10 SES 06 B, Inquiry and Action Research for Teacher Learning: Examples from Netherlands, Turkey and Finland
As a starting point for and background to the current study, we use the results from a longitudinal study on teachers’ views of teacher learning during the early phases of professional learning (Bendtsen, 2016). The results regarding student teachers’ (STs) views on learning in teacher education highlight that there are many challenges to initial teacher education.
In keeping with previous research (Bråten & Ferguson, 2015; Buehl & Fives, 2009; Chrὁinἱn & O’Sullivan, 2014), we note that while STs greatly appreciate the practical elements of their studies, the more theoretical elements are generally not considered as beneficial (Bendtsen, 2016). Furthermore, the STs express difficulties in connecting theory and practice and views regarding the role of theory in teacher learning tend to be narrow. Consequently, as the teachers started working, very few reported a more complex, inquiry-oriented view towards learning in a practice setting (Bendtsen, 2016).
By drawing together and combining the results of the study (Bendtsen, 2016) with theories of teacher learning (e.g. Feiman-Nemser, S., 2008; Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J., Berliner, D., Cochran-Smith, M., McDonald, M., & Zeichner, K., 2005); Shulman & Shulman, 2004) Bendtsen identifies three main arenas or contexts for teacher learning: the Practice arena, the Academic arena and the Collegial arena. In the model, the arenas form three partly overlapping circles. In order to enhance possibilities for learning, approaches that connect and draw on learning opportunities from all three arenas need to be considered.
One example of such an approach is action research. Action research is often visualised as a spiral model comprising planning, acting, collecting data, observing, reflecting, analysing and planning for new action (see e.g. Carr & Kemmis, 1986). Thus, in action research, the practice context (the Practice arena) is used as a starting point as well as a location for data collection and enactment; relevant research and theory is sought after and applied (the Academic arena) and a plan for action is created and reflected on in collaboration with researchers and/or fellow practitioners as critical friends (the Collegial arena).
In educational settings, action research is often associated with continuing professional development or CPD (Forsman, L., Karlberg-Granlund, G., Pörn, M., Salo, P. & Aspfors, J., 2014; Papastephanou, M., 2014 ), but it has also been applied in initial teacher education, for example within the framework of a Nordic master’s programme in action research (see. e.g. Rönnerman, K., Salo, P., Moksnes Furu, E., Lund, T., Olin, A., & Jakhelln, R., 2015). In the context of Finnish teacher education, action research has been rather sporadically used and documented, and therefore there is a need to further explore and document this practice.
The objective of the current study is thus to contribute to the present understanding of how action research can promote teachers’ professional development during teacher education. The focus is on student teachers’ experiences of action research-based projects (ARP) and more specifically the aim of this paper is to scrutinize the challenges and benefits of using ARPs as a tool in initial teacher education.
Within the overall framework of Finnish teacher education, the study scrutinizes STs’ experiences of using action research-based projects as part of the pedagogical studies for subject teachers (60 ECTS). The action research-based projects are included in a module encompassing courses set at the Faculty of Education as well as teaching practice periods at the university practice school. The module comprises 30 ECTS and lasts for one semester (approximately 20 weeks). The participants of the study are a group of prospective language teachers (N=11), who completed their pedagogical studies in the spring of 2017. Some of the participants had previous experiences of working as teachers, whereas others did not. Some of them were still in the process of finishing their university degree, whereas others had already graduated from university. For the latter group, the pedagogical studies were not a part of their university degree. The study has an exploratory, qualitative design and the empirical data is in the form of semi-structured interviews. The interviews were conducted by a teacher educator that had not been directly involved in the ARPs. The interview guide includes questions about the STs’ initial thoughts and concerns as they were briefed about the projects. Furthermore, the participants were asked to describe the process from their perspective and to identify and elaborate on possible challenges they encountered during the process. They were also asked about what they had learned from the ARPs and how the projects might be of use to them in their future work as teachers. The interviews took place shortly after the STs had completed their pedagogical studies. The analysis is focused on finding common patterns and discrepancies regarding student teachers’ experiences of using ARPs as a part of their pedagogical studies.
Within the language teacher education programme at our university, we have been using small-scale action research-based projects for a number of years. We have now reached a point when we consider it important to scrutinize this practice, in order to determine to what extent this approach bridges some of the difficulties identified in Bendtsen (2016), e.g. when it comes to the theory-practice divide and the development of an inquiry-oriented stance towards one’s practice. Furthermore, we need sound documentation based on which we can develop and improve our own practice and help inform the practice of others. The preliminary analysis indicates that the constraints identified by the STs involve issues of practical or contextual nature, e.g. how the project is introduced, unfamiliarity with the methodological approach or coping with a limited time frame, but also issues of ethical nature, e.g. concerns regarding the impact on the pupils involved in the various projects. At the same time, the identified benefits are also compelling. The STs describe the project as meaningful and concrete and both the product (i.e. content and outcome of the study) as well as the process was considered relevant for their future work as teachers.
Bendtsen, M. (2016). Becoming and being a language teacher. Evolving cognitions in the transition from student to teacher. Åbo: Åbo Akademi University Press. Bråten, I., & Ferguson, L. E. (2015). Beliefs about sources of knowledge predict motivation for learning in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 50, 13-23. Buehl, M. M., & Fives, H. (2009). Exploring teachers' beliefs about teaching knowledge: Where does it come from? Does it change? The Journal of Experimental Education, 77 (4), 367-407. Carr, W., & Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming critical: Education, knowledge and action research. London: Falmer. Chróinín, D. N., & O´Sullivan, M. (2014). From initial teacher education throrough induction and beyond: a longitudinal study of primary teacher beliefs. Irish Educational Studies, 33 (4), 451- 466. Feiman-Nemser, S. (2008). Teacher Learning. How Do Teachers Learn to Teach? In M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. J. McIntyre, & K. E. Demers(eds.), Handbook of Research on Teacher Education. Enduring Questions in Changing Contexts. (3rd edition) (pp. 697-705). New York: Routledge. Forsman, L., Karlberg-Granlund, G., Pörn, M., Salo, P., & Aspfors, J. (2014). From transmission to site-based professional development? On the art of combining research with facilitation. i K. Rönnerman, & P. Salo (Red.), Lost in pratice:Transforming Nordic educational action research (ss. 113-132). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J., Berliner, D., Cochran-Smith, M., McDonald, M., & Zeichner, K. (2005). How Teachers Learn and Develop. i L. Darling-Hammond, & J. Bransford, Preparing Teachers for a Changing World. What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do (ss. 358-389). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Papastephanou, M. (2014). Theory, practice and the philosophy of educational action research in new light. In A. D. Reid, P. Hart, M. Peters, & C. Russell (Eds.), A companion to research in education (pp. 177-187). New York: Springer. Rönnerman, K., Salo, P., Moksnes Furu, E., Lund, T., Olin, A., & Jakhelln, R. (2015). Bringing ideals into dialogue with practices: on the principles and practices of the Nordic Network for Action Research. Educational Action Research, 1-19. Shulman, L. S., & Shulman, J. H. (2004). How and What Teachers Learn: a Shifting Perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 36 (2). 257-271
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