Navigating Layers of Teacher Uncertainty among Preservice Science and Mathematics Teachers Engaged in Action Research

October, 2016

Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 23, No. 4, 581–598, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to explore how the construct of teacher characterizes different dilemmas that preservice science and mathematics teachers encounter as they embark upon their first action research experience.

The current research represents a collaboration between a science teacher educator from the United States and a mathematics teacher educator from Ireland.
The participants were 17 elementary science education students and 24 secondary mathematics students.
The science education students enrolled to a science methods class and then experienced 10-week student-teaching practicum, where they conducted individual action research studies. The mathematics education students enrolled to a research literacies course, with an action research focus. They experience final-year school placement, consisting of 15 weeks’ teaching practice in a second-level school.
Data were collected through individual and focus group interviews with the participants; surveys; feedback; the authors' individual action research journals; students’ action research reports and presentations; and electronic communications among and between students and the authors themselves.

Conclusion and implications
Based on the findings, the authors acknowledge uncertainty as a persistent characteristic among preservice teachers as researchers. They argue that teacher uncertainty is a natural experience when learning to conduct action research and making meaning of that respective experience.
The authors argue that the participants perceived action research as a vital mechanism to help facilitate this process of integrating reform-based science and mathematics teaching.
The authors knew uncertainties would permeate their preservice teachers’ earliest attempts at conducting action research; however, they were hopeful that their students would embrace this ambiguity and develop the disposition to be more receptive and adaptive to educational reform.
The authors conclude that action research is both a viable and productive mechanism for helping preservice science and mathematics teachers not only to embrace these uncertainties, but more importantly respond to them in creative and innovative ways.

This study has highlighted a number of key implications:
First, the authors wanted to support risk-taking in professional learning for their student-teachers. They argue that this study heightened preservice teachers’ awareness of their role in enacting change; becoming agents of change in the classroom for their students, other teachers, and the school at large, as well as for themselves.
Second, they found that the completion of regular critical reflection exercises was an immensely beneficial aspect of the action research process. The participants came to value this as a self-evaluation instrument that enables the identification and resolution of challenges and issues before they have had a negative effect.
Finally, the authors believe that for their preservice teachers, becoming teacher researchers legitimized their role and practice. The participants' role, which was initially uncertain for them, became more certain and defined due to their systematic approach to their practice. The authors' approach to action research facilitated preservice teachers in redefining their role and accordingly re-positioning themselves in their classroom, building, and community at large.

The authors conclude that this study has deepened their understanding of the role of action research in confronting and embracing preservice teachers’ uncertainties in becoming teachers as well as teacher researchers. 

Updated: Jul. 05, 2018