research. So when a researcher comes knocking, we can understand that teachers might hesitate to answer the door. Yet answering can be valuable. Actively choosing who walks into your classroom to do research brings you into the conversation about researchbased instruction. This can be good for your teaching by empowering you to reflect on and improve your practice (David & Zoch, 2015).

A tale of two researchers

We'd like to demystify the formal research process for educators. Ann is a former high school English language arts teacher who is now an assistant professor of education teaching preservice middle and high school teachers; Melody is a former bilingual Spanish/English elementary teacher who now teaches literacy education courses at the university level. We frame our discussion of research participation with stories -both positive and negative--of two teachers' experiences. Our work with the teachers began as two separate ethnographic studies of their teaching practices, so we spent a lot of time in their classrooms and interviewed them multiple times. Both teachers saw participation as advocating for good teaching and contributing to the larger community of researchers. They also found it valuable for reflecting on their practice (Schon, 1987).

Ann's work with Annabeth

I--Ann--conducted research in Annabeth's 8th-grade English language arts classroom over four years. Annabeth and I met in graduate school, became friends, and then developed a researcher-participant relationship. During those years, I studied how Annabeth planned for digital writing assignments, how she sustained writing instruction across interruptions for testing, and how she used reading/writing workshop. I was in her classroom once a week or more and met with her often outside of class. We talked through her teaching and planning and how she navigated the various instructional mandates and her own beliefs about literacy instruction.

When asked about her research participation, Annabeth said she saw the value in opening her classroom to a researcher, although she found it challenging to do so. She also recognized how important it was for the teacher to make this decision herself:

   I want to encourage open doors since in our past,
   they've always been closed: "Close your door, and do
   what you want." I want open doors more. I'm struggling
   with it, and it's hard. I'm not really good at it,
   but I do want us, our profession, to be more open.

Annabeth saw opening the door as valuable because of our strong, trusting researcher-participant relationship. She noted, "I always felt confident in your opinion, in your insight, in your ways of seeing things." Further, she acknowledged the instructional challenges she faced: "I know I don't always enact [workshop] like I wish I could. …

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