Action Research Aids Albuquerque
Raisch, Michele, Journal of Staff Development
Literacy leaders put data to work in developing and conveying effective teaching methods
When teachers in Albuquerque, N.M., began to break through the walls of isolation, they learned not only about each other, but also about themselves as teachers. Through a literacy project that focused on enabling a core group of literacy lead teachers to work with study groups in elementary schools, teachers gained in efficacy and were able to translate new strategies into effective practice that spread throughout their schools.
The Albuquerque district began a different approach to literacy in 1997 under a federal Goals 2000 grant. The goal of the project, called Literacy Leaders, was to help teachers better meet students' literacy needs by learning quality teaching methods.
In 2000, three district-level elementary resource teachers taught teacher leaders to facilitate literacy study groups at their schools. The resource teachers met monthly during the school day to plan, and met each month after school with literacy leaders at school sites. Literacy leaders were divided into grade-level cohorts: three groups of K through 2nd-grade teachers and three of 3rd- through 5th-grade teachers, with a district resource teacher working with each division. The third resource teacher worked with one cohort group of early childhood leaders in preK-K classrooms. The literacy leaders continued to teach, but they learned new strategies for teaching literacy, methods they then shared in the school-based study groups.
Teachers who volunteered to be part of the study groups initially received a stipend equivalent to time per contract hour after school once a month during the school year, the equivalent of 15 hours of professional development. Groups identified focus areas by surveying the teachers in the group.
Over time as a result of the study groups, teachers began to engage in professional conversation. One teacher described their learning as giving teachers the language to talk about their work (survey, 2001). Another noted that their professional sharing went beyond the study group meetings. The teachers said their study "created an atmosphere of professional dialogue that extended throughout the teaching day" (survey, 2001). Collaborative reflection became part of the teaching routine.
With understanding came efficacy. Eventually, half the study groups developed plans to extend their learning to other teachers in the school. Students received significantly more instruction in reading and writing strategies than they had previously.
For study group participants, the environment was key to their ability to collaborate. One teacher described the study group as a "safe haven to discuss questions about the effectiveness of (our) teaching" (survey, 2003). The teachers were leading their own professional learning. "It was professional development that was teacher-designed," said one (survey, 2003).
FITS AND STARTS
The positive results were not always present. As the project began, the district resource teachers were to help each study group identify a literacy focus. Each group began by outlining its plans and sharing the plans with the school administration, although the way this occurred varied from school to school. Initially, however, most study groups were unfocused. The teachers lacked clear topics for their meetings. As a result, teachers at first saw little real change in student performance.
After one semester, a district resource teacher and a consultant introduced the concept of action research to a group of first-year intermediate level elementary literacy leaders. They were to observe and collect field notes. The professional development leaders gave them examples and modeled how to gather observational data in the classroom.
Each group was challenged to develop an action plan, in which the study groups focused on one aspect of teaching reading or writing and then collected data on what happened during the lesson (observational) and in the resulting student work. …