streamlined reflective action research for creative instructional improvement
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Streamlined reflective action researchfor creative instructional improvementDon Ambrose a , Kathy Lang a & Marta Grothman aa Rider University , USAPublished online: 12 Apr 2007.
To cite this article: Don Ambrose , Kathy Lang & Marta Grothman (2007) Streamlined reflectiveaction research for creative instructional improvement, Educational Action Research, 15:1, 61-74,DOI: 10.1080/09650790601150840
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Educational Action ResearchVol. 15, No. 1, March 2007, pp. 6174
ISSN 0965-0792 (print)/ISSN 1747-5074 (online)/07/01006114 2007 Educational Action ResearchDOI: 10.1080/09650790601150840
Streamlined reflective action research for creative instructional improvementDon Ambrose*, Kathy Lang and Marta GrothmanRider University, USATaylor and Francis LtdREAC_A_215012.sgm10.1080/09650790601150840Educational Action Research0965-0792 (print)/1747-5074 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis151000000March 2007DonAmbroseambrose@rider.edu
Busy educators find it difficult to work creatively in conditions imposed by ill-conceived, politicallycharged reform initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act. In order to keep up with researchfindings, emerging theories and practical recommendations in the creativity literature, they needaccessible, highly condensed distillations of the literature to help them improve their work. Theyalso need simplified investigative strategies to help them select, test and refine creative ideas that arebest suited to their unique classroom settings. Two veteran elementary school educators, a general-ist and a music specialist, used a highly condensed overview of creativity in a streamlined actionresearch initiative. From the process, they gained a broad grasp of creativity concepts, discoveredsome personal creativity strengths and weaknesses, and made some targeted improvements in theirclassrooms.
Keywords: Action research; Creativity; Education reform; Instructional strategies
In most western, developed nations, the spotlight of scrutiny is on educators in thepublic education systems. Politicians, pundits and parents demand instructionalimprovement and accountability, with some justification. Unfortunately, the high-stakes-testing accountability measures that accompany these demands often impedecreative instruction because teachers feel pressure to take care of the easily measur-able basics first, and then address creativity with any time and energy they have leftover (Cohen et al., 1999; Cavicchi et al., 2001). The No Child Left Behind (NCLB)legislation in America represents a particularly onerous and insidious, ideologicallydriven set of constraints on teacher creativity (Meier & Wood, 2004; Apple, 2005).
*Corresponding author. Graduate Department, School of Education and Human Services, Collegeof Liberal Arts Education and Sciences, Rider University, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville,NJ 08648-3099, USA. Email: email@example.com
62 D. Ambrose et al.
Driven by neo-liberal ideology (Apple, 2005), the NCLB establishes punitive auditsand inspections of superficial learning under the guise of transformative rhetoric.
Of course, given the heavy demands on teachers in todays classrooms, there is littleleft over time or energy. Consequently, well-intentioned, talented educators findthemselves assuming technocratic roles, relinquishing autonomy and making incre-mental, easily measured, often trivial improvements. Under these conditions, teacherswith creative inclinations feel compelled to set aside their penchant for bold, creativedecision-making that could enrich students motivation and learning.
The rewards of teaching are primarily intrinsic. Some of the best of these rewardsemerge from the open-ended, complex nature of the teachinglearning process thatinvites creative decision-making from both teachers and students. Ideally, teacherswould devour the findings in the creativity literature and transmute these findingsinto creative learning experiences that motivate and enrich their students as well asthemselves. But, given time and accountability pressures, educators must find waysto streamline and simplify their pedagogical innovations while simultaneously ensur-ing that they do not diverge too far from the more pedestrian and often draconianlarge-scale district, state and national reform initiatives.
Most teachers unfortunately find themselves too busy to keep up with develop-ments in creativity research. Nevertheless, there are some useful creativity textbooksthat provide distillations of creative processes applicable to the classroom (forexample, Sternberg & Williams, 1996; Baer, 1997; Davis, 1998; Piirto, 2004; Starko,2005). Combining some of these distillations with the process of action research haspromise for keeping creative instruction alive because condensed readings and actionresearch both help conserve the time and energy of busy practitioners.
A methodology for highly streamlined creative action research
Action research provides a useful way for educators to improve their work by enablingthem to proactively investigate their instructional and decision-making processes, toreflect on those processes and to devise ways to improve them. Action research is afocused method of on-going, reflective and iterative analysis and decision-making inwhich a busy teacher targets one or a few work processes that he or she would like toimprove. After targeting the processes, the teacher-researcher plans and implementssome specific interventions for improvement, monitors the results of the interven-tions, and then makes on-going refinements based on the results of the monitoring(Livingston & Castle, 1989; Oja & Smulyan, 1989; Cochrane-Smith & Lytle, 1993;Keating et al., 1998; Bhattacharya et al., 2000; Ginns et al., 2001). Some formalresearch instruments can be used in the monitoring, but much of the assessment relieson the intuitive, reflective judgment of the experienced professional. Teacherresearchers collect objective data to the extent possible, usually in the form of simpli-fied checklists, journal notations, audiotape, videotape or peer observations. Theintent, however, is not to produce a body of generalizable findings for widespreadconsumption, but to solve specific problems pertaining to the teachers own uniquecontexthis or her classroom. The credibility of the process largely rests on the
Action research for creative instruction 63
notion that a committed, informed teacher has more intimate, nuanced knowledge ofthis setting than does anyone else, and he or she can produce credible investigativefindings if guided by targeted questions and a streamlined investigative framework.
As collaborators in an instructional-improvement project, we employed an actionresearch process designed to preserve and enhance creativity in our classrooms. Thescope of improvement initiatives in our schools encompassed much more thancreativity so we had to streamline the process even more than we preferred. Ideally,we would have employed one of the more in-depth treatments of creative teaching(for example, Baer, 1997; Davis, 1998; Piirto, 2004; Starko, 2005) as the basis forour thinking about instructional improvement. But with our time constraints, we hadto find a source that distilled the essence of creative instruction even further. Fortu-nately, a very brief book by Sternberg and Williams (1996) provided a quick readwhile giving a broad ove