Preservice teachers engaged in reflective classroom research

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Washington State University Libraries ]On: 16 October 2014, At: 00:22Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Teacher EducatorPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/utte20

    Preservice teachers engagedin reflective classroomresearchRita A. Moore a , Amy Bartlett b , LaTreshaGarrison b , Kristie Hagemo b , JenniferMullaney b , Ashlee Murfitt b & Shelly Smith ba Elementary Education , Idaho StateUniversity ,b Western Montana College , University ofMontana ,Published online: 20 Jan 2010.

    To cite this article: Rita A. Moore , Amy Bartlett , LaTresha Garrison , KristieHagemo , Jennifer Mullaney , Ashlee Murfitt & Shelly Smith (1999) Preserviceteachers engaged in reflective classroom research, The Teacher Educator, 34:4,259-275, DOI: 10.1080/08878739909555206

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08878739909555206

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  • PRESERVICE TEACHERS ENGAGED INREFLECTIVE CLASSROOM RESEARCH

    Rita A. MooreElementary Education, Idaho State University

    Amy Bartlett, LaTresha Garrison, Kristie Hagemo,Jennifer Mullaney, Ashlee Murfitt, and Shelly Smith

    Western Montana College of the University of Montana

    Abstract

    During an eight-week field experience six preservice teachers, under thesupervision of their mentor professor, designed and facilitated anintegrated inquiry unit for a fifth-grade class. As a part of their fieldexperience, the preservice teachers investigated their effectiveness inimplementing the inquiry approach to teaching based on the children'slearning responses. Reflecting on their own teaching behaviors throughreflective classroom research challenged the preservice teachers to exploreimages of teaching that were often less than ideal but always informative.

    It is important to take time to look back and acknowledge that growthand learning required time and reflection. We might also take the timeevery once in a while to articulate where we've been, what we've learned,and where we hope to go . . . . (McKinney, 1995, pp. 81-82)

    Can preservice teachers effectively engage in reflective classroomresearch? I have often debated this topic with colleagues who say thatpreservice teachers do not have strong enough beliefs about teachingand learning to conduct reflective classroom research. Yet, the samecolleagues expect teachers to become "reflective practitioners" (Schon,1983) during their first year of teaching. I think that the real issue ofdebate is: Should teacher educators provide learning experienceswhere preservice teachers are taught how to gather, reflect on, andinterpret classroom data? If we do not, then how can we expect newteachers to have developed the skills necessary to conduct reflectiveclassroom research that enables them to better articulate andunderstand their beliefs about teaching and learning? Professionaldevelopment field experiences, such as the one described in thisstudy, provide a "training ground" where preservice teachers areintroduced to the methodology and procedures of reflectiveclassroom research within an authentic classroom setting. This kind

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  • of experience has the potential to office preservice teachers numerousopportunities to examine their beliefs about teaching and learningwithin the context of a planned research inquiry. It may also refineand focus the expectations that teacher educators have for preserviceteachers in professional development programs.

    If "learning from teaching is to be regarded as the primary task ofteacher education across the professional life span" (Cochran-Smith& Lytle, 1993, p. 63), then the process whereby a teacher reflects onteaching actions and beliefs in relation to learner responses andreactions suggests some rich opportunities in preservice teachers' fieldexperiences. The goal of the preservice teachers who co-authored thisstudy was to facilitate an inquiry curriculum during their eight-weekprofessional development experience by letting the questions andlearning responses of their students guide the planning anddevelopment of the daily classroom curriculum. For the purpose ofthis study, the definition of teaching through student inquiry wasthat the teacher allowed the questions and learning responses of thestudents to guide the design and development of daily learningevents.

    For eight weeks the preservice teachers assessed theirdevelopment of a true student-centered inquiry curriculum throughwritten reflections about their teaching actions and their perceptionsof student learning; in effect, they were practicing how to becomereflective practitioners. This process held for them the potential tosuggest continual adjustments and improvements to their teaching(Kottkamp, 1990).

    Reflective Classroom Research: Rationale and PurposeConstructivist learning theory may be applied to teacher

    education (Keiny, 1994), with particular regard for preparingpreservice teachers who may begin to learn how to become reflectivepractitioners capable of studying their teaching actions and beliefsthrough classroom research during professional development fieldexperiences. Teachers need to. make sense of their teaching as much astheir students need to make sense of what is being learned (Huck,1989). In this case, six preservice teachers studied the data from theirreflective journal entries, the research questions formulated for thisstudy, anecdotal records they had made of the fifth-grade students,and student learning-log responses to make sense of what they werelearning about teaching through inquiry.

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  • Elements of Importance to This Study

    Seven elements were found to be critical to the conduct of thisstudy. They were: (a) a professional development program flexibleenough to encourage preservice teachers to assist in the design oftheir field experiences, (b) preservice teachers who were willing toreflect constructively on their own teaching actions and those of theirpeers, (c) the need to have a teaching goal to focus their reflectiveresearch, (d) the careful development of a simple plan for gatheringdata from both preservice teachers and their students, (e) acooperative classroom setting where preservice teachers wereempowered to experiment with teaching methods that might bedifferent from those already established at the site, (f) use of thelearning logs of the fifth-grade students as a data source, and (g)careful analysis and scrutiny of the data on a regular basis by thesupervising professor and the six preservice teachers involved in thestudy.

    The Professional Development Field Setting and ProgramThe professional development field experience program at a

    small rural college was designed so that every Friday morning from8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. for eight weeks a team of six preserviceteachers under the supervision of a language arts education professortaught at one of the local elementary schools. The team of sixpreservice teachers was to share the responsibility for curriculumdevelopment and instruction of an integrated unit on Canada andMexico in a fifth-grade classroom.

    Participation in this classroom setting offered a laboratoryexperience for preservice teachers who were concurrently enrolled intheir language arts, science, math, and social studies methods coursesat the college Monday through Thursday. The six preservice teachersin this study and their supervisor worked together to facilitate aneight-week inquiry curriculum called "Neighbors to the North andSouth."

    The Preservice TeachersBefore beginning the professional development program in the

    field, the six preservice teachers in their various education methodsclasses had read, practiced, and discussed classroom researchtechniques for gathering descriptive data through questioning,observing, reflecting, and interpreting student learning and classroomexperiences. In methods classes, the preservice teachers oftendiscussed how student actions, reactions, hypotheses, and responses

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  • to classroom learning events could legitimately inform the planningand development of an inquiry curriculum, thus offering a "newtheory of knowledge for teaching" (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993, p.43). They were eager to put theory to practice and agreed to theground rules that required them to focus on positive and constructivefeedback during weekly discussions about their collective goal ofteaching through student inquiry.

    Focus of the Research through an Overall Teaching GoalThe preservice teachers decided that the overall goal of their

    eight-week professional development experience would be to find outif they were teaching through inquiry, that is, allowing the questionsand observed responses of the learners guide the development ofcurriculum and their own teaching strategies (Watson, Burke, &Harste, 1989). This goal was the focus of their reflective classroomresearch.

    A Simple Plan of ActionThe preservice teachers developed a simple, disciplined plan of

    study (Shulman, 1981) that began with the framing of a set ofresearch questions (see below) about how well they were developingan inquiry curriculum for a fifth-grade classroom. They then carriedout a simple easy-to-follow but well-organized method of gatheringinformation (Patterson & Shannon, 1993) in which they wroteweekly responses to the seven research questions, regularly wrotereflective journal responses, took weekly anecdotal records on thestudents, and studied the weekly responses from the learning logs ofthe students. The preservice teachers selected excerpts from thevarious data sources to share with each other and their supervisortwice a week with the intent of using the information from the datato plan and implement lessons that clearly focused on the questionsand interests of the fifth-grade students. Meetings of the sixpreservice teachers and their supervising professor were held aftereach Friday's teaching session and once during the following week forthe purpose of sharing the preservice teachers' perceptions of thevarious data sources. This process of "shared inquiry" builds oncurrent research that demonstrates that "a shift of focus fromteaching and method" to "student and teacher learning" builds amore meaningful interactive classroom environment for both teacherand learner (Thomas & Oldfather, 1995, p. 193).

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  • The Research QuestionsThe preservice teachers responded to the following research

    questions in writing at the end of each of the eight teaching sessions:1. How did you initiate any part of the inquiry process today?

    What was your roleeither planned or unplanned?2. What were the students' reactions to developing curriculum

    through inquiry that you observed?3. What changes would you make in how we approached the

    inquiry process?4. What changes would you make in your own behaviors in regard

    to inquiry as a way of collecting information to support thedevelopment of curriculum?

    5. What went well today, and why do you think so?6. What did not go well today, and why do you think so?7. At this moment, what is your definition of teaching through

    inquiry, and what do you use to support your definition?

    The Cooperating School SettingThe regular classroom teachers from the cooperating schools

    associated with this study met occasionally with the preserviceteachers and supervising professor, offering suggestions and adviceabout special needs students or curriculum requirements. Theybasically turned their classrooms over to the preservice teachers andthe supervising professor every Friday morning. The cooperatingschools regarded the Friday professional development teachingsessions as an enrichment experience for the elementary schoolstudents; the college regarded it as a laboratory where preserviceteachers could experiment with the learning theories and strategiesthey were concurrently discussing in their methods courses.

    The unit taught by the preservice teachers was predetermined bythe regular classroom teachers who often relied heavily on followingthe textbooks that their district had adopted. In fact, one of the fifth-grade classroom teachers said, the "textbook provided thecurriculum." In contrast, the preservice teachers were encouraged toteach through student inquiry because it was being discussed as ateaching strategy in their language arts methods classroom at thesame time they were participating in this professional developmentexperience.

    Gathering Data from the StudentsDuring the first teaching session, writing in learning logs was

    introduced as part of the regular Friday schedule. The fifth-grade

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  • students had ten minutes at the beginning of the morning to readwhat the preservice teachers had written to them and ten minutes atthe end of the morning to write responses and ask questions. Thepreservice teachers read and responded in...

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