“It’s worth it” practitioner research as a tool of professional learning: starting points, conclusions and benefits from the perspective of teacher students


Source: Educational Action Research, 28:4, 561-578

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This present paper outlines the results of an explorative study investigating the concept Personalized Professionalization in Pedagogical Fields through Practitioner Research (PPS-PR).
The central goal of this research project was to use the findings for the further development and adaptation of the PPS-PR concept by taking into account the new curriculum´s requirements (Heissenberger, Reissner, and Kernbichler 2018).
Accordingly, this paper delivers a comprehensive concept to show how research-based learning, as one viable approach to promoting professional learning, can be integrated into teacher education.
In addition, the results provide insights into the following aspects: starting points for teacher students´ research, conclusions and stable benefits reported by teacher students after conducting internship integrated practitioner research projects.

Aims and research questions
The research project, presented in the current contribution, aims to examine the PPS-PR concept.
As already outlined in the compilation of the current state of research, the choice of research topics and the transfer and stability of competences teacher students acquire during practitioner research projects in internships have not been sufficient investigated to date. Therefore, the present paper addresses the following research questions:

Research starting points
Which subjectively relevant topics do teacher students chose for their internship-integrated practitioner research projects as research starting points?

Transfer: conclusions after conducting practitioner research projects
Which conclusions do teacher students report for the future planning, conducting of and reflecting on their teaching?

Stability: benefits from 3rd to 4th semester
How many teacher students benefit from competences they acquire during the 3rd semester practitioner research projects, in the following 4th semester?
In which areas do teacher students benefit from the 3rd semester practitioner research projects in the following 4th semester?

Research design and methods
The PPS-PR concept was examined in the academic year 2015/16 at the University College of Teacher Education Styria.
Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used for this study. All teacher students between the 3rd and 5th semester (Bachelor for Primary Education) were invited to participate in the research.
The sample contains 312 teacher students of the 3rd (n = 100), 4th (n = 114) and 5th (n = 98) semester who participated in an online survey after conducting practitioner research projects.
This represents a response rate of 88.33%.
The questionnaire contained 14 items including open and closed questions.
The following dimensions were examined:
(A) research topics,
(B) motives,
(C) benefits and learning outcomes,
(D) conclusions for future preparation, conduct, and reflection on teaching activities,
(E) long-term benefits after conducting practitioner projects, and
(F) feedback about mentoring by practicum advisors during the research projects.
The present paper deals with results regarding (A), (D) and (E):
Responses to these questions were analysed by means of qualitative content analyses containing category development (Kuckartz 2014).

Findings and discussion

(1)Research starting points as subjectively relevant tasks for professional development
In general, it can be concluded that teacher students’ research topics correspond with various feature lists about effective teaching (Brophy 2000; Helmke 2012; Meyer 2016), which indicates that their tasks are also seen as significant in current literature.
An analysis of the chosen topics of relevance shows a strong tendency in teacher students to choose and work on methodically oriented issues.
At the same time the respondents show less interest in topics related to social competence, as well as in specific school subjects.
It seems encouraging that the research topics classroom management, teacher clarity and classroom climate which were chosen most frequently in the present study are also determined to effect students learning significantly by Hattie (2011).
In addition, the TALIS-study reports that teachers frequently list diversity, individualized learning and classroom management as important needs of professional development (OECD 2014).

(2)Teacher-students’ professional learning from their own perspective
Furthermore, the report revealed that the PPS-PR concept can be viewed as a learning environment that enhances professional learning because teacher students draw concrete conclusions concerning their future planning, conduct, reflection and research of teaching, especially related to their selected topics.
As already reported by Heissenberger (2016), teacher students intend to transfer competencies gained during practitioner research projects to other situational contexts.
Furthermore, in keeping with other findings (Smith and Sela 2005; Kotsopoulos, Mueller, and Buzza 2012), a basic statement of practitioner research was clearly outlined by teacher students in the present survey, namely, that systematic research and reflection of one’s own teaching enhances the development of pedagogical-practical acting (Altrichter and Posch 2007).
This attitude pointing out the importance of teaching development in daily school life was not only expressed directly after the conduct of research but also after at least one semester.
Furthermore, the findings indicate the sustainability and durability of acquired competences concerning selected research topics and suggest that these competences are routinely used.
In conclusion, the present results support the stability-hypothesis (Fichten and Meyer 2014) with regard to most competences.
The findings may indicate a major importance of stable benefits concerning concrete teaching activities and a minor importance or even a minor stability of research and reflection related competences.

(3)Considerations for the further development of the PPS-PR concept
As practitioner research is seen as an effective tool of professional development (Smith and Sela 2005) and as research in general is increasingly seen as central to the context of teaching and school development as well as in teacher education (OECD 2016, 2017) these findings have led to the following adaptions of the PPS-PR concept:

• The PPS-PR concept provides space for professional development and reflection within a professional community and is therefore continuously implemented in the new teacher education at the authors’ University College.
As the new teacher education entails two additional semesters, practitioner research projects are now conducted in the 4th, 5th and 6th semester of Primary School Education.

• The first internship-integrated practitioner research projects in the 4th semester are now directly connected to a new seminar titled ‘Introduction to Pedagogical Research’.
To stress the importance of research as a tool for professional development, seminar lecturers and practicum advisors cooperate during the semester to provide support in the implementation of practitioner research.

For the University College of Teacher Education Styria, the results delivered worthy impulses for the future creation of learning environments that encourage and enable teacher students to actively go through the process of action and reflection in the frame of pedagogical-practical studies.

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Updated: May. 12, 2021