I’ve been working intently on my policy brief this week and I’m pumped! Wanted to share a snapshot of what’s soon to come!
As experts of their students and teaching contexts, teachers offer an insiders’ perspective to research that is crucial to their role as reform agents (Kang, 2007). Systematic study of their practice using action research demonstrates ability to link theory to practice by examining new ideas about teaching in light of current literature, as well as through the lens of the realistic setting of their classroom. Keys, et al. (2001) argue that because it is the responsibility of educators to effectively implement and sustain “the vision of reform” set forth by documents such as the Next Generation Science Standards (2013), they must maintain an empowered role in developing the knowledge to facilitate change.
While arguing that the educator is often viewed as the “scientific expert” and authority responsible for facilitating scientific inquiry, Maskiewicz and Winters (2012) claim that the role of the learner must also be fully understood. Utilizing a 2-year study of a 5th grade science teacher, Maskiewicz, et al. (2012) reveal that assessing a teacher’s facilitation of inquiry must also reflect “what the students are doing in the class, along with the intellectual and epistemological resources of those students, and how the teacher responds and adapts” accordingly. Curriculum aimed at fostering inquiry along with an educator willing to implement it, are simply not enough to ensure its effectiveness in developing students’ inquiry skills. Skillful teachers must be reflective practitioners capable of analyzing students’ prior “resources” and needs as they unfold in the context of their classroom. Further, they must have a keen eye for assessing how their students respond to the applied teaching practices (Maskiewicz, et al. 2012). This is significant knowledge that curriculum reformers can only gain from interaction with practitioner-based research.
Megowan-Romanowicz (2010) found in a study of 67 high school physics teachers participating in collaborative action research in their master’s program within a period of 8 years, that 89% felt that it made them a better practitioner, while 78% felt that it added “value to the educational enterprise in their classroom, department or school.” Cullen, et al. (2010) reported that upon completion of a collaborative action research study to engage twelve K-6 teachers in inquiry practices supporting elements of NOS, teachers felt empowered to use their results when advocating for the importance of science education in their district. This is certainly true internationally as well, where teachers in high-achieving countries such as China are experiencing a curriculum shift from traditional practices to experiential and cooperative learning methods (Peidong & Laidlaw 2006). Peidong, et al. (2006) studied 45 educators led to engage in collaborative action research in order to respond to the overarching question “how can I improve the process of education here?” Despite cultural difference among the colleagues, there was an understanding that the use of action research allowed others to learn from their findings. Using this method, they aimed to inform their colleagues as well as their profession (Peidong, et al. 2006). Engagement in action research using inquiry “is an appeal to one’s real self to solve this real problem in a real classroom with real students in real time” (Peidong, et al. 2006)
Further, Elliot (1991) advocates action research as a means for examining new developed methods “in schools and informal educational sites to improve teaching and learning, and to generate new knowledge about teaching and learning science.” Action research encourages practitioners to merge the divide between theory and experiment within the context of their classroom. Pedagogical practice deemed as best practice in the profession is a reflection of controlled experimentation (Megowan-Romanowicz 2010). Coexisting in a “complex and dynamic system of many moving parts,” the teacher as a researcher “watches and listens mindfully, reflecting upon students’ acts, utterances, and reasoning, and is then able to make better sense of that student–teacher interaction called learning” (Feldman 1996). Only with this knowledge, can reform adjust to advocate for the use of informed science teaching practices that best meet students’ needs.