Teachers and teacher trainees as classroom researchers: beyond Utopia?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 12 November 2014, At: 11:55Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Educational Action ResearchPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/reac20

    Teachers and teacher trainees asclassroom researchers: beyond Utopia?Linda Van Looy a b & Werner Goegebeur ba Ghent University , Belgiumb Vrije Universiteit Brussel , BelgiumPublished online: 12 Apr 2007.

    To cite this article: Linda Van Looy & Werner Goegebeur (2007) Teachers and teacher traineesas classroom researchers: beyond Utopia?, Educational Action Research, 15:1, 107-126, DOI:10.1080/09650790601151384

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09650790601151384

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  • Educational Action ResearchVol. 15, No. 1, March 2007, pp. 107126

    ISSN 0965-0792 (print)/ISSN 1747-5074 (online)/07/01010720 2007 Educational Action ResearchDOI: 10.1080/09650790601151384

    Teachers and teacher trainees as classroom researchers: beyond Utopia?Linda Van Looya,b* and Werner GoegebeurbaGhent University, Belgium; bVrije Universiteit Brussel, BelgiumTaylor and Francis LtdREAC_A_215066.sgm10.1080/09650790601151384Educational Action Research0965-0792 (print)/1747-5074 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis151000000March 2007Lindavan Looylinda.vanlooy@UGent.belvlooy@vub.ac.be

    In Flanders, action research as a means of enhancing quality in initial teacher training and inteaching practice is not as widespread as in some of the neighbouring countries. In this articlethe authors argue for trainees and qualified teachers setting up and conducting research in theirteaching practice. Rather than perceiving this as an additional assignment for the partiesinvolved, this is put forward as an inherent part of the profession, just as it is the generalmedical practitioners duty to keep up with the latest scientific developments, implement newapproaches, and confer and exchange experiences with confreres. The authors suggest that suchan approach could contribute to a stronger tie between theory and practice in teacher trainingitself, and to a reinforcement of the knowledge basis in the teacher training curriculum and theteaching profession. They discuss how research can be conceived in the teacher trainingcurriculum and subsequent professional setting, and propose establishing a narrow link betweenaction research and the learning cycle intrinsic to experiential learning. The article draws on theauthors experiences at the Department of Teacher Training of the Vrije UniversiteitBrussel (Free University of Brussels), where action research is a compulsory subject in thecurriculum.

    Keywords: Educational reform; Experiential learning; Initial teacher training; Lifelong learning

    Task description for teacher training

    Criteria for a sound education are stipulated in educational paradigms, andconcretised in didactic models (for our continental European use of the termspedagogy, didactics, etc., see Alexander, 2004, p. 10). A series of hypothesesabout good instruction have dominated the practice of teacher training, each

    *Corresponding author. Universiteit Gent, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Departmentof Movement and Sports Sciences, Watersportlaan 2, 9000 Gent, Belgium.Email: linda.vanlooy@UGent.be

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  • 108 L. Van Looy and W. Goegebeur

    having their merits and shortcomings. Taking into account what at present isconsidered as accepted facts about processes underlying the teachers behaviour ininteraction with pupils, an eclectic point of view on these hypotheses comes to thefore:

    By supplying a theoretical reference frame for learning and teaching, trainees aregiven a touchstone for an assessment of these didactic models as well as their ownexperiences, which will result in a reference frame for reflection upon theirexperiences in the field. Establishing connections between theory and practice,however, often proves difficult.

    A number of teaching skills can be effectively enhanced through training in micro-teaching situations. However, the trainee does have to learn how to transfer theseexperiences from the artificial setting to the classroom. Once more, the problem oftransfer emerges.

    Model-based learning proves to be a powerful tool in teacher training. Hencethe great importance of the possibility of relying on teacher trainers in the field(in-school mentors) who demonstrate efficient and effective teaching behav-iour. It goes without sayingalthough, as observations in the field have shown,this is far from self-evidentthat these trainers need to communicate thethought processes underlying their teaching behaviour. More often than not,trainees fail to understand their instructors choices and interventions. Thetrainee has to adopt an investigative attitude in order to fully understand thetrainers suggestions.

    Personal reflection on goals, modalities of teaching methodology and personalfactors related to teaching are strategies gaining in interest in teacher training. Inorder to facilitate transfer from theory to practice, reflection cannot be restrictedto retrospection and the formulation of alternatives, but also needs to lead to anincreased focus on underlying educational paradigms, as well as to a criticalconsideration of pedagogical ideas and didactic models. What today appear to beacceptable paradigms and models may after all not be so tomorrow. Does reflec-tion in itself suffice to prompt trainees and teachers to generalise experiences,recognise the implications of models and adopt an enduringly critical attitudetowards these models? We do not think so.

    The demands of current educational practice and teacher training necessitate aneclectic application of all these models in order to meet the basic competencies forteachers and novice teachers as approved by the Flemish Government in 1998. As forthe training of teachers, a distinction has been made in Flanders between the profes-sional bachelor in education (a three-year programme following secondary education,consisting of 180 European Credit Transfer System study points, and qualifying forteaching positions with pupils up to age 15), and postgraduate teacher training (aone-year programme, following a masters degree, until now consisting of a mere 37credits, and qualifying for teaching positions with 15-year-olds and upwards).

    In the course of their education and further studies, trainees are supposed to havemarshalled their valuation of concepts such as school, receiving tuition and teaching.

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  • Teachers and teacher trainees as classroom researchers 109

    A subjective theory is thus gradually developed, by which future school situationsbecome predictable and manageable. Value-orientations are an intrinsic part of thissubjective theory, as the parties involved start by determining what they themselvesconceive as valuable pursuits. However, they need the assurance that what theyconsider valuable is also empirically underpinned. Hence the necessity for research asa means of amending shaky subjective theories.

    Professional action based on research is a first step towards well-foundedchange (Sweeny, 2003; Thornley et al., 2004). As far as the Flemish context isconcerned, action research features in the text of basic competencies of theteacher. However, our ongoing discussions of the basic competencies for noviceteachers in Flanders have shown that many teacher trainers and policy-makershold the conviction that teacher training is a practice-aimed discipline and thatresearch falls outside its scope. In their opinion, all teacher training programmesshould be practice-oriented, and there is no room for research within education.Nevertheless, in our view the research-oriented paradigm is the appropriate one tolegitimate postgraduate teacher training. Our aim in this contribution is to show,on the basis of actual experiences in the field, that the integration of the research-oriented paradigm is a valuable addition to a teachers training and subsequentprofessional life.

    In sum, the agenda of teacher training can be said to be determined by atwofold qualification: inducing an orientation towards professional behaviour, onthe one hand; and, on the other hand, towards a profound understanding of thecomplex framework in which practice is situated. This framework is pedagogical,psychological, sociological, communicative, subject-oriented as well as related toteaching methodology. The faltering feedback between theory and practice canonly be rectified by a stronger integration of both. Various solutions have alreadybeen adduced, among others the sandwich model, consisting of an alternation oftheory and practice, and based on actual teaching cases. In our view it is possibleto aim even closer by allowing the trainees to experience gratification throughproblem-solving that they perceive as generated through personal initiative. Inother words, what it comes down to is supplying a means to make trainees see thateffective problem-solving can result from autonomous heuristics. The question inthis respect is how to give more prominence in the teacher training course to prin-ciples of autonomous or self-directed learning. The structural binding agent, whichwe consider appropriate for this purpose, is to require the trainees to display anindependent research-based attitude in their teaching practice, with regard to thegoals and modalities of execution, as well as the assessment of the results. Theobligation to do research should in itself contribute to a reconsideration of possiblefalse assumptions, and to a necessary break from routine behaviour. Another argu-ment in favour of a research-oriented approach is the generally accepted view thatfuture teachers require the ability to autonomously develop their professionalexpertise in the course of their career: no teacher training could ever fully preparestudents for every aspect of the complexity of the profession, but can equip themwith an investigative mind.

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  • 110 L. Van Looy and W. Goegebeur

    Which type of research will help to integrate theory and practice?

    Action research as an instrument of change

    As said, our ideal thus consists of professional action based on research. To clarifythe model we have in mind, we offer a number of examples and quotations frompapers written and defended in oral examination by trainees in teacher training atthe Vrije Universiteit Brussel, as part of their required action research. Our teachertraining programme spans one academic year, with a first term devoted to pedagog-ical, general didactics and subject didactics courses. The second term consists of aninternship at a secondary school of about three months, with two hours teachingper week in two different class settings. In addition to the internship, the studentsare required to take the reflective and investigative action course, for which theyare to write a paper on action research performed during their internship. In theHistory Section, which is the main source for our case examples, a modified versionof this paper also serves as the final examination paper for the subject didacticscourse. The students are asked to set forth a problem case from their own teachingpractice. The problem case of their choice will then be discussed during supervisionsessions at the Education Department and/or with their departmental historypractice instructor. These sessions are to result in the formulation of a workinghypothesis that they are to assess by integrating and testing their action plan in theclass setting, and by discussing the strategy with colleagues and supervisors.Finally, the students will have to indicate the strengths and weaknesses of their newworking method.

    Situating the various types of research within a schematic representation will helpto answer the question as to the application of research in the education andprofessional context (see Figure 1). Figure 1 is a slightly modified version of t Hartet al.s (1998) classification.Figure 1. Schematic representation of the different types of researchOf all three possible forms of research, action research is located in the outside lane,when viewed from the perspective of the traditional standards of validity, reliabilityand generalisability. Action research is, after all, not directed towards concept, theoryor model formation, but rather towards decision-making and individual practicalknowledge. The initial scope differs from that of both other forms of research, but thevalue of this kind of research lies in its strong process-orientedness.

    Figure 1. Schematic representation of the different types of research

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  • Teachers and teacher trainees as classroom researchers 111

    In the course of her internship, Sandra, a trainee in History, realised that her pupils didnot seem to grasp and assimilate her historical expositions. Based on her reading of thesubject didactics course notes, she came to the following hypothesis: If I devote moreattention to concept formation in my classes,...

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