Practitioner Research Success! an Inside Look at Using Classroom Research to Inform and Improve Teaching

By Shakir-Costa, Kimberly; Haddad, Laura | Science and Children, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Practitioner Research Success! an Inside Look at Using Classroom Research to Inform and Improve Teaching


Shakir-Costa, Kimberly, Haddad, Laura, Science and Children


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It's hard to imagine becoming a classroom research aficionado, but with the success of our practitioner research experiences it just might happen! What began in a science education graduate course has turned into an inspirational component of our teaching practices. In fall 2007, we began a yearlong course about educational research in the classroom. Throughout the school year, we conducted practitioner research--i.e., we questioned and reflected upon our teaching practice and the ways in which our students learn. The experience was amazing--the process helped us hone our craft as teachers and showed us the enormous impact our actions as teachers have on students. In this article, we discuss Kimberly's (first coauthor) experiences as she used practitioner research to explore the use of science notebooks in her third-grade classroom.

What Is Practitioner Research?

Practitioner research is an ongoing, reflective process in which inservice teachers (i.e., practitioners) ask questions about their day-to-day teaching practice, develop plans of action to investigate these questions, draw conclusions supported by evidence they gather, and use what is learned to facilitate changes in their pedagogy. Collaboration can be an integral component of the process as teachers participate in critical reflection within a supportive framework (Anderson, Herr, and Nihlen 2007). The collaborative group that participates with the teacher in practitioner research can include students, colleagues, administrators, parents, and even other community members involved with the school. You can certainly conduct practitioner research on your own, but collaboration can enhance the overall experience by affording other perspectives and opportunities to exchange ideas. Furthermore, collaborating with others can increase the number of people who benefit from your research.

Practitioner research can begin in a variety of ways. Often, it begins with the teacher's observations or the issues affecting the classroom environment. However, it can also begin with a new or existing theory that may influence your pedagogical approach (Kamil et al. 2002). In any case, ask yourself, "What are you interested in learning more about? What are some issues affecting your teaching practice, classroom, school, or community?" Follow these questions through--allow the answers to guide you in generating a list of queries.

For example, a colleague noticed that his students enjoyed reading time with colorful books, so he wondered if using trade books would pique his students' interest in science. Another colleague noticed that some students were unenthusiastic about learning science in the classroom. She wondered if her approach to teaching influenced their opinion about science. If so, how could she modify her instruction in order to keep her students engaged? Is hands-on science enough, or is it important for students to also connect science in the classroom to their daily lives? These ideas eventually evolved into researchable questions.

Developing the Question

Once a list of queries has emerged, identify a specific idea on which to focus your research. If you are collaborating with others, this is a time where colleagues and other members of the collaborative group can work together to identify specific questions.

In our case, Kimberly decided to focus her practitioner research on how to best support her third-grade students in integrating literacy and science. Kimberly had begun using science notebooks on a regular basis, but she observed that students were unclear about how best to record their ideas. Notebook entries were often incomplete and difficult to follow. Entries were untitled, words were written without being put into the context of their investigation, charts were frequently misused, and diagrams were often not labeled. This made it difficult for Kimberly to assess her students' understanding. …

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