Student teachers’ collaborative research: Small-scale research projects during teacher education

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  • : S

    rloTheC Ut

    Teacher research

    asinn pcessboralain anati

    scribedll,Mact towa01), anout teatarted

    tioning stance, understand school culture, construct new curriculaand pedagogy, modify instruction to meet students needs, andbecome socialized into teaching by participating in learning

    Parkinson (2009) shows that being engaged in collaborative actionresearch during teacher education can bring about a shift in theperception of pre-service teachers of the role and needs of students.Burn (2007) describes an action research project for both studentteachers and experienced teachers as a means for continuingdevelopment.

    In summary, conducting research is described as a promisingactivity in educating student teachers, but only when it is done ina purposeful, deliberate and reective way, embedded in a program

    * Corresponding author. Present address: Faculty of Psychology and Education,VU University, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.Tel.: 31 20 5981520.

    Contents lists available at

    Teaching and Tea

    journal homepage: www.e

    Teaching and Teacher Education 28 (2012) 609e617E-mail address: m.dobber@vu.nl (M. Dobber).tion of student teachers in terms of engaging in research into theircurricula (e.g., Beckman, 1957; Burn, 2007; Hiebert, Morris, Berk, &Jansen, 2007). Engaging in research during teacher educationcan have positive effects on the careers of student teachers;Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, and Bransford (2005) found thatgraduates from teacher education programs which make extensiveuse of teacher research reported signicantly higher feelings ofpreparedness and were rated more highly by employers.

    According to Cochran-Smith, Barnatt, Friedman, and Pine(2009), research during teacher education aims to encouragestudent teachers to engage in critical reection, develop a ques-

    instead of being a single point in time or a single activity. Workingfrom an inquiring stance thusmeans that every site of professionalpractice becomes a potential site of inquiry (Cochran-Smith &Lytle, 2009, p. 121).

    In line with the idea of inquiry as stance, Hiebert et al. (2007)propose a framework that aims to design teacher educationprograms which prepare student teachers to learn from teaching.Within this framework, the analysis of teaching practices as a formof inquiry is central. These researchers recommend preparingstudent teachers for deliberate and systematic analysis of their ownpractice, which continues when entering the profession. Similarly,1. Introduction

    Teacher research is increasingly deof professional development (CampbeCochran-Smith, 2003). Themovemena long history (Zeichner & Noffke, 20the value of teacher research through1950s, teacher education programs s0742-051X/$ e see front matter 2012 Elsevier Ltd.doi:10.1016/j.tate.2012.01.009as an important aspectNamara, &Gilroy, 2004;rds teacher research hasd led to an emphasis onchers careers. Since theto include the prepara-

    communities. These authors, based on the work of Cochran-Smithand Lytle (1999, 2009), discuss an important distinction betweeninquiry as stance and inquiry as project, advocating that the formershould be the ultimate aim. Inquiry as stance is a long-term andconsistent positioning or way of seeing (Cochran-Smith et al.,2009, p. 22), while inquiry as project is a time-bound activitywithin a teacher education course. In the case of inquiry as stance,inquiry becomes an inherent part of professional teaching practice,CollaborationStudent teachers collaborative researchteacher education

    Marjolein Dobber a,*, Sanne F. Akkerman b, Nico Vea ICLON, Leiden University Graduate School of Teaching, P.O. Box 905, 2300 AX Leiden,b Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80127, 3508 T

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Received 14 July 2011Received in revised form12 January 2012Accepted 13 January 2012

    Keywords:Teacher education

    a b s t r a c t

    Teacher research is increresponse, teacher educatiocollaborative research proprogram, focussing on elapreferences, which led to bengage in these processesa balanced approach, alterAll rights reserved.mall-scale research projects during

    op a, Jan D. Vermunt b

    Netherlandsrecht, The Netherlands

    gly described as an important aspect of professional development. Inrograms incorporate teacher research in their curricula. We report on thees of two groups of student teachers in a university teacher educationation and decision making. In one group, group members had differentncing elaboration and decision making. The other group, however, did notconscious way, leading to an arduous research process. We contend thatng elaboration and decision making, is desirable.

    2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    SciVerse ScienceDirect

    cher Education

    lsevier .com/locate/ tate

  • eachthat highlights inquiry of teaching as a continuous part of practice.Our study is concerned with research groups which are situated ina Dutch post-master university teacher education program (formore information on such a program, see Dobber, Akkerman,Verloop, & Vermunt, in press). Student teachers enter this one-year program after receiving a Masters degree in a relevantschool subject. For teachers from such programs (about 10% of allteachers in The Netherlands), conducting small-scale research ispart of their profession. The goal of research in this program is to letgroups of student teachers conduct an inquiry project into theirown practices, with the primary aim of acquiring research skills.Our study aimed to investigate the ways in which research con-ducted by student teachers in the context of a research project cancontribute to inquiry as stance.

    In accordance with our aim of gaining insight into inquiry asproject and inquiry as stance, we focus on two processes wheninvestigating two research groups in teacher education. The rstprocess that is investigated is elaboration. This process becomesvisible when group members thoroughly discuss a particular topic.During such elaboration, student teachers try to develop newinsights and make meaning within their research project. Thesecond process that is considered is decision making. This processbecomes visible when group members decide to take a certaindirection in their research project, which closes the door to otherdirections. Decision making is generally goal-directed and isrecorded in products such as reports from meetings. Van Ginkeland van Knippenberg (2008) found in their empirical study ofprofessional groups that those groups that spend time on elabo-ration (focussing on exchange, discussion, and integration ofdecision-relevant information), were better able to make decisionsthan groups that did not spend time on elaboration. We theorizethat giving attention to both elaboration and decision makingduring a research project can result in inquiry as stance. Elaborationchallenges student teachers to discuss their ways of seeing and toposition themselves as researchers, while decision making isa goal-directed activity leading to making choices, and thusgenerating outcomes which are aimed at improving own practice.We assume that by giving attention to both positioning themselvesas well as deriving outcomes, group members gain an inquiringstance that is aimed at improving practice, and at the same timeshow that they are able to successfully engage in an inquiry project.We hypothesize that when most time is spent on decision makingand little on elaboration, a group is only directed at nishinga certain task as quickly as possible, which indicates that the groupperceives inquiry as a project, and not as a stance. Our researchquestion is: To what extend and in what way do student teachers, inthe context of a research project, engage in elaboration and decisionmaking during the research process?

    2. Teacher research

    Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999) describe how a renewedinterest in teacher research has emerged since the late 1980s asa result of a shift in the way of thinking about teachers. Teachershave become increasingly recognized as knowers and thinkers,who should play an active role in research and who have uniqueknowledge regarding their own classrooms.

    Teacher research is motivated by different aims, which can alsobe pursued simultaneously. The rst is the professional devel-opment of teachers (e.g., Bianchini & Cavazos, 2007; Furlong &Salisbury, 2005; Mitchell, Reilly, & Logue, 2009; Sperling &Dipardo, 2008), which can be focused on cognitive outcomes,such as knowing more about practice, as well as on emotional ormotivational outcomes such as empowerment, condence and

    M. Dobber et al. / Teaching and T610self-awareness. The second aim of teacher research is improvingcertain aspects of pupil or student outcomes. This is done bychanging practices during the research or by informing practiceafterwards (e.g., Bulterman-Bos, 2008; Castle, 2006; Cooper &Cowie, 2010; Lunenberg, Ponte, & van de Ven, 2007). The thirdaim is to inuence policy on the basis of research outcomes(Davis, Kiely, & Ashkam, 2009; Sperling & Dipardo, 2008), whichis sometimes described in relation to social change in a broadersense (e.g., Castle, 2006). Overlapping with the previous aim, thefourth aim is to contribute to the wider community of teachers,both informally and formally, for example through presentationsand publications (Castle, 2006; Sperling & Dipardo, 2008). Finally,some authors have also mentioned the potential contribution ofteacher research to theory (Davis et al., 2009; Saunders, 2004;Zeichner & Noffke, 2001), whereas other authors doubt whetherthis is or even should be an aim (e.g., Furlong & Salisbury, 2005).These other authors argue that teacher research should notnecessarily be the same kind of research as is conducted ineducational science, and therefore should not be set against thesame criteria (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Zeichner & Noffke,2001).

    A few studies have reported successful teacher research projects(Hall, 2009; Mitchell et al., 2009; Zeichner, 2003; Zeichner &Noffke, 2001), but many studies have concluded that teachersnd it very difcult to conduct research (e.g., Atay, 2008; Bianchini& Cavazos, 2007; Lunenberg et al., 2007). The realization of theaforementioned aims is affected by several factors. Many studiesemphasize the conditions that need to be met, such as the neces-sary time and resources for teachers to engage in research. Inaddition, Sales, Traver, and Garca (2011) state that action research,which can be seen as a particular form of teacher research focusedon changing practices, should be grounded in a need for changewhich is felt by the school community. Ermeling (2010) has foundthat meaningful instructional changes are more likely whenteachers work in teams, are led by trained leaders, use protocolsfocused on inquiry, and have stable settings. Lunenberg andSamaras (2011) have reported on a study into self-study, which isanother specic form of teacher research that focuses on researchby teacher educators. They have formulated guidelines for self-study, which might also be useful for teacher research morebroadly. Some of these guidelines are: 1) The starting point of theinquiry should be the own practice and the method should bealigned with that inquiry. 2) The learning side should be empha-sized, focussing on improved and continuous learning beyond theself. 3) The necessity of sharing research by means of presentationand publication should be stressed. 4) Dialogical participantstructures should be created for supportive and productiveengagement with participants contributions. In the context ofresearch groups that are part of a teacher education program,especially guideline four is important, as the research project isdeliberately set-up as a collaborative project. In line with thatguideline, other studies also found that an important condition forteacher research is the need for a teacher community in whichteachers share results or collaborate in order to conduct research(Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Lunenberg et al., 2007; Zeichner,2003). It should be noted that in some studies, collaboration isdescribed as a possible complicating factor in research endeavours(Atay, 2008; Bianchini & Cavazos, 2007; Lunenberg et al., 2007), andso it is relevant to look more precisely at how such a sharedresearch process manifests itself.

    3. Inquiry as collaborative process

    According to Pontecorvo (2007) collaboration is an importanttool for any type of learning and especially for socialization into

    er Education 28 (2012) 609e617research practice. At the same time, different authors argue that

  • eachcollaboration during inquiry requires more thorough preparationwhen compared with individual inquiry practices. Frankham andHowes (2006) on the other hand, advocate that working withdisturbances during the set-up of a collaborative research projectmight help to establish a basis for a relationship. Cornelissen, vanSwet, Beijaard, and Bergen (2011) found that student teachers ina research group reported on active engagement and expertise, andsometimes also on the development of trusting relationships.Kuiper, Volman, and Terwel (2009) describe the conditions thatneed to be met in collaborative inquiry activities. The purpose ofthe project should be shared between the participants, who shouldrely on each others knowledge and skills and share knowledge. Intheir study, these conditions led to a high level of motivation andthe accumulation of knowledge. Wells (2001) advocates reectionacross a group as a whole, which, according to him, can contributeto the construction of knowledge. Paulus, Woodside, and Ziegler(2010) as well as Zittoun, Baucal, Cornish, and Gillespie (2007)stress the importance of the development of knowledge oncollaborative processes.

    As collaboration during research is argued to be demanding, itis relevant to study the ways in which collaborative researchprocesses actually take place. Most literature focuses on condi-tions that need to be met in collaborative research projects, or theform these projects can take. In our study, the process of twocollaborative research groups is scrutinized, giving a detailedinsight into the factors which lead to the complexity of thesegroups. In the literature on collaborative teacher research, threeaspects of research processes are discerned, namely a focussingand planning period, the implementation of a teaching action anda period of assessment/evaluation and dissemination (Nelson,2009; Slavit & Nelson, 2010). This model of teacher research isnot only aimed at investigating current practices, but also atchanging these practices, which happens by collaborativelyimplementing actions within the classroom. As we want todescribe a research project which is part of a teacher educationprogram and that is not aimed at changing practices, we willdescribe our results using a more general distinction betweentypical research phases: designing and writing a researchproposal, gathering data, analyzing data and deriving results andconclusions, and report...

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