Messy collaboration: Learning from a Learning Study

Jan. 10, 2011

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 27, Issue 1, Pages 29-36. (January 2011).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article explores an example of messy collaboration that occurred in the context of a Learning Study conducted in a secondary school in Hong Kong working in partnership with education faculty from a local tertiary institution.

The Learning Study

Learning Study is a form of action research where teachers investigate their students’ learning difficulties and judge the effectiveness of their teaching strategies based on student learning outcomes. The teachers are supported by teacher-educators from the tertiary institution who specialize in the content area. The paper analyses the dynamics of the interactions between the participants in this Learning Study by drawing on the literature on micropolitics. This perspective helps to clarify the causes of the messiness that characterized this particular instance of collaboration.

The primary focus of Learning Study is an object of learning, rather than actual learning activities (such as group work). It starts by establishing—typically by a pre-lesson-test or interview—students’ prior knowledge and their existing perceptions, in order to identify an appropriate and worthwhile object of learning and the approach to improving perceptions.
The Learning Study described in this paper involved collaboration between four teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) in a secondary school, and two researcher-participants from a tertiary institution. The project formed part of a partnership between the school and the institution, and the Lesson Study was initiated by the school principal. The head (known as the Panel Chair in Hong Kong parlance) of junior secondary EFL led the team of teachers, though she did not teach a Research Lesson. Of the four teachers, only three were fully qualified. They were all teaching Form Two (Grade 8) students.

Concluding discussion

The partnership between a school and a tertiary institution that is central to the dynamics of a Learning Study is fraught—as this paper demonstrates—with potential tensions, such as outsider-versus-insider perspectives; academic versus grounded knowledge bases; unclear hierarchical statuses; and diverse and conflicting agenda. The responses of the case study team to the tensions could be classified as veering towards the left-hand side of Achinstein’s continua: there was exclusion of the dissonant voice; erection of barriers to critical reflection on existing beliefs; and a lack of willingness to countenance alternative approaches to pedagogical content knowledge, resulting largely in the maintenance of the status quo.

Learning Study collaboration can be messy in its social-intellectual complexity, its unpredictability regardless of participants’ prior experience, and its management dilemmas. The collaboration in this case was a compromise constructed through various power and discourse relationships in the team that were generally resistant to change. While the politics of human interaction are significant factors in this complex collaboration, the tension at its heart clearly goes beyond the micropolitical to epistemological differences concerning the nature of language, and ultimately to issues of social justice.

Updated: Oct. 04, 2011