Developing a research partnership: teachers as researchers and teacher educators

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Auckland Library]On: 27 November 2014, At: 16:32Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Developing a research partnership:teachers as researchers and teachereducatorsChristina Thornley a , Rae Parker b , Karon Read b & VivienneEason ba University of Otago , New Zealand;b East Taieri School , Mosgiel, New ZealandPublished online: 24 Jan 2007.

    To cite this article: Christina Thornley , Rae Parker , Karon Read & Vivienne Eason (2004)Developing a research partnership: teachers as researchers and teacher educators, Teachers andTeaching: theory and practice, 10:1, 20-33

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  • Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice,Vol. 10, No. 1, February 2004

    Developing a research partnership:teachers as researchers and teachereducatorsChristinaThornleySchool of EducationUniversity of OtagoDunedinBox 56New Zealandchristina.thornley@stonebow.otago.ac.nzChristina Thornley*1, Rae Parker2, Karon Read2 & VivienneEason21University of Otago, New Zealand; 2East Taieri School, Mosgiel, New Zealand

    This paper discusses a combined universityschool research project involving three associateteachers from the pre-service teacher education degree at the University of Otago, New Zealandin the examination of their literacy teaching practice. The provision of resources for thiscollaborative study allowed the teachers to design the project in response to the learning needs ofthe children in their classrooms. The paper specifically analyses the research experience for theteachers as they theorized their classroom literacy practice and utilized the research findings toinform the content and processes of teaching at both the primary and tertiary classroom levels.

    Teachers as curriculum decision-makers

    The translation of curriculum policy into classroom programmes is the incontestabledomain of teachers. Governments and policy-makers have long recognized this factand responded to it in accordance with their beliefs about teacher autonomy,curriculum conformity and the needs of society and children in schools. Since 1887,New Zealand teachers have performed this distinctive activity, and current curricu-lum policy continues to recognize the act of teaching as an act of curriculumconstruction. Indeed the New Zealand Curriculum Framework describes the schoolcurriculum as the way in which a school puts into practice the policy set out in thenational curriculum statements. It takes account of local needs, priorities andresources, and is designed in consultation with the schools community (Ministry ofEducation, 1993, p. 4). It is arguable that the decisions that teachers make at thislevel of implementation are as crucial to children as those that underpin nationalpolicy. The complexity of teaching as characterized by the individuality of students,the dynamic nature of classroom interactions and the demand for innovation defiesany claim that teachers may be simply implementers of something that gains itslegitimacy elsewhere (Grundy, 1998, p. 31). However, teachers decisions arecontingent upon the autonomy they are granted, the degree of curriculum prescrip-

    *Corresponding author: School of Education, University of Otago, Box 56, Dunedin, NewZealand.

    ISSN 1354-0602 (print)/ISSN 8765-4321 (online)/04/010020-14 2004 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10/1080/13540600320000170891

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  • 8 C. Thornley et al.

    tion and their professional theories. It is for this reason that mandated curricula andtheir associated professional development are perpetually intertwined.

    The current New Zealand curriculum has been developed as part of the systemiceducation reforms of the 1990s and reflects the desire of consecutive governmentsfor curriculum unity throughout the country. The initial indication of this occur-rence came in the governments Achievement Initiative (Ministry of Education, 1991,p. 1) that outlined the intention to establish clear learning outcomes particularly inthe subjects of English, mathematics, science and technology. Progression andcontinuity of learning were to be fundamental principles in the determination ofstandards which can reasonably be expected of students at a particular level oflearning (Ministry of Education, 1991, p. 1). This required that teachers woulddemonstrate an increased consistency of curriculum interpretation and implemen-tation. From the outset, the Ministry of Education recognized the unavoidableimpact of classroom curriculum decision-making by teachers and understood thatlegislation alone would be insufficient to ensure the desired changes. They perceivedthat teachers required opportunities to learn about new national curriculum initia-tives and the provision of state-funded professional development to support therelease of each national curriculum statement was the outcome.

    The Ministry of Education heralded this professional development as a means tofoster a sense of ownership (1993, p. 2) of the reformed curriculum and developthe professionalism of teachers, so that they have information, skills and understand-ings (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 1). This increased commitment to pro-fessional development (Ministry of Education, 1995) was viewed positively by NewZealand teachers. However, some were concerned that the content and design of theprogrammes emanated solely from centrally controlled curriculum policy and failedto address their learning needs and those of the children in their classes (Thornley,1999).

    International examples of curriculum professional development explain theseresponses. It appears that where curriculum and professional development policiesare nationally mandated, as for example in England, there is a greater degree ofteacher resistance to these learning opportunities, thus placing notions of teacherownership at risk. Hirsts (1989, p. 272) observations of the prevalent professionaldevelopment practices in England and Wales support this discussion as he notes thechanges that have occurred for teachers as their professional development has beenincreasingly associated with national initiatives. He considers programmes to beconcentrating severely on the practical demands of new legislation. Day (1993,p. 230) described this as a manifestation of the movement away from the oper-ational definition of teacher as professional towards that of teacher as technician.The teachers in this research were sympathetic to the needs of national initiativesin the short term, [although] many were concerned that their longer term needs werebeing squeezed out (Day, 1993, p. 229).

    Alternative approaches that foster teacher learning in response to self-selectedcurriculum problems are well explained by Lang et al. (1999) in their discussionconcerning the relationship between the origins of curriculum policy and thepurpose of professional development. They describe models of professional develop-

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  • Developing a Research Partnership 9

    ment from The Netherlands and Germany, which are associated with teacher drivencurriculum innovation. The outcomes of such practice where the teachers haveidentified and developed solutions to curriculum problems show that when teachershave control over their learning, they can produce relevant solutions that are highlyvalued by their colleagues (Lang et al., 1999, p. 127). In Andalusia, teachers havethe option of working in self-training programmes that give them room t