Collaborative action research and project work: Promising practices for developing collaborative inquiry among early childhood preservice teachers

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<ul><li><p>Teaching and Teacher Education 23</p><p>aabser</p><p>ne</p><p>ssee,</p><p>1. Introduction</p><p>study, a context for learning was created that used</p><p>project work as the frameworkthe professional</p><p>inquiry can be learned by preservice teachers whenthey are placed in relationthat is, when they teach,</p><p>ARTICLE IN PRESSreect, and plan as members of teaching andresearch partnerships.</p><p>0742-051X/$ - see front matter r 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.</p><p>doi:10.1016/j.tate.2006.12.008</p><p>Tel.: +1 865 974 8354.E-mail address: mjmoran@utk.edu.Current school reform efforts in the US includenot only the challenge of bringing teachers up to parin light of dominant theories of development buttransforming the role of teachers away from adirective and prescriptive stance toward one ofinquiry (Holmes Group, 1992, 1996). The creationof teaching and research partnerships amongpreservice teachers is a promising practice forensuring that questions and needs related to practiceguide and inform their learning. In this qualitative</p><p>toolfor requiring and supporting preservice tea-chers to learn to teach, reect, and make decisionstogether related to childrens needs, abilities, andinterests.This study was conceptualized as praxis-oriented</p><p>in which the aim is a union of theory and practicewithin reective action (Schubert, 1991, p. 214).The study was grounded in the notions that (a)knowledge is personally constructed and sociallymediated, (b) research is another form of knowl-edge, and (c) attitudes and skills associated withExcerpts from case studies of two preservice teaching teams exemplify a new approach for merging research and practice</p><p>within an introductory early childhood methods course. Through participation in cycles of collaborative action research</p><p>focused on the joint task of implementing long-term projects, preservice teachers evidenced change in the ways they</p><p>participated in and developed an inquiry-oriented teaching stance. In particular, changes included (1) an increased</p><p>awareness of the value and need to share responsibility with teammates for making curriculum decisions, (2) early attempts</p><p>to self-regulate teaching behaviors through reection-in-action, and (3) an appreciation for and use of documentation in</p><p>making visible and public the relationship between teacher thinking, practice, and childrens learning. While changes in</p><p>level of reectivity and practice are noted and valued, the ways in which preservice teachers participation begins to change</p><p>may be as valuable an indicator of preservice teacher development as the possession of new knowledge and skills.</p><p>r 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.</p><p>Keywords: Collaborative inquiry; Action research; Reective practice; Social constructivist teacher educationAbstractCollaborative action researchpractices for developing coll</p><p>childhood pre</p><p>Mary Ja</p><p>Department of Child and Family Studies, University of Tenne(2007) 418431</p><p>nd project work: Promisingorative inquiry among earlyvice teachers</p><p>Moran</p><p>1215 W. Cumberland Ave., Knoxville, TN 37996-1912, USA</p><p>www.elsevier.com/locate/tate</p></li><li><p>ARTICLE IN PRESSM.J. Moran / Teaching and Teacher Education 23 (2007) 418431 419Teaching and research partnerships were estab-lished and mediated by myself, the teacher educator,aimed at encouraging novice teachers to applytheory to practice with a goal of moving away fromprescribed notions of teaching toward one char-acterized by cycles of inquiry. The purpose of thisarticle is to describe initial attempts by members oftwo preservice teaching teams to engage in colla-borative inquiry characterized by their abilities tomediate ideas, and construct meaning and knowl-edge and act upon them (Richardson, 1994, p. 6).Teacher education is under scrutiny and revision</p><p>within the eld of early childhood education, due, inpart, to the discontent with the outcomes ofschooling in the United States. How one learns toteach, what constitutes knowledge, and who denesknowledge continue to be debated (Grossman,1990; Connelly, Clandinin, &amp; He, 1997). Whileearly childhood preservice teacher education hasbeen predominately inuenced by developmentaltheory that emphasizes childrens learning, teachersthemselves nevertheless continue to learn to teachfrom a transmission orientation, with perspectivesprovided by experts rather than from a position ofinquiry.As the incongruency between best practices for</p><p>teacher education and the education of youngchildren continues to challenge the eld, a similarresearch incongruency has emerged. Studies focusedon how teachers develop inquiry-oriented teachingoften look from the outside-in, (Cochran-Smith&amp; Lytle, 1993; LaBoskey, 1994) rather than viewingteachers as active participants in research abouttheir own teaching (Cole &amp; Knowles, 1993; Clark &amp;Moss, 1996; Rodgers, 1999; Zeichner &amp; Noffke,2001). This stance runs counter to the notion thatteacher inquiry develops from the reciprocal in-forming of teacher practice and teacher research onpractice. Consequently, teacher researchers arepositioned to move into the roles of theory buildersand knowledge producers, inuencing the eld fromthe inside-out.The rst section of this article includes a brief</p><p>review of contributions from theory and practiceand a description of my role as the teacher educator.In the second section, ve vignettes are portrayedand analyzed using excerpts from preservice tea-chers writings, classroom teaching, and transcrip-tions from team meetings and teacher interviews.The article concludes with implications for theinclusion of research partnerships in preservice</p><p>teacher education programs.2. Contributions from theory, research, and practice</p><p>2.1. Social constructivism</p><p>The theoretical premises of social constructivisttheory draw attention to the critical importance oflearning opportunities characterized by joint activ-ities in which collaboration and the generation ofshared meaning is socially constructed, communi-cated, and mediated through the use of tools andsign. Rogoff (1995, 1993) describes how the processof social interaction advances thinking for indivi-dual participants in which change in knowledge andskill is representative of their adjustments to andunderstandings of the sociocultural activity. Rogoff(1995) further identies this process as participa-tory appropriation to refer to the way individualstransform their understandings and responsibilitieswithin an activity as a result of their own participa-tion; and that through participation, individualsbecome prepared to engage in subsequent similaractivities (p. 150). From this perspective, this studyis focused on describing how preservice teachersbegin to think and act differently as a result ofparticipation in teaching and research teams andhow they begin to evidence change in similarsubsequent activities toward an inquiry orientationto teaching.</p><p>2.2. Reflective practice</p><p>Contemporary reective practice is essential toprofessionalizing the eld (Han, 1995) and rooted inthe seminal work of Schon (1983) in which hedescribed two major levels of reective practice,reection-in-action and reection-on-action. Tea-chers are encouraged to move through these levelsand increasingly automatize their ability to think ontheir feet. Reective practice is a fundamentalbuilding block of an inquiry orientation to teaching(Dana &amp; Yendol-Silva, 2003; Roth, 1989; Tom,1985), and as such, is viewed by many as an essentialfeature of contemporary teacher education anddevelopment (Conway &amp; Clark, 2003; Harvard &amp;Hodkinson, 1994; Sparks-Langer, Colton, Simmons,&amp; Starko, 1991; Zeichner, 1996). One of the waysthat teachers learn to teach and reect is as membersof dyads or teams where individual reection isenhanced by group and paired collaboration(Francis, 1995, p. 240). As teachers extend theirprivate reections within a public forum, not only do</p><p>they reveal their individual actualized development,</p></li><li><p>ARTICLE IN PRESSM.J. Moran / Teaching and Teacher Education 23 (2007) 418431420(i.e., zone of proximal development), but alsogenerate collective interrelated zones of proximaldevelopment (Moll &amp; Whitmore, 1993, p. 21). Fromthis perspective, reective practice when shared andmade public through the analysis of classroomrecords and teaching partnerships, enables intelli-gences to be distributedacross minds, persons,and the symbolic and physical environments y(Pea, 1993, p. 47). As a result, the collective maybuoy or scaffold the individual, such that theindividual begins to assume a level of competencygenerated by and situated in the collective. In thiscontext, individuals may attempt more complex tasksbecause the individual shares the knowledge, thedecision to act, and the responsibility to proceed withthe collective.</p><p>2.3. Collaborative action research</p><p>Interest in teacher research has developed con-currently with the interest in developing reectivepractitioners. Teacher research within schools andteacher education programs is represented byteacher as researcher projects (Black &amp; Huss,1995), partnership research (Cole &amp; Knowles,1993; Castle, 1995), and collaborative action re-search (Crawford, 1995; Hubbard &amp; Power, 2003;Oja &amp; Smulyan, 1989; Zellermayer, 1990). The actof forming partnerships for action research beginsto address the need for collaboration both amongpreservice teachers and teacher educators (Castle,1995) who conduct classroom research. Thesepartnerships transform the traditional teacher edu-cators orientation as transmitter of knowledgetoward one of collaborator and co-constructor ofknowledge with preservice teachers. According toOja and Smulyan (1989) participation in the sharedexperience of collaborative action research ischaracterized by four elements: (a) its collaborativenature, (b) its focus on practical problems, (c) itsemphasis on professional development, and (d) itsneed for a project structure which provides partici-pants with time and support for open communica-tion (p. 12) within recursive cycles of planning,acting, reecting and revising (p. 17).</p><p>2.4. Project work</p><p>One of the earliest mentions of a curriculumapproach referred to as project work can be tracedback to the Progressive Education era at the turn of</p><p>the 20th century. More recent interpretations ofproject work include the in-depth study of aparticular topic that one or more children under-take (Katz &amp; Chard, 1989, p. 2). Yet in the infant-toddler and preprimary schools of Reggio Emilia,Italy, projects provide the backbone of the chil-drens and [italics added] teachers learning experi-ences (Gandini, 1996, p. 22). Teachers scaffold andprovoke childrens inquiry by posing questions,generating hypotheses, offering suggestions, anddiverse media, while documenting the process. Cyclesof inquiry do not begin and end with children, butextend to teaching partners, as teachers observe,question, and record one anothers practice.As such, childrens project work embodies a</p><p>framework for teaching and learning that isreciprocal, spiraling, and shareda framework ofpartnerships among protagonists who use docu-mentation as they collaboratively engage in thecreation of learning experiences that support therights and needs of children to communicate andlearn with others. This aspect of Reggio Emiliaeducators work expands upon current understand-ings of teacher research and development andembodies key principles and practices associatedwith social constructivist theory, reective practice,and collaborative action research.</p><p>3. Methodology</p><p>3.1. Participants</p><p>The data reported here are drawn from a study ofthe emergence of collaborative inquiry among 24preservice teachers enrolled in an introductory earlychildhood teaching methods course at a NewEngland university. Preservice teachers were ran-domly assigned to three- or four-member teachingteams. Each team implemented a 6-week projectwith a small group of preschool-aged children.The sub-sample of six preservice teachers was</p><p>selected in two stages. The rst stage included arequest of participants in the sample to participatein retrospective interviews at the end of the course.Full representation by members of teaching teamswas required. Of the 24 preservice teachers, 10(comprising three teams) agreed to be interviewed.The second stage was aimed at minimizing varia-bility across the teams. The criteria for selectionincluded teams that (1) were comprised of the samenumber of preservice teachers, (2) taught the sameage children, and (3) taught the same number of</p><p>practicum days across the semester. Two teams met</p></li><li><p>ARTICLE IN PRESSM.J. Moran / Teaching and Teacher Education 23 (2007) 418431 421these criteria. Participants included six preserviceteachers, named for the project implemented duringthe semesterthe leaf team and the water team.Each preservice team taught a small group of 3-year-old children. Five of the six preservice teacherswere undergraduate students, with only one havingany previous classroom teaching experience. Allparticipants were female, Euro-American, andresided in the New England area.</p><p>3.2. The role of the teacher educator</p><p>My role as the teacher educator in this study wasinformed by the belief that knowledge is sociallyconstructed and distributed within a dialecticbetween persons-acting and the settings in whichtheir activity is situationally specic (Lave, 1989,p. 171). To this end, my goal was to createenvironments in which preservice teachers actedand consequently constructed their own under-standings, or local knowledge (Cochran-Smith&amp; Lytle, 1993) about teaching and learning. I stroveto create contexts of need in which my studentsperceived a need to know, to question, and todiscern seminal information for systematic anddeliberate study that provoked and lead to inquiry(Tegano &amp; Moran, 2005).Preservice teachers inquiry was dependent upon</p><p>encouraging them to act with purpose by continu-ally and intentionally studying their teaching. Yetthis was often a difcult task for these youngpreservice teachers for two reasons. First, they hadrarely taught and therefore had little experiencefrom which to draw. Second, their own prioreducational experiences were dominated by teacherswho transmitted knowledge, and as a result theyviewed teachers as the holders of knowledge. Thusthey often looked to me for the answers and itwas one of my responsibilities to instill in them abelief that they were the ones with the answers.Early in the semester I was at times directive,</p><p>typically providing procedural, practical knowledge(e.g., how to begin a lesson, how to prepare materials,or what to say to children to begin an activity). Fromthe outside, this position may seem counter to my roleas a social constructivist teacher educator. And yet,from the inside my view was that students havelimited opportunities to engage in a cycle of inquiry inwhich they think critically, intentionally, andsystematically about their actions and the context ofthose actions (Samaras &amp; Gismondi, 1998, p. 718).</p><p>Arguably, when to provide direction was a subjectivecall. The appropriateness of my actions weredependent, in part, upon getting to know my studentsearly and well, by part...</p></li></ul>

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