Transformational Practice: Critical Teacher Research in Pre-service Teacher Education

October 2015

Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 23, No. 4, 479–496, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper describes the experiences of three pre-service teachers as they engaged in teacher research as part of their teacher education program.
Specifically, this paper investigates the role of the teacher’s personal and academic history in the design of their teacher research projects; how their research worked to disrupt classroom cultures and practices. It also examines the ways in which the pre-service teachers interpreted their research in light of new contexts during their first year of teaching.

The participants were three pre-service teachers featured in this study were enrolled in a 13-month master’s program in Elementary Education at a private college in the northeast United States during the 2012/13 school year. 

The participants were required to conduct an action research assignment as a part of their master’s program. Each participant crafted a research question informed by the classrooms in which they were student-teaching.
The participants began what would be the first of three action research cycles focused on their primary question. Each participant chose some aspect of their practice to manipulate, created lessons or instructional experiences based on this plan, documented through data collection what happened as a result of the change and discussed collectively with our class the efficacy of their instructional choices.
The participants collected data over the course of two seven-week student-teaching placements that occurred during their final semester in the program. The data were collected through audio or video recordings of class discussions, participation logs, field notes, student assignments and student surveys.

Discussion and implications
The authors argue that the action research process fostered a deep engagement with certain ideas. This process allowed the pre-service teachers a space to develop these ideas fully and test nascent theories about teaching and learning.

The authors suggest that given the current policy environment that actively discredits and undermines teacher decision-making, it is imperative that preservice teachers are afforded opportunities to pose questions and enact practices that generate alternate portraits of what it means to be a teacher.
They also note that these teacher research projects were particularly meaningful for three reasons. First, the action research assignment drew upon the participants’ lived experiences as an entry point into the inquiry, which both acknowledged the validity of their personal and academic backgrounds but also revealed aspects of their positionalities that would have otherwise remained invisible. Second, the research questions that the participants designed were highly localized, which required that they problematize the notion that curriculum materials or pedagogical practices can easily be applied across contexts. Instead, the participants had to consider highly specific settings and craft their approaches accordingly. Finally, as the participants enter schools as novice classroom teachers, they should be encouraged to share the knowledge they gleaned from their pre-service program with colleagues. Being invited to share action research, for example, could both affirm the preservice teachers' identity as professionals in their field and facilitate their translation of practices across contexts.

In conclusion, the authors contend that action research would be a powerful programmatic framework allowing multifaceted engagement with significant questions and problems of practice from initial methods courses through student-teaching.
The authors argue that this kind of reinvention is the next step in reclaiming teacher education and re-professionalizing teaching. Each participant found their experience with action research transformational. 

Updated: May. 13, 2018