Teacher Learning and Collaborative Action Research: Generating a “Knowledge-of-Practice” in the Context of Science Education

Dec. 10, 2010

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 21, Number 8, 917-935. (December, 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The main purpose of the research was to examine how conceptions of teacher knowledge and learning (knowledge-for-practice, knowledge-in-practice, and knowledge-of-practice) emerged within a collaborative action research community.

This particular case study was guided by the following research questions:
• How will Katrina engage in inquiry as part of a collaborative action research group?
• What role will collaboration play in fostering teacher learning?
• What types of teacher knowledge and learning will emerge as Katrina engages in collaborative action research?

To examine the nature of teacher learning and the transformation of teachers’ professional knowledge and practice, a three-part teacher knowledge and learning framework, proposed by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999), was adopted.

Context of the Study

This study occurred over a 3-year period from 2004 to 2007 and involved over 50 teachers from three different school districts.
The teachers who joined the project were mainly primary-elementary teachers (K-6), who typically taught all subjects except music and physical education.
Teaching experiences ranged from 5 to 25 years, with at least two participants being early-career teachers with 1–2 years of teaching experience.
However, this article highlights the experiences and learning of one of those teachers, Katrina, a Grade 1 teacher.

Semi-structured interviews were held with the participants at the beginning and at the end of each year of the project.
In addition, the author recently interviewed Katrina, 3 years after completing her action research project, to ascertain her perceptions of the long-term impact of collaborative action research on her professional knowledge and practice. These perceptions are also reported in this paper.

Implications and Conclusions

The experiences of Katrina provide detailed insight into the nature of learning within an action research community of practice. This learning reflects many of the characteristics of the “knowledge-of-practice” conception. Teacher development was collaborative and teacher-centered. While Katrina utilized formal knowledge produced by others, she also theorized about her own work, and constructed and re-constructed conceptual frameworks that link action and problem posing to the immediate context as well as the larger social, cultural, and political issues (Cochran-Smith and Lytle 1999, p. 292).

Katrina examined her beliefs about science teaching and learning, garnered insight into many facets of her professional knowledge, such as role of the teacher in an inquiry classroom.
She also improved many aspects of her teaching practice in science. While Katrina shared what she learned with other teachers in the action research group and teachers at her school, dissemination and mobilization of her knowledge did not extend to the broader teacher community.

Katrina also reported several positive, long-term impacts of collaborative action research. However, she did indicate that other, similar opportunities to engage in teacher inquiry have not been available since completing the project.
While “knowledge-for-practice” and “knowledge-in-practice” are important in contributing to the knowledge base for teaching and teacher education, a “knowledge-of-practice” conception has considerable potential to effect positive change in the lives of teachers and students.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Relationships of knowledge and practice: Teacher learning in communities. Review of Educational Research in Education, 24, 249–305.

Updated: May. 19, 2011