Layers of Learning: A Cross-Institutional Self-Study of Several Teacher Educators’ Action Research Projects and the Influence of the Group on Those Projects
Vicki Kubler LaBoskey, Mills College
Katharine Davies Samway, San Jose State University
Sara Garcia, Santa Clara University
Paper presented at the International Conference,
Self-Study in Teacher Education: Empowering our Future,
Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, England August 5-8, 1996
Layers of Learning: A Cross-Institutional Self-Study of Several Teacher Educators’ Action Research Projects and the Influence of the Group on Those Projects
Several years ago two teacher educators in the Bay Area of California, each from a different university, began discussing their need for support as teacher educators. Talks with colleagues at their respective universities revealed similar needs. After a series of letters and e-mail correspondence to teacher educators throughout the region, a group of interested individuals began meeting on a quarterly basis in October of 1994. The meetings consisted primarily of small and large group discussions of our theoretical and practical issues and agendas. The aim was to both share practical ideas and to advance our collective thinking about teacher education.
At a retreat in May, 1995 several members of the group decided that we wanted to embark on a collaborative research project in which we would study our individual efforts to make changes in our teacher education practice and the influence the group was having on those efforts. Since that time, we have been engaged in two forms of self-study at two different levels. At the first level, each of us, with the help of the others, has been involved in an effort to improve her own practice in systematic ways. In addition, the group as a whole has been involved in interactions aimed at improving teacher education programs in general at all of our institutions. At a second level of self-study, a "meta-self-study" perhaps, the sub-group has tried to step back from both of these first level self-study processes to "self-investigate" their respective impacts.
The purpose of our session is to use the results of our research as a catalyst to a conversation about both the forms and the outcomes of such self-study efforts. The complex nature of our research will allow the discussion of several methods and levels of self-study at the same time. In addition, since the participants represent three very different teacher education contexts, we will have the opportunity to explore different definitions and manifestations of teacher education.
Though several of us started action research projects, only three of us continued them. Our studies are still in progress; although we have not yet completed the analysis, we are far enough along to know that both the effort and the outcomes will provide an excellent springboard to an important conversation. Regardless of whether or not our individual and group efforts made identifiable positive progress, we stand to learn much from this work about the nature and potential of these forms of self-study.
The method we used in the individual studies was action research, broadly defined (Noffke & Zeichner, 1987). The whole teacher educator group served as our action research team as all participated in the discussions of the three studies.
With the help of the team, each of us explored not only the results of our efforts with regard to our particular goals, but also the implications of the goals themselves--what definitions of teacher education are implicit in those goals and are those the definitions we do or should embrace?
For the meta-study we used the case study method (Yin, 1984). Each of our action research projects served as a case of self-study that we compared with the others. The group interaction was yet another case of self-study, thus, we also looked at the relationship between it and the individual projects. The major questions we addressed in the research were:
1. What are the outcomes of our individual action research projects?
2. What impact do the team interactions have on our individual thinking and practice?
3. What is the nature of the team interactions? What is the nature of our activity?
4. What is the relationship between the context of our institutions and the impact of our change efforts?
We had several data sources for the study: (1) various artifacts from our practice, depending upon the nature of our individual action research projects, e.g., course syllabi, student products, student surveys; (2) descriptive accounts of our team and whole-group meetings; (3) individual reflective journals; and (4) all e-mail communications between and among team members.
The results so far
Katherine Davies Samway
I am investigating the long-term influence of a preservice curriculum course that I teach (Reading/Language Arts for Culturally Diverse Classrooms) on former students who now have their own classrooms. I have sent questionnaires to over 150 former students. My interest in this self-study project is related to the fact that, although I receive feedback on the short-term effectiveness of my teaching through mid- and end-of-semester narrative course assessments, and long-term feedback from some students(e.g., when I occasionally see them at meetings, conferences or in MA classes), I often wonder about whether what I do as a teacher really has much impact. That is, it’s hard to know how to improve as a teacher if one does not have access to more systematically collected long-term data (and data from more former students). I am constantly rethinking my practice, but it is rather decontextualized from the realities and needs of the former students who are now teachers.
I anticipate (hope?) that maybe half the people contacted will respond. I realize that there are limitations to any conclusions I may draw because of this. However, I expect that any patterns discernible in the findings (as well as idiosyncratic data) will prove very helpful to me as a teacher educator. One fear that I have (I know, researchers aren’t supposed to have or share their fears!) is that the responses will indicate that the course was a complete and utter waste of time.
New credentialing stipulations in California require teachers to reflect critically on the meaning of cultural difference, including their own lived experience and cultural history and the lives and cultural backgrounds of the children they teach. To be effective teachers of children of diverse cultural backgrounds, teachers should confront certain contradictions in their own identities. One major contradiction is that most teachers preparing to teach ethnically diverse children have shaped their identities and belief systems according to a set of mainstream values which have made invisible the cultural difference. Preservice teachers’ confrontation with difference and self-identity during the professional development process can be a very frustrating and painful experience, especially if they have never questioned their social position from the perspective of a belief system that values ethnic and linguistic diversity. The premise that preservice teachers need comprehensive professional preparation that requires transformation in their own thinking and in their lives is central in this study.
Also central is that "dialectical praxis" of discovery must be used in order for teachers to move beyond narrow, essentialized conceptions of identity, since they also have a stake in global conditions of equality and social justice (Hall, 1991). The method in a holistic process of reflection is what is called self-narrative inquiry which enables teacher education students to explore issues of identity and cultural knowledge through the study of community cultural agency. This is a notion that is integrated in several of the foundations courses in the Santa Clara University program. The intent in using this focus is to better inform teacher education practice from an interdisciplinary approach. Cognitive reflection includes schemata which constitute the individual’s comprehension of the world. Knowledge developed through critical reflection is seen as being socially and symbolically constructed by the mind through social interaction with others.
Knowledge constructed through narrative reflection focuses on the personal circumstances under which people make decisions. Self-narrative inquiry is a form of reflection into one’s own "story" that includes making critical, evaluative judgments regarding one’s own schemata. The purpose for using reflection and self-narrative inquiry is to develop a candidate’s individual agency, critical thinking ability, and cultural knowledge of the communities in which he/she will teach.
The analysis of final narrative includes not only various reflective projects produced by students individually and in groups but also a taping of their reflections on those projects. To facilitate the focus and flow of reflections on their professional growth process, a series of open-ended questions and an explanation of "how to" tape was provided. The open-ended questions are not specific to cultural knowledge but deal with notions of social responsibility in teaching and the identification of areas for future growth. The questions also ask students to reflect on how they have changed their perceptions of themselves and to discuss their feelings about becoming teachers. Tapes from last year’s groups (this is the second year of the study) included reflections on the process of transformation concerning self identity in relation to cultural knowledge and cultural difference. Last year’s study has been replicated in order to test the premise that narrative theory predicts "disorderly" experiences (Reissman, 1993).
Transcription of this year’s tapes will be done using a thematic approach that selects from the self-narratives aspects of the reflections dealing with cultural knowledge. These excerpts will be used to interview specific students in an effort to gauge the intensity of their experiences. Each student selected to interview will be treated as a case study then compared and contrasted with the experiences of others, thus generating an embedded multiple case study. Other data, like reflection logs on specific cultural activities, will also be examined for connections that will facilitate the construction of a holistic interpretation of the process.
The question I was trying to address in my individual action research project was, "How can I improve the ways in which I deal with and prepare new teachers to deal with issues of race, class and gender?" More specifically, as a Caucasian teacher educator working in Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the United States, I was concerned with my abilities to work with student teachers, most of whom are also Caucasian women, but some of whom are not, around issues of race, class, and gender. Fortunately, I work in an institution where all of us who direct and teach in the credential programs have similar goals; we all want to improve in this area. In fact, over the course of this year, we have been in the process of redesigning our programs to fulfill the requirements of a new state certification option called Cross-Cultural Linguistic and Academic Development. Therefore, neither the changes I made, nor the results of those changes, can be understood or evaluated in isolation from the whole.
In order to better clarify the nature of my problem, I began the project by sending a questionnaire to all members of my last two graduating classes. 30% of the graduates replied. I analyzed and summarized the questionnaire responses and shared the results with my action research team and with my colleagues at Mills. Based upon those results, I decided to eliminate an assignment I had given in my spring semester curriculum and instruction course called "the multicultural packet", wherein groups of students researched and reported on selected racial/ethnic groups. Instead I wanted to aim for a more organic incorporation of the information and issues, while still including some additional explicit attention. Therefore, on the recommendation of the action research team, I incorporated two extra assignments and class discussions into the curriculum of my C & I course. After each new intervention, I reported back to the team on the results which we analyzed together and used as the basis for generating next steps.
At the end of the year I gave the students in my credential program a questionnaire designed to elicit information about their reaction to the way in which the whole program had prepared them to deal with issues of race, class, and gender. The questionnaire is quite different from the questionnaire sent to graduates both because the program structure and assignments have changed and because the respondents have not yet started teaching in their own classrooms. Nonetheless, comparisons will be possible. I hope to send another questionnaire to these students at the end of their first year of teaching. The results have not been analyzed yet, but my preliminary conclusion is that the particular interventions were not very successful. They did, however, help to suggest more promising alternatives that are already in the works for next year.
The second stage of data analysis involves looking at group interaction. Each of those involved in doing an action research project wrote about how the team interactions had influenced her project. In addition, all team members will be responding to a general questionnaire that includes a question about the action research discussions. Prior to our presentation in England, we will analyze these data and prepare a case of group interaction. The purpose will be to characterize the role of the group in the action research process.
The third stage of data analysis will be to look at the larger organization of the teacher educator group as an opportunity for self-study. We will use as data the three cases of action research, the case of group interaction, and the results of a general membership questionnaire. One focus of the analysis will be on whether or not members have changed in their thinking about or practice in teacher education as a result of their participation in the group, and if so, how. A second focus will be on the differences among institutional contexts and the ways in which those contexts may have helped or hindered the change process.
The format we would like to use for this session is similar to the Interactive Symposium/Table session suggested by AERA. After the three team members give a brief presentation of the overall study and its outcomes, they will each station themselves at a table for the purpose of engaging with the audience in a more personal and interactive discussion about issues relevant to the future of Self-Study in Teacher Education raised by this research. Each will also be prepared to discuss in further detail her particular action research project, if the audience so desires. The session will close with a debriefing of the smaller group discussions--the lessons learned and questions raised. We believe that such a discussion of our work, which includes the results of individual self-study, of the impact of group self-study on individual self-studies, and, very importantly, of group self-study of these self-study processes, can make a special contribution to the future of the S-STEP SIG.
Hall, S. (1991). Ethnicity, identity, and difference. Radical America, 23(4), 9-20.
Noffke, S. E., & Zeichner, K. M. (1987, April). Action research and teacher thinking: The first phase of the action research on action research project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, DC.
Reissman, C. K. (1993). Narrative Analysis. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.
Yin, R. K. (1984). Case study research: Design and methods. Beverly Hills: Sage.