ERIC Identifier: ED355205
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Johnson, Beverly
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teacher Education Washington DC.
Teacher-As-Researcher. ERIC Digest.
The concept of teacher-as-researcher is included in recent literature on
educational reform, which encourages teachers to be collaborators in revising
curriculum, improving their work environment, professionalizing teaching, and
developing policy. Teacher research has its roots in action research.
WHAT IS ACTION RESEARCH?
Action research is deliberate,
solution-oriented investigation that is group or personally owned and conducted.
It is characterized by spiraling cycles of problem identification, systematic
data collection, reflection, analysis, data-driven action taken, and, finally,
problem redefinition. The linking of the terms "action" and "research"
highlights the essential features of this method: trying out ideas in practice
as a means of increasing knowledge about and/or improving curriculum, teaching,
and learning (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1982).
While the concept of action research can be traced back to the early works of
John Dewey in the 1920s and Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, it is Stephen Corey and
others at Teachers College of Columbia University who introduced the term action
research to the educational community in 1949. Corey (1953) defined action
research as the process through which practitioners study their own practice to
solve their personal practical problems.
Very often action research is a collaborative activity where practitioners
work together to help one another design and carry out investigations in their
classrooms. Teacher action research is, according to John Elliott, "concerned
with the everyday practical problems experienced by teachers, rather than the
'theoretical problems' defined by pure researchers within a discipline of
knowledge" (Elliott, cited in Nixon, 1987). Research is designed, conducted, and
implemented by the teachers themselves to improve teaching in their own
classrooms, sometimes becoming a staff development project in which teachers
establish expertise in curriculum development and reflective teaching.
The prevailing focus of teacher research is to expand the teacher's role as
inquirer about teaching and learning through systematic classroom research
(Copper, 1990). The approach is naturalistic, using participant-observation
techniques of ethnographic research, is generally collaborative, and includes
characteristics of case study methodology (Belanger, 1992).
The research study team provides support and a forum for sharing questions,
concerns, and results. Teachers advise each other and comment on the progress of
individual efforts. Engaging in collaborative action research helps eliminate
the isolation that has long characterized teaching, as it promotes professional
dialogue and thus, creates a more professional culture in schools.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF TEACHER ACTION RESEARCH?
research has been employed for various purposes: for school-based curriculum
development, as a professional development strategy, in preservice and graduate
courses in education, and in systems planning and policy development. Some
writers (i.e., Holly, 1990; Jacullo-Noto, 1992; Lieberman, 1988; Oja &
Smulyan, 1989; Sagor, 1992) advocate an action research approach for school
restructuring. Action research can be used as an evaluative tool, which can
assist in self-evaluation whether the "self" be an individual or an institution.
WHY IS TEACHER RESEARCH IMPORTANT?
The current school
restructuring movement has site-based, shared decision-making at its core. With
the newly acquired autonomy, comes new responsibilities. Teachers, local
schools, and school districts are accountable to all stakeholders for the
policies, programs, and practices they implement. It is not enough for teachers
merely to make decisions; they will be called upon to make informed decisions,
decisions which are data driven. Therefore, it is necessary for teachers to be
much more deliberate in documenting and evaluating their efforts. Action
research is one means to that end. It is very likely the emergence of site-based
decisionmaking has precipitated the resurgence of action research; the two seem
to be complementary. Action research assists practitioners and other
stakeholders in identifying the needs, assessing the development processes, and
evaluating the outcomes of the changes they define, design, and implement. The
self-evaluation aspect of action research (by educators and/or students) is
congruent with the philosophies contained in the Total Quality Education and
Outcomes Based Education movements currently being advanced by numerous states
and districts throughout the nation.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF ACTION RESEARCH?
There is a growing
body of evidence of the positive personal and professional effects that engaging
in action research has on the practitioner (Goswami & Stillman, 1987;
Lieberman, 1988). Action research provides teachers with the opportunity to gain
knowledge and skill in research methods and applications and to become more
aware of the options and possibilities for change. Teachers participating in
action research become more critical and reflective about their own practice
(Oja & Pine, 1989; Street, 1986). Teachers engaging in action research
attend more carefully to their methods, their perceptions and understandings,
and their whole approach to the teaching process.
Lawrence Stenhouse once said, "It is teachers who, in the end, will change
the world of the school by understanding it" (cited in Rudduck, 1988). As
teachers engage in action research they are increasing their understanding of
the schooling process. What they are learning will have great impact on what
happens in classrooms, schools, and districts in the future. The future
directions of staff development programs, teacher preparation curricula, as well
as school improvement initiatives, will be impacted by the things teachers learn
through the critical inquiry and rigorous examination of their own practice and
their school programs that action research requires.
Teachers' action research questions emerge from areas they consider
problematic, from discrepancies between what is intended and what actually
occurs. As Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1990) suggest, the unique feature of
teachers' questions is that they emanate solely neither from theory nor from
practice, but from "critical reflection on the intersection of the two" (p. 6).
Teacher research will force the re-evaluation of current theories and will
significantly influence what is known about teaching, learning, and schooling.
It has been said, "Teachers often leave a mark on their students, but they
seldom leave a mark on their profession" (Wolfe, 1989). Through the process and
products of action research teachers will do both.
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) are
available at most research libraries; documents (ED) are available in ERIC
microfiche collections or may be ordered through the ERIC Document Reproduction
Service: (800) 443-ERIC. For more information contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teacher Education, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036-1186;
Belanger, J. (1992). Teacher as researcher: Roles and expectations. An
annotated bibliography. ED 342 751
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1990). Research on teaching and
teacher research: The issues that divide. Educational Researcher, 19(2), 2-10.
EJ 411 275
Copper, L. R. (1990, April). Teachers as researchers: Attitudes, opinions and
perceptions. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational
Research Association. Boston, MA. ED 322 130
Corey, S. (1953). Action research to improve school practice. New York:
Teachers College, Columbia University.
Goswami, D., & Stillman, P. R. (Eds.). (1987). Reclaiming the classroom:
Teacher research as an agency for change. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook. ED
277 022 (not available from EDRS)
Holly, P., & Southworth, G. (1990). The developing school. London: The
Hopkins, D. (1985). A teachers guide to classroom research. Philadelphia:
Open University Press.
Jacullo-Noto, J. (1992, April). Action research and school restructuring: The
lessons learned. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, San Francisco.
Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (1982). The action research planner.
Victoria, Australia: Deakin University Press.
Lieberman, A. (Ed.). (1988). Building a professional culture in schools. New
York: Teachers College Press. ED 300 877
Nixon, J. (1989, Winter). The teacher as researcher: Contradictions and
continuities. Peabody Journal of Education, 64(2), 20-32. EJ 395 998
Oja, S. N., & Pine, G. J. (1989). Collaborative action research:
Teachers' stages of development and school contexts. Peabody Journal of
Education, 64(2), 96-115. EJ 396 002
Oja, S. N., & Smulyan, L. (1989). Collaborative action research: A
developmental approach. Philadelphia: The Falmer Press.
Rudduck, J. (1988). Changing the world of the classroom by understanding it:
A review of some aspects of the work of Lawrence Stenhouse. Journal of
Curriculum and Supervision, 4(1), 30-42. EJ 378 725
Sagor, R. D. (1992, April). Collaborative action research: A cultural
mechanism for school development and professional restructuring. Paper presented
at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San
Street, L. (1986). Mathematics, teachers, and an action research course. In
D. Hustler., T. Cassidy, & T. Cuff (Eds.). Action research in classroom and
schools. London: Allen and Unwin.
The Clearinghouse thanks Anne Marie Harnett for her contribution to the
development of this Digest.