Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hi, kiddies, guess who I am today: teacher or researcher or both?

Wow, I have so much to say that I can't blog it all in one entry (SIDE NOTE: I'm trying to give myself permission to write shorter entries so that I'll post more regularly :). In fact, this entry started out as a comment on Rebecca's blog that was just going on far too long. Incidentally, you should go read that entry because it's a really good one.

Her entry brings up the question: In any given classroom situation--say, student making and commenting loudly on his dragon drawings in book club while other students are trying to talk about the book--how do you manage the observant researcher with the dutiful teacher? Because they often aren't the same thing.

This tension between the dual roles of the teacher researcher comes up on a regular basis in teacher researcher Karen Gallas's work, too [see NOTE below]. She's done her t-r in a primary classroom, and she's usually looking at some pretty hot-button issues like race, gender, and class and how these get played out among young children.

My teacher research group in Oklahoma and I used to talk about the dual-role tension in her work because we sometimes questioned whether or not the teacher in us would let a particular activity go on to the extent it did in Gallas's classroom all in the name of collecting data.

I just now looked at what "the Marians," as Bud calls them, had to say about this tension [Marion Maclean and Marian Mohr are the authors of Teacher Researchers at Work]. They describe an almost identical scenario to the one Rebecca describes where a kid is being disruptive during writing time. Here's how the Marians describe the teacher researcher's reaction:

"As a teacher researcher, you are trying to observe, describe, and reflect on what is happening in the classroom: to question, not to make assumptions. In your research log, you write your observations of Jeff's behaviour and make notes on reactions or the lack of reactions by the rest of the class. You jot down your own feelings and reaction, too. Finally, as a researcher, you make a note to ask jeff a question later that will help you understand the function of his pen-tapping during that day's journal writing.

But you are also the teacher, and in that role you have a responsibility to make the classroom an environment in whihc everyone can work...As a teacher, you want Jeff to be quiet and to get his writing done even though you may wonder why he isn't writing. In this situation you experience a tension between your responsibilitites as a classroom manager and classroom researcher, but your examination of Jeff's writing practices adds insights to your teaching as well as data to your research" (p. 107).

That pretty much hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? The Marians don't offer any easy answers, but they go on to say that the researcher stance is helpful in that it provides what they call some "involved distance" that allows the teacher researcher to view the kid's behavior at hand as "something of interest...points of change, informative shifts, and important clues to the learning process" (p. 108). They suggest, and I think I agree, that "(t)he research process, while it requires immersion in classroom tensions, helps [the teacher researcher] gain some control and authority over her work from an involved distance....For a teacher researcher, the shift in stance is not a shift away from being a teacher toward being a researcher. It is more a shift away from being only a participant, even a thoughtful and conscientious one, toward being someone who has the distance to take a look at the participant role. That means being prepared to address the tensions and questions that characterize the experience of doing both at the same time. Addressing those tensions and questions is one source of the depth of understanding that results from being a teacher-researcher. We are not teachers OR researchers, but both" (pp. 114-115).

So what should the teacher researcher do? Step in and insist that the kid quit disrupting others or keep observing as long as things don't get out of hand and see what the kids themselves will do? I'd say it depends--on what the teacher research question is to begin with (e.g., does it have to do with social interaction in a book club setting?) and what else I can predict about where this behavior is likely to head based on prior patterns I've observed in the classroom.

Regardless of the decision, however, clearly, ethics become an issue the minute you set out to conduct teacher research in your classroom.

One last word from Marian Mohr's "Teacher-Researcher Statement of Ethics" in Jane Zeni's Ethical Issues in Practitioner Research, a chapter we'll probably read in the summer session of the CSUWP Advanced Institute:

"1. The Teacher-Researcher Role. Teacher-researchers are teachers first. They respect those with whom they work, openly sharing information about their research. While they seek understanding and knolwedge, they also nurture the well-being of others, both students and professional colleagues."

So who are you today:)?

*NOTE: You can find a really interesting review of Gallas's book Sometimes I Can Be Anything in Education Review. In it, William Pawluck comments on the dual roles of a teacher researcher and also has a good deal to say about how the seeming insularity of Gallas's teacher research methodology is tempered by her involvement in the Brookline Teacher Research Group.


Louann said...

This is an intriguing quandary and one I sort of bumbled through in doing classroom research for my dissertation. I don't have an answer, but I do have an associated situation that helps me think about an answer.

I was taping small groups of ninth graders discussing poems. The noise in the room was increasing. I had glared a few times at specific groups, and the noise level always went down--for a while. Any teacher reading this will know what I mean.

Suddenly, a group of boys said, "Mrs. Reid! Come listen to our tape!" They rewound the tape to a few lines of their discussion. The discussion broke off when they raised a question they couldn't answer. Then, I heard them singing the McDonald's song, "You Deserve a Break Today." Fortunately, I did not immediately react in the way I wanted to. Instead, I tried to remain calm and listened to a little more of the tape. They didn't know it--they wanted me to praise their singing--but the discussion continued with a solution to their problem. Their taking a break did, indeed, give them space to rethink or come at the question from a different angle.

It was an amazing moment for me. I wondered how many other times I've stopped what might turn out to be productive thinking if only I'd let them take "a break today."

For what that's worth . . .

Cindy O-A said...

The same thing happened to me when I was looking at book clubs from a t-r angle. I had sworn myself to silence, and a girl from a group who had read _A Yellow Raft on Blue Water_ made the comment that the reservation life was so difficult because "everyone knows that Indians can't hold their liquor." Just at the point when I was going to jump in, another kid from the group did. I was so relieved. But I remember how distinctly I felt the tension at that moment.

susan said...

What's fascinating to me about this blogging on teacher research is the amazing writing (and thinking) that's happening. I could imagine a CSUWP book that evolves out of this project: How blogging encouraged and supported teacher research. The "mother blog" alone will be such a great resource to your Summer Institute participants. I'm already thinking, can we link to this conversation?!

But, I also feel like reading your blog, Cindy, is like reading an important piece of professional writing. Will people start quoting and citing people's blogs for their own books that they are writing? This post, for example, includes not only your thinking and personal examples from your own teaching, but it is already pulling in other examples from writing project teachers. How rich! And how powerful! By sharing your thinking, you are pulling in others' thinking and data vs. having to go out and find it.

This is how we want people to be able to access our writing project sites which brings up the question--what do we put out there, that will invite people in? I love this idea of exchange--which makes me begin to think of the idea of invitation into our work differently. And I don't think I would have arrived at this thinking if I hadn't been actively involved in this process of writing called "Blogging." Thanks.

JC Clarke said...

I think that this relates to one of the things that I really like about t-r, which is the fact that we not only acknowledge, but embrace the subjective nature of our work.

One of my students told me the other day, "If you're inside the box, you can't describe the box." That's a show-stopper for us, we're definitely inside the box. Luckily I believe firmly in the "myth of objectivity." They're all just fooling themselves--we're all inside the box all the time, the difference is that t-rs have to embrace it--and we're all the better for it.