March, 2017, Thinking About the Teacher-Research Results: What Did I Learn?

March 2017

Well, I’ve spent the last two months looking over my findings and thinking about how I wanted to present them at the EMWP event this weekend. After consulting with a few experienced teacher researchers, I’ve decided to focus more on my process of conducting teacher research for the first time and less on the results. I’m calling my presentation “Confessions of a First-Time Researcher, or When Teacher Research Takes an Unexpected Turn.” What really motivated me to do this was reflecting on how I held myself back for so many months out of fear that I had strayed too far from my original proposal.

I’m going to talk about how I believed I had a really structured, organized plan to follow, but I was missing an important part of teacher research – watching what happens. As I looked back over comments on my research memos and notes I had taken during our Thursday meetings, I began to see that I really wasn’t hearing what people were telling me at the time. At one of the very first meetings, Cathy recommended that I worry less about the structure of my plan and instead “research the heck” out of one instructional strategy. At the time, I just wasn’t hearing this because I was too focused on what I had planned. After trying to analyze my students work, I realized that what I found was not what I was looking for, but a strategizing that is equally interesting. As one of you mentioned (a line I love and am using in my presentation), “strategizing was not the cognition I was looking for.” That is the thrust of my presentation; in teacher research, sometimes what you find is entirely different from what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, I spent a few months thinking I had to throw all my work out because it didn’t fit my original proposal. After reflecting on what you all had been saying all the time, I finally realized that teacher research is about following the path the students take me on rather than trying to control the path I want to take them on.

Some mistakes I made:

  • I tried too hard to control the experience but then didn’t adjust when I strayed from the original plan. I should have watched what happened rather than try to force the students back into my original plan.
  • My original method was too complicated for my first experience. Instead of “observing the heck” out of it, I tried to follow it exactly, even when I knew there were problems.
  • When my original plan began falling apart, I became paralyzed and ignored it for months instead of looking at the results to see what happened. This prevented me from interviewing students because the semester was over.

Some things I learned:

  • Start off simple; ask a one-part question and see what happens.
  • Don’t assume, just notice.
  • Take notes, notes, notes, notes! Kris emphasized this, but it wasn’t until I looked back at my results that I wished I had taken more notes.
  • Look at the results within one week and adjust the research plan from there.
  • It’s better to talk to colleagues about my concerns rather than ignore the problems.
  • Set a time to write/think/touch the research every week.
  • Be flexible.

Besides having a better idea about how to conduct teacher research in the future, I also learned so much more about my students as people from this process. I learned about their outside lives and that many of them work full-time while taking a full course-load of classes. I learned that they are constantly strategizing their work load and deciding what they have to do and what they have to let go. I learned that they carry these strategies into the classroom in order to navigate their academic lives. I learned that I am probably assigning more homework than a 100 level course needs and that I need to respect their lives, too. Because of what they blogged and told me about their strategies for appearing to read for class, I’m going to vary the reading strategies I assess them on instead of requiring written reflections for every reading assignment. I’m going to try to incorporate some of the strategies they shared and talk about how to build on those. Mostly, I’ve learned that I need to be more respectful of their outside lives and responsive to their personal needs, not just what I determine are their academic needs.

For future research, I’m thinking about how what I’ve learned compares to the Habits of Mind in the WPA’s “Framework for Success.” There seems to be a natural correlation between the strategizing my students revealed and the HoM categories of responsibility, flexibility, metacognition, and persistence. Over the summer, I will work on developing a proposal to examine the strategies students come into college using and observe what happens when these categories from the HoM are explicitly taught as strategies.

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