Researching Teachers Doing Teacher Research?

I struggle to like writing even as I exhort my students to write. I buy academic writing self help books because I keep hoping there will be something out there that will tell me something other than The best way to write well is to write regularly. I want a shortcut, an easy answer, dare I say a formula for getting academic writing done and published.

But I also like learning more about how people teach writing, especially how school teachers find ways to bring more writing into their teaching and to help their students develop a writing habit. When I was teaching nothing but college writing, I was in a writing group where we wrote. We supported each other emotionally and chose interesting prompts and wrote. We did so much writing that we decided to self-publish a book. (If you’re interested, I still have about 5 copies and would be happy to share it for cheap!) I found that it did inspire me to be a better writing teacher, and that I had something to share with my students who were also struggling to find their voices and produce more writing.

So I was excited to see this blog post from a sixth grade teacher about how she figured out how to integrate her own writing life with her lessons about writing at school: “Write beside them,” said Penny Kittle. And so I did… I am so impressed at this teacher’s commitment to show her students not just the product of her writing, but the whole process. I really like how she uses her class’s writing workshop time to talk through her thoughts about her own writing.

Now I am trying to figure out how I can bring this level of integration to the graduate classes I’m designing. I can see this process being so appropriate for my Classroom Action Research course, especially if my own students are researching their students’ learning in a writing course. What could be better than to show your students that you are not a naturally perfect writer, either? Now to take it to a more meta level, I think I could even use this as a model for my own teaching. I could be a teacher researcher researching my teaching a class on teacher research. I could present it to my students as a work in progress, not one that I intend to publish (because that would be an IRB nightmare), but as the process that every teacher should do every time she teaches a class: questioning how student learning is connected to teacher practice.

I think I will be designing the class to be a workshop in itself, where graduate students who are currently teaching pose questions about their students’ learning and then systematically determine how they can collect data to understand what is going on in their classrooms. As an online class, I can foresee having students who are teaching in many different places and in many different contexts and subject areas. So I would like to experiment with things like screen capture videos where I can show my own note taking and brainstorming process as I figure out a researchable question, for example, or while I compose a draft of my methods statement. If I can also audio record at the same time, I can talk through the process that is connected to my typing and show what is going through my head as I write.

I imagine that if this process works well, that too could be something I write about (how do you document your thinking about writing for an online/asynchronous audience?). And if things work out, I can always apply to the IRB for permission to analyze existing data after the semester is over.

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Filed under Teacher Education, Teacher Research, Teaching Writing

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